Monday, January 31, 2011

True Grits: A Comparison


If you don't want to know about True Grit, just stop now.

It's takes a strong will, a determined effort, a stick-to-it-iveness not everyone can summon.

An inner toughness to persevere in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

But, I decided to ignore the old fuckers behind me who would not shut the fuck up, and the old fucker across the aisle who could not get that red and white striped candy out of the plastic wrapper for AT LEAST 20 minutes, and I watched Joel and Ethan's latest, True Grit.

I've seen Henry Hathaway's version 25 times minimum. It's one of those flicks,... I can do most of the dialog from memory. When I heard the Coens were doing a "remake" I hoped they weren't doing just a "remake." They didn't.

I hesitate to call Hathaway's version "the original" as both Henry and the Coen brothers' films are adaptations of the book by Charles Portis.

Up until recently, I hadn't given much credit to Portis, sort of like I don't give credit to Peter Benchley. I always saw True Grit as Henry Hathaway's creation.

And that's where Kim Darby comes in to play.

When you've seen the '69 version as many times as I've seen it, you cannot help but comparing the two movies, and the actors in them. Rooster Cogburn became John Wayne's signature role, and it won him a Best Actor Oscar. (do I capitalize Oscar?)

Wait, I'm getting ahead of myself, The Dude vs. The Duke is not the first comparison to be made.

Hathaway's version had a sort of sunny, dum-dee-dum, everything in the old west was cleaned and pressed look to it. Even the guys who were lynched in Fort Smith at the beginning were clean. Marquerite Roberts handled the screenplay for Hathaway and, probably due to the fact that it was 1969, decided to feature John Wayne. Perhaps that was at Hathaway's urging, I don't know.

The Coens also handled the screenplay, and leading up to going to see it, I'd heard there were some differences between the two movies; the Coens supposedly sticking more closely to the book. Joel and Ethan's version has a darker feel, right down to the soundtrack. Not gloomy, just non-sunny. Whereas Hathaway made a western with mountain scenery, Joel and Ethan set it in Arkansas and the cinematographer goes to great lengths to show the authentic Arkansas and Chocktaw Nation/Oklahoma terrain as depicted in the book.

Anyway, just around the time the old man across the aisle got his (first) red and white striped candy out of that balky cellophane, the train pulled into Fort Smith and off stepped Mattie Ross with Yarnell in tow, supposedly he was to keep an eye on her.

First difference right away, Hathaway/Roberts gave the back story of Mattie's father, Frank Ross, being killed by his farm hand Tom Cheney before taking Kim Darby/Mattie into town.

The Coens let that part of the story unfold through the words of the narrator, a 48 year old Mattie Ross. Oh, that's interesting. Hmm. I wonder if those seniors behind me heard what she said. Apparently one of them didn't because his companion repeated it....for the entire theater to hear. Old people talk in movies, and the "Do you mind???" look doesn't phase them.

Sorry, where was I? Watching how actors read lines of dialog that I already know by heart, with their own take on it, is something I rarely see. I hate "remakes" as they're almost always inferior. It's more of a play thing for me. I can see how stage actors can change the feel of The Life of Henry the Fifth with body language and inflection and facial expression. Not so much in movies.

At least, that's what I used to think.

Hailee Steinfeld, a 13 year old (at the time of filming) actress from California, was chosen from, according to the Coens, thousands who read for the part. They were looking for a certain maturity required to play the part of Mattie. She had to be just right to capture the character they felt Portis had created.

For the first 20 minutes or so, I was mentally comparing the two True Grits. Couldn't help it. Lynching scenes, similar, but the Coens made it a bit more graphic.

I absolutely adored Strother Marrtin, Hathaway's choice to play Col Stonehill, the horse trader from Fort Smith. As Hailee/Mattie walked into Stonehill's office to haggle over her late father's ponies recently purchased, I began immediately comparing Dakin Matthews to Strother Martin.

It was close enough to the same dialog that I was able to see the two actors' different interpretation of their lines and both did them in a fashion that seemed as realistic as hell. Kudos to Dakin Matthews even though he didn't get to do the "I heard a young girl had fallen down a well, and I thought perhaps it was you!" line.

But it's at that point where I suddenly realized that the entire movie is different. Holy crap, Hailee Steinfeld is acting like, like, a 14 year old girl!

Kim Darby was a 20something actress playing Mattie, and it felt that way. Hathaway focused much less on the character's youth, and more on her spunky cuteness. Darby was the unfortunate recipient of one of those 1960s "And Introducing" things during the opening credits, but that couldn't stop The Duke from eating the furniture in every scene, probably because Hathaway was feeding it to him. The Hathaway version is about Rooster Cogburn.

Through Henry Hathaway's camera, Rooster is the one with "true grit."

I can see now why the Coens auditioned so many young actresses for the role of Mattie Ross. It takes a certain maturity to play the part of a 14 year old girl, who is mature well beyond her years in any part. Add to that the setting, 1878 Arkansas, and I start to see why Hailee Steinfeld was getting so much praise when the movie was first released.

It is an astonishing performance.

Her exchanges with LeBoeuf (Matt Damon) have a completely different feel than those between Darby and Glen Campbell under Hathaway's direction. The Coens allowed Steinfeld to play the part as it was written, and that difference changes the performance of Damon/LeBoeuf. Hell, her performance makes everybody's performance different in the Coens' True Grit.

It's just a completely different dynamic. LeBoeuf for instance is now a man arguing with a little girl, and the little girl is winning.

There are differences in the storyline itself as it is told by Joel and Ethan. Slight plot alterations. LeBoeuf is not nearly as prominent, nor is Lucky Ned Pepper. Robert Duvall's Ned Pepper got a lot more face time than does Barry Pepper's Lucky Ned Pepper. (try typing that three times fast.)

Ditto Tom Cheney. Josh Brolin's Cheney is wonderfully performed, but something of a minor role when compared to Jeff Corey's turn as the powder-burned asshole who killed that little girl's daddy.

That brings me to The Dude. Jeff Bridges is an outstanding actor. He just keeps on being great. Is he ever not good? He does essentially the same lines that The Duke read, he's got the eye-patch (on his right by the way as opposed to Duke's left) , he's got the gravelly voice, and the sloppy drunken thing down pat. But Rooster Cogburn, as played by Jeff Bridges, is a much darker character. He's not comical, he's darkly funny.

At one point he decides he's had enough and tells LeBoeuf to take the girl and just go.

"I'm out." says Rooster.

He comes back.

The Coens wrap the whole thing up pretty much the same way that Hathaway/Roberts did, with a few noticeable changes.


In the first True Grit, LeBoeuf dies. Not so this time. Although we never see the older LeBoeuf, through a letter read by Mattie, we learn that he's joined a traveling wild west show that's passing through Fort Smith. He invites Mattie to come visit him when they pass through. He tells her he's 25 years older since they last spoke, and a lot slower, but he's doing well. When she goes to see him, now a 48 year old one-armed spinster (the snake-bite cost her her left arm*), she learns that he passed away just three weeks prior.

Rooster and Mattie reunite after her snakebite near-death experience in the 1969 film, whereas in the Coens' movie, Mattie blacks out just as Rooster gets her to safety and she never sees him again. She reads a letter she got from him as she walks into the setting sun, and the film ends with narrator Mattie talking about her life, and her adventure with these guys when she was just 14.

And as I walked out of the theater, I began to think about Charles Portis. So that's what True Grit is about! It's the little girl who has true grit.

What an idea for a character. Absolutely fantastic.

Charles Portis is 77 now, and according to what I've read, something of a hermit. Apparently he still shows up in Little Rock from time to time. Wiki calls him "A recluse who enjoys traveling in Mexico."

I often wonder why supremely talented writers like Portis decide to drop out of sight. How can someone with such amazing skill stop doing what they're so fucking good at? Why does a great writer go Salinger?

I find myself glad on the one hand that I have a few new books that I'm simply going to have to read, Norwood, The Dog of The South, Masters of Atlantis, ....and True Grit.(no, I've never read it.)

On the other hand, I'm somewhat saddened to know there isn't more from this guy. It almost makes me want to read these few books of his more slowly, to savor the flavor, as I know there are no more after that.

If you haven't seen True Grit, I don't think I've given too much away. By all means go see the movie. It's one of the best I've seen in years.

Also, I hope Hailee Steinfeld does not win an Oscar for supporting actress (supporting actress? huh?) Not because she doesn't deserve it but because I'd like to see her develop her skills before the "And introducing" Hollywood types chew her up and spit her out.

(Note to Joel and Ethan. Re: Mattie's missing left arm....the snake bit her on the right hand.)

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Monsters Among Us

So ya,.. thought ya,... might like to ...go to the show.
To feel the warm thrill of confusion, that space cadet glow.

I got me some bad news for you, Sunshine.

Pink isn't well, he stayed back at the hotel,

And he sent us along as a surrogate band.

We're gonna find out where you fans really stand.

In the course of my travels on the internet I've come across some pretty fucked up opinions. 9/11 Inside-Jobbers. Moon Landing Hoaxers, Jew Banking Conspiracy nuts, Global Warming deniers, Birthers,... the number of goofy opinions that are floating through the ether is pretty frightening really.

Despite astonishing utility, the internet has also given a global voice to some really fucked up human beings.

For the most part, I can shrug off those opinions with which I disagree, or those that I know are completely insane, like those I mentioned up there.

But for some reason, I can't resist the urge to confront the pseudo-religious types.

Creationists annoy me, but not to any great degree because I can dismiss them as either willfully ignorant, or sadly uninformed. No way the earth is 6000 years old. Absolutely not possible. No chance the Bible is an accurate account of world history. Not possible. A fairy tale loaded with symbolism designed to keep the rabble in line.

Got it. So far, the religious argument is taken as seriously, in my mind, as people who think aliens are living among us. No skin off my nose if people want to believe that shit.

But some of them can't leave it at that.

The types that I find almost irresistible are the fuckheads who get right up in my grill with their fucked up ideas about how I should behave, or how you should burn in hell. I've never been able to stop myself from kicking these fuckers, figuratively speaking, in the balls.

There's just something about an asshole who displays astonishing ignorance in the act of condescension that it makes me pull off the road.

One such example is the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas.

A bigger bunch of shitheads could not be found on earth in a hundred years of searching.

I knew these people were human ooze when they began picketing the funerals of fallen US Troops. You see, the Westboro Baptist Church feels that God is punishing those who defend what they consider a "fag lifestyle."

Now generally speaking, I might just dismiss such shit as the unfortunate byproduct of the 1st Amendment, (and a hell of an argument against the 1st Amendment) but in reading up a bit on Westboro I've found that they're not some little shitbox in Topeka with a crazy fucking pastor, Fred Phelps, preaching hellfire and damnation on the lambs who have strayed from the righteous path of God, ...well they're not only that.

Westboro Baptist Church pickets an average of 6 places a day, up to 15 churches every Sunday, has picketed in every state in the union, and according to Phelps, the crazy fucking leader of these crazy fucking assholes, they've conducted over 30,000 pickets since 1991.

The Westboro Baptist Church has an annual travel budget of $200,000, and one member of the cult estimated that they spend almost $300,000 just on picketing every year., and are a a few of the websites operated by Phelps.

It's all about hating the fags with Westboro. That's why they picket funerals of fallen troops, ...because the US tolerates homosexuals in our society. Same reason they picket funerals of AIDS victims. The Sweden thing? They tolerate them homy-sekshals over there too.

Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, KN worships a God who sounds like a real hateful asshole.

I've been doing some reading about Phelps and his insane family for the last couple of days, and I won't bore you with too many details other than the critical one. They're completely fucking insane.

According to Wiki...Phelps and Westboro have "targeted" President Ronald Reagan, Princess Diana, Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, National Football League star Reggie White, Sonny Bono, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, atheists, Muslims, murdered college student Matthew Shepard, the late children's television host Fred Rogers, the late Australian actor Heath Ledger, Comedy Central's Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, political commentator Bill O'Reilly, Jews, Catholics, Swedes, the Irish....

The Irish....whu....wh....huh?

But it wasn't until Phelps and Westboro came out and praised Jared Loughner, that I pulled off the road and started to actually listen to what these fuckers are saying.

According to Phelps and the shit-eaters at Westboro Baptist Church, Jared Loughner was acting on behalf of God. In the case of Loughner, Phelps said that God was getting even with the people who are trying to stifle the message of Westboro Baptist Church, including Gabrielle Giffords who, according to Phelps, is an avid supporter of baby killing and sin, and "was shot for that mischief."

In referring to a lawsuit brought against Westboro in Baltimore, Phelps said that Judge John Roll "paid for that sin, ...with his life!"

(Apparently so did 9 year old Christina Taylor Green. She got whacked by God/Loughner because of the Baltimore lawsuit too.)

"Thank God for the violent shooter! One of your soldier heroes in Tucson." said Phelps in the same video released after the shooting. He delights in praising Loughner's body count "...wounding 16! At least 6 are dead....and counting."

"Westboro Baptist Church prays for more shooters, more violent veterans, and more dead. Praise God for his righteous judgments in this earth. Amen."

In all the ontological discussions/debates I've ever heard, I have yet to hear anyone give a lucid explanation that definitively proves the existence of God.

Gotta have faith.

And if ever there was a strong argument against the existence of, at the very least, an all-knowing, all-powerful Supreme Being, it's the very existence of Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church.

Are there any queers in the theatre tonight?
Get 'em up against the wall. -- 'Gainst the wall!

And that one in the spotlight, he don't look right to me.

Get him up against the wall. -- 'Gainst the wall!

And that one looks Jewish, and that one's a coon.

Who let all this riffraff into the room?

There's one smoking a joint, and another with spots!
If I had my way I'd have all of ya shot.

(lyrics borrowed from Pink)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Christina Taylor Green

I remember that night in 1984. I was still a Cub fan, and had in hand a World Series ticket that my father-in-law had gotten for me. Cubs were up two games to none against the San Diego Padres, and only needed to win one out of the next three, to be played at Jack Murphy Stadium.

Cubs lost Game 3. And then Game 4. It all came down to one final game, and the Cubs had the lead late in that game when Leon Durham let a grounder dribble through his legs. A gimme, and he booted it. Padres scored a couple there, and a couple more, and before I knew it, the Cubs had lost. Three in a row they lost. And my World Series Ticket is now framed on the wall next to my desk. The ink has faded.

Everyone here heard the details after Tucson, and when they said "Christina Taylor Green, 9 year old granddaughter of former Cubs General Manager Dallas Green." you could almost feel the city's fucking shoulders droop even more.

A fucking gut punch.

The local connection. I don't know why we do it, but we do it. We get attached. We adopt. Family.

Dallas hasn't lived here in a long time, but the time he spent here rubbed off on us, and us on him I think.

I thought back and remembered Dallas being interviewed all those years ago, that night at Jack Murphy Stadium, in San Diego. Crushed, like every Cub fan.

Dude wears his heart on his sleeve. Volatile. Dallas was the guy who traded Ivan DeJesus to the Philadelphia Phillies for Larry Bowa. The trade would never have been made if the Phillies didn't include a AAA guy that Dallas had seen coming up through the Philly farm system. Throw him in, or there's no trade said Dallas Green.

They threw him in.

Ryne Sandberg.

Dallas always smiled about that. A little digging just now and I discovered that trade was made 29 years ago today.

He's 76 now and Dallas has been keeping a low profile since his granddaughter Christina was murdered in Tucson, but he gave an interview to the Tribune today. I thought you folks might like to read it.

I guess Dallas didn't expect the outpouring of support, but he appreciates it. He's most concerned of course with his son John, John's wife Roxanna, and their 11 year old son Dallas.

Little D.

If you want to drop a note to John and Roxanna Green, the Dodgers have set up an email address..


I has it. Well, not entirely, but there's more bald than not bald, and the bald part is really taking over now.

It's time..

I'm going to do it.

I'm shaving it all off.

Yes, of course I'm terrified. Who wouldn't be?

What if forgotten scars from my youth suddenly appear, and bad memories come flooding back? Oh my God, I'd completely forgotten about that time my brother crashed me into the coffee table when I was 9!

What if I have one of those three-ring pink gummers in the back? Ya know, those Shar Pei looking rolls of flesh when I tilt my head back? I'll be hideous.

I can grow a Grizzly Adams in a couple of weeks, and the question of where the neck stops and where the chest begins is an every day dilemma. I can't claim to have Robin Williams Opera Gloves, but it's not far off. So what about beards? The last few years I've taken to the bi-weekly shaving routine during the winter. The blending of the "Is it a beard or is he a bum?" beard with the current horseshoe pattern on my pate usually leaves the horseshoe looking dominant. Once the beard starts getting to be the same length as the head-wreath, I shave the beard and start over.

Now what?

Beards look weird on bald guys, just look at Carlos Boozer or Emmitt Smith.

If I go full cue-ball, I'll have to give up the beard and limit myself to goatees.

That's been done to death.

Speaking of Mr. Clean, will full cue-ball mean I have to get pierced?

Can't tell you how many times someone told me to go full-bald, and get a big fuckin' earring.

What if I don't want an earring?

Is it so wrong that I resist pounding a nail through my earlobe?

Who the hell started that shit anyway? Hey I know, I'll pound this sharp rock through my earlobe and hang this rabbit's foot from it. Wow, that looks great, maybe I'll do the other one too. A matched set of bunny feet hanging from the holes I pounded in my earlobes.

I understand that some women find bald men absolutely repulsive, and yes, I'm talking to you. That's okay with me. I've always said that any woman who will rule me out because of my hair is a woman I didn't want to know in the first place. And I understand there are some babes who think it's nice, at least better than some absurd comb-over or a goddamn toupee. So there's them.

I can't be worrying about that sort of stuff right now. I'll deal with the anti-baldists as the situation arises.

I'm doing it.

And yes, I'm scared.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

For My Friends

About 15 years ago, Cosmo Kramer gave Elaine Benes a gift. A simple thing really, just a small bench that he knew she loved. (Jerry had given her a card, with cash.) Along with the bench, Cosmo gave Elaine a card (no cash) and in that card Cosmo quoted the last couple of lines of this, and so naturally I had to look it up. Turns out it was written in 1937-38ish, by a guy from Sligo, the place my grandparents called home.

The Municipal Gallery Revisited

By William Butler Yeats

Around me the images of thirty years:
An ambush; pilgrims at the water-side;
Casement upon trial, half hidden by the bars,
Guarded; Griffith staring in hysterical pride;
Kevin O'Higgins' countenance that wears
A gentle questioning look that cannot hide
A soul incapable of remorse or rest;
A revolutionary soldier kneeling to be blessed;

An Abbot or Archbishop with an upraised hand
Blessing the Tricolour. 'This is not,' I say,
'The dead Ireland of my youth, but an Ireland
The poets have imagined, terrible and gay.'
Before a woman's portrait suddenly I stand,
Beautiful and gentle in her Venetian way.
I met her all but fifty years ago
For twenty minutes in some studio.

Heart-smitten with emotion I Sink down,
My heart recovering with covered eyes;
Wherever I had looked I had looked upon
My permanent or impermanent images:
Augusta Gregory's son; her sister's son,
Hugh Lane, 'onlie begetter' of all these;
Hazel Lavery living and dying, that tale
As though some ballad-singer had sung it all;

Mancini's portrait of Augusta Gregory,
'Greatest since Rembrandt,' according to John Synge;
A great ebullient portrait certainly;
But where is the brush that could show anything
Of all that pride and that humility?
And I am in despair that time may bring
Approved patterns of women or of men
But not that selfsame excellence again.

My mediaeval knees lack health until they bend,
But in that woman, in that household where
Honour had lived so long, all lacking found.
Childless I thought, 'My children may find here
Deep-rooted things,' but never foresaw its end,
And now that end has come I have not wept;
No fox can foul the lair the badger swept --

(An image out of Spenser and the common tongue).
John Synge, I and Augusta Gregory, thought
All that we did, all that we said or sang
Must come from contact with the soil, from that
Contact everything Antaeus-like grew strong.
We three alone in modern times had brought
Everything down to that sole test again,
Dream of the noble and the beggar-man.

And here's John Synge himself, that rooted man,
'Forgetting human words,' a grave deep face.
You that would judge me, do not judge alone
This book or that, come to this hallowed place
Where my friends' portraits hang and look thereon;
Ireland's history in their lineaments trace;
Think where man's glory most begins and ends,
And say my glory was I had such friends.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

While driving into Cameron

Hey, genuine Navajo.

Yeah, I see you there, all hunched over your little card table.

The sign back up the road told me you'd be here.

Ample parking I see. Beautiful view. I really love the high desert. Do you live out here?

Where are all the cars? Where's your car? How'd you get all the way out here?

The multi-colored streamers on the roof-edge of the tent are a nice festive touch dude, too bad there's no wind today. They dangle all limp and lifeless when there's no wind. Not sure if you noticed, but you're missing a few streamers too.

I wonder what you aren't selling.

I wonder why your boss makes you sit on that rickety old wooden folding chair. All day with that shit? Even in the summer? For how many years now?

What does he do, ...drop you off in the morning, and pick you up at night?


I wonder how many trinkets you have for sale, hand made, by a genuine Navajo.

What's a good year in the Navajo trinket business?

I wonder if you hate me as I fly by.

I would.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Have you noticed?

That the people who spend the most time talking about how much they love America spend the rest of their time talking about which Americans they hate?

Sunday, January 02, 2011

The Big Ditch

Into the Canyon
with all who are sick with megalomania!

As a guest in the abyss

the dwarf will quickly understand that he is a dwarf.

~Yevgeny Yevtushenko

I cannot travel, overland, through the American southwest without an almost constant reminder that I am a speck. Chicagoans are no strangers to large things, but most of our big shit is vertical.

I recall hearing William Least Heat-Moon describing the shock that must have been felt by the first westward bound settlers upon seeing the Great Plains. He was discussing the Corps of Discovery's first glimpses of the Dakotas after 700 miles of paddling up the Missouri and emerging onto one of the largest grasslands on the planet.

"At first, they must have thought 'Okay, this is a meadow. I understand meadows and this is just a big one.' But as the days became weeks they began to grasp the scale of the place. It's time that brings the Great Plains to life, ...and makes them fearful for the traveler."

As I was passing through St. Louis on Christmas Eve I was already, again, feeling that creeping dwarfism. It's 300 miles south of here so even though I was ripping along at 65 mph...well, you can do the math. 4 or 5 hours to cover what took 10 days 200 years ago.

Passing over the Mississippi was humbling, again. This time I was treated to an amazing view of the Arch, the upper half of which was missing. The low cloud ceiling obscured everything but two gargantuan isoceles struts standing maybe 200 feet tall, and leaning slightly toward each other. I thought "Ah, so that's what it looked like when it was half-built." Of course I knew that those two struts eventually meet in the clouds about 650 feet up, but seeing the Arch like that was like stepping back to 1963. What an absolutely amazing monument.

Passing over the Mississippi always conjures something within me. Now entering the Louisiana Territory. 207 years ago, right down there in St. Louis, the boys found out that Jefferson had just bought the west bank of the river, and everything out to the Rocky Mountains as well.

Running south through Missouri isn't vastly different than Illinois except for the rolling hills. The towns are 5 or 10 miles apart, standard midwest distribution, and you're never too far from "civilization." You break down half-way between Rolla and Joplin there's a good bet a cop will be along in 5 minutes.

Back in 1889 they had this thing called the Oklahoma Land Rush, perhaps you've heard of it. In one day, April 22, more than 50,000 settlers staked claims to government land, and in one case, the town of Guthrie,OK went from population=zero to population 10,000+ in one afternoon. Sooners were the earliest ones who grabbed the real plum spots, thus the term Sooners.

Oklahoma City's population exploded that day as well, and I always think of that (and McVeigh) whenever I pass through OKC. Just 120 years ago that town was almost literally non-existent.

Fuck flying.

Your pilot turns a few knobs, the plane banks, your ass feels the change for a few seconds, and then you level off. The only way you notice that you've changed course is if the sun suddenly floods through your window.

When you leave US44 in OKC, and you get on US40, you know you have changed directions. Gentle southwest becomes due west, and if it's later in the day you thank GM that they installed visors on Pontiacs.

That's about when the "holy fuck I'm out there now" thing sets in. That's when you start to really begin to grasp what Least Heat-Moon was talking about. Hour after hour after hour of flats. The speed limit is 75 out there, and while I always keep it pegged at 65, for some reason 65 seems slower in Oklahoma.

The stretch of US40 between Okahoma City and Tucumcari, NM must be felt, ....lived. It's the time thing. It's 346 miles of absolute flatness, and trees are nowhere to be seen so you can see to the fucking horizon maybe 20 miles away. You start to feel about this big. Like a good wind could blow you off the road like a tumbleweed. You get a broke down car in between towns out in the panhandle, and your heartbeat increases. You're a good 20 or 30 miles from anything, and I mean anything. Exit ramps are an event you anticipate for 20 minutes. You never let the tank go below half full. You question whether you can hold that piss for another 45 minutes if you don't jump off at Groom,TX.

That's when you need to look out the passenger side window for a bit. It's so wide open that you really can look away from the road ahead for 10 seconds without crossing a line. They have continuous rumble-strips to warn you if you're drifting. Looking to the side is when it strikes you just how much ground you're covering, while seemingly getting nowhere. Yevgeny was right.

Right at the border of Texas and New Mexico you change time zones. Another clear indication that you're really out there now. An hour earlier in Tucumcari than it is in Oklahoma City. Chasing the sun as it drops below the horizon, or more accurately, as the earth spins toward me.

Once into New Mexico the terrain changes dramatically. Plate tectonics. One plate sliding under another plate and forcing this plate upward. It's surprisingly gradual, the altitude change. You see mesas and bluffs to both sides of you, but it's not a lot of up and down like in Missouri. Missouri's like a washboard, whereas New Mexico is more of an inclined plane. Only when your ears start popping, and the cruise control starts kicking Poncho into passing gear does it dawn on you that you are climbing.

Once you get to Albuquerque, which sits beautifully at the foot of the Sandia Mountains (sort of the southern tip of the Sangre de Cristos/Rockies) you really begin to feel the history of things. The surroundings crawl with ghosts. It's no longer driving west, it's driving through The West.

1350 miles from home. 21 straight hours of 65mph. Twenty One fucking hours!...and still 400 miles from the South Rim. (of course I stopped in Joplin to sleep.)

I used to love taking these drives with my wife, and I can't help but get nostalgic. Sadness at first, but then a bit of satisfaction. Solo flying in my 50s wasn't my first choice, but I've gotten pretty fucking good at it. Same goes for driving. I wonder how my forbears handled the loneliness of such desolation. You start to realize that we formed little towns and communities for a reason. A certain comfort in knowing that there are 372 others in this settlement.

You can't avoid the mixed emotions when considering our western expansion as a nation. On one hand there's awe at the whole undertaking, and on the other there's the shame felt over the actions of my conquering ancestors. Manifest Destiny showed both our capability to handle huge endeavors, and our utter ruthlessness.

Real Hand Made Navajo Jewelry---> Next Exit-12 Miles

When you enter Arizona, you enter the Navajo Nation. You hear people talking on the radio about racism in Arizona and New Mexico. One Sheriff's race in November was between a Navajo and a "Hispanic." The winner, the Navajo, was being interviewed, and was asked about allegations by his opponent of anti-Mexican racism. I pondered that for a while. A racist Navajo. The station became white-noise before the interview was over, so I'm not sure if they've settled their racial argument yet.

In very few places can you feel the results of American western expansion like you can in the southwest. Around Gallup, NM, which is near the western border of the state, I looked to my left and saw a Burlington Northern & Santa Fe freight train cruising along. As luck would have it, we were going the exact same speed. For almost 140 miles we were side-by-side going 70mph. For two full hours we drove into Arizona, and that same Hyundai cargo container was at my 9 O'Clock. Absolutely astonishing. I took some video, but I'm not sure it does justice. Never before in my life have I experienced anything like that.

Weirdest part was that as I was jumping off in Winslow to get gas, I knew that eventually that same Burlington Northern & Santa Fe freight train was going to pass within one block of my hotel in Flagstaff.

The railroad changed everything out west.

As opposed to last year's trip, I had the most sensational weather anyone could ask for when I reached the South Rim.

The Grand Canyon is....well, fuck it, why bother? Someone said that those who have seen it understand why it can't truly be described with words, and those who have not seen it don't believe those who have.

It's 277 miles long. (4 full hours at 65mph from east to west if you could find a place to lay a highway)

Standing at some points on the South Rim, you can look across 12 miles of chasm and clearly make out tiny Ponderosa pines on the North Rim, only they ain't tiny. You look behind you at the trees on your side, and it hits you that those little fuckers over there are this tall?

The scale of the whole fucking place is off the charts.

And as you look out at Vishnu, at Walhalla Plateau, you get this feeling of absolute timelessness. Teddy Roosevelt stood near what is now Zuni Point on the South Rim and looked across what was then Grand Canyon. Not Grand Canyon National Monument, and not Grand Canyon National Park. He'd gotten some John Muir in his ear by then, and he understood the significance of what he saw stretched out before him. Before leaving, Roosevelt gave a speech near what is now Mather Point.

"Leave it as it is." TR told the crowd. "The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it."

Amen brother Theodore.

It's over a mile deep in some spots, and when you look down into the canyon, well you fully come to understand what a mile deep means. It grabs you by the throat. It's fucking deep. Vertigo. The whole place is just a sensory overload.

But again. it's time that makes the whole thing come to life.

The fucking joint is alive with geology.

Those Vishnu Basement rocks are 1.5 billion years old. Higher up newer. Kaibab Limestone. Higher up, newer still. Coconino Sandstone. The canyon itself is relatively young. Arguments rage over whether it's 4 million years old, or 7 million. Either way, a blink in geological terms. It's the upheaval of the earth's crust due to the underslipping of the plate combined with the Colorado River dragging tons and tons and tons of liquid sandpaper over the rock as it runs downhill to the Gulf of California, that have combined and ripped open this huge gash. It's a huge, fresh, gaping wound in the earth's skin.

That view from Moran Point is exactly what it was, more or less, a million years ago. The ravens have been around for longer.

The first Spaniards to arrive in the 1500s saw exactly what I saw.

There's no evidence that man has marred, but then again we've only been aware of Grand Canyon (American conquerors I mean) for a little under 200 years. Fur trapper James Ohio Pattie first looked into it in 1826, so he gets credit. John Muir and Stephen Mather are more responsible than any other two human beings for the wonders we still enjoy today. Ralph Cameron tried to build dams in the canyon in the early 20th century, and you can feel the creeping commercialism as you ascend the Coconino Plateau. If left to our devices, we'd do our level best to fuck this place up in 20 years.

But it was here long before we were, and it will be here long after we've perished. We're specks crawling around it. Something very reaffirming about that. It helps every so often to remind ourselves that we're dwarfs.