“Arizona really was a gas…mind-blowing all the way, you know, just out of sight.” Scorpions (1982)
After riding motorcycles in Arizona last week, I returned a couple days ago with a new facial tone (burnt red), miles of motorcycle riding etched into my vertebrae and a bar tab that makes me wonder if my buddies were squatting on my credit card.
Now that I’m home I realize that my trip to the desert gave me more than just sunburn and a hangover. It gave me a broader perspective. Normally that’s an unlikely accomplishment after only a couple hours in the air and four days on the ground, but the Grand Canyon State is unique. Amidst the red peaks and baked desert, Arizona is nothing less than a windblown and broiled version of the wild, wild west.
As I cruised the highways, the burnt wind pulling vapor out of my body without the usual method of sweating, I began to notice the guns. As a cop I consider myself more attuned to the presence of firearms than the average person, but one would have to be extremely dense to miss the ubiquitous presence of individuals who were openly expressing their 2nd Amendment Rights. Wandering around town I scanned the belts of random people and found many whose cell phones on one side were balanced by sidearms on the other. It was just so natural and casual that it didn’t seem to bother anybody except me.
I previously wrote a piece for The Trib regarding an encounter with an individual openly carrying a .45 calibre pistol in downtown Tacoma. When he passed my family as we walked into a restaurant, every nerve in my body leaped to attention. After this brief, unnerving encounter I felt as if I had just walked past an explosive that, for some reason, failed to go off. Whatever their stated reason to carry firearms in public, whether for security or peace of mind, for the sense that they are exercising their constitutional rights, or a perverse intent to shock others and thereby empower themselves (don’t kid yourself that this isn’t sometimes the case), that is not my issue. My issue is that everyone else also has the right to walk down a city street and not feel afraid.
How does this relate to Arizona? Surprisingly, just about everywhere we travelled I also encountered a completely different genre of gun-toting individuals. Call them cowboys or gunslingers, I saw a large number of dudes dressed in dusty old hats, bandanas, riding pants and boots, with great big six shooters holstered securely to their thighs and pistol belts encircled with .357 rounds. Ironically, I could not help but feel more secure with them around. You can’t spend a lazy adolescent Saturday afternoon watching “Shane” without knowing that these are the good guys, am I right?
While at a tavern in Tombstone, I leaned across the rail and spoke to a man that looked like an extra from the set of a Clint Eastwood western. I got up to walk to the other side of the railing to ask him about his revolver, but then, “Whoa, where you going with that beer, fella?” the bartender asked me. The gunslinger gave me a look as if to say, “Wouldn’t do that if I were you.” I’m pretty sure that’s when I saw my first tumbleweed roll by in the distance. I backed up, of course.
As it turns out, you can do a lot of things in Arizona, such as dressing up like a cowboy with a large revolver to walk the streets talking to people, or legally ride a motorcycle at 75 mph sans helmet. But try to take a step past the tavern railing with a beer in your hand and you might as well keep heading out of town.