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(east/west, day seven: Arizona)

Gallup out of New Mexico and pass into Arizona

No more scrubland, this is desert, and I’m still fighting the wind

Stop for a bite and I’m made to feel non grata persona

The locals eye me like a hostile; just how exactly have I sinned?

The scenic landscape is marred by visual discord

In a jarring juxtaposition I can barely describe

See 1000s of items, scream the garish billboards

What an insult to the honor of the great native tribes

What sort of universal truth do I seek in these desert sands

What sort of private epiphany will I find

What sort of prophetic words will I speak in the promised land

What are they all but the special effects of my mind.

Outside of Flagstaff, not far from the meteor crater

The dust devils line up and tower to the sky

Single file they cross the highway on their way to something greater

They seem to know something, like wise old spirits from on high

But they evade my detection unless I’m wearing my sunglasses

Without such glare protection I wouldn’t know they’re there

When I reach their line of crossing, right over me one passes

And I sail right through without a bump like a glider through the air

What sort of revelation comes to me in this wilderness

Are these encounters of the otherworldly kind

What sort of apparitions are these, heroic or villainous

Are they real or just the special effects of my mind.

And there’s something out there that summons all spirits

At various points along the length of the ride

Are they just passing through or do they have a message for me

I guess I won’t really know until I’ve reached the other side.

I roll into town but once again there’s no stopping

Nowhere to park the beast, no place where it fits

So a short hop to Williams, where I find my last night’s lodging

On a faithful restoration of Historic 66

At first it looks like fun, there’s so much to do here

But I avail myself of none of it and hit the rack instead

Today was so exhausting, and I’m just a passer-through here

Got to gather my strength for the last day that’s ahead

But what’s this crazy news reaching me in this strange place

About mercy to the cruel—it’s madness defined

Is a frog really defending a scorpion with such a straight face

Or is this all just more special effects of my mind

What sort of big message to I parse out of this vision quest

What sort of grand salvation can I expect to find

Well, all I can do is act in my own best interest

And not be fooled by the special effects of my mind.

©2023 The Hesh Inc.

Detail of Arizona Dust Devil, original AI art by The Hesh Inc.
The dust devils line up and tower to the sky.

At around 1:00 in the afternoon on Monday, June 22, 2003, I crossed the state line from New Mexico into Arizona. The first thing I experienced was a visual assault on the senses by a panoply of day-glo billboards proclaiming "SEE 1000S OF ITEMS MADE BY INDIANS!" Not quite knowing to make of these signs other than what appeared as crass commercialism, I stopped at a rest area for something to eat and drink; the hostility was evident as soon as I walked in. Mind you, nobody said anything to me one way or the other; it was the thousand-yard stares I was getting from everyone behind the counters, no doubt because I was a paleface. I figured it out right away and I wanted to yell, "STOP STARING AT ME LIKE THAT! I HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH THIS!" But of course, no one could tell just by looking at me that I was Jewish and had my own intergenerational baggage and people's history of persecution, and I wasn't about to get into any kind of conversation about it; I just finished my lunch and got out of there.

I continued westward, putting the bad vibes out of my mind and thinking of how the transcontinental flight bearing my wife and daughter could be passing overhead at any time. In just under two hours I approached the exit to Meteor Crater and I observed a line of about half a dozen dust whirlwinds, following each other single file and crossing the highway. I took my sunglasses off but could not see them with the naked eye. It just seemed like these were spirits (ruchot in Hebrew, the same word for winds) in procession or perhaps a pilgrimage, not visible to just anyone. But I was given the gift of vision and I wondered whether or not these spirits had any message for me. They remained aloof and kept proceeding, as did I—I drove right through one but didn't feel any sort of impact or turbulence.

Rolling into Flagstaff I decided I'd had enough for the day and started looking for a place to park, but couldn't find one—a story that had repeated itself throughout the trip—so I continued until I reach a place called Williams. I found a hotel in the center of downtown, which was a section of Historic Route 66 kept in good condition to attract tourists. It all looked enticing but I decided to check in and call it another day.

I went to bed while it was still daylight, and naturally I woke up in the middle of the night, having gotten my night's sleep. Not yet ready to get up and start the day yet, I switched on the TV and surfed through the channels until I saw a familiar face! Someone I knew from back east, an attorney, was talking to the news about the alleged terrorist he was defending. Mind you, this person I knew was an Orthodox Jew and his yarmulke was in plain sight, and here he was talking about defending someone who would have gladly killed him. I hate to say it but my respect for him got bumped down a few notches that night, but I never mentioned it to him or to any mutual acquaintances. I just shook my head and kept on surfing till I fell asleep again for another couple of hours. The morning would bring the last day on the road and I wanted to be ready for it.


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