Archive for the ‘Life Elsewhere’ Category

February 4, 2000.

Roger Henderson from Flagstaff Arizona, died a few months ago. I didn’t know him, but I know some of his friends, and he seems to have been an interesting and honorable guy.

I read about Roger’s death in the Boatman’s Quarterly Review, the journal of Grand Canyon River Guides. GCRG is a non-profit association of river guides and other fans of Grand Canyon. Membership in GCRG is a good way to stay current on happenings in and around the Big Ditch.

In this electronic age, when glitzy graphics rule, and words often are seen as mere visual building blocks, the Boatman’s Quarterly Review is a genuine and highly successful literary effort.

The BQR is a simple, two-color publication featuring 20-odd pages of type, interspersed with occasional drawings and black and white photos. It works beautifully.

Something else the BQR does well is to lovingly and respectfully mourns the passing of friends.

Roger was a river guide, photographer, pilot, handyman, world traveler and free-thinker. He was interested in books, rivers, Alaska, story-telling, and Navajo culture. He had an eye for the ladies.

When he wasn’t guiding city people like me through Grand Canyon, he was hauling and selling firewood around Flagstaff, or helping the Navajo bury their dead. More about that later.

Roger was from Chicago. Back in the 1970s, he enrolled at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff and never left town again, except to travel. Periodically, he escaped to Patagonia or Alaska to unwind.

Navajo medicine men called Roger “the ghostbuster.”

Navajos are mortally and unashamedly terrified of the dead. They fear death and ghosts to a spectacular degree. Navajos will not to venture out after dark, else they may fall victim to a skinwalker – the ghost of someone who died violently, or who was not laid to rest via a proper and timely ceremony.

Because Roger wasn’t an Indian, he had less to fear from malevolent spirits. He helped his Navajo friends by reburying the bones when heavy rains churned up an old Anasazi burial site.

The Navajo taught him how to protect himself from the dead by eating bitter herbs, and how to brush out his tracks as he walked backward from a burial. He had great respect for the Navajo people. He was honored to be a non-Navajo who understood the traditions.

Fifteen years ago, Roger learned that he had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The cancer was treated, and it went into remission.

He lived his life, survived three plane crashes, and was engaged to marry a lady from Tucson. But the cancer returned. He died late in 1999.

Roger once wrote home from Denali, “Alaska pulls me like nothing else does. The last of what is left that is wild, clean, open. A place of beauty without a drop of mercy.

“Our time is limited on this earth. We need to live in its magnificence.”

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The date: July 2, 2001.

The time: 9:00 P.M.

The place: Rocky Smith’s house, Monroe, Georgia.

The players: Rocky Smith; unidentified woman on the telephone in Fredonia, Arizona.

The scene: Rocky Smith has called a motel to make a reservation.



WOMAN: Good evening, Crazy Jug Motel. How may I help you?

ROCKY: Hi. I’d like to make a reservation, please.

WOMAN: I can assist you with that, sir. For what dates?

ROCKY: Two nights — September 18 and September 19. One person.

WOMAN: (After taking personal information) All right, sir, I have you arriving September 18, 2001, departing September 20. We look forward to your visit.

ROCKY: Great, thank you. By the way, where did the name “Crazy Jug“ come from?

WOMAN: Oh, Crazy Jug is a common name around here. Crazy Jug Point is down at Grand Canyon, about 30 miles south of us.

ROCKY: Aha. Well, where did Crazy Jug Point get its name?

WOMAN: Well, I’m guessing, but the name probably comes from Crazy Jug Canyon, below Jacob Lake.

ROCKY: Uh, okay. What I  mean is, that‘s an unusual name — “Crazy Jug” — and I was just curious about the origin of the term.

WOMAN: Well, the most likely origin is Crazy Jug Spring, at the head of Crazy Jug Canyon. Are you familiar with our area, sir?

ROCKY: No, not really. Is there maybe a local story about some kind of jug that —

WOMAN: Well, there’s also Crazy Jug Viewpoint. I understand you can see Crazy Jug Point from there, although I don’t know personally.

ROCKY: Ummm…

WOMAN: Is there anything else I can help you with, sir?

ROCKY: Uh… no. I guess there isn‘t.

WOMAN: Okay then, sir. Thank you for calling the Crazy Jug, and have a nice evening. (Click)

Crazy Jug Point, near the Canyon and the Spring, as seen from the Viewpoint.

Crazy Jug Point, near the Canyon and the Spring, as seen from the Viewpoint.

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In Nov. 2005, when I hiked down to Phantom Ranch, at the bottom of Grand Canyon, one of the staff workers there was a sweet young girl from Georgia named Lori.

Lori grew up in Covington. She was a recent graduate of the University of West Georgia. She became curious about Grand Canyon, went west to check it out, and took a job at Phantom Ranch.

Covington is one town away from Conyers, where I worked at the time, so Lori was my immediate pal. Furthermore, I knew that West Georgia is in Carrolton. “Ooooh!” she said. “You’re the only person in Arizona who knows where Carrolton is!”

Lori also said she is a huge Georgia Bulldogs fan. So last month, when Britt and I returned to Grand Canyon for some hiking, I took along a gift for Lori — a red rubber UGA “spirit band” that I bought in Athens at the campus bookstore.

When Britt and I arrived at Phantom Ranch, I asked the dude in the cantina if Lori still worked there. He said she did, but she was in Flagstaff that week with some pals. Too bad I missed her.

I showed him the spirit band and asked if he would give it to her when she returned. He agreed and put the band on his wrist.

“You know,” he said, “I’m really doing you a big favor, seeing as how I went to LSU.” I expressed my sympathy, ordered two beers, and went to join Britt at the table.

A few minutes later, the LSU guy came over and said, “Man, I’m sorry, but I’m gonna have to take this thing off. It’s burning my skin!”

He stripped it off his wrist and wiped his brow in exaggerated relief. “I think I’ll just keep it behind the counter,” he said.

“Sorry about that, friend,“ I said. “It takes a true believer to wear one of those things.”

He smiled and muttered something I didn’t catch.

Just doing my part to promote the Bulldog Nation, wherever I find it.

Lori in her office, the Phantom Ranch Cantina.

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When I overheard the following in-flight conversation a few years ago, I knew instantly it was a keeper. I was reaching for a pencil to take notes while the drama was still unfolding.


The date: May 7, 2004

The time: 9:00 P.M.

The place: Aboard Delta Flight 339, Atlanta to Las Vegas.

The players: Female flight attendant, 40ish; female passenger, 30ish; male passenger, 60ish.

The scene: The flight attendant is working her way down the aisle with a steaming pot of coffee, stopping at each row of seats to offer refills.


FLIGHT ATTENDANT: Top off yer coffee, ma’am?

FEMALE PASSENGER: No more for me, thanks.

FLIGHT ATTENDANT: Oh, heck — while I’m here, just reach yer cup over, and I’ll warm it up with a splash. Just reach yer cup this way.

FEMALE PASSENGER: But I don’t — okay, just a little.

FLIGHT ATTENDANT: Pardon my reach, sir! There ya go, ma’am. I — OH!


FLIGHT ATTENDANT: Oh, my goodness, sir! I am SO sorry! Are ya all right?


FLIGHT ATTENDANT: I am SO sorry about yer pants, sir! So VERY sorry! (Addresses female passenger) Ma’am, I hafta tell ya, ya can’t pull yer cup away like that while I’m still pourin’ the coffee in it!


FLIGHT ATTENDANT: I was still pourin’ the coffee, ma‘am, and ya pulled yer cup away!

FEMALE PASSENGER: You’ve got to be kidding! I didn‘t do anything!

MALE PASSENGER: Great! This is just great!

FLIGHT ATTENDANT: Sir, hold this towel on yer pants. Gosh darn, what a shame this had to happen to yer suit. Gee whiz! (Addresses female passenger) Ma’am, what I’m sayin’ is, when a person is pourin’ coffee, ya can’t move yer cup, or else this is what happens.

FEMALE PASSENGER: Listen lady, you spilled the coffee, not me! And I don’t like your attitude! I don’t like your attitude one bit!

FLIGHT ATTENDANT: Oh, now, ma’am… please let’s not be that way. It’s bad enough this happened, without anyone bein’ that way. The thing is, this is what happens, don’t ya see? Let me just go get a fresh towel fer the gentleman’s pants. (Walks off.)

(Muttering) Bitch.

FLIGHT ATTENDANT: (Muttering) Bitch.


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There I was, a lad not long out of college. A brand new First Lieutenant in the Air Force. Living large in the Bachelor Officers Quarters at Cannon Air Force Base, Clovis, New Mexico.

I owned a fresh-from-the-factory 1965 Comet Caliente convertible (candy apple red, white top), in which I cruised the streets of Clovis with pride.

One sunny day, while cruising north on Prince Street, top down, I came to a stop at a red light. I was in the right lane. Moments later, a large and noisy motorcycle pulled up next to me in the left lane.

I turned casually to see a giant, gleaming Harley-Davidson, festooned with aggressive bumper stickers. A squirrel tail fluttered atop a long antenna. With each rev of the engine, the bike shuddered with torque.

The driver was a large and swarthy man with a heavy beard and mirrored sunglasses. On the front of his Nazi helmet — yes, he wore a Nazi helmet — was a grinning skull emitting red flames from its eyes. His jacket, pants, gloves, and boots were black leather.

Seated behind the swarthy man, arms wrapped around his sizable waist, was a woman of similar appearance and similar attire, except that she wore a different type of helmet, and she had no beard that I recall. She was large and sour-looking.

In the course of about one second, my gaze took in the Harley, the man, and the woman. I noted that the latter two were staring at me intently.

After displaying a weak and submissive smile, I turned my gaze quickly back to the red light and tried to will it to turn green.

“Hey you!” said a raspy voice in my left ear. With as friendly a look as I could muster, I turned toward the voice.

“Howdy,” I squeaked.

“Is this the road to Tucumcari?” the man growled.

“Yeah, yes. This is it. Go north to San Jon, then west to Tucumcari.”

“You wouldn’t be shittin’, me, would you?”

“Uh, no. This IS the road to Tucumcari.”

“‘Cause if you’re shittin’ me, I’ll come back and cut yer nuts out.”

“Well, I am not shitting you.”

The light turned green. The Harley roared off in the direction of Tucumcari, leaving a streak of rubber on the asphalt of Prince Street.

Prince Street, Clovis, New Mexico, circa 1965, looking north toward Tucumcari.

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Late last year, as I was driving home from California, I stopped at Montezuma Castle National Monument in central Arizona. It’s a little thing as National Monuments go, but I like to check them out. Don’t want to miss something good.

The day was sunny and warm. I parked, checked out the visitor center museum, and headed down the the trail to the cliff dwelling, camera at the ready.

When I got there, I was disappointed to see a series of aluminum ladders leaning against the rock face, giving access to the ruins. I was further disappointed to see three heads peeking down at me from the uppermost level.

Archeologists, students, cleaning team — whatever they were, they were screwing up my photos. But, short of Photoshopping out the heads and ladders, there was nothing I could do.

After a while, I walked back to the visitor center and stopped at the front desk. Three rangers were on duty.

“Who are the guys up in the cliff dwelling?” I asked.

“What guys?” one of the rangers asked.

I said, “Three people are up at the top level. There are several ladders leading up the cliff face.”

“Oh, crap.” said one ranger.

“”I’ll go,” said another. She grabbed a radio and hurried to the door.

I said, “You mean, they aren’t authorized to be up there?”

“We don’t know yet.”

I wandered around the gift shop for a few minutes and waited for the ranger, but she didn’t return. Finally, I concluded that it wasn’t necessary for me to know whether the three heads were legitimate. I wanted to have supper at Joe’s Real Barbecue in Gilbert, and that was a couple of hours away, so I left.

Big mistake. Now it’s driving me mad — not knowing the truth.

The telltale ladders. A mysterious head peering down.

The telltale ladders. A mysterious head peering down.

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