A PILGRIM’S TALE – Garry Armstrong

Our Arizona vacations were trips back in time to some of my favorite western movies and TV shows.

Those cactus covered fields and surrounding mountains evoked memories, especially of the John Wayne-John Ford classic Westerns and the areas around Phoenix are similar to some of the areas in Utah where Wayne and Ford made many of their iconic films.

In the aftermath of my first Arizona post, there were requests for my oft-told story about meeting Duke Wayne. So now, a few years after the second trip, here it is again. If you’ve heard it before, head for the nearest saloon, Pilgrim.

Forty-three winters ago, as I reckon, it was John Wayne versus the anti-Vietnam War crowd at Harvard and the surrounding areas of The People’s Republic of Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Duke was cheered and jeered as he sat atop an armored “half-track” which moved slowly through the crowd as light snow fell. Some dissidents lobbed snowballs at Wayne as they shouted in derision. The Duke smiled and waved. At one point, everything stopped as the legendary star hopped out to shake hands amid a flurry of snowballs. It was a bad situation for a reporter attempting an interview.

I called in a few favors and somehow, Duke and his entourage slipped into an empty theater. What felt like an eternity to me, I waited alone on stage for John Wayne to appear. Suddenly, the stage lit up. I froze.

“Hello, Garry!” boomed the Duke in a friendly voice as he ambled in that familiar gait across the stage. After the greeting,  my TV persona kicked in. I shook hands with my hero, beaming with pleasure.

I was oblivious to the cameras and how much time had passed. Later, I would learn from the tape that it had been a pretty long interview. Me swapping stories with Wayne including some anecdotes about my stint in the Marine Corps which impressed the Duke. He laughed when I recalled how I’d upset several drill instructors during basic training with my irreverent behavior.

The interview ran long. Towards the end, a press agent had to pry Duke loose to resume his “march” to Harvard.

During a formal, group interview at Harvard, Wayne singled me out as “his pal and former Gyrene.” I remember basking in the glow of that moment as other reporters glared at me. Later, as the crowd dispersed, Wayne approached me and said, “Good to see ya again, Gyrene”.

I offered what must’ve been a dumb smile and said, “Good to see you again, Duke.” I could see, over my shoulders, my crew smirking and giggling. I didn’t care. This was the interview I’d dreamed about.

Back in the newsroom, I walked around the newsroom repeatedly asking everyone if they knew who shook my hand that day. Finally, someone told me to throw some cold water on my face and get on with my job.

They didn’t get it. I had spent “private” time with the Duke. With Hondo, Sgt. Stryker, Ethan Edwards, Capt. Nathan Brittles, and Rooster Cogburn … among so many others. Damn — I had swapped stories with the man who really shot Liberty Valance.

Sadly, there were no personal pictures from that memorable day. No autograph. I’d always felt uneasy about asking celebrities for these artifacts.

Ironically, this gesture apparently opened the door for more candid conversations and some unforgettable social afternoons and evenings with Hollywood legends, Royalty, Presidents, sports heroes, wise guys, godfathers and even Mother Theresa who singled me out from a crowd, chastising me about news coverage. I never figured that one out.

Topping all those memorable days and nights was my afternoon with the Duke. Back here in Arizona, where the Duke galloped through so many westerns, I think maybe … mebbe … I can top that encounter in the future.

That’ll be the day!

RUGGEDLY SILENT – Marilyn Armstrong

RDP Tuesday – RUGGED and FOWC with Fandango — Silent

Rugged and silent, the Superstitions loom over the bleak desert near Phoenix, Arizona

Following them … and not by much of a distance, either … were a mixed bag of posse wannabes. A few professional lawmen, a clutch of bounty hunters, and anyone else that had a gun and a horse and could be drug up by the sheriff and the railroad people.

A cactus sunset near the Superstitions

The horses were exhausted and it wouldn’t be long before they collapsed unless they were allowed to stop, rest, drink, eat. For that matter, it wouldn’t be much longer before they, themselves, collapsed.

Whose idea was this, anyway? They could have hit a bank or a Wells Fargo shipment. Hell, they could have hit half a dozen stagecoaches without setting off this kind of frenzy. It was those railroad guys. They really didn’t like bandits. Which they were. Damn.

Don’t you hate it when that happens?

It was getting dark, now. The sun was setting over the mountains. Where could they go? Ahead were the Superstitions … and there was nothing up there but jagged rocks. Where was water? Some grass for the horses and a place to lay themselves down and breathe.

In the distance, they could hear the hoofbeats of oncoming horses. They looked into the fading sun and they knew.

It was over. For good, this time.

ARIZONA SUNSETS – Marilyn Armstrong

ARIZONA SUNSETS – Marilyn Armstrong


I was amazed at the sunsets everywhere in Arizona. Maybe it was because it never rained, but the colors were amazing. Just when I thought they couldn’t be better, the subsequent night would be even more extraordinary.

And so it went from one night to the next night, glorious sunset after sunset. In the mountains and even from city streets. Some nights, the sunset was so red it turned the mountains red, too.

Sunset – Phoenix

 

THE COLOR OF CACTUS – Marilyn Armstrong

What color is YOUR cactus?


It’s a pink world. In Arizona, even the cactus are pink. Or maybe they are merely washed in the blood of tourists?

 

 

AND HELL’S COMING WITH ME … – Marilyn Armstrong

Wyatt Earp: All right, Clanton… you called down the thunder, well now you’ve got it! You see that?
[pulls open his coat, revealing a badge]
Wyatt Earp: It says United States Marshal!
Ike Clanton[terrified, pleading] Wyatt, please, I …
Wyatt Earp[referring to Stillwell, laying dead] Take a good look at him, Ike … ’cause that’s how you’re gonna end up!
[shoves Ike down roughly with his boot]
Wyatt Earp: The Cowboys are finished, you understand? I see a red sash, I kill the man wearin’ it!
[lets Ike up to run for his life]
Wyatt Earp: So run, you cur… RUN! Tell all the other curs the law’s comin’!
[shouts]
Wyatt Earp: You tell ’em I’M coming… and hell’s coming with me, you hear? …
[louder]
Wyatt Earp: And Hell’s coming with me!


Hell is definitely coming …

The dust rose from the desiccated, dusty road that is Main Street in Tombstone. The horses looked hot and tired. They had every right to be. It was godawful hot. In the sun, more than 125 degrees and I don’t care, dry or not, that’s like sitting in an oven. Add basting and soon, you could be Thanksgiving dinner somewhere.

Tombstone

I think when it isn’t quite as hot, you can ride the stage. When the temps are that high, it’s not good to stress the horses more than they are already stressed merely by pulling the coach. Slowly pulling the coach. It’s a pretty big carriage, though they are also huge horses.

Still, heat kills. It’s bad enough to make horses pull the stage in such weather, but to add the weight of passengers might be too much. Those big horses come dear, you know. The interior of the stage is probably pretty hot too.

As we wandered around the town, we bought souvenir tee shirts. One for me, one for Garry. Of course, we did. Wouldn’t you? They were pretty pricey, so we bought only two. We also bought some books. And a calendar. I think we would have bought the coach, the horses and maybe the saloon if we could have. We really liked Tombstone.

We also love the movie. I really don’t know how many times we’ve watched it. Often enough so we both know all the lines. the scenes. We laugh before it’s funny because we already know. So being in Tombstone was awesome. No, I mean it. Really awesome. As in “we were struck with awe” and also, we didn’t fall down with heat stroke, though I’m pretty sure we were pretty close to it.

Garry bought a tee-shirt that said “You tell ’em I’M coming…” and mine said, “And Hell’s coming with me.” You had to see us together to really feel it.

These days, our sense of justice has been so deeply damaged, we have returned to watching Westerns to get some of that old justice juice going.

The movie is “Tombstone.” It was shot in Tombstone, Arizona in 1993. They more or less rebuilt the town to make the movie and have kept it that way. It brings in tourists. We are exactly the kind of tourists for whom they are always waiting.

We would gladly have spent more money, but retirees don’t have a lot of spare money. And, to be fair, we own many, many tee-shirts already. I had settled for taking pictures and staying in the shade. No wonder they had covers over the sidewalks. Even for Arizona, that was a serious heat wave, but at least the shade made it possible to inhale.

We watched Wyatt and his crew clean up the west. They killed them all. The move is full length, but it always feels too short. Garry says that’s how you know a movie is perfect because you don’t want it to end.

I didn’t want it to end.

WordPress WEEKLY PHOTO CHALLENGE: LINES – Marilyn Armstrong

WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: LINES

Out in the deserts of Arizona and Mexico, there is only one tree that can cope with the dry and constant heat: the Ironwood tree.

LOVING THE WORLD IN PICTURES

Weekly WordPress PHOTO CHALLENGE – Favorite Places

This week, share an image of your happy place, a secret spot you love, or a faraway location you return to again and again.


The road home

I’m a really happy traveler. When I finally actually travel — more and more rarely as I get older — I always love wherever I am. Whether it’s a tourist trap in Pennsylvania or a fairy circle in Sligo, the Church of the Manger in Bethlehem or one of our local dams and rivers, it’s a favorite place. I love cities and the country.

Arizona

I prefer living in the country, but I loved living in Jerusalem, adored the weeks I spent in London and wished we could have spent more time in Dublin and tons more in San Francisco.

Photo: Garry Armstrong
Photo: Garry Armstrong

I loved Gettysburg, Williamsburg, Brooklyn and Manhattan. And before you tell me that Brooklyn and Manhattan are really one city — in theory they are, but they are sufficiently different to not be the same to me. Since I’m the writer here, I get to say.

Beacon Hill – Photo: Garry Armstrong

Yesterday, for a few hours, I even loved Chestnut Hill.

Every place is – in its own way – different and interesting. Even the gritty and grimy places have their own charms.

Spillway on the canal
Bridge over the Blackstone

If I had one favorite place and absolutely had to choose, it would be the mountains and I am not that choosy about which mountain range. I love when I am up above the world. The sky seems closer and the air weighs less.