May 19, 2008

2008 Ohio Bigfoot Conference

(Written from memory)

After a two hour ride, I arrived at Salt Fork Lodge and was immediately reminded of a Swiss Chalet. It's built in that vein of architecture. After finding out that the restaurant does not open until 5pm, my friend and I dined on potato chips and soda pop. That was the best they had at that time: pop, chips and ice cream. My friend asked if they had any meat-flavored ice cream. “Uh, sorry, sir, no” came the reply from the obviously confused snack-bar attendant. We dejectedly walked over to a corner table to enjoy our fare. While eating, we discussed how dumb it seemed to not have food available and why the restaurant didn’t open until 5pm. This would be made clearer as we left.

As we “dined”, there seemed to be a good crowd milling about the area we assumed to be the conference room. A good mix of old and young, but mostly adults, of both sexes. Upon finishing our meal, we, by some stroke of luck, sighted my friends brother in law leaving the conference room. I called to him, and he joined us at our table and informed us that it was filling up quick and seats were going to be scarce. O.k. We got up and walked through the people loitering around the rooms doorways and proceeded inside. After locating three seats together in the second row on the left hand side of the room, we coerced said brother in law into chair sitting while we went to grab a smoke. We exited through the back door of the lodge for the obligatory after-meal cigarette, and were in the pool area. After being overcast and having varying degrees of rain for the entire trip down, the sun was now shining rather brightly over the lodge. The pool is Olympic sized and is heated. Very inviting, however the temperatures being in the high 50’s prevented anyone from being brave enough to enjoy the water. Several dozen lonely looking lounge chairs sat empty, waiting for a customer. Two other gentlemen were outside smoking as well, both involved in cell phone conversations.

After knocking several more years off of each of our lifespans by smoking two cigarettes in quick succession (we figured it would be awhile until we could get back out), we re-entered the lodge and by now the outside crowd had gotten slightly larger. My friend donated 5$ and received a ticket for the door prize drawing and a small leaflet about the Conference. We reclaimed our seats and were informed by brother in law that he was sitting in the front row right in front of us. Thanks. He would come to be called “The Gatekeeper” because we exited the row through the chairs in front of us rather than disturb the rather rotund man sitting in the middle of our row. I sat down next to an unassuming man of late middle age and was promptly interrogated. “Have you ever seen bigfoot?” “No, unless you count the fat chicks at the bar” I responded. I would repeat this same message to different people several more times throughout the night. He then introduced himself and proceeded to tell me his experience six years ago at a Pennsylvania State Park where he was “surrounded by them”. Wow. That’s pretty wild. I looked around for some people that I knew would be there and tried to name the faces seated at the speakers table. All the while my new neighbor was chattering on and informed me that he now lives five streets from where I used to live. I knew that neighborhood was going bad.

Don Keating finally got things rolling at about four-ten, ten minutes later then scheduled. He went over the schedule, then informed us that Igor Bourtsev(?) was not going to be in attendance due to some problems getting out of Russia. Apparently, not all aspects of Communism have died. So tonight's speakers would be Eric Altman from the Pennsylvania Bigfoot Society, Dr. Jeff Meldrum, Professor of Anthropology at Idaho State University and lastly a Mr. M.K. Davis whose credentials and associations I am unaware of. Also, there would be an auction of several bigfoot related items, between the first two speakers. This would provide the first bit of hilarity.

The first speaker, Eric Altman is a gentleman from Jeanette, Pennsylvania who has the appearance of a chemist. Rather tall, with close-cropped hair and wire-rimmed glasses, one would expect him to be at home in a lab coat as easily as sweatpants. No, he wasn’t wearing sweatpants. He was dressed casually and had a certain air of gentleness to him. He began his presentation by giving a brief history of the Pennsylvania Bigfoot Society and how he became involved. After a few minutes, he asked that the house lights be dimmed so he could begin the visual part of his program. After a few seconds of confusion, the lights dimmed and our attention was turned to a large movie screen which hung like a square wall of snow, from the ceiling in the center of the front wall. Eric began by giving a basic crash course in the geography of Pennsylvania. Then he went on to explain the lore of local indigenous tribes, and the terms used to describe the things they had seen in the forest. At this time, from my awkward vantage point, I could read the text on the screen but with much effort. This would not last the entire time. Altman then went into the report section of his presentation and this proved to be the most interesting. The text accompaniment was a nice touch, but seemed a little redundant due to the fact that Altman proved to be accomplished at explaining the reports. Perhaps this was for his benefit as well as the audiences. Of particular interest, was a report that he spent the most time on, that was based around a deer carcass that was found with its forepaw wedged in the “v” of a tree, and its hindquarters removed. And yes, he had some accompanying slides of the body still in the tree. He went on to point out that, though small puncture wounds appeared in the skull, no bullet casings were found nearby. (Ok, not trying to play CSI here, but if it was shot from a distance, you wouldn’t find any bullet casings. Just a thought.) I believe the point he was trying to make was that this seemed unlikely.

After he finished with the visual part of his program, he conducted a short question and answer session with the audience. Again, I didn’t take any notes and am doing this from my meager memory, so please pardon me. The Q-n-A session seemed to be dominated by a “gentleman” from the other side of the room…at least. He questioned Mr. Altman repeatedly about dimension jumping bigfoots and why there was no body, as if there was a clearcut tie between the two. Altman, to his credit, answered the man as best as he could without being rude, always adding at the end of his statements “…in my opinion.” At this point, the audience (obviously of the “Flesh-and-blood bigfoot” camp) began to snicker at the mans questions, with a few guffaws thrown in for good measure. I don’t know what spaceship this guy landed in, but Altman was nicer than I would’ve been. As I wondered which star cluster this guy was from, I glanced around the room trying to find some of the people I knew would be here. To my surprise, they were seated in the row behind me, about five seats to my right, next to the aisle. I did the traditional “Hey!”….”Hey!” to no avail. I waved my hands. Nothing. So then I stood, yelled “Hey’, waved my hands, and promptly bid on a book…I guess. Apparently the auction had started. At this point I felt a tug on my shirt, as my friend pulled me back into my seat (“Dude sit down, man! The auctions starting!) and the auctioneer scolded me for waving my hands during the auction. I guess this guy has never been in a room full of people and trying to get someones attention. Besides, maybe I LIKED that book.

Ok so now Ive finally been noticed. Hurray.

As the auction progressed, they came to a small paperback entitled “Bigfoot Encounters in Ohio: Quest for the Grassman”. I knew a Grassman when I was in my teens, but that’s a different story. The auctioneer started out at twenty dollars for this fine piece of literary art. Feeling bad for being such a disturbance at the beginning, I raised my hand, this time not to wave to someone. My bid was accepted and after a nail biting thirty to forty seconds where I worried someone would overcut me, I was awarded the book. As a young man handed me my book and held out his hand for the twenty bucks, a smile crossed my face as I knew the treasure was mine. Ok after all that excitement, I needed a quick nicotine injection. I proudly exited the room with my prize, and told my non-seeing-the-hand-waving-friends that I would be back, just going out for a smoke. They were non-plussed.

This was one of the best parts of the whole thing. My friend and I left the lodge and went back to the smoking, er, pool area. It was here that I ran into some people of semi-celebrity status. I had discussions on the internet with these fine folks, don’t agree with ninety-nine percent of what they have to say and think I have even insulted them on at least one occasion. I knew who they were, but they didn’t know who I was. Quite the conundrum. I decided that I would introduce myself via one of my chat-room names and leave it at that. They seemed to be very nice people and even tolerated some rather mundane questions from a totally disbelieving, intoxicated college student. This guy was funny…for a little while. He wouldn’t quit. Then it was time to re-enter. It was also at this time that I met a man who produced a low-budget monster movie that was set and shot near where I live. He too was very friendly and accommodating, and later before we left, my friend purchased not one but TWO copies of his flick. He had one copy autographed by both the lovely young lady who was the park ranger in the movie and by the producer himself. After inhaling three more death sticks, we went back in to catch Dr. Meldrum's portion.

Well, we missed the first ten minutes of Dr. Meldrum's presentation and came in to slides and discussion of the Bering Land Bridge. Next were some shots of some near vertical, very green, mountainsides. He had just returned from China recently and apparently was there to participate in an expedition and meet some Chinese officials from the amateur “Wildman” investigation groups that are popping up in China. Much like here, as was pointed out by Dr. Meldrum. Its at this point that the hungers pains began to attack as the full feeling from our potato chip and pop feast wore off. I elbowed my friend and suggested we leave fifteen minutes before the end of Dr. Meldrum's presentation, as I wanted to beat the crowd I knew would descend on the restaurant. My friend readily agreed. This proved to be a wise choice on our part.

We entered the restaurant, stood by the hostess stand and looked around a bit. A nice place. Lots of wood. Lots of windows. You feel like you’re eating in a hunting lodge that you see on the Travel Channel. There was a buffet set up to the right as you entered, and the hostess informed us that his was the “Bigfoot Buffet”. It was thirteen ninety-five and included baked chicken, roast beef, green beans almondine, mashed potatoes and gravy and some pastas. We passed and decided to order off of the menu. I ordered the cheeseburger and fries, my friend ordered a plain hamburger and a fruit cup and brother in law, who came shuffling in clutching a bottle of beer about ten minutes after we arrived, got the chicken sandwich. Our order arrived after about fifteen minutes. The food was okay, not spectacular. The service was actually better than the food, which is unusual nowadays. But, like Eddie Murphy said, “When you’re starving, even a cracker tastes like a steak!” As we ate, I looked up to see a rather long line had formed outside the restaurant that wound out of view, all waiting to eat. I was so proud of my brilliant strategy I couldn’t help but smile and tell my dinner companions how smart I am. I was then promptly reminded of my auction faux pas. Pass the ketchup.

As we finished our meal, we discussed the rest of the evening. My friend and I decided to leave before it got dark, after we went back to the conference room and my friend could purchase his copies of that movie. Not being familiar with the area and the roads, being a little on the tired side and not really knowing who the last speaker was, greatly influenced our decision. He grabbed two copies of the movie and we went to find his sister to say goodbye. Brother in law informed us that she would be in the pool with the kids. We walked over to the indoor pool area and it was here that I saw Dr. Meldrum standing at the snack bar, talking to a young baseball cap wearing fan of about fifteen. We said our goodbyes to sis, and walked back up the steps to the snack bar. Dr. Meldrum was still standing there, patiently waiting for his order. I walked up, introduced myself politely, and shook his hand. He seemed like a nice guy. Apparently though, they didn’t make reservations for the speakers so that they could be seated quickly and enjoy their dinner before going back to the Conference. He had the chicken fingers basket.

All in all, it was a good time. I learned some things. Don’t ever wave at friends during an auction and the stars really do come out at night at Salt Fork. Stars of all shapes, sizes, and personalities. Next time, I'm staying for the weekend. And packing a lunch.



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