Something in the Desert: Fighting words

Like a lot of people in Moab, particularly those of us who work or live downtown, I knew Adam Bires. We were not friends. We weren’t even acquaintances, but I knew him. And while you might not have known him by name, you knew him by sound.

I first encountered Adam on Aug. 14, 2018. I remember the date because it was my first day at my new job and I thought I was going to get into a fistfight.

Not a good thing.

Fist-fighting is not something you want to do at any age once you get past junior high, but it seems especially stupid when you’re closer to 60 than 50. Adam was looking straight at me in the alley between Wells Fargo and The Times-Independent building.

He screamed at me. He called me words that rhyme with maggot and trucker. He made no move to close the gap between us so I stood there, like he was a rabid dog and I was a rabbit, but then I noticed he wasn’t really looking at me as much as through me. I realized I was dealing with a tortured soul. You run into them from time to time in this business.

I walked past him and, as I suspected, he didn’t even notice I was there.

I made attempts to befriend Adam over the next year but never really succeeded. I once told him to go home when he was terrorizing some tourists and he did. But other times he would turn on me if I tried to compete with the voices in his head. I really grew to despise those voices.

When he suddenly and mysteriously died at 38 late in September, my colleagues and I were shocked and saddened. The office was quieter than usual. And I can’t speak for anyone else, but I felt a bit guilty. Why I don’t know. I suppose it could be because I once crossed the street to avoid him.

But I also felt a bit of relief. Not for me. Adam didn’t cause me that much grief, but relief for his mother and his aunt and anyone else who loved Adam and suffered along with him. And for Adam himself.

This country has failed its mentally ill.

I’m getting cranky in my older age.

After 14 months in Moab my absolute wonderment and joy over the geography of southeastern Utah has lessened a bit, kind of like what happened at the end of my first year of marriage. The honeymoon is over. The raging inferno that once heated my desire to explore everything about the area has cooled down to a bed of hot coals. The love is still strong, but it no longer blinds me.

A sense of responsibility and commitment has taken over.

That became apparent on Saturday when the dog and I hiked the long way to Faux Falls. On the way we ran into three young men who were eating sandwiches apparently purchased at one of our local restaurants. They didn’t see us when they walked away from their picnic and left their paper wrappers and cups on the desert floor.

I immediately became my father and yelled at them to pick up their (expletive) trash. A surge of fear stabbed me in the stomach. I didn’t know these young men. They could have been armed. They could have been gangsters.

But they were none of those things. They quickly rushed back to the scene of the crime and picked up their trash. One of them even apologized and the other two looked like they wanted to do the same. I told them to respect the land and we went on our way, but I was still a little shaken by my willingness to confront three strangers.

For the life of me I can’t understand why they would come from wherever they came from – presumably to feast eyes on one of the world’s most beautiful places – only to leave their trash behind.

Still, I should not have been confrontational. I don’t think that’s what the Moab Area Travel Council means when they tell us to do it like a Moab local.