I passed through Arizona twice in my life, both times i felt like i belonged there.
the first outward bound journey was driving through in a sporty japanese car with two english people, they were in love so i always felt like i was the odd man out, i slept on park benches and picnic tables, under the stars while they had the tent. i saw many beautiful things in the arizona night. we drove around listening to english dub music, we stayed with gay cowboys, we smoked a lot of good weed and i took photographs of everything i could. one day i stopped the car and wrote 'nowhere' in the sand and photographed it in 360 panoramic, because we really were nowhere. i saw rocks that made a girl i met have an orgasm when she saw them for the first time. i saw the grand canyon and was overwhelmed with awe... the understatement of 'grand,' it's fucking massive!
i saw snakes, termite mounds and lizard kings and queens. i saw petrified forests, fossil kingdoms, the remnants of a great indigenous culture, i saw shooting stars. i saw infinity in arizona and i loved it.
the homeward bound trip, i was 18 years old, hitch hiking my way around the west, i'd run out of cash along the way, living on my wits cross country by greyhound to newark, new jersey. i'd been living down in mexico and managed to get back to california to catch the old classic greyhound experience.
that was the last of my cash, i had an air ticket back to london and four days to kill.
somehow i'd fallen in with a bunch of desperadoes, they gravitated to me like i was a writer and they were characters in my next book. one was a biker and i bonded with him immediately, he was the american hero of some twisted folk tale, righteous and indifferent to authority rules and regulations, he had the taste of freedom and was hanging on for as long as he could, before he succumbed to an american middle class wipe out.
the other was on the run from a cult of people he had escaped from out in the barren californian desert, he was panicked and nervous, said people were looking for him, but the biker and i told him we would keep him safe. he fell asleep and for the next few hours i chatted with the biker and heard his tales of bikes vs women. i never thought to ask him where his bike was or his woman, but i sort of knew he'd lost both and it was the bike he missed most.
the bus gradually filled up and i found myself sitting next to a large black guy who told me he was a minister. i was squished against the window, my body crumpled like discarded tissue paper, all i wanted was a hot shower and a good feed. it had been several days since i had eaten so i'd slumped into a deep sleep.
when i awoke the desert rolled by and i was amazed at the blue sky, it was almost everywhere i could see.
the minister asked me a few questions, and we fell into a relaxed conversation, he had a southern twang to his words, like a genuine texan but i can't recall exactly where he came from.
the bus pulled up at a small restaurant area and we stretched our legs, the biker and cult escapee are asleep in the bus so it's me and the preacher man. he sits on a wall with me and pulls out a big fat spliff.
'come on boy, we going to smoke this sacrament the lord provided and then ask him for some earthly sustenance.'
i looked at the spliff as he lit it and sucked it down, passing it my way, oh yeah, its smooth and beautiful and i felt my body relax as i stretched and eased into the day. it was early morning and i figured as far as breakfasts go, this was perfect but the preacher pulls me gently towards the doors.
the hit of air con is refreshing, like walking into a cool room and it does knock you back a step, it's such a vast contrast from outside where the early morning sun is already scorching.
i look around me, there's an array of poker machines and lonely people playing them, it must have been around 7am. the preacher sits his huge mass down upon a stool, flashes me his big grin, 'now boy, i tell you god always provides for his children and i know you are a child of the universe, so i'm going to win us some bucks and get us a mighty breakfast, okay boy, let's go.'
he slips a single coin in the machine and winks at me, pulls a lever and things start spinning, colours flash by and whatever alignments occur... we are blessed with a win. change starts spitting out at our feet, i can't quite believe it but there it is, a pile of cash at my feet.
'how did you do that?'
'the hand of god works in mysterious ways boy, ask and he will provide ask and ye shall receive.'
'it's a bloody miracle.'
we enter the big restaurant, greeted by a young waiter, 'table for two,' the priest says as we weave around the tables towards the buffet.
later i clamber up into the bus and the guys are asking me was it worth while getting out, 'yeah it was worth it.'
i looked around but the preacher was gone, the bus drove away and i sat back in my chair thinking about how beautiful arizona was and how i'd like to stay longer, maybe meet a girl from here, some sort of navajo woman. live out some life learning a whole new way of being, deep wisdom with the great spirit but i had that calling already and it was only an echo. i loved that woman, i love arizona.
the escapee is awake now and he's excited about reaching utah, there's a gun show on there. it's in a big auditorium and he's so enthusiastic we can't resist so we end up in this huge hall, which in turn is just a huge market where they sell guns and ammo. i last two minites before i sneak away, back to the terminal.
here i have to change buses and i think perhaps i have seen my outlaw friends for the last time, i never said goodbye, swapped numbers, just left them behind. i put my head against the side of the bus waiting for it to leave, it begins to move forwards and then someone bangs on the door, and the biker clambers aboard and plonks himself down next to me and i'm happy to see him.
'jesus, captain, almost missed my ride.'
someone on the bus has a packet of biscuits and it's being passed around. outside the salt flats pass us by.
we are in philadelphia when the bus crashes into a pick up truck, everyone on the bus lets out a collective gasp but everyone appears to be unhurt, except i can see the biker soaking in the information, gears in his mind calculating the possible outcomes, 'come on mission, just follow me, do what i do, do what i do, copy me, we will be okay, just do what i do.'
suddenly he starts yelling, 'paramedic, paramedic, get the paramedic.'
the driver is already on the radio, the biker is clutching his head, someone from a seat in front comes to assist, she scans the situation and yells to the driver, 'we need a paramedic now, this man has hurt his head.'
the driver is holding his head in his hands, he's wailing and shouting, but in between he's whispering to me, 'come on do what i do mission.'
i'm english, reserved and somewhat observing with detachment as the paramedic boards, he walks up the bus and checks out the biker, 'what happened' he asks?
'his head hit the seat in front when the bus crashed into the truck.'
'okay we're going to have to get him off the bus and to hospital, can you walk?'
the biker just stares out vacantly. a stretcher is brought to the door, and various emergency vehicles arrive, there's a bit of confusion and the biker looks at me through it all, 'mission, you should have followed me, we could get into hospital, get fed, get some great drugs, get to fuck sexy philly nurses and then we can sue the bus company.'
he's led out, moaning and groaning and in one conspiratorial wink as he steps off, leaves me to continue my journey through america.
i get to newark airport and scavenge the terminal for food, i meet an english guy who wants me to fake a compassionate letter so he can fly home free. it's a great letter but i do feel somewhat guilty writing about how his father died suddenly, the guys been sailing around florida and needs to get out of the usa fast, i intuitively think he's involved in some bad voodoo, possibly cocaine but it's just a young mission, intuitive powers not fully honed. it's possible he was just like me, down and out, running on empty.
we sat with some american pilots around a round table, they were drinking from a large glass orange juice container. must have held two litres of orange juice half off which was gone, all of them swigging deeply from it. when it came to me, i was surprised to find it laced with gin.
when the flights was announced over the speaker system the pilots all donned their jackets and shook our hands, they were off to fly their planes.
eventually when i got on the plane back to london i sat with a scottish girl who bought me lunch. she was kind hearted and i was grateful, i met my dad at the airport and made him pay her for the meal. he did, unquestioning. it's one of those things you remember when your older but at the time seemed insignificant.
i remember driving through the streets of london and thinking, it's such a small place, everything crammed together, suffocating me so unlike arizona. arizona, where the space allows freedom to breath, where the rock formations give girls orgasms, where a holy druid smokes a sacred plant and the great spirit provides.