Too-Close Encounters

The bottom line is that everyone needs something to believe in. Me? I believe in truth and fairness and what goes round, comes round.

I also believe in UFOs. I will state here for all to read that I think UFOs and their occupants make their way here on a fairly regular basis. For what reasons I cannot say, but I’m guessing that we entertain/sadden the piss out of them. God knows we’ve really fucked things up.

I believe in UFOs largely because I believe it’s ludicrous to think Earth is the only planet that hosts life forms, including the bipedal developments that more or less resemble the human being. With this rather thin philosophy, I drove to Hooper, Colorado, where Judy Messoline hosted a Labor Day Weekend conference at her UFO Watchtower. The attendees were people who have thought a whole lot more about the UFO thing than had I or Greg Younger, a provider of good tequila and spit-take campfire stories, who agreed to photograph the experience. These are people, many of whom live and breathe UFOs and paranormal events, who have covered all their informational bases. Ain’t nothing they haven’t talked out, believe me.

We closed in on Hooper after a wrong turn, and had driven in silence for a few minutes when Younger brought up The Critical Thing That Nobody Wants to Talk About.

“Think we’ll get anally probed?” he asked.

“Um, I dunno,” I replied. Fact was, I’d thought about it mightily, and chances are Younger had devoted at least three days to weighing the odds. “Are you getting nervous?”

“No,” he said, staring across the San Luis Valley. More silence.

Our mood lightened when we stopped at the gas station and eatery in Hooper, which sports an inordinately large metal chicken in the parking lot. Younger went nuts taking pictures of the chicken while I went in to get directions. “Three or four miles that way,” the woman at the counter said, probably for the 18

billionth time in her life. The chicken seems to get a lot of competition from Judy’s UFO Watchtower, and if that ain’t enough, there’s an alligator farm down the road and more cattle mutilations in the valley than you want to know about. As someone who’s done therapy, I’ve been told I don’t have a good hold on what normal is. But you’d need to be legally dead to not notice that the San Luis Valley has a lot of Katie-bar-the-door circumstances.

We came across signs with aliens painted on them, and from there you’d need to be — that’s right — legally dead not to find the Watchtower. Set in a field that doubles as a campground, the concrete dome has an expansive viewing platform that faces out to the Great Sand Dunes and Crestone — hot spots in UFO parlance and again, things that everyone at the conference — except for Younger and me — seemed to know about. People hereabouts talk about UFO sightings and subterranean bases the same way the rest of us talk about grocery coupons. Disbelief isn’t even on the radar. These people got over that a long time ago, the same way folks eventually got over the flat-world theory.

Judy drove a golf cart over to the Watchtower and showed us inside the concrete bubble that serves as a gift shop and info center. There’s a rock garden just outside with a couple cairns at its entrance. The garden is loaded with things that people leave behind as remnants of themselves: Mardi Gras beads, plastic aliens, a Wonder Woman Pez dispenser, Polaroid photos, baseball cards, bits of clothing, a wig and skateboard, rocks from all over the place and a half ton of pens stuck into the ground. Judy explained that numerous psychics have been to the garden and have drawn the same conclusion: There are two distinct vortices here, each marked by one of the cairns and each offering a portal to another, um, dimension. At the time, I was

too busy eyeing a plastic Elvis that someone left behind to pay much attention to the dimension theory and overall vibes of the place. Vibes that might contribute to lights sometimes being on inside the gift shop at night, according to a campfire story I would later hear. Thing is, there’s no electricity in the shop.

Judy also mentioned that folks see UFOs from the tower on a fairly regular basis and that she has witnessed dozens of sightings herself. She said this while fielding questions about T-shirts, campsites and the history of the Watchtower and the San Luis Valley, all while reciting the lineup for Saturday’s speakers. My take: This wasn’t someone who had the time or inclination to sit around and make up stuff. Her honesty scored a point for the existence of ETs.

Younger and I headed back to our campsite and met a sweet lady named Lulu from El Jebel. She was offering up a jug of margaritas and we zeroed in on some folks from Texas who had ice. We pulled up chairs near their Winnebago to pass the ceremonial vessel, and it struck me how oddly normal, Middle American these people were. Somehow I had expected a bunch of self-appointed intergalactic maharishis shuffling about, slackjawed, with their hands pushed toward the sky and annoying me to no end. But, no. Instead, we talked about American muscle cars, where everyone was originally from, the UFOs people saw from the Watchtower the night before and people’s kids. Someone mentioned that there’s a lot more alien activity in these uncertain times; Lulu discussed plans for her upcoming 80th birthday bash and I talked about the casserole I’d brought. The UFO stuff was couched in so much American normalcy that I was expecting the shoe to come down good and hard when it finally dropped. If the mothership was coming, I wanted it over and done — probes and all.

We spent the rest of the evening around a campfire with people who stopped by to watch shooting stars and the Milky Way against an unadulterated black sky, all the while hoping we might see a spaceship. It occurred to me that this was the most seductive sky I’d ever seen, and that it probably gets stared at more than, say, Christine O’Donnell at a MENSA meet-up. So, in theory, by virtue of this sky’s sheer beauty, people are going to notice things here that they may not see elsewhere. Another point for the ETs.

The only real abnormality that night was the car that pulled in next to us around midnight, spilling out several brotastics whose collective IQ hovered around 90. Gauging by the smells, I’m fairly certain they built their campfire with a loaded Diaper Genie and kerosene. I’m also betting the evening was dedicated to swearing in the standards bearer for the American Douchebag Association.

Overheard by Younger at 4 a.m., at roughly 300 decibels: “Dude, I juss wanna say that I have integggridy when I’m drunk. I’m juss sayin’.”

“Fuck you, man,” his friend said.

“Well, I’m juss sayin’.”

As a result, Younger was a bit crabby early Saturday morning. In retaliation, breakfast pots were rattled, our voices were decidedly raised and directed toward the brotastics’ tent, and we used the word “integrity” ad nauseam before heading over to the lecture building. We didn’t want to miss the opening talk about sasquatches and phantom panthers, the latter being mountain lions that look and act weird, often in weird places. They can be in the same meadow with

a bunch of deer, for example, and not pay any attention to the prey. Or they might be wandering around a Midwestern office park. And their footprints don’t match up with those of regular panthers. The theory, according to paranormal investigator and conference emcee Joe Fex, is they may not be of this dimension. Same goes for Bigfoot.

Fex was launching into the meat of the presentation when someone shouted, “Call 911!” An SUV had rolled from the highway onto the Watchtower grounds, and the room emptied amid a chorus of “oh, shit!” A bunch of us ran to the road as the travelers squeezed out of their flattened vehicle, scratched up but otherwise okay. That was a good thing; we could have summoned 911 response from Tierra del Fuego and they would have showed up faster than the nearest cops and paramedics. The Baca Grande Volunteer Fire Department limped in several minutes after the State Patrol in a truck that was smoking wildly from under the hood, and from all appearances was on fire itself. Note to self: Donate heavily at the next firefighters’ picnic.

The day had begun strangely enough, and Younger and I got back to the lecture barn to find the hung-over brotastics lurking in the far corner and looking at us like we were the Next Dead People on Earth. We thought for a moment that they were going to come over and beat the shit out of us, but the room was packed with about 60 people and there was no way those douchebags could get to us without us first jumping over the back row of the conference attendees and running out the back door.

Next on the lecture docket was Gloria Hawker, an Albuquerque hypnotherapist who works with people who claim to have been abducted by ETs. I’d like to say something punchy here, but there was nothing remotely funny about the stories that unfolded — creepy stories about people getting snatched repeatedly and, at the very least, being severely inconvenienced and freaked out. At worst, these are stories of people getting raped and tortured, sometimes with the compliance of U.S. government officials. Everything has an eerie overlap here, where time and space and multiple dimensions and a zillion things that may or may not be conspiracy theories come together and get your neck hairs up. Apparently there are many, many strains of ETs and just as many reasons for bringing us into their fold: educating us on their technologies and warning us of our predisposition to destroy ourselves, harvesting tissue and the breeding of alien-humans. Between the accident, the Bullshit Brothers planning to kill us and the general ickiness of alien abductions, I lobbied for a trip into town to buy ice.

But the lady behind us said we didn’t want to miss Paola Harris, who was speaking next. And leaving the lecture barn would have been problematic at that point, requiring us to walk down the aisle and precariously close to the Not-So-Happy Campers.

Harris is a former high school teacher who lives in Boulder and Rome and who doesn’t bother to rehash arguments about the reality of ETs. “It’s real,” she said. And by the tone of her voice, we’d best get over it if we still think we’re the only intelligent life out there. Author of several books concerning exopolitics, or the study of the social ramifications of ET-human contact, she can easily convince a person that the topic is the single-biggest issue facing us as a planet. Harris spends a lot of time interviewing officials who have climbed big political and military ladders across the globe, many of them in their later years and feeling like it’s time to spill the beans. This comes at a time when governments such as France, Canada and Russia are liberating their UFO files and letting people decide for themselves what the hell is going on.

Harris told us that people can handle it. And maybe the government isn’t necessarily our biggest obstacle to getting the information into our hands. She said we’re our own worst enemies by keeping ET-related events in the bad-joke department. I looked over at Younger and felt kind of bad about the anal probes.

Feeling like I’d gotten what I’d come for after hearing Harris, and with Younger and I agreeing that we might not live to tell the story if we spent another night next to the newly installed standards bearers for the American Douchebag Association, we went back to the rock garden to leave some things behind.

Younger donated a little stone he’d been carrying around, while I stuck my pen in the ground with the others. And then, just for the hell of it, I put my hand on the top of one of the cairns, which allegedly marked a portal to another, um, dimension. As you might guess, the damned rock was buzzing. I took my hand off, shook it vigorously, and tried it again. Same thing.

Like I said, everyone’s got to believe in something.

Tara Flanagan is the Gazette’s Cartographic Editor. She splits her time between Breckenridge and Boulder, and she’s not bullshitting when she says she believes in stuff like UFOs and alien abductions.

Naked Streets

So I’m headed down 28th Street in Boulder to Mickey D’s for another heart-stopping sausage-and-egg muffin. Let me explain that 28th Street ranks with the butt-ugliest streets in any town in North America from Toronto to Juarez, including Detroit.

The stoplight is flashing red, obviously malfunctioning. I cautiously pull into the left-hand turn lane and stop and flip on my turn signal. I carefully look in all directions. The first three cars in the oncoming lane move across the intersection very slowly and the cars behind them all stop. A guy in an Audi waves me across the intersection.

I clench my teeth and creep across, knowing that some buffed-out, over-caffeinated, entitled software engineer at some start-up doomed to failure is going to charge across the intersection and T-bone my old 4Runner. And then yell at me for going too slowly and getting in his way.

But nothing happens. I cruise across the intersection and on to maybe my 10,321st sausage-and-egg muffin.

You need to know that Boulder is a fairly good place to live, but that there about 21,487 really important people that live here who drive as if the rest of us don’t matter. They are usually driving high-end Eurotrash cars or, if their last start-up flamed-out, Subies. In their minds, there are simply no rules that apply to them. When they don’t have their hands in their pants, because no sane person would sleep with them, they are driving while texting, talking on the cell or doing their eye makeup in the mirror (this is not just an indictment of men; there are woman assholes in Boulder, too, maybe more).

So this moderate, mindful reaction to a traffic light malfunction must have been an anomaly. When I finish my breakfast-in-a-wrapper, there will 297 cars backed-up at the same intersection with two of Boulder’s Finest with donut crumbs on their chests and one Deputy Sheriff trying to straighten out the mess.

Nope. Not true. When I reach the intersection again, the red lights are still flashing in all directions and traffic is moving slowly but efficiently.

This got me to thinking. If drivers in Boulder can manage a busy, malfunctioning intersection, why couldn’t more laid-back folks do the same thing in mountain towns where summer and winter traffic can sometimes just stop dead for minutes at a time due to a red light when no one is moving across the intersection on the green light?

A little research found that this concept is called Naked Streets, something the Euros have been doing for years, and it seems to work. And not only does traffic move more efficiently, but there are fewer fender-benders at these intersections. “Reports often cite the town of Drachten, Holland, as an example. Accidents at one major intersection fell from 36 in four years to two in two years after the traffic lights were removed.” This from a New York Times article of 9.2.09.

So, how about a little traffic experimentation in mountain towns? It might just make us a little more civilized and free to manage our own traffic instead of mindlessly reacting to traffic lights. That we would no longer be supporting the international traffic light cartel, the thousands of government employees that maintain the lights and the criminals who manufacture those traffic violation cameras is a good thing. That our Finest would have more time for donuts is a better thing.

Alan Stark, who used to be MG’s assistant editor, owns and operates Boulder Bookworks. boulderbookworks.com.

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