By Dave Carnie
My bad alter ego is a horrible fellow named, DARF—arrived at by slurring “Dave.” He’s generally completely blacked out and a total nightmare to deal with. Thankfully we haven’t seen much of DARF recently and that’s perhaps due to the fact that I have since developed an alter alter-ego named, Big Sur Steve.
Even I thought this sign’s illustration was a little over the top. I mean, how does he have a sunburn on his back if he was wearing a backpack?
Big Sur Steve was born a few years ago when I was driving north from the Fernwood in Big Sur to the grocery store near Carmel to pick up some supplies when I came upon an accident in one of the many windy cutbacks that distort the distance between the two locations. A car was on the shoulder smashed into the guardrail. A group of four Asian men were standing around the car seemingly confused about what to do since the car was no longer a car.
I pulled in behind them, got out, and asked, “Is everyone okay?”
The man closest to the impact pointed at the car and said, “It broke.”
He said it in such a way that it was the car’s fault. As if it were an appliance that had suddenly stopped working for no reason.
“Yeah,” I said, “it looks like it broke because you broke it?”
Fortunately it was just a one-car fender bender and no one was hurt, but the front axle was so tweaked the vehicle was inoperable. Their phones didn’t seem to work (common in Big Sur), but mine did (very uncommon in Big Sur) so I offered to call for help.
“What is the nature of your emergency?” the 911 operator asked.
“Hello,” I said, “there has been an accident on Hwy 1 in Big Sur. There are no injuries, but the car is totaled. I’m calling because I don’t think they speak English and they’re stranded. Can you send help?”
I gave her the best coordinates I could: in a cutback somewhere south of Bixby Bridge, but north of Molera Park.
“Okay we’ll send someone out right away,” she said. “Can I have your name, please?”
“Dave,” I said.
“Okay. Thanks, Steve,” she replied and hung up.
And thus, Big Sur Steve was born.
Bixby Bridge, Big Sur. Photo: Big Sur Steve.
Big Sur Steve has done many good deeds since, all of which will remain anonymous because Big Sur Steve isn’t looking for credit and Dave—me—doesn’t want anyone to get the idea that he’ll help you move or give you a ride to the airport or anything. Big Sur Steve operates under the radar, so that’s why it was a little surprising to run into him on our recent road trip to the Grand Canyon.
I’ve flown over the Grand Canyon dozens of times, but I had never actually visited it. Tania thought it would be a good road trip. I agreed. But we were both worried that I would hate it, or at best be underwhelmed. I tend to dislike things that have been pointed at too many times. Guess what? I did not hate the Grand Canyon. It was as “majestic” and “breathtaking” as everyone says it is. In fact, when I first stepped out of the car I spent so much time trying to untangle our fucking spaz dachshunds, that it was a few moments before I had a chance to take a gander at my surroundings and when I did the view was so surprising that I said, “HOLY FUCK!” really loud and stumbled backwards.
“WHAT?” Tania barked in alarm. She thought I was hurt.
“LOOK!” I said pointing.
Just down the street from where we were parked was a monumental wall of red rock jutting into the sky and reflecting the sun’s morning rays like it was on fire. The view was so remarkable it nearly knocked me over. I’m not going to try and paint you a picture of the majesty of the Grand Canyon here, but will only say it was pretty fucking spectacular.
“Pretty fucking spectacular.” —Dave Carnie, regarding the Grand Canyon.
And I wasn’t the only one who felt that way: we later saw a woman stop in her tracks in my exact “HOLY FUCK” spot and start crying.
Like every tourist, I took dozens of pictures of the Grand Canyon. I’ll subject you to only one of my shitty vacation photos because they’re all pretty much the same: stupid people looking at a stupid canyon. When I was taking this picture, a chatty old man came up to me and asked, “What you see out there?” Without looking at him and in the most Western, deadpan voice I could muster I said, “… rocks… lots o’ rocks…”
So the Grand Canyon was pretty cool. But, of course, it’s a tourist destination and the tourists visiting the Grand Canyon suck. I’m not saying we’re not tourists—we are—but we try to be the least sucky tourists we can. Unfortunately I feel the opposite is true of most people: when they’re on vacation they often behave like they’re entitled to be the worst humans they can possibly be. That’s probably why Big Sur Steve made an appearance in Arizona.
On our second day at the Grand Canyon we arrived at the Grand Canyon Visitor Center shortly after dawn. As we strolled along the well-manicured paths following signs that were leading us to some lookout point or another, we suddenly came upon a bench covered in trash. It was basically a large, family-size order of fast food flotsam: paper bags, plastic cups, food containers, wrappers, etc. all strewn about. It was already an especially robust pile of trash, but it was also strewn about. It looked as if the perpetrators had actively tried to make their trash look trashier. Sort of like when someone murders someone with a knife and the body has 124 stab wounds and your like, “Really dude? Were those last 120 pokes necessary?” Much like the stabber, these people didn’t just litter, they celebrated LITTERING. I’ve never understood littering to begin with, but to do it in a National Park seems especially egregious. One can gaze in any direction at the Grand Canyon and see NATURE and MOTHER EARTH in all her beauty and grandeur all around—how can someone litter in that environment? Who fucking does that? I was aghast.
As I slowly returned to reality I thought, “Well, go clean it up”—well, I didn’t think that, Big Sur Steve thought that. So Big Sur Steve changed course and headed for the bench covered in trash.
Tania, who I’m pretty sure can read my mind, knew immediately what Big Sur Steve was up to. “You go, Greg!” she called.
Big Sur Steve paused. “Greg?” he said turning to face Tania.
“Yeah, Grand Canyon Greg,” she said. “You can’t be Big Sur Steve in the Grand Canyon.” She said it like everybody should know that. She would also later argue that she selected “Greg” because the way I garble my name, “Dave,” could just as easily be mistaken by a 911 operator for “Greg” as it was for “Steve.”
Okay, Grand Canyon Greg it is.
So Grand Canyon Greg changed course and headed for the bench covered in trash, however, a woman between him and the pile of trash was also making a beeline for it.
“Oh, she’s going to go clean it up,” Grand Canyon Greg thought. Greg was very proud of the woman, but also felt slightly guilty for hesitating and a little disappointed he wasn’t going to get to perform a good deed. “As long as it gets cleaned up, that’s all that matters,” Greg thought.
Grand Canyon Greg watched the woman for a moment in case she needed help with the mess. I remember thinking that she reminded me of my junior high school PE coach. She was a short, round, middle-age woman dressed in a red and white, vaguely athletic ensemble, with a matching baseball cap—she was missing a whistle, but otherwise she looked a lot like my PE coach. Our PE coach used to make us stand on our heads against the wall, by the way, because, as she reasoned, more blood to the brain makes you smarter. Or something. It obviously didn’t work.
This doesn’t have anything to do with this story except that Tania took this picture at a bar we visited in the nearby town of Williams. Those are the names of the people who are currently 86’d from the bar (note the address numbers). The bartender wouldn’t tell us what “Karaoke Danny” did, but she did confirm that Chardelle was the only female on the list. She also said that patrons on “Our 86’d List” are only on it for 30 days. Brock Randolf sounds like a character in a Clive Cussler novel.
But my junior high PE coach did not clean up the garbage. To Grand Canyon Greg’s horror, she walked right up to the pile of trash, added her own empty coffee cup to the array, and continued on her merry way to the parking lot. I mean, to her credit, it did look like the beginnings of a landfill—a dump has to start somewhere, right?—but it was not a dump and the woman littered right in front of us and everyone else in a National Park! Greg was so flabbergasted that by the time he had gathered the wherewithal to say something, the shitty little litter lady had already disappeared into the parking lot. (Her name is Shitty Little Litter Lady now, by the way.)
That's when Grand Canyon Greg sprung into action. He marched over to the bench, gathered all the trash into a single bag while murmuring curses under his breath the whole time, and proudly went in search of the nearest garbage can.
After wandering the paths of the Visitor Center for a few minutes, Grand Canyon Greg’s hatred of the “literati” slowly diminished as he grew and more and more dismayed to discover that there were no trashcans anywhere. Greg did eventually find one trashcan—ONE!—but it was hidden around a corner. There’s no excuse for littering (pack it in, pack it out—sorry if you are so inconvenienced by your own trash, but it’s your trash and you’re responsible for it), but no wonder there was so much trash everywhere—there were no trashcans. Perhaps the park was understaffed due to Covid? They should think of getting some Grand Canyon Gregs. Gregs pick up other people’s trash for free.
So that was GCG’s first good deed, but he wasn’t done.
Before Grand Canyon Greg gets all high and mighty about littering, we should remember a little incident in upstate New York in 1995 when “Niagara Falls Darf,” along with Chris Pontius, Bill Pepper, and Jeff Tremaine, helped a few garbage cans over the railing and into the cascading falls. This was obviously one of the many regrettable incidents that occurred during Jeff and I’s embarrassing “Global Tagging” period.
Later that day at the Grandview Point, that is also the head of a trail that descends to the Canyon floor, there was a large group of Japanese tourists in the parking lot all decked out in hiking gear and laden with supplies preparing to drop into the Canyon. There was a very distinct “off-the-rack” quality to all of their shiny new gear and walking poles. I was a little surprised because they struck me as a bit old and inexperienced to be making such an arduous journey. I was slightly worried about them because there were signs everywhere warning people of the dangers of hiking into the Canyon—apparently it’s very difficult to hike to the bottom and back in one day—all of which basically say, “YOU WILL DIE.” I just hope their enthusiasm, of which they had much, would deliver them safely back to the rim of the canyon. Some day.
When they got done shooting their final selfie and lined up at the trailhead I noticed one of them had left a pair of walking sticks where they had posed. That’s when Grand Canyon Greg sprung into action.
“Excuse me?” Greg said to one of the elderly Japanese men, “did someone forget their sticks?” Greg pointed at the poles against the wall. Greg knows they’re technically called “poles,” but he thinks it sounds cooler to call them “sticks.”
The Japanese man squinted at the sticks and laughed. He poked the guy next to him and seemed to say in Japanese, “Dude, you forgot your fuckin’ sticks again. Idiot.”
And then he alerted everyone in the group that this dummy almost forgot his sticks. The whole group laughed at the dummy in a way that made it seem like this was not his first blunder they had been audience to. Even the dummy was shaking his head and laughing to himself, “Gosh, I am so dumb…”
The adorable dummy is, of course, the guy with the selfie stick and no other sticks.
Suddenly a large, dopey white male that looked a little bit like Jim Gaffigan popped out of another nearby group, grabbed the sticks, and awaited the dummy’s arrival. “Are these yours?” he said as the Japanese hiker approached. Gaffigan then made a fuss of bestowing the sticks upon the hiker who then thanked Gaffigan. Gaffigan returned to his group beaming like he had saved the world.
Grand Canyon Greg was pissed. “I’m the one that found the sticks,” Greg thought to himself, “that should have been my fucking thank you.” Greg then had to calm himself down by reminding himself that he doesn’t do good deeds for accolades. He just does what he does because it’s the right thing to do. On the other hand, I—Dave—I could continue hating the pudgy white dude that had poached Grand Canyon Greg’s altruistic glory because that was total bullshit. I would soon learn that there would be much more bullshit to come and that I had good reason for my spite.
As we drove around Desert View Drive pulling in and out of the various vista points, we started recognizing the same families and groups doing the same thing we were. The most curious of which was the group that Gaffigan belonged to. At the next stop, we saw them standing at the Canyon edge off by themselves. They were all standing around one member of the group who was brandishing a book and gesturing wildly with his free hand.
“Is that man preaching?” Tania asked. While the group was off in their own little area, they were still close enough that we could pick up snippets of what they were saying. “… grace… Matthew… Lord…” etc.
“Yep, that’s a bible,” Tania said.
We soon learned they were on a Creationist tour of the Grand Canyon. The van they were traveling in was wrapped with images of the Canyon as well as signage that read, “ADifferentViewTours.com.” It’s a different view, all right, the wrong view.
Tania really didn't like the Creationist’s van.
If you’re like me and weren’t aware of this nonsense, Creationist Christians believe the bible to be nonfiction and all true. The Earth, for instance, according to the bible is only about 6,000 years old and—actually, I’m not equipped explain their peculiar beliefs so I’ll let them do it:
“We believe the Bible is the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God. Its writings are factually true. It is the supreme authority in all matters about which it speaks. The final guide to the interpretation of Scripture is Scripture itself.
“We believe the account of origins presented in Genesis occurred in the span of six consecutive twenty-four hour days six to ten thousand years ago.
“We believe the great flood of Genesis was an actual historic, global, catastrophic event in its extent and effect. It is this flood that is responsible for the deposition, formation, and subsequent sculpturing of much of the earth’s geologic record as we know it today.”
—canyonministries.org (the home of “A Different View Tours”)
They love the Grand Canyon. Because, to them, it’s evidence of Noah’s flood. And if the Grand Canyon is corporeal evidence of Noah’s flood, then that means that story is true in the bible, therefore everything in the bible is true:
“The crystalline basement formations are believed by most creation geologists to have been set in place on Day 3 of the Creation Week. … Not long after all the fossil-bearing sedimentary layers of the Colorado Plateau had been deposited by the rising Flood waters, those same waters began to recede. We are told in Psalm 104:8 that at the end of the Flood, the mountains rose and the valleys sank down, causing the waters to drain off the continents back into new ocean basins.”
—“When And How Did The Grand Canyon Form?” by Dr. Andrew Snelling
This is the Creationist tour group. The guy with the yellow shirt is the guide. “So, yeah, Noah sailed right through here on his Ark…”
It’s especially interesting to me how they selectively use science to explain what amounts to supernatural, metaphysical events. “Crystalline basement formations … [were] set in place on Day 3?” Set in place? By who? How? And Day 3? Are you sure it wasn’t Day 4?
The author above, Andrew Snelling, is a prominent Young Earth Creationist. In researching the Creationists I learned that Snelling is not only a guide for the “Different View” tours, but has actually sued the US Government for “religious discrimination” because they won’t allow him to remove “50-60 fist-sized rocks” from the Canyon for research. To the Park’s credit, they only allow 80 research projects a year in the Canyon and thus dozens of proposals are rejected—even ones that aren’t fictional. Also removing material from the Park for any type of research is rarely allowed. So his proposal wasn’t rejected for religious discrimination, as Snelling claims, but simply because it was stupid:
“In an email to Snelling filed as part of the lawsuit, a park officer said the project was not granted because the type of rock he wanted to study can also be found outside of the Grand Canyon. The park solicited peer reviews from three mainstream geologists. One mentioned the rocks could be found elsewhere; all three overwhelmingly denounced the work as not scientifically valid, a criterion the park also uses to evaluate proposals.”
—“A Creationist Sues the Grand Canyon for Religious Discrimination,” from The Atlantic, by Sarah Zang
When people in the Park would ask us how old Pencil and Waffle are, we would say, “These two dachshunds are 6,000 years old. They were the two wiener dog ambassadors on Noah’s Ark.”
So, yeah, those intelligent, tolerant, and open-minded people were in the Park and we had the pleasure of encountering them at nearly every vista point we visited.
“So you learn a bunch of stuff, and then you unlearn it?” Tania asked as we pondered their vehicle and wondered what the tour must be like.
I would say more on the subject, but I’m an adult and I’m not going to waste my time on tiresome arguments about the mythology of Genesis any more than I’m going to debate the existence of Santa Claus. If you’re interested in learning more about the fascinating world of fictional science and math that doesn’t add up, I encourage you to click on the Creationist links above (The Atlantic article was especially interesting).
But the reason I mention all this is because guess who appeared among the Creationist tour group? That’s right, my former junior high PE teacher. Yep, the Shitty Little Litter Lady, dressed in her red and white vaguely athletic ensemble, was also a “good” Christian. Me, Big Sur Steve, and Grand Canyon Greg were all very, very, very disappointed—that’s three verys, one for each of us.
I’m kidding, that last paragraph isn’t true. The Shitty Little Litter Lady was not part of the Christian Creationist group. I made that up. It makes for a better ending. I just figure if Christians—and the religious zealots in general—are going to fictionalize the world I live in, then the least I can do is fictionalize theirs. I buttfucked Jesus right in his fucking mouth yesterday, for instance.
Ultimately I’d like to ask people to cut it out with the proselytizing—we’re tired of it—but maybe we can begin with some baby steps and focus on the planet that we all live on? I don’t care how old you think it is, or how long it’s going to last, but in the here and now maybe we can stop with the littering and polluting and shitting all over everything? If you need a bible passage for inspiration, here’s Big Sur Steve’s/Grand Canyon Greg’s favorite:
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” —Philippians 2:3-4