"We have things that are so far beyond the comprehension of the average aviation authority as to be really alien to our way of thinking."
- Retired USAF colonel
It was probably over Coronas and Snakebites at the local pub when Camella and I came up with the no-brainer to shoot some footage near the perimeter of AREA 51 to be used in the screen projections for "Rosetta Stoned" during the band's upcoming U.S. Summer/Fall tour. Along with some infrared landscape stuff, we scribbled a laundry list on the back of a Newcastle Brown Ale coaster of a few other 'targets' - things associated with the area such as the "Use of Deadly Force" warning signs, paramilitary security patrols (henceforth known as Cammo Dudes), video surveillance equipment, radiation monitoring gauges, and even the dusty white bus with the darkened windows that transports workers to and from the nonexistent military installation. Because I had recently witnessed lots of activity over the base while camping near the Restricted Zone on a Thursday night (June 22), I suggested to Camella that we make the trip on that same day of week in the hope of glimpsing something 'black' while scrounging around for the "Rosetta" footage. Looking at a calendar, despite the moon, we quickly decided on July 6th (which would give us a day to decompress after the Independence Day festivities).
Before I describe the events of that nearly fateful night (with the "Indiana Jones" theme still in my head), some of you secret aircraft buffs might be interested in what happened a couple of weeks prior. June 22 was a near moonless night (a fingernail crescent appeared over the ridge shortly before dawn, illuminating nay a box of Krispy Kremes), the perfect backdrop for star gazing at my favorite camping spot near the buffer zone for the buffer zone of America's most famous secret base. Shortly after nightfall, while babysitting some Boar's Head franks on a small charcoal grill, I happened to notice out of the corner of my eye some bright strobing among the multitude of stars. This, my friend (we'll call him Kent) and I quickly determined to be formations of jets on some kind of maneuvers.
As we anxiously watched the aircrafts' strobes and listened to their Doppler effect rumble, I had the feeling that they were forming a perimeter of sorts, possibly to protect something (and hopefully something exotic!) that was being test flown. After about a half of an hour or so of this 'exercise', suddenly a deafening double sonic boom shook the desert floor. This was similar to the sound made by the space shuttle that I've heard when the weather conditions in Florida force it to land at Edwards AFB, only much louder. In fact it reminded me of the "sky-quakes" heard over much of southern California in the early 1990s - those which occurred five times and always on Thursdays, leading many to speculate that the military (i.e. Groom Lake facility) was testing a secret hypersonic plane called the Aurora that was capable of traveling several times the speed of sound (Mach 6). In an article printed in the LA TIMES on April 17, 1992, Caltech seismologist Jim Mori said "the aircraft's turbulence has a distinct signature, or wave pattern, on the seismograph unlike that of any known aircraft" (including the space shuttle).
Whatever it was (and we didn't see anything, nor did we hear any 'tell-tale' pulsating roar), the sonic booms were far more intense than those of other supersonic aircraft that I have heard on numerous occasions while loitering in the "Medlin Valley."
Moments after the 'sky-quake' nearly shook the dogs out of our buns, the formation of jets (now appearing merely as red dots in the sky) disappeared behind a ridge. I assumed tonight's show at the Dreamland theater was over, but some twenty minutes later, while checking out a fairly impressive mustard stain on my camouflage cargo fatigues with a violet chrome Mag-light, Kent directed my attention to a large, intensely bright light that suddenly appeared high in the sky over the dry lake bed. It was way too early for "Old Faithful" and this object was much too bright. I stood transfixed as it increased in brightness (possibly a plasma field as its metal areoshell energized?) and began moving in an anomalous manner. Before I could grab my binoculars, it simply vanished; into what stargate, parallel dimension or galactic turnpike on the mind-link panel I dare not hypothesize (perhaps an Archuleta Level 6-designed clone accidentally bumped against the magnetron in the HPAC.)
The rest of the evening was fairly uneventful, just the usual assortment of satellites, shooting stars, military helicopters, and flame of patriotic BIC lighters held by semi-retired saucer aficionados constructing their favorite distillations. And you probably don't need to know about the scorpion that was a stowaway in Kent's trunk all the way back to L.A., nor how a certain cammo-clad Magistelli screamed like a five-year-old girl upon encountering the startled creature while lifting up the silver Coleman. But as terrifying as that was (at first I thought it was a spider), it didn't compare to the truly terrifying things that happened when we earlier stopped at a Wendy's on Tropicana. I know Dave passed on to the great franchise in the sky but, goddamn, someone at regional might want to check on that 'Lord of the Flies' crew. Makes me question the whole finger in the chili scam. To be honest, I haven't ruled out the possibility that the Wendy's was actually a substitute or 'screen image' for something else - meaning that we were, in reality, abducted by stealthy "greys" and subjected to things so traumatic that our conscious mind couldn't or didn't want to perceive whatever it was. I mean is it really possible for two people to order burgers with completely different toppings on them and then both get burgers with identical toppings but NOT what either of us ordered? Here's the beef! A slight glitch in the 'screen memory' might also explain that Strawberry 'Frosty' that I saw while on board the alien craft that we were mentally tricked into believing was a Wendy's on Tropicana.
Now, to continue with the July 6 "Rosetta" mission. An hour before we were scheduled to leave, Camella rang to tell me that she was bringing along someone other than her Great Dane, Diablo, because she needed a subject for the footage. This turned out to be a twenty-something kid named David who she had used as a model in other projects. That was fine with me (I'd met him several times), although, knowing that we had only three beds in our reserved motel room in the Nevada boondocks, I wondered where Diablo was going to sleep? Five minutes later she pulled up with a "Journey" CD blasting in husband Adam's Jeep. "Is that your CD?" I asked the kid. An emphatic "No" was the reply as I stuck a bottle of SeaPlasma in one of the cup holders.
After finding a spot for "Silver", we took off in a desperate race to beat the traffic, meaning lunch would have to wait until Barstow (yep, that fast food paradise near the Lenwood exit.)
Some six hours later, having driven in blinding sunlight, dust-devils, and sporadic desert showers, we turned off the E. T. Highway onto a sandy track and stopped by the water-soaked barbecue grill that Kent and I had left behind during our last trip. As flashes of sheet lightning bounced around in the distance, Camella began filming 'Dave' on a nearby ridge, While they were doing this, I watched the skies over the proving grounds, looking for those "things flying around in the Nevada desert that would make George Lucas drool" as a retired Lockheed engineer claimed in the February 1987 issue of Gung Ho magazine. Unfortunately, on that Thursday night, there wasn't much going on in the restricted airspace, prompting me to fire up the grill with a bag of generic Matchlite whose built-in lighter fluid had all but evaporated while sitting on the shelves in some fly-blown Mormon-owned mini-mart.
Around midnight I suggested that we take a drive to the perimeter where Camella could shoot some footage of 'Dave' attempting to run away from... something. Minutes later, as I was going about 45-50 MPH on the dirt and gravel access road (51 Road), while dodging jackrabbits in the glare of headlights as well as puddles of muddy water in spots from earlier flash floods, suddenly a powerful jolt shook the Jeep. "Holy Shit!" I remember shouting, knowing that we must have hit something large, and thinking that it was possibly the mother of all potholes (although I didn't see anything). After quickly checking the tire pressure on the computer display, and seeing that they were fine, we continued on, I making a mental note to look out for whatever it was on the way back. After continuing for a few more miles at that speed, I stopped so that Camella could resume filming her subject. Knowing that we'd already tripped some of the remote magnetic sensors and would soon have company, 'Dave' quickly stripped down to his boxers and got into character, running for his life and stumbling while glancing back at something on the 51 Road as I slowly followed in the Jeep where Camella was capturing everything on her camera. (NOTE: during the 'dress rehearsal' for Tool's arena tour, the Rosetta footage wasn't yet digitized, so I don't know what stuff was used and what wasn't although Camella called afterwards, seemingly anxious to get my reaction). Soon our subject was tired of running from this imaginary terror and climbed back into the Jeep where he was greeted by a smiling, laughing Camella who couldn't resist giving him a bit of grief for being a twenty-something winded smoker.
When we reached the signs at the Restricted Zone, I got out to have a beer, listening to the whine of the generator in the Cammo Dudes' vehicle as they watched us in the black desert night from their little perch on a dirt spur. Nothing much seemed to be happening here, either - no flight tests by the shadowy powers that be of things that defied description, that which "to compare them conceptually to the SR-71 would be like comparing Leonardo de Vinci's parachute design to the space shuttle" as yet another retired USAF retired colonel disclosed. Having finished my Corona without observing anything interstellar/interspatial, not even the deep basso thrumming of some New World Order propulsion system that one often hears at this distance, we decided to head back.
As we neared the spot where we had hit something in the road, I slowed down, looking for whatever it was. And then I saw it, hardly believing my eyes. It was the mother of potholes, all right! Actually, part of the road had simply disappeared. Where once was a road (51 Road, no less) was now a hole about five feet deep and nearly a car length wide.
I stopped and we all climbed out to have a look, nervously laughing while realizing that the jolt we felt was our rear tires hitting the edge of the road as the rest of it collapsed under the weight of the Jeep. Immediately, Camella starting taking photos of the sinkhole and the large underground pipe that was now revealed until David advised her that what she was standing on didn't appear all that stable. He was right. The compressed dirt and gravel was only about three inches thick with a large hollow section beneath it, and looked like it might give way at any moment. As we assessed the situation, the headlights of an approaching security vehicle appeared, coming right for us from the direction of the base. I wasn't too worried about the Cammo Dudes while on the BLM open range, but because of certain factors having to do with the topography, and not exactly sure what was now out of bounds (once bitten...), our only chance of leaving was to try and make it across the remaining part of the road before it, too, collapsed. When all of us agreed on this except for Diablo (probably because he wasn't drinking), we climbed back inside, noticing that the CAM was now stopped just a short distance behind us. I put the Jeep in reverse and backed up almost to his dusty bumper and then hit the accelerator. Going about 50 MPH we crossed what was left of the road next to the sinkhole. Again, a tremendous jolt shook the Jeep, only this time we all knew exactly what caused it. I hit the brakes and we piled out to have a look. Now, an entire part of Groom Lake Road was gone! "That was SO Indiana Jones," Camella laughed, and then began singing "Da Da Da DAH..." The security vehicle on the other side pulled forward and stopped, with the paramilitary types inside no doubt watching and shaking their heads as Camella began documenting the scene with her camera. We'd caused enough damage for one night, and it was now time to make the hour drive to Alamo and the 72 degrees of the Meadow Lane motel. "Da da da DAH..."
All righty then... picture this if you will...
10 to 2 am, X, yogi DMT, and a box of krispy kreme's in my "need to know" pose just outside of area 51, contemplating the whole chosen people thingy when just then a flaming stealth banana split the sky like one would hope but never really expect to see in a place like this. Cutting right angle donuts on a dime and stopping right at my birkinstocks, and me yelping "holy fuckin' shit!"
then the X file being, looking like some kinda blue green Jackie chan, with Isabella Rossellini lips, and breath that reeked of vanilla chig champa, did a slow mo matrix decent outta the butt end of the banana vessel, and hovered above my bug eyes, my gaping jaw, and my sweaty elron hubbard upper lip and all I could think was, "I hope uncle martin here doesn't notice that I pissed my fuckin pants!!"
so light in his way, like an apparition, that he had me crying out...
"fuck me! It's gotta be the dead head chemistry. (the) blotter got right on top o' me. Got me seeing E mutha fuckin T!
and after calming me down with some orange slices and some fetal spooning, E.T. revealed to me his singular purpose. He said. "you are the chosen one. The one who will deliver the message. A message of hope for those who choose to hear it, and a warning for those who do not." Me! The chosen one. They chose me!!!! And I didn't even graduate from fuckin' high school!!
Then he looked right through me with somniferous almond eyes. Don't even know what that means. Must remember to write it down.
This is so real. Like the time Dave floated away. See, my heart is pounding. cuz this shit never happens to me.
Can't breathe right now.
It was so real. Like I woke up in wonderland. all sorta terrifying. I don't wanna be alone while I tell this story.
And can anyone tell me why y'all sound like peanuts parents?
Will I ever be coming down?
This is so real. Finally it's my lucky day See, my heart is racing cuz this shit never happens to me.
Can't breathe right now.
You believe me don't you? Please believe what I've just said. See, the dead ain't touring and this wasn't all in my head. see they took me by the hand and invited me right in. then they showed me something. I don't even know where to begin.
Strapped down to my bed, feet cold and eyes red.
I'm out of my head am I alive? Am I dead.
Can't remember what they said. God damn. Shit the bed.
Overwhelmed as one would be placed in my position...
Such a heavy burden now to be the one
Born to bear and bring to all the details of our ending.
to write it down for all the world to see.
But I forgot my pen. Shit the bed again. Typical.
Strapped down to my bed, feet cold and eyes red.
I'm out of my head am I alive? Am I dead.
Sun kissed and Sudafed Gyro scopes and infrared
won't help. I'm brain dead. Can't remember what they said.
God damn. Shit the bed.
Can't remember what they said to me.
Can't remember what they said to make me out to be the hero.
Can't remember what they said.
Bob help me.
Can't remember what they said.
We don't know and we won't know.
God damn shit the bed.
Early the next morning I woke up in a cold sweat, suddenly realizing just how insane it really was... that Wendy's on Tropicana (or whatever it was). "Camella, on the way back to L.A., let's look for a Sonic, okay?" But first we had some more work to do out at the perimeter of AREA 51. There were still many things on our list, including the dusty white bus that was due to head down Groom Lake Road in... 15 minutes!
We hurried to gather our things, checked out, and started back towards Highway 375, wondering if the bus would be able to get to the base now that a good chunk of the road was missing. "I saw a white bus a little while ago while smoking a cigarette", David said. " I was having a hard time sleeping on the floor and got up early. It pulled out from behind the Chevron Station." "Let's try to catch It!.. after we safely negotiate... the Alamo speed trap" I told the others with my eye on the Lincoln County Sheriff in the rearview mirror.
When we turned down the 51 Road an hour later, we hadn't driven more than a mile when I spotted a flatbed truck and a medium wheel loader. "Whoa, is that an Caterpillar H-Series?.. A 966 H CAT with load-sensing hydraulics! You got to hand it to Area 51... I'll bet the repairs coast a zillion dollars. Does that make you feel better about paying all those taxes, Camella?"
Reaching the spot where we had caused the cave in, we saw that they already had the road fixed with that yellow piece of heavy machinery. Not missing a beat, we sped past the operator of the loader who had a puzzled (if not annoyed) expression on his face, only to have to slow down again for some thirsty bovines in their muddy clepsydra. "There's the bus!" Camella shouted, pointing to something kicking up a cloud of dust off to our right. From this distance it looked like a toy, but she was right, it was the bus. "I thought it would be more high-tech," Camella said, sounding a little disappointed. "Hey, it might look like a simple white school bus from the outside, but inside I'll bet it's crammed full of all kinds of electronic wizardry... things from the Roswell crash, too... like Satellite radio and Velcro..."
With the road 'washed out', the bus had taken a different route, and was nearly an hour late from its usual 7:30 AM timetable. As Camella picked up her shoulder-held video camera, I sped up to 65 MPH, trying to get closer before it turned onto Groom Lake Road from the dirt road that we probably should have taken the night before. However, before I knew it, because of the way this intersecting road curved, the bus was soon behind us. It was hauling ass, too, with the crazed unseen driver seemingly determined to pass us. "Fucker switched from the omicron mode into the delta configuration!" I shouted to Camella who was leaning out of the window filming it. (Da da da DAH...) "What are they selling - Element 115 along with cheese-peanut butter crackers at that damned Chevron station?" Seconds later the bus passed us, nearly running us off the road in the process. "Don't bother thanking us for saving your life, you Papoose probed ass-hole!" I shouted to be heard over Diablo's barking as it dangerously swerved in front of us. "I've got your plate! Write this down... 86B...13...71." "Who do you think is on the bus?" David asked. "Workers on their daily commute and members of the Area 51 slow-pitch softball team... the Area 51 8-Ballers. At least that's what the team was called back in the 1960s. I know the pilots, workers and staff were treated to lobster and prime rib in the mess hall during their stint at Paradise Ranch, but can you imagine what a 'ball' cost back in those days! The team was pretty good, too... hitting long homers with those little anti-gravity reactors and cheering in a higher form of Hungarian. Either that or your basic 'Yellow Fruit' and 'Sea Spray' types, that's who... but they're late today."
Slowing down to let the plume of plutonian-laden dust dissipate, we continued to the now less than intimidating "Keep Out" signs at the Restricted Zone. Stopping, I suggested to Camella not to worry about getting the "No Photography" signs, which there are already lots of photos of, but, instead, to film the two metallic devices attempting to mimic Joshua trees on top of a ridge. As she pointed the camera at them, it abruptly stopped working. Freaking out a bit, she checked the battery and some other things, but couldn't find anything wrong. It wasn't until we had given up filming at the border and were heading back that it began working (although I'm NOT suggesting that the security patrols and/or other fabled devices caused the camera to mysteriously stop functioning - it might have just been a coincidence).
Before heading for Vegas, now back in business as far as the video camera was concerned, we took a little detour to Rachel in order to film some of the things remaining on our list. Afterwards, we filled up the tank at the Quik Pik and stopped in for a beer or two at that doublewide trailer saloon - the one with the alien burgers, video poker machines and kitchy souvenirs. The walk-in from Zeta Ridiculous wasn't bartending on that morning so after a Corona on my Cornflakes I handed the keys to David.
My suggestion to look for a Sonic in Las Vegas turned out to be a winner... literally (and I didn't even know that you could gamble with fast food). After ordering three burger combos for about $16.00, when we gave the 'car-hop' a twenty, she gave us $18.00 back in change. (NOTE: that's the Sonic near the Rio parking lot just in case you want to play).
While having dinner with some friends at Beni-Hana a few days later, Adam looked at me from across the table and said, "I heard about Area 51... I'm mad at you." "I didn't know the road was going to collapse," I retorted. "Yeah, but then you did it again!" "Well, Diablo should have barked or something." (Oh God, he's going to tell the waitress it's my birthday AGAIN as punishment and then there will be all that singing and the candle in the pineapple...) "He still doesn't know that it was HIS Jeep," Camella whispered. "I don't think he was worried about the Jeep... or that Journey CD," I told her. At that moment our waitress approached. Adam quickly got her attention and said, "Hey, it's... her birthday," pointing to Robyn or Adele, or maybe it was Heather. I just know that it wasn't me. Nice. So, all you Tool fans... when you go to the Arena shows and watch the screen projections during "Rosetta Stoned," remember that some of us almost bit it (and had a fake birthday with the singing and clapping and pineapple at Beni-Hana) for you people.