We passed through Williams to join the 64 northbound, noticing a sign to the Lost Canyon campgrounds, a single bullet hole pieced through the metal. The sky above us was endless blue, the air sweet and clean as it came through the side windows of the car. We stopped to photograph murals on the sides of buildings that lined the roadside.
Within the hour we arrived at the Grand Canyon, during which time Mike had gone on to explain why the planets were arranged in their current order, provided a detailed account of a failed attempt to secure a record contract with Capital Records and given an exhaustive list of reasons why you cannot trust the Chinese.
‘Where are you heading?’ he asked ‘Like, at the end of your trip?’
This surprised me as it was the first time he’d actually asked a question which required more than just an invitation for him to continue talking about himself. That said, I was soon to be proven wrong.
‘We’re going to New Orleans.’ I said.
‘New Orleans! My god, they have lost the plot down there. Never had it. You know on Bourbon Street they have this strip joint called Barely Legal, and you know who owns it? Three ex-cons from Angola State Pen, though they got it in someone else’s name because ex-cons can’t hold a liquor license. I got picked up for vagrancy and disturbing the peace back in the ‘90s and the pigs took me down to OPP lockup, that’s errm, Orleans Parish Prison, or the house of detention…
…Whatever. Talk about irony charging the Peacewalker with disturbing the peace. Anyhow, this Irishman was in there, must have been the only other white dude in the clink other than the pigs, and he starts telling me about the strip joint Barely Legal. Turns out the three guys that own the place; one’s a murderer, the other was in for peddling drugs and the other for embezzlement. Hey, here’s a joke for ya. What do you get when you cross a murder, a drug dealer and a thief. The best damned strip joint east of the Mississippi.’
As we entered the main parking lot Mike’s mood changed. It was taking time to secure a space and he demanded to be let out of the car to then disappear into the visitors’ building leaving his pack on the back seat.
‘Sarah. Do you think he’s insane?’ I asked.
After a long pause Sarah replied, ‘I think he’s burned out from something. He might be a veteran, or had an abusive childhood. I think we just need to keep an eye on him but I don’t think he’s dangerous.’
We found a space and locked the car. The visitors’ building was full of tour groups and languages from all over the world were mingling together. If America is a melting pot, then the visitors’ building at the Grand Canyon is the epicentre. We soon found Mike out back, and my heart sank when I saw that he was talking to an Asian man with his family.
‘You’re doing really well right now,’ said Mike, ‘servicing our debts and building great cities with flashing lights and super fast trains that run on magnets. It’s great progress from the times you were building our railroads and scrubbing laundry.’
‘I’m not Chinese.’ said the man looking visibly pained but remarkably composed at the same time.
‘Well of course you’re an American I suppose,’ said Mike ‘We’re all Americans these days.’
‘No I’m from Korea.’
‘Oh yeah? Then I guess you’ve heard about the insatiable Chinese plot to stockpile the world’s supply of copper?’
‘Mike,’ I said ‘Let’s go. This man has to go with his family.’ The stranger saw this as his chance to escape and took it. Mike got up but this wasn’t going to go the way I’d hoped.
‘I know the CIA is here,’ he began screaming into the crowd. ‘You can get all the pictures you want. When the stock market collapses on Monday your federal budget will be axed and you’ll be tearing the shirts off of one another’s backs the same as everyone else.
Sarah and I got out of there. We walked along the canyon’s edge and tried to take in the enormity of the spectacle before us. It was like a huge screen painting you see on the faces of iconic buildings when they’re renovating the facade. The colours were muted by their vast distances and the midday haze further distorted the real. I recall a lone eagle circling in the valley below and being struck at how small the mighty Colorado River looked from way up here.
It would have never occurred to me that anything could have matched this place, but I was wrong. The Peacewalker had completely consumed me and I struggled to get him out of my head as I observed one of the greatest natural formations of the world beyond my feet below. We sat a while and made of it what we could.
Back at the visitors’ centre, Mike was engrossed in conversation with a man who he was convinced was Tom Petty and once more we saved someone from Mike’s rambling lunacy. In the car we headed out along the East Rim Drive, stopping occasionally for another view. I asked Mike why he seemed little concerned with the beauty of the canyon and he told me he was afraid of heights. It was the most succinct reply he’d given me all day.
There’s something about madness that draws you from your own space and opens a world that is at once both exciting and bewitching. In Mike’s case, the madness was tainted by the clear fact that it’s all underwritten by an unfulfilled relationship with others and the world itself. Perhaps if he met his match in a woman he’d calm down. Indeed, after we dropped him off in Flagstaff I recall feeling completely drained. However, that said, for the amount of energy it took to spend the day with the Peacewalker, in the weeks and months since, he returns to me bearing greater gifts than I would have gained from an afternoon simply staring into the canyon. Sometimes I like to think that the lone eagle I saw that day, in the valley below, also felt the wind on the wings of madness.