Vaya Con Dios

Page 4 of 8

We had purpose. Life was good.

We spent Christmas at a park on a beach famous for its elephant seals. We hung out with a bunch of hippie kids who were amazed just how much 5-year-old Jed knew about whales. Barbara read to the boys. They refused to go to sleep unless she followed their command: "Read a book, Momma!"

So they knew about whales, the moon landing and Shakespeare long before they even touched a television remote.

But was life in a trailer the path we should follow? In retrospect, perhaps it was.

Despite our housing arrangement, living was expensive on the coastside, so after a year, we moved on from Half Moon Bay, back to far cheaper and much racier Arizona. And headfirst into another scoundrel — J. Fife Symington III.

The morning sun wasted no time in stirring us from our fitful sleep on the banks of Bright Angel Creek. We were up and packed by 6 a.m. and on the trail.

We wanted to get out of the canyon's desert heat by nightfall in two extended efforts: first, five miles to Indian Gardens, and then the final four and a half miles up to the top of the canyon on the South Rim.

I could barely move as we set off. My thighs were shot, and each step downslope was painful. I moved as if my legs were stilts.

During the night, the hiking gods crept into Joey's soul and did their magic. For when he awoke, he was transformed from skate punk to hiker dude, and he enthusiastically set the pace, with steady Jed, carrying a much heavier pack, close behind.

Ever tight with a buck, Jeff decided to make the best investment in his life and cut loose with $60 to have a mule carry his pack and some of our supplies up the trail. It was a wise decision, for our load was made considerably lighter for the much more difficult hike up and out of the canyon.

Thirty minutes into the hike, we crossed a bridge over the Colorado River. I had finally made it to the bottom of the Grand Canyon! Jed and I hung out on the bridge for a few minutes gazing at the wonder of the infinite.

The first set of switchbacks was just ahead, and we knew that the only direction was up and that the going would be tough.

We hiked along the swiftly moving Colorado River for 30 minutes before the trail began a sharp ascent, which actually felt good on my legs. New muscles and new direction filled me with energy.

We reached Indian Gardens by 10 a.m., and we immediately headed for the shade, hunkering down beneath the trees. We were not about to repeat the mistake of the day before. The sun had taught us a lesson.

It was time to rest and watch the clouds.

We moved from Half Moon Bay back to Tempe in the fall of 1991, and I took a position once again at the East Valley Tribune. After a couple of months, the city editor, John D'Anna, and the managing editor, John Genzale, asked me to look into the financial dealings of Governor Fife Symington.

I quickly found that Symington was just another real estate wheeler-dealer. I wrote a series of stories about his serious financial problems related to his service on the board of the now-defunct Southwest Savings and Loan. Soon we got lawsuit threats from Symington's legal team, headed by Washington, D.C., attorney John Dowd.

I got hold of Symington's personal financial statement, and it was obvious that he was not telling the truth about the values of his real estate investments. In January 1992, I told D'Anna that it appeared that Symington was bankrupt.

I accelerated the pace of a well-documented journalistic assault on the governor. His handlers responded with a counterpunch that scared the wits out of the gutless top brass at the Tribune. At one point during an editorial board meeting, I had a nasty confrontation with Dowd and the governor's media consultant, Jay Smith.

Smith challenged me to a fistfight. I said, "Let's go!" and pounded my fist against my tape recorder. I was escorted from the room, and the publisher wanted to fire me on the spot. D'Anna and Genzale intervened and saved my job, but I was removed from the Symington beat.

The next day, I printed out all my notes off my computer and moved all the records I had collected to the trunk of my car. I had no intention of leaving behind the files I had collected in case the ax fell.

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty