Sky Harbour Airport, Phoenix, Arizona. Sunshine. Just what the doctor ordered.
“Relax more, Jack, worry less.”
I’m with two friends to lounge around the pool with a book of short stories, and see the Grand Canyon. It’s on my bucket list.
Orbitz pre-arranged a Chevy Aveo with Advantage ($130.99, base rate $66; taxes and fees, $64.99. Not bad, eh, for six days).
The shuttle to Car Rental Centre – it’s own street sign – launches our adventure. Every few minutes buses disgorge the homeward bound and swallow up more rental lemmings. This business is thriving.
The Aveo looks crampy for a four-hour drive to Grand Canyon National Park.
Talk turns to an upgrade.
The smiling clerk says we’d be happier in a Ford Expedition. Good mileage. Base rate, $90 a day more, or $570.
Add two drivers. At $10 each per day each, that’s $120. Extra company insurance – recommended – $39 per day, or $234. A pre-paid tank of gas, $45. City taxes, $40. Vehicle licence, $51. Arizona sales tax, adds $74. Surcharge, $33 (unclear for what). Concession fee, $95 (unclear, but not hotdogs).
New total? $1,229. A credit card is quickly processed for $1,482.98. Not sure what the extra is for.
In the end, we decline the Expedition for a four-door, Chevy Cruze – lots of room. Bruce will drive, on his BCAA insurance. It’s $421; more than $1,000 less.
Outside, it’s sunshine, palm trees, cacti, and a billboard that reads, “Jail sucks. Only 10% down for your bond.”
Billboards are shorthand for a culture. Another reads “Virginia Piper Cancer Clinic.” The Visitor’s Guide to Arizona names Walmart the top employer, but 12 of the 50 job producers are private health care firms.
Near the hotel another sign: “Forensic Centre.” We’ll bump into Jason Cole in a pub watching the Coyotes beat the Canucks. He teaches blood splatter and finger print analysis for a police department.
“With a few differences.”
“Not a serial killer?”
He smiles. “I give workshops to retirees wanting a change of pace. Interested?”
You get a feel for Arizona from Channel 3, Good Evening News. Someone threatened to kill Sheriff Joe Arpaio for arresting undocumented Mexican laborers.
Joe’s frustrated by cuts to border control staff. His supporters fear Obama has a plan to grant citizenship to illegals.
More news. Arizona legislators introduce a bill to have teachers carry guns.
Says one official, “we’ve becoming aware of the hazards of life.”
Another bill will ban “teens” from texting when they drive, and citizens demand transgendered folk are barred from washrooms for women. One mom is outraged her little girl could occupy a stall next to someone born a man.
The times are a-changing, sang Bob Dylan.
Old Scottsdale has tourist-friendly shops, and Harold who chants, “Sheriff Joe’s gotta go.”
“What’s wrong with Joe?” I ask.
“Hard on immigrant workers.”
He shrugs. “I get paid for signatures on a petition. Personally, I think Joe’s doing his job.”
We meet Jeff, a disabled truck driver, on a bus. He’s got a Facebook girlfriend on Vancouver Island he’s never met.
“Should there be better gun control, Jeff?”
“You’re danged if you do and danged if you don’t,” he says. “We need to red flag people who are mentally ill.”
The drive to the Canyon is north towards Sedona, along the I-17, the Veterans Highway (“we love you guys”). It rises slowly through dry, grassy plains covered with sagebrush and rolling hills. I’m reminded of Cache Creek.
Wild horses drank at the Verde River in Sedona when it was open range. You can trail ride, gorge on barbecue, or helicopter above mesas, and red, pock-marked boulders that suggested sacred spirits to the Apache Nation.
En route, signs tell of a wild west made famous by Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday.
General Crook Trail recalls the U.S. Calvary’s pursuit and capture of Geronimo. Stories are imagined by Deadman’s Wash, Horsethief Basin, and the Station Café, “tastiest cowboy grub in the west.”
The first Canyon lookout leaves one in awe of nature’s splendor. It’s 18 miles across a gorge that drops a mile to the raging Colorado River. You can hike down trails here, or ride mules to the floor. I can’t take this place off my list yet.
On our last day, we watch the Giants beat the Mariners as Stadium staff yell “peanuts, cotton candy, cold beer” between organ rounds of “take me out to the ball game.” Last night, on Channel 3, John Kerry, Secretary of State, said in Berlin, “In America you have a right to be stupid…if you want to be. That’s something worth fighting for.” A final billboard reads: Buy a gun for someone who can’t. A mentally ill person or a 12 year old? America’s a land of ambiguity. Throw in sunshine, and it’s place to relax and worry less – at least for six days.
Jack Emberly is a retired teacher, local author and environmentalist.