The truth is, people are horrible.
I know what you’re thinking. “Oh shit, rampage today, to the bomb shelter!” Meh, I beat up a couple kittens already, things are fine. But now with a clear head…
Admittedly, I have been drinking a bit of haterade lately and decided to skip town a couple weekends ago. What better way to cheer yourself up than to drive stupid far and see something you’ve never seen before?
Nothing, that’s what.
I took off early on a Saturday morning, around the asscrack of 6am. It’s not a tough drive that early, since from San Diego you just hit the 8 and barrel through trying not to make a wrong turn into Mexico, settle in a shark town, and marry a burrito.
Somehow I didn’t become Mrs. Erdmann-Burrito and things were going fine. Was amped on coffee, blasting Bad Religion’s Suffer, Bella was giving me that face you see over yonder.
Then just past Yuma I started hearing an odd noise. It was a kind of fwap-fwap-fwap-fwap sound like an angry grandmother had gotten under my car hood and was beating my fan belt with an oven mitt. I was literally in the middle of nowhere on that dead stretch between Phoenix and Yuma. The temperature gauge was telling me it was 110 degrees out already.
What’s a woman to do when she has no knowledge of car guts, zero cell reception, and an unwillingness to cooperate with the people of the world for a day?
Keep fuckin’ driving.
Which I did by turning up the music as loudly as possible to drown out the disturbing sound. I was moderately aware this might have been the last song I’d ever hear before being exploded into an oblivion, so I’ll have you know it was – say it with me – Niiiirvana.
Then suddenly the fwap-fwap jolted and started to sound like marbles. “Oh my dear sweet Moses…” I muttered to Bella the co-pilot. Turning down the music I just listened to the marbles. Out of the corner of my eye I imagined Tootles from Hook running alongside my car shouting, “You’ve found my marbles! You’ve found my marbles!” and I couldn’t help but giggle at the image of that fat old sod’s toothless grin of excitement.
Anyway, I was terrified for a while but kept going because I didn’t know what else to do, so up went Negative Creep again. Suddenly the marbles stopped and I don’t know why, but then everything was seemingly back to normal.
Weird ending to that anecdote but stick with me here pals…
I made a couple stops on my 9-hour drive to the northeast, but nothing significant to spend time detailing here. I did drive through an impressive lightning storm just past Flagstaff, shot the shit with a biker gang at a random gas station, and stopped at a nearly abandoned gift shop to snag some sort of momento from the excursion, settling on silver buffalo earrings.
I dunno, what do you buy in Arizona? I decided it’s buffalo earrings?
But then I made it. I got to my destination and had no idea what to expect. My friends from Arizona told me I was insane to go at that time of year, telling me it was monsoon season or too hot or blah, blah, blah. I didn’t care and needed to see something beautiful.
I parked, got out of the car. Grabbed my phone, dog, and a bottle of water.
When I first peered into the Grand Canyon, my heart stopped. I had found myself on the South Basin and in an area where there was no guard railing. Stepping onto the flat rock, I leaned forward to see the infinite drop into the great unknown, down into a sea of rocks cut from water ages ago. The basin was so deep hawks were soaring in and out of it as though the floors a mile below were as great a journey as any they’d ever done.
I walked around amazed, stunned, happy to be alone and without cell reception. Stopping to open that bottle of water, a young boy of maybe 8 or 9 paused a pace or two in front of me and stared at my dog. He was a chubby little thing, dripping with sweat as he had clearly been there for a significant part of the day exploring. His curly red hair was matted down with an American baseball cap, his outfit tied together with a blue and black flannel.
“Is he friendly?” he inquired in a thick English accent, pursing his lips nervously as though he realized he had spoken out of turn.
“Oh yes, she’s very friendly,” I said kneeling down to point her in his direction. He hesitated before kneeling down as well, then held out his hand to pet the 5-pound beast. Bella, not really a beast at all, licked his outstretched fingers in greeting…yet most likely due to their being covered in salt.
“He likes me!” the boy cried. I laughed and let them continue to interact, as he began to tell me about his trip here with his parents. “It’s my second time in America,” he went on. “The first time we went all over California. This time we are going all over Arizona.”
The chap was eager to talk and I was content listening, so we carried on for a good while about how he’d gone to a baseball game, went kayaking, saw parks. I realized the time was ticking and while I felt bad for leaving, excused myself eventually to continue my mission to stare out into the great abyss.
I met quite a few more people due entirely to my approachable pet. At one point a small African girl waddled up to me. I’m horrible with children’s ages but she was a tiny thing. Was able to talk…maybe 3? 4? She was itty bitty and still going between babbling and coherent words, but I could tell from her outstretched hand her purposes here were to pet Bella.
“Doggy?!” she kept gesturing inching closer. Down again I knelt, and this time picked up the pup so the girl could get a better look. She squatted down to admire the animal for a moment, then popped back up again in a squeal, “Mama!” turning around. Approaching were her parents accompanied with a baby, trailed by a couple more pairs of adults and a pack of other children, all of whom could possibly be related.
My time of solitude, I could tell, was going to be over for a little while.
I smiled warmly and offered Bella’s fur for their petting pleasure for as long as the children were interested. I nodded that she was a chihuahua, admitted I was American. I let them know the dog was a girl and that she was 7-years-old.
The adults were respectful of my time and after a bit began shuffling the children away, “Say bye, bye to the doggy!” the mother kept saying in a dialect of African accent. Once they were walking away the father turned around to mouth a silent, yet clearly grateful, “THANK YOU!” as he carried the infant and held the toddler’s hand on their way.
I spoke to some Italians, some French, even got to practice a little German. Apparently the Grand Canyon is an international station of culture, and I’m a little embarrassed I had no idea but thrilled with this accidental foreign adventure.
Eventually I was able to wander back to that first ledge I had found, and climbed just a little way down the rocks to hide from people and to hang my feet just over the ledge. After securing Bella’s leash on a nearby branch, I laid down on the warm rock, allowing the earth to comfort my back sore from the long ride, watching the sun settle in the sky to dazzle with both fading and glowing light.
There is truly something magical about the Grand Canyon. Something healing. Maybe it was the genuine interaction with strangers. Maybe it was the great abyss. Whatever it was, it was exactly what I needed and I felt restored at least to some capacity that day.
Unwillingly, I eventually peeled myself from the rock of solace, and Bella and I began our ascent back to the car. I was lucky to have some friends in Phoenix who were happy to host my weary head for the evening. Bummer though is Phoenix is a good 3.5 hour drive from the Grand Canyon. So, the pup and I stopped at a gas station in the little tourist village just out of the canyon before we headed back south.
After stocking up on coffee, a cheese stick, pretzels and a water, I hopped in the car and got ready to go. While I was buckling my seatbelt, I noticed a man about my age in the passenger seat of the car next to mine furtively looking in my direction. I kept about my business politely and started the car. It was still a trillion degrees out so I rolled down the windows to let out some fire air, and proceeded to put the car in reverse.
As I was pulling back, he apparently had noticed my front bumper and leapt out of his seat, “WAIT!” I wasn’t moving quickly but slammed on my brake.
“Uh oh…” I stammered leaning my head out of the window. It was only then that I remembered the incident a few hundred miles ago. I parked with the car exactly where it was, halfway pulled out of the parking spot, and jumped out. He knelt on the ground and pointed out that my mud flap, or whatever that mud guard is, under the carriage of the engine had come off. It was completely dragging and caught on the asphalt as I was pulling away. As we were discussing this, his similarly aged friend walked up and caught up on the conversation.
“Do you have any tools?” said the first one. We’ll call him Austin because he had a touch of a southern accent.
“Nope,” I said with blended confidence and sheepish guilt.
“Well, all we need is a screwdriver,” said the other one. His accent was far thicker so we’re going to call him Buck.
Austin, Buck and I figured out a screwdriver wasn’t going to work because the screws securing the gigantic bastard of a flap was in the shape of a star. The men fumbled around their truck to find anything that could work, and eventually fashioned a makeshift hold that would get the flap to stay put at least until I could get to Phoenix.
While Buck was on the ground under the car working out the solution, I profusely thanked Austin for the help.
“No, no trouble at all,” he smiled, shrugging dutifully. “It’s the right thing to do.”
Before I drove off they checked to make sure it would stay, then off our separate ways we went. They were on their way east as they were on a cross-country trip, which I had learned after laughing at their gushing over seeing San Diego, LA, and the like.
Happy to be back on the road, I drove as quickly as I could to beat the nightfall. 3.5 hours is a pretty long time so I didn’t win, but fortunately I got at least 1 of those hours out of the way in the dusk. Listening to some Neutral Milk Hotel around hour 2, my phone was apparently back in reception as it had started ringing.
“JONI!” yelled the voice on the other line. “How much longer ‘till you’re here?!” The excited chirp was my host in Phoenix, who bubbled on about how excited she was to see me, filling me in on the fun party she had been to but was ready for me to get into town.
“What can I have ready for you?” she asked assertively. This wasn’t an, ‘Um, well, do you think there’s something you’d maybe like?’ No. She was determined to make sure exactly what I wanted was there and prepared. “I’m heading to the grocery store now so tell me what you want, lady!”
We settled on pizza and beer. When at last I arrived, the house was refreshingly cool. Her dude announced the pizza would be ready in 7 minutes, then handed me a cold libation the second I sat down. We all proceeded to spend the following hours laughing about stories from that day and that year. And yeah, I almost took out one of those pizzas entirely by myself.
The first statements I opened this post with are still totally true. People disappoint you. They break your heart. But luckily, there are things in this world that exist for the seeming sole purpose of cheering hearts easily laden.
Great abysses. Children and their wonder. Kind, benevolent strangers, including those who just want to talk to you, and those who want to make sure you’re going to be alright.
But most of all, when you accept the fact that people are horrible, it magnifies the power of those who blow past that fact and decide to be wonderful anyway. Both strangers and friends. They overpower whatever baggage they are dealing with, and find the energy to make sure your journey is a little easier. While I accept that people are terrible, I also accept that people can break through that terrible. And it is those people who can heal the damage the awful ones cause, giving us a valid reason to keep exploring, and keep on looking for those marbles.