Na Mu Myo Ho Ren Ge Kyo

Late January, 2016
The temple on Bainbridge Island traces its origins back to Nichidatsu Fujii (Guruji), a Japanese Buddhist monk who lived from 1885 to 1985. Guruji based his practice on reciting the mantra “Na Mu Myo Ho Ren Ge Kyo”. According to Guruji, this chant is the distillation of the entire Lotus Sutra. The Lotus Sutra contains about 96,000 verses, so it’s kind of impressive that it all got condensed into seven syllables. I remember asking Senji once about what the chant actually meant. We were on the peace walk when I asked him.

 

Senji kind of smiled and said, “It mean: ‘We are beautiful. We are Buddha. We are love’. It say that.”

 

I’ll go with that translation.

 

The chant is basic to everything at the temple. It is the core of all that happens there.

 

The morning service starts with one of the monks lighting the candles and the incense. Gilberto would strike the large singing bowl three times. Then one of them goes over to a huge drum, big as a 55-gallon drum, that sits sideways on a wooden frame. Senji or Gilberto beats the drum and chants “Na Mu Myo Ho Ren Ge Kyo” over and over again. Senji has a deep baritone and chants beautifully. Gilberto has a slightly deeper voice, and his chant is a bit harsher. In the morning, Cindy and Lani come to chant along, and they also drum. Karin and I came too. Karin chanted with them all. Stefan would also show up. He had no problem praying with the Buddhists. The chanting went on for at least an hour.

 

When the chanting stopped, Senji would strike the kai, a small piece of metal suspended from a wooden frame. Gilberto rang the singing bowl, and struck the makusho, a hollow, wooden bowl. Then we would recite part of the Lotus Sutra in Chinese. After that, we read something from Guruji, and finally we recited the morning prayer in Chinese.

 

The evening prayer was similar. It all centered on Na Mu Myo Ho Ren Ge Kyo.

 

The chant is powerful in a odd way. It is like praying the rosary or reciting the Jesus prayer. After a while, it sinks into a person’s psyche and becomes part of that person, or maybe the person becomes the chant. All I know is that I hear the chant in my dreams now. That’s how deep it goes.

 

Guruji believed that he could create world peace by drumming and chanting. He might have been right.

 

Na Mu Myo Ho Ren Ge Kyo.

 

Temple

Late January, 2016
Once we made the initial ferry crossing to Bainbridge Island, Senji’s fellow monk, Gilberto, picked us up at the landing. Gilberto is a “CuBu”, a Cuban Buddhist, a rare breed. He is heavy set man, in his 70’s, with a wide, friendly face. He wears round bifocals that make his face even rounder than it normally would be. Gilberto grew up in a large family in the Bronx. He did the “Easy Rider” bike trip across America in the 60’s. He had a brother who fought in Vietnam, while Gilberto protested the war when he lived in Berkeley. Gilberto later raised a family, and committed himself to the life of a monk thirteen years ago.

 

Gilberto drove us a short way to the Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist Temple. It was pouring rain when we got there. The temple complex is a small group of buildings connected by elevated walkways. The whole area is surrounded by woods. There is the temple itself, the tiny house where Senji and Gilberto live, the guesthouse where we stayed, and a building with bathrooms and a shower. The temple complex is located in a low-lying area, so the heavy rains had flooded most of the land near the buildings (the houses were on stilts). The Zen garden was under water. Most everything was under water. It was kind of a mess.

 

The temple itself is beautiful (there are photos of it online). There is an altar covered with a scarlet cloth. The covering has gold wheels embroidered into it. There is a picture of the founder of the sect, Guruji, on the altar, along with statues of the Buddha and Kwan Yin. Senji and Gilberto often place offerings of fruit, water and tea in front of the statues and the pictures of friends who have passed away. They put mangoes in front of the Buddha. When the mangoes are ripe, they will take them back to their house. Apparently, the Buddha will be satisfied at that point. The temple is full of paintings and calligraphy. There are pictures of Gandhi and Harriet Tubman above the doors. The temple reeks of incense and prayer. I love the place.

 

We spent six days at the temple. Karin, Stefan, and I did some sightseeing during that time, but mostly we stayed there. We became accustomed to the daily ritual of Senji and Gilberto. They prayed and chanted every morning at 6:00 AM, and every evening at 5:30 AM. After prayer, we had a meal together. Senji usually cooked for us. He made us soba noodles and a Japanese curry. Gilberto often asked me to say the blessing before we ate. After we prayed as Catholics, then we would recite the Buddhist chant.

 

We talked quite a bit. Gilberto liked to discuss politics. He talked about the nuclear submarine base in nearby Bremerton. Gilberto explained that if Kitsap County, where the Bremerton Naval Base is located, were an independent country, it would be the third largest nuclear power on earth. In a place where life is abundant, death is always close by.

 

Senji and Gilberto are a team. They are often on the road. Senji goes all over the country to participate in peace walks, and Gilberto helps an indigenous community in Mexico. While they are at home, they are like two middle-aged bachelors who have lived together for a long time. They have a tiny house, with a microscopic kitchen. There are pictures on the walls from Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and John Coltrane. The boys like to listen to classical music and free jazz. The house has a sort of masculine clutter that no woman would tolerate for a minute. There is literally no horizontal surface in the house that is not covered with books or papers or dishes. However, it is a home. I have seldom felt more welcomed or more at ease than in the house of the two monks.

 

The temple is an oasis of peace is an angry world. I couldn’t stay there, but I am grateful for the opportunity to visit.

 

Weed

January 28th, 2016

On Wednesday, January 27th, the Seattle Times sported a headline which read: “Why Cooking with Pot is a Bad Idea”. I had to read the whole article. It was fascinating. The author explained how cooking with marijuana didn’t work out well. For one thing, it is almost impossible to keep consistent dosages in the food (there was a recipe for an Italian noodle dish included in the article). Also, there is the problem that a person who eats a weed-laced dinner will still get the munchies about an hour after the meal ends. The writer concluded that it might be best to just burn a blunt prior to or immediately after the meal. Amazing.

 

 

Stefan wanted to go to a pot dispensary. Oddly enough, there is one on Bainbridge Island. We drove there in Senji’s car, a 1988 Ford Tempo that had no dash lights, a perpetually lit “check engine” light, and malfunctioning fuel gauge. We drove around the island (it’s not that big) until we found “Paper and Leaf”, the home of Stefan’s dreams.

 

 

I’m not sure what I expected prior to entering the pot shop. I guess I was anticipating a typical head shop, full of bongs, hookahs, pipes, and posters of Bob Marley. I kind of thought we would be talking to some stoner behind the counter who would tell us, “Yeah Dude, this shit will take you places that you’ve never been. Like totally.”

 

 

I couldn’t have been more wrong. The store was clean and neat and very organized. The staff was friendly, courteous, extremely knowledgeable, and sober. Well, okay, the girl at the check out, who had trouble reading Stefan’s ID, seemed a little buzzed, but besides her, everybody was clean as could be. It reminded me of being in a upscale liquor store, where people really know about beer and wine. All the marijuana was labeled and the THC content shown. The staff could answer questions that Stefan hadn’t even thought to ask. They has loose leaf weed, pre-rolled blunts, and God only knows what else. The counter was full of slick brochures and pamphlets from the growers. I kept some of them.

 

 

We went to one other dispensary. That was in Seattle. There are actually two types of dispensaries: one type for recreational drugs, and one type for medical marijuana. Apparently, there are two types of dispensaries because of tax issues. Medical marijuana is taxed less than the recreational kind. So, if I went to the medical dispensary for my back problems, I would pay less than at the rec store. By the way, the medical marijuana dispensaries are identified with a green cross. Yeah, for real. The place we actually visited was on Aurora Avenue, and it was called “Ocean Greens”. It was similar to “Herb and Leaf”. It was clean, organized, and well-staffed. Stefan bought a weed chocolate bar. He offered me some. I like chocolate, but not that much.

 

 

In Washington State weed is a business. It’s just like Amazon or XPO or Kwik Trip. It’s serious and it’s for real.

 

Green

Late January, 2016

The land around the Salish Sea is warm. It almost never freezes there. Snow is visible in the higher elevations of the Cascades and the Olympic mountains, but the lower regions are temperate during the whole year. Forests cover huge areas. Vast stands of fir and cedar tower above everything else. Even in winter, when the deciduous trees have shed their leaves, the whole place is intensely and impossibly green.

 

 

 

One morning, Karin, Stefan, and I walked through the Grand Forest on Bainbridge Island. It is a area of old growth forest on the island. It has trails, and we hiked one of them for over an hour. Stefan was impressed by the size and height of the trees. He asked me how tall they were: one hundred feet? two hundred feet?. I couldn’t tell. All I knew is that at their base they were as big around as our dining room table. The morning was damp and overcast, and the woods were dark and deep green. Grey lichen and bright green moss clung to everything that didn’t move. Occasionally, the sky cleared enough that a shot of sunlight sliced through the gloom, and we saw the forest in all its glory. The light illuminated the reds in bare wood of the fallen cedar trees, a sharp contrast to the overpowering green. Dead trees had mushrooms and ferns growing from them. The forest was taking back its own. A close look at the bushes told me that spring had already come. There were leaf buds on most of the smaller plants. It was going to be even greener.

 

The land, like the water, teams with life. Even in the city, there was a feeling of growth, a feeling of nature just barely held in check. Make no mistake: at the shores of the Salish Sea, men make their mark, but it is Nature that rules.

 

Northern Water

Late January, 2016

Rain streaked the window of our sleeper car, as the Empire Builder slowly wound its way through the Cascades. The tracks followed alongside a wide, fast-flowing river that was full of rocks, and had water that was milky with silt. Low hanging clouds obscured the mountaintops. The train ride reminded me of when Karin and I went through the Alps many years ago. We came out of the mountains near Everett, and then the Amtrak hugged the cliff along the coast, heading south toward Seattle. Looking out the right window, we could see Puget Sound, at least for a little way. Our vision ended a few hundred meters beyond the shoreline, where the rain and mist hid everything beyond. The train stopped a few miles north of Seattle because of a rock slide that blocked the tracks. Heavy rains had caused the slide, and it was several minutes before the train could move again.

 

Senji met us at King Street Station. Stefan, Karin, and I got off the train. He looked just like the Japanese Buddhist monk that he is; he had a shaved head, and was wearing grey pants and jacket, with a saffron-colored sash going from his shoulder to his hip. He had a shoulder bag with him and his umbrella. We gathered our belongings and he got us a taxi. We drove a few blocks to the entrance of the dock for boarding the ferry to Bainbridge Island, Senji’s home. From where we were, the island wasn’t visible. We knew it was across the water, but we couldn’t see it. Then Senji took us to Ivar’s, a local seafood place, to eat fish and chips while we waited on the ferry.

 

We rode the ferry across the sound to Bainbridge Island. Riding the ferry was one of the first things that we did when we arrived in Seattle. Riding the ferry was also one of the last things we did while we were there. The ferries are shown on many of the postcards and photos of the Seattle area, and for good reason. The waterways both divide and connect the various towns and cities of the region. It is impossible for anyone to go far without taking a ferry or crossing a bridge. A person is never more than a few miles from the sea.

 

Our last ferry ride was across the sound from Kingston to Edmonds. On our last night in Seattle, Mira had taken us to free film showing at a small theater in Kingston. The film was called “The Unknown Sea”, and it was about some young researchers who were sailing through the inland waters. Joe Gaydos, the chief scientist from the Seadoc Society, gave a short talk after the movie. He explained that Puget Sound wasn’t really Puget Sound any more. The whole inland water world that extends from Vancouver in the north to Olympia in the south had been renamed the Salish Sea. It is one enormous ecosystem, full of fish and crabs and clams and sea lions and orcas. None of these creatures recognize the U.S./Canada border. The inland sea is also home to eight million humans. I stood at the bow of ferry as it took us home to the Seattle side of the sound. It was night. I could see thousands of lights on the far shore, and lights reflected in the water.

Water surrounded us. It embraced us. The Salish Sea was ever present in our minds, and the minds of those around us. The light rail system is called “ORCA” for god sake. The graffiti on the building walls often shows pictures of whales or octopi. People told us about going clamming or crabbing when the tides were right. Mira took us on her favorite walk in Seattle, to Carkeek Park. It’s a park that extends down the hills to the shore of the sound, where the brown sand is covered with driftwood, shells, and bits of red seaweed. Even on the one sunny day, when the sky cleared and we could finally see Mount Rainier in the distance, we saw it all from the end of the pier in Indianola, with the waters of the sea lapping at the posts below us.

Grand Canyon

May 29th, 2017

“He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.” – Albert Einstein

Thirty-seven years ago, I hiked the Bright Angel Trail. I was with a friend from the U.S. Army Military Intelligence School. We had driven north to the Grand Canyon early one morning from Fort Huachuca. Paul and I were both twenty-two years old, and relatively fit. Once we arrived at the South Rim of the canyon, we decided to walk down to the Colorado River. We had a backpack full of doughnuts and Michelob, and we both carried canteens of water.

Paul and I walked down the river and back in one day. That was a fourteen mile round trip, and a mile difference in elevation between the rim and the river.  At one point, a concerned park ranger stopped us to tell us that we were damn fools. Of course, he was right. The hike was absolutely brutal, and totally worth it. It was nearly sunset when we crawled back to the parking lot, and then slept in my ’77 Chevy Impala (it had bench seats). My entire body ached, but my mind was full of the fantastic images.

I thought about the hike when Karin and I drove from Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon.  I knew that we were not going to hike the canyon. That wasn’t even a possibility. However, we needed to see it. Karin had never been to the Grand Canyon, and it would have been a sin to miss it. We had left Flagstaff very early to make the drive. Since it was tourist season, I expected the park to be crowded.

I was not disappointed. At the gate there was already a long line of cars. Thirty bucks got us into the park. We found one of the last parking places in a lot large enough to accommodate all the spectators at the Super Bowl. This was at 9:00 AM. I don’t know where people parked their cars after that.

It was already getting hot when we walked to the Welcome Center. Karin and I got a map. There is a “village” at the South Rim. I don’t know if it was there back in 1980. I can’t remember. The whole area is built up. The Welcome Center has a bike rental shop and a café of sorts. There are numerous shuttle buses. It’s much bigger operation than it was years ago, but then I had planned on that.

Karin and I walked among the milling crowd. Like Yellowstone, this park was loaded with foreign tourists.  I don’t begrudge them being there. If I was traveling to the U.S., I would want to see the Grand Canyon too. As we walked along, I could hear a variety of languages. Some I recognized. Some I didn’t.

We arrived at the rim. The canyon is impossible to adequately describe, so I won’t try. We looked down and we could see just a glimpse of the Colorado River, a mile below us. I felt dizzy when I looked straight down into the gorge. This was disturbing to me because I never used to feel like that. Hell, I had been a helicopter pilot. Why was I feeling light-headed now?

Karin wanted to take photos as we walked along. She stopped every few feet to snap another picture. Most everyone was doing the same thing. I felt wobbly when I got too close to the side. I was okay if I could lean against a rail, but there was a sensation of almost falling. I had to stay back a couple meters. Other people were clambering onto rocks at the very edges of the cliffs to take selfies. That was hard to watch.

I let Karin go on ahead of me. I sat down on a large stone. I just wanted to look at the canyon. Just look. I saw no point in taking pictures. Photos simply cannot do justice to the scene. They can’t convey the massive proportions of the Grand Canyon. They can’t show the grandeur of it all; the way the sunlight shines on certain strata of rock, making them almost glow with color. Pictures are just a tease.

What is awe really? It’s a hard emotion to describe, but I recognize it when I feel it. I felt it while I sat on that rock and stared into the distance. It’s like my mind couldn’t take it all in. I knew intellectually that this seemingly bottomless chasm existed, but somehow I could not quite believe it. I mean it was right there in front of me. However, part of me rebelled at the thought. It just couldn’t be real. Nothing could be that big. At that moment my mind froze. Analysis stopped. Words failed.

It just is.

Awe.

I went searching for Karin. She was happily conversing with a German family from near Stuttgart. Not only were they speaking in German, but they speaking Karin’s home dialect. We stood around and talked with Stefan and Sinna, while they kept track of their little children, Tim and Francesca. I don’t understand exactly how it works, but Stefan and Sinna managed to score six weeks of paid vacation. They seized on the opportunity and came to the States. They rented a camper in L.A. Then they started their endless road trip. They had plans to go Vegas, San Francisco, and God only knows where else. Cool.

I think it was after that when Karin asked me about going to Las Vegas.

“Are we near Las Vegas?”

“Yeah, sort of.”

“That Goddess Temple is near Las Vegas, isn’t it?”

“Yeah…”

”Well, it sounds like a nice place. We could maybe see it?”

“Mmmmmmmm…not this trip.”

“Why not? Oh, wait. You don’t want to get in trouble with the police again, right?”

“That has something to do with it.”

Sigh. “Oh well…”

Yes, we were making a very large loop around the entire state of Nevada. I don’t like to push my luck. I needed the bad energy to dissipate.

Karin and I stopped at the café for food. They just had pre-made sandwiches and that sort of thing. The Park Service runs the show, and there was no place else to eat. While in the checkout line, a young woman with pink hair at the register noticed my “Coexist” t-shirt. She gave me a thumbs up.

We found some shade, and started to eat a light meal. Then somebody said to us,

“Don’t you live on O’Brien Road?”

I was expecting to hear the music from “The Twilight Zone”. We looked over to our left and saw a family that lived down the block from us. Damn, that was weird. Strange karma. We talked for a while, and then Karin and I went back to the rim.

As we walked, we passed a man sitting at a table covered with books. He was tall and thin, well-tanned. Grey hair going to white. He wore beads around his neck and he was completely dressed in peach-colored clothes. He had a white chalk mark on the middle of his forehead. He got up to greet us.

Flashback. This reminded me way too much of when I would get accosted by the Hare Krishnas at LaGuardia Airport back in the ‘70s. The guy had that same blissed-out look in his eyes. Perhaps if we just ignored him…

No such luck. He started to engage me in conversation. Generally, when I don’t wish to speak to someone, I give off obviously negative energy. Most people detect this radioactivity and steer clear. Not this guy. He was on a mission.

“Have you ever read the Bhagavad Gita?”

“Yes, I have.” (This is true.)

The man smiled serenely. “What did you think of it?”

“It was okay.”

“Only okay? I have studied the Gita for many years. It has answers to so many of the questions in life.” He nodded sagely.

“Uh, yeah.”

He reached over to his table, and picked up a book. “Would like to take a copy?” he said, still smiling gently.

“No thanks. I have one at home.” (This is true.)

“That’s wonderful. There are so many translations. This one is my favorite.”

“I bet.”

“What is your name?”, he asked, holding out his hand.

“It’s Frank“, and I shook his hand. It was kind of limp.

He inclined his head slightly, and he said softly, “I am Swami.”

Of course you are. Who else could you possibly be?

Karin and I bid farewell to our new friend, and we hurried away. What I don’t understand is why the U.S. Park Service allowed this guy to evangelize on the path leading to the rim of the Grand Canyon. Nobody else had a table. Why only this Gita guy? Where were the Bible-thumpers? Where were the Jehovah Witnesses? It didn’t seem fair. I could not wrap my head around it at all.

The park was filling rapidly. It was time for us to go. We had miles still ahead of us. That was a pity. Honestly, the Grand Canyon deserves more than a few hours. It deserves days, maybe weeks. It should be savored. It demands awe.

 

Flagstaff

May 28th, 2017

We rolled into Flagstaff on a Sunday evening. It wasn’t quite dark yet. It was Memorial Day weekend, so things were still happening in town. There were crowds of people milling around. Karin and I had just left I-40, and we were slowly creeping along San Francisco Street looking for our night’s lodging, the Grand Canyon International Hostel. The hostel was supposed to be on our left. San Francisco is a one-way street, and the GPS suddenly told us that we had passed our chosen destination. I abruptly pulled into the parking lot of some motel, and we wearily exited the Toyota. The drive from New Mexico had been exhausting, and we needed food and rest. We needed to be anywhere besides inside the Corolla.

Looking about, we noticed a sign hanging near a door indicating that we had, in fact, found the Grand Canyon International Hostel. Oh joy! Oh rapture! We shuffled toward the entrance of the hostel and went inside.

The foyer was crowded with young people. It became instantly obvious to Karin and myself that we were, by far, the oldest people in this establishment. Many of the youngsters were sitting around on old sofas, fooling around with their smart phones. There was jazz music playing loudly in the background, and pamphlets for tours of the Grand Canyon scattered everywhere. There was microscopic booth for the concierge, but he was absent from his post. I looked around helplessly until a girl told me, “Ring the bell! Then he’ll come!”

I rang the bell. A thin, lanky man came quickly round the corner and greeted us. He had long, grey hair pulled back into a ponytail and a short goatee. He wore large glasses, and he had a ready smile.

“Are you folks looking for a place to stay? Do you have a reservation? Because we are booked solid tonight.”

“We have a reservation.”

“Cool“, he said, as he looked at his computer screen.

“Did you make a reservation with us, and or did you go through a hostel website?”

“A website”.

“I thought so. When you go through the national website, the amount you pay after your initial deposit is always some funky number. I think these people play around with the currency market, because the fees change slightly every day.” He shrugged and looked for our names.

“Okay, here you are. It will be another fifty dollars, and then you’re set.”

I paid the man with my credit card, and he said, “Okay, let’s do the tour.”

I asked the man’s name. It was Lance.

Lance gave Karin a key and he gave me a key. We were staying in different rooms. I was going to be on the ground floor with the guys, and Karin was staying upstairs with the ladies. Lance went to a closet and got each of us a bath towel. He showed us the breakfast room and the bathroom/showers. Karin went up to see her room, and Lance showed me where they have a big screen TV, and a small room with a computer that had Internet access.

I checked out my room. It had two bunkbeds, and a sink with a mirror.  I was going to be sharing the room with three other guys during the night. I tossed my towel on top of one of the top bunks.

Karin and I needed to find a place to eat, but first I wanted to set up lodging for the following night. We were planning to meet up with our friend, Jody, who was making a bicycle pilgrimage through California, visiting each of the old Spanish missions. Jody was a moving target. She expected to be near Santa Barbara during the next few days, but her exact whereabouts were uncertain. Karin and I looked at the road atlas, and we realized that the drive from Flagstaff to the California coast was just too long for one day. We needed a stopping point along the way.

I went to talk with Lance. He had told me a few things about himself. He had been born in Galway, but raised in southern California. Lance had noticed that Karin had a German accent, and he told us that he had been there. Actually, Lance had been damn near everywhere in the world. He spent years as a reporter for Reuters. He told us a story about when he was in El Salvador. He had photographed an intact American-made cluster bomb, with all its production markings visible. Upon his return to the U.S., he had given the film to his employer for development. Later, Lance had been confronted by his boss who told him, “Don’t ever ask about that film again.” Lance was only recently back in America. He had been living in New Zeeland, and he had come back to America to “see how things were.” He was kind of shocked by the Trumpian political environment.

I mentioned to Lance about the recent anti-drone protest at Creech AFB in Nevada, and about the subsequent unpleasantness with the local police there.

Lance looked at me seriously, and asked, “Just what did you think of the Las Vegas jail?”

I replied, “It reminded me a lot of Arlo Guthrie and ‘Alice’s Restaurant’.”

Lance thought for a moment, and then roared laughing. “I can see that! I can totally see that!” Then he went back to work.

I was tempted ask Lance why, after all his experiences, he was now working in a hostel in Flagstaff, Arizona. Of course, he could also ask me why, after all of my experiences, I was staying in a hostel in Flagstaff, Arizona. There are no good answers to those questions. Some things just are.

I went to Lance and asked him, “What is midway between here and Santa Barbara?”

He thought for a moment, cringed, and said, “I’m afraid to say that it’s Needles.”

“That’s bad?”

Lance sighed and asked, “You aren’t planning to be there long, are you?”

“No, just overnight. We are trying to get to Santa Barbara, but that’s too far to drive in one day.”

Lance rubbed his eyes. “Yeah, that is too far. Well, you could stay in Barstow. The next morning you would still have to drive across the north side of the valley. If you hit rush hour, it could be bad. There is a radio station that I always monitor in L.A. It’s good for keeping tabs on the traffic.”

“So, we should try Barstow?”

Lance shrugged. “It’s probably the best you will do.”

Karin and I went to the common-use computer and found a Quality Inn in Barstow. We set up a room for the next night. We had a plan, and now it was time to explore.

It was about 8:00 PM when Karin and I got on the street. We walked down San Francisco, past a microbrewery and over the railroad tracks. Long freight trains roll through Flagstaff every few minutes. The sidewalks were crowded with young people. Northern Arizona University is at the other need of the road from downtown Flagstaff, and the students were out in force. The bars and restaurants were packed with folk. It was a busy night. One tavern had the doors wide open and a band playing. The lead singer was a girl with multiple tattoos who was belting out a song from the Cranberries. Lots of people and lots of noise.

We wanted to get some postcards and maybe a souvenir shot glass for Stefan. Karin and I made it a habit to buy Stefan a shot glass at each new stop. He collects them. We walked into a place called “Crystal Magic”. It was a New Age kind of place. The store specialized in selling spiritual consumer goods. A person goes there to buy pieces of enlightenment. The girl at the counter had a waif-like appearance. She wore a shapeless sort of dress, and she had gold sparkles in her eye shadow. The young woman had an unfocused gaze and a breathless manner of speaking that sort of indicated that she was either at a higher plane of being, or maybe just plain high. We bought postcards. The store didn’t have any shot glasses.

Karin and I walked a little further. I saw a guy sitting on the sidewalk staring straight ahead. He looked to be about my age. He had blond hair that was going grey. He had a cup in front of him, with a tiny collection of coins at its bottom. People walked around him and over him. He seemed utterly forlorn.

Karin wanted to check out a store across the street. I told her, “Go ahead. I need to talk to this homeless guy.”

I walked over to the man on the sidewalk.

“Hi, how are you?”

The man didn’t look up. He shrugged his shoulders slowly and said, “Okay, I guess.”

I stretched out my hand to him. “My name is Frank.”

He looked at me and reached up. He shook my hand and said, “My name is Anthony.”

“Can I do something to help you, Anthony?”

He raised an eyebrow and said, “Well, I’d like to get myself a sandwich.”

I fished in my wallet. “Here’s a ten. Will that help?”

Anthony’s faced brightened. “Yeah, that will get me a sandwich, and maybe some breakfast for tomorrow. Thanks.”

“Okay. Do what you need to do.”

I turned around to look for Karin. She had disappeared. How could I have lost her already? I turned back toward Anthony. He was gone too.

Karin called out to me from across the street. She had seen something she liked, but she wasn’t going to buy it. We moved along to find a place to eat. It was getting late enough that some of the restaurants were closing down. We found a place that we liked just after they had locked the doors. It was getting to the point where we would have to find something soon or go hungry. Action needed to be taken.

Tucked into a corner of a building was a little place called the “Historic Brewing Company”. We were home at last. The place was extremely busy. The waitresses and the manager were desperately trying to fill orders. There was a certain number of confused looks at order slips and plates of food. Karin and I stood at the bar and examined the chalkboard which displayed a variety of home brews. I selected an Imperial Stout and Karin got something called an “Undercover Cucumber”. We also ordered hot pretzels with mustard dip.

We sat outside. There was a crescent moon overhead. It was getting colder. Flagstaff sits at about 7000 feet above sea level, so the temperature drops like a stone after sunset. We relaxed and ate and drank. It was fun. By the way, the Undercover Cucumber is a blond ale with just a hint of cucumber juice. It’s actually quite refreshing.

We walked back to the hostel. We were bone tired. Thirty years ago, we would have closed down that brewery, but those days are over. We are slowly coming to grips with the fact that we are getting old.

Two of my roommates were there to greet me upon my arrival. They were both young men from Fort Smith, Arkansas. They were doing the tour of the desert Southwest, with their backpacks, hiking boots, and empty wallets. They finally turned off the lights. I crawled up into my bunk, and closed my eyes. Sleep evaded me for several hours. Drunk students roamed the streets until about midnight. I wasn’t really offended by their ruckus. I remember those days. I drifted off.

Promptly at 3:00, the two Razorbacks turned on the overhead light and started to pack up their shit. I thought to myself, “You cocksuckers!” These two guys insisted on moving around gingerly on tiptoes. It would have quieter and quicker if they had just grabbed their belongings and bolted out the door.  Eventually, they had what they needed and they left for parts unknown.

Now I was awake. Again. I decided to shave and take a shower. I had earlier done some ciphering, and I had concluded that there were probably thirty guys and one shower on my floor. The odds of getting to use the shower at 6:00 AM was minimal. At 3:30 my odds were much improved.

After showering, I laid down again. Sleep hugged me. Then at 5:30 AM Karin texted me: “Are you up?” Well, yeah, I guess I am. I stumbled out of the bunk, grabbed my stuff and met Karin in the hallway. Her night had been more peaceful. She had shared a room with three girls from Spain. One of them had stumbled into the room late, but it wasn’t too bad. We packed up the car, and went back inside for breakfast.

The new guy at the desk had set things up. There was cereal, yogurt, bread, butter, jam, and fruit. The hot coffee smelt good. Karin and I sat down with some other early risers. There were three girls there from Argentina. There was also a girl named Ellen, who was originally from Scotland. Ellen had flaming red hair and a discreet number of tattoos and piercings. She worked in Vancouver. She was a labor organizer and anarchist. I told Ellen about the history of the Catholic Workers. She actually seemed interested.

With breakfast done, we dropped off our keys.

On to the Grand Canyon.