Grand Canyon Crazies

My days in the Canyon are shortly numbered as I approach the end of my contract. I hoped to stay until April 4th, 90 days into my contract, to request a transfer to another national park, but honestly I knew I would not make it. Xanterra is one of the worst companies I ever worked for and I just want to wander free again until work picks back up in New York for the summer.

My life will change in a few days as I get hitched on Saint Paddies Day to my lovely Kelly. Once her contract ends in Arizona for teaching she will join me at WNY Skydiving in New York for a summer of jumping, packing and wandering the area then it’s off to either London or South Korea teaching English, Structural Analysis or Science classes. I look forward to our future endeavors together, whether we end up in the same place or not, I know we will find ourselves running back to each other. The canyon will always have a place in my heart for the warm people I met, along with its crazy nights of partying.

I hiked a ton of trails on the South Rim while I worked here in the Pizza Pub and as a dishwasher along with hiking Mount Humphrey and free climbing Red Mountain near Flagstaff. Despite the robotic tasks of pizza making, pressing dough, pulling it out to a nice 16” circle on the pan, stuffing it with custom toppings and slamming it into the oven for some nice burn marks against my forearms, I will truly miss all of you clowns. As much as I hated the pub life working my ass off for minimum wage, minimal tips and dealing with the rudest, stereotypical tourists, I did enjoy the night life, partying and making new friends all over the world.

I met some interesting cats here, some of which I will never see again, but seasonal work builds some of the best friendships that will last a lifetime. Irish Mike and Graeme, I will miss you both, with our many drunken nights wandering to the Peruvian parties, tangoing with chicks from Peru and Thailand being the only white folk who spoke English. We always partied the hardest, starting 10 minutes after our shift until 7 to 8 AM in the morning.

Many nights I woke up with 3 to 6 hours of sleep feeling hungover as shit for work the next day at 4 PM going into work with pigtails and smelling of cigarette ash and stale beer, but this was a daily occurrence. I remember nights wandering to Kim’s house to eat Thai food before my drunken stupor home across the railroad tracks. We always woke up and did it again, taking a few rest days from drinking, but it came with the industry of Food and Beverage.

Some nights we dabbled in, “Cards Against Humanity” tearing up the common room of Victor Hall by learning you cannot pour a bag of popcorn into an empty bag of Cheetos. Other nights we spent partying at Tye’s Cabin playing King’s Cup, posing for ridiculous pictures. Each night had its own story as we all embraced alcoholism after a hard day of work.

Some of the best nights started off with absolutely no plan other than some PBR and American Spirits. Maybe Graeme passed out in the bushes or on a neighbor’s porch across from the Peruvian Cabin right next to Maswik. Maybe Peruvian Richard shouted to me in a cabin full of Spanish people to speak his language and I responded with my perverted sentences of:

“Besa en mi polla.”

“Me sudo en el polla.”

“Me gusta las tetas y culo.”

It all happened. Piecing it all together was the hardest part as each night felt like a coma of experiences, like a dream. We experienced so much in such a short period of time it almost felt imaginary. Certain nights happened that if I told you, you would not believe me. I always seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time or maybe it was the right place?

Wandering down to Anson’s room after a few beers, circling around the room was me, goofy Travis, Irish Mike, Angela, Boston Steve and Yoselyn. I did not clash well with Boston Steve since on all of his drunken occasions he acted like a complete jackass and that night was no different. I came inches away from smacking his face with a nice right hook until our crew broke it up, but this was not the first of nights where potential fights, stabbings or mishaps needed broken up.

No. No. No. It was just one of many. For Irish Mike’s 34th birthday we all gathered around in Victor Hall and sloshed back a few beers between several shots of whiskey. In our drunken states we managed to hold my man down for birthday spankings, open hands thumped down on his ass, leaving perfect red hand-prints on both cheeks. He did not mind as we pushed it further, each slap smacking his bare ass harder until we lost count of the number. Then out of nowhere, Stephanie, flashed her big, pierced tits to the entire room. Making a great night even better, but it already started to get out of control with noise, and sloppiness. Old folk came by banging on our door with pissed expressions of anger. But I always swooped in before words sprung out of their mouth and solved everything with a shot of liquor or a beer. That solved everything and keep NPS and security off our back despite most of the top floor of Victor Hall hating us for partying every night into the early hours of the morning.

What it did not stop was violence. That shit was unpredictable, but it always found us. After mediating altercations with some other folk in the dorm by coaxing them with alcohol we found ourselves on the balcony, smoking, laughing and talking loud non-sense. The birthday spanks turned into birthday slaps across the face, until Stephanie took it too far and whacked Irish Mike across the face with a wind up swing enough to stir up war. Irish Mike immediately broke out into a thick Irish accent stomping on a cowboy hat in a rage fit for a bull, but he calmed down within minutes. Verbal attacks between the two ceased and everyone dispersed back to their houses as the three of us stood there smoking cigarettes. I peed off the balcony and heard the static sound from a Walkie Talkie off in the distance then the flash of a light searched through the brush. We all paused, looked at each other and instinctively ran through Victor Hall out the back entrance away from NPS.

We tripped through the dark stumbling on loose rocks and sliding down small dirt inclines until we crossed the railroad tracks headed towards the Canyon where Bright Angel Trailhead links up with the South Rim Trail. Beer in hand, we bumped into Katie and Kim who tug along as we wandered off the trail a few feet overlooking the dark Canyon cast before us. We drank PBR as the wind blasted through the Canyon screeching against the walls. My hands chilled from the cold breeze. All of us sat there seeking warmth as Kim and Katie locked onto each other in a shivering hug. We gazed out into the copious stars sprinkling light down on us waiting for the sun to rise in the early morning hours. Kim and Katie left after several attempts to gain warmth, but the three of us remained, throwing back beers for hours until Irish Mike pulled out his lighter and the true mischief began. We propped up dead wood against a few rocks, ripped up some cardboard and sparked the lighter. Then we all huffed and puffed until the fire caught dead leaves, dry debris and cardboard, kindling bright orange embers in our drunken stupor. We slouched there until sunrise in the early morning and realized just how close to the road we actually were and the fact we stayed out of trouble, not facing jail time, job loss and hefty fines. Irish Mike’s birthday was a success and I spent another day at work hungover with pigtails again, hating my life, but loving my friends and the moments we shared on the Cliffside.

We drank pretty much every night after I started working in the Pizza Pub, not by choice, but to wind down and because of a pure hatred for our jobs. Graeme drank to have fun, since the Recreation Center crushed any food and beverage job in the park. A new influx of people hit Xanterra in those few weeks bringing more crazy people into the canyon and we experienced it first hand when a 300 lbs. Native dude with a friendly vibe started hanging around Victor Hall to hang out with the boys. He recently suffered a divorce and battled for custody of his three kids as we found out through a few nights of partying and consoling him. But the night that stands out in particular was day 1 of my bachelor party. The night remained a blur for the most part as we all lounged around tossing back beers and shots like no tomorrow, but it quickly turned unexpectedly when Irish Mike popped a “fear boner” while hugging big Eric, the Native man who looked like a house with a bulldog face. Irish Mike reached in for a simple hug and the man flipped shit as the two of them entered a silly slap battle, which shortly escalated into Eric choke slamming Irish Mike to the floor. Anson jumped in separating the two of them, but the man kept wobbling about like a bowling pin on its edge, until he pulled out a knife threatening Irish Mike’s life in that instance and the following day. We kicked him out of the room, literally. Me, Graeme, Mike and Anson all stepped in removing him from the dorm, but he refused to vacate trying to ram his way through like a linebacker in an effort to grab a few more beers. It was obvious he could not handle his liquor. Graeme pulled him aside to talk in the stairwell while I hid behind a corner watching his every move, ready to shank him if he stabbed my friend. The guy stood there in a drunken state, completely unstable and unpredictable and then it happened. He tackled Graeme, putting him into a headlock against the ground. Graeme feared being squished like a fly trying to squeeze out from under this man and in that moment of struggle NPS was called. Six officers showed up within minutes and the lot of us all filled out similar reports of Eric’s threats, choke slams, headlocks and violent nature, which all stemmed back to a simple, “fear boner.” The best part was a few days later he still walked freely among Victor Hall, and maintained his job, exemplifying that all you need to get a job at Xanterra is a name and proof of who you are because apparently assault charges and threats are not enough to lose your job with this great corporation.

After months of partying, working and losing my mind I left the canyon to get married in Arcosanti, but not before a brief streak down Bourbon St. with Katie. My ass will forever be remembered as the little engine that could. If you end up working for Xanterra remember that food and beverage is not just about, “Drugs, Sex and Serving,” but fending for one’s life through slap battles, fights, and potential stabbings. I will miss the village and the crazy stories that came along with it.

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Brian Cray is not a cyclist. He’s not a hitchhiker. He’s not a train hopper or an adrenaline junkie. He’s just an ordinary man with gypsy blood in his veins, who can’t seem to settle down. Nothing defines him. He goes wherever this world takes him on this journey we call life, roaming the world, at will, by any means. He aspires for a life of indefinite travel, a tiny home in the woods for him and his wife, and any work that keeps him wanderin’. Brian Cray is a travel writer at heart, sharing his stories with the world one keystroke at a time.

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