Prequel: A Big Rock from Space

October 7, 2017. Meteor Crater, Arizona.

There were no signs of forced entry when we woke up, which was both promising and surprising. I like mornings and generally take my time, do some sun salutations, drink a couple cups of coffee, eat a half dozen eggs, burn a sacrifice of offal to Athena. This morning I was out the door within 30 minutes of opening my eyes. I would’ve torched it on the way out for good measure if I didn’t know the insurance money is exactly what those vermin were after.

After a 10 minute wait for a greasy spoon called the Cracked Egg, where I ordered a skillet called the Piglet, because me too thanks. It was several different variations on cooked pig flesh spread over “breakfast potatoes” which are like home fries, but deep fried, with some eggs thrown in for good measure. I ate my breakfast and half of the Girl’s chicken fried steak, then excused myself to use the little Bastard’s room.

The urinal was porcelain shards wrapped in a clear garbage bag. There was someone standing in the stall. You could tell by his foot placement he was deeply concerned.

Flush. Reposition feet. Flush. Fidget. Reposition feet. Flush.

When the stall opened, sunken eyes stared at me from deep in the skull of a scarecrow designed to look like an elderly Lionel Richie. Behind him, a crackling mountain of seat covers rose from the overfull toilet like a volcanic island.

“Girl,” I said, returning to the table, “We gotta pull the ripcord. Things have gone terribly wrong.”

We scrambled out of the Egg and across the parking lot to the CVS. The lavatory there was also out of order, because Phoenix is a specialized Matrix-simulation in inventive disappointment. Next, the gas station across the street. I rolled in and asked, “Do ya’ll have a restroom?”

“No,” Bruno Mars told me. Just no. I assume he pissed in a bucket during his shift, but he didn’t offer me its use.

I was desperate, and when you’re desperate, you go to Arby’s. It’s an instinct burned into our animal DNA, an unconscious drive like the Freudian eros and thanatos – well, no, it’s really just the thanatos. The French know it as “l’appel du vide”. And so it called me.

The twelve-year-old girl behind the counter gave me a bathroom key chained to a metal serving ladle. I jettisoned a half-gallon of coffee, thanked the stewards of the void/roast beef, and set a course for the Meteor Crater, on the other end of the state.

The truly fascinating thing about Arizona is you can drive for three consecutive hours without anything happening. Unless you’re really interested in sand, in which case, boy howdy.

Admission for two students (heh heh, suckered ‘em) to the Meteor Crater was $31, which is more than I’d otherwise pay to see a large hole in the ground. I saw a larger hole just the day before, and that was only $30, but I felt better bidding this filthy lucre farewell. The Meteor Crater’s proceeds go to the upkeep of their functioning science and research center, whereas the Grand Canyon pumps all its tourism money into life support for Hated Phoenix. I assume.

I went to New Mexico a few months ago, made the rounds through Albuquerque and Santa Fe. It floored me. They had so heartily embraced the Old West and indigenous foundations of their state culture, and though they pushed it as largely overpriced tourism, it was classily done. Art was everywhere. It was desert bohemianism.

By contrast, the majority of Arizona seemed to know that they were placeholders for the Grand Canyon, so there was no real need to try. People would still come check out their giant hole. They would allude to ancient shootouts and hang a halfhearted cowboy theme on bars, but that was as far as it went.

The Meteor Crater was impressive. 50,000 years ago, 160 feet of hot, spicy asteroid impacted in the desert and left a crater that can fit “20 football fields across the bottom!” I don’t know why they didn’t just say “over a mile”, but I imagine it had something to do with the American tendency to understand size only in the terms of football field quantity. Although, glass houses and stones, I do still mark out 100 yards in my head by visualizing a childhood shooting range.

crater2.png

Its name is a mess. Meteor Crater seems pretty straightforward, but common practice is to name natural landmarks after the nearest post office, which in this case was the Meteor Post Office. It wasn’t until a dude named Barringer hit the scene and said “Hey, a meteor probably made this” that everyone else had the big Eureka moment. Busy, busy, busy.

Of the crater itself, there wasn’t much provided for scale so you don’t appreciate the enormity of the thing until you look through the little telescope and see a 6’ cardboard cutout of an astronaut holding a 3’x5’ American flag in the center, invisible to the naked eye. There were a handful of other crater-gawkers there with us, including a skinny blonde couple who insisted on standing wherever I was going to take a picture and speaking to each other in quiet German. I caught several “bitte”s so they might have been polite, but bitte is also used for damn near everything in German, so they also might not.

On the way out I got to see the biggest surviving chunk, the Holsinger meteorite. It was several hundred pounds of iron and nickel, sitting on a little pedestal, just taking up space and being worth a few million dollars. I touched it with my big stupid hands. It was confirmed that this was okay. Apparently, cowboys used to use it as a saddle rack. And even if they hadn’t, I couldn’t realistically do any more damage to the thing than impact from space had.

crater3.png

There was a computer simulation that let you build your own meteorite and crash it into Venus, the moon, or Earth. I obliterated Earth again and again. It felt like justice. I promised myself I’d pirate the program when I got home, then we left the mountaintop hard science behind in favor of spoooooooky parapsychology: the Apache Death Cave at Canyon Diablo.

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