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Monday, 8 October 2018

BOB in the USA

"TAXI!!!!!"
Deep in the heart of Surrey, on the outskirts of London, at 4:30am on the 30th August 2018 -  a very tired and wired, fanboy, waits for his taxi to the airport. His first of 9 flights over the next 12 days, and his first transatlantic, on his (mini) speaking tour of the USA, leave at 7:30am; on what will be his first foray into the intellectual world of cryptozoology 'conferences' and merchandising his passion, to the attendees of these events.

I, being of sound mind and having booked my trip on the cheap; have already laid out my travel itinerary, inclusive of flights, taxis, hotels, conferences and backup plans for every eventuality that may occur, but still feel the need to check again, as I arrive at the airport. I read carefully: "Gatwick to Orlando, Orlando to Portland, Maine and then a short taxi to the hotel, with three days accommodation reserved and paid for at the Clarion Hotel, by my lovely host - Mr Loren Coleman." After which, I glance up at the departures board to see that my flight has been cancelled due to an aircraft fault and that I have no chance of making my connecting flight. I call the booking agency. The operator reassures me that they cover every eventuality, books me a new flight, but apologises that I'll have to stay overnight in Orlando, in a 4-star hotel, with a swimming pool, all expenses paid and inclusive of breakfast and a lift to the airport the next morning. I do my best to hide my enthusiasm from the travel agent and politely say, that I will accept the inconvenience. Talk about service! these guys impressed the socks off me!


I arrive at Orlando, make it through customs, after getting a puzzled look from the immigration officer about the reason for my visit (Cryptozoology Lecturer!) and get a taxi to the hotel. To say that I was impressed with my accommodation would be a classic example of the British talent for understatement. The premises, room and service are beyond anything I've ever experienced before.

Looking suspiciously at the pool, at the 'Alligator Hotel',  Florida.
I awake in the morning and check out the pool area and a very suspicious pond (lake) at the back of the hotel, with hammocks and chairs positioned next to a warning sign about 'alligators'. When I ask my hosts what to do if  I see one, they calmly tell me to, run as fast as possible, without looking back, or climb into a tall tree if I'm trapped. Hardly encouraging, but their natural response seems to indicate that this is a normal issue in Florida and that sitting near the pond, is a 'buyer beware' type of situation.

The Alligator symbol negates the necessity for the
'No Swimming' warning, on this sign (IMHO)
After soaking in my beautiful surroundings, I head to the airport and after successfully checking my bags, head over to the TSA line, to go through security. Now, being British and part of a western nation, but also having travelled quite frequently to the Middle East over the past 9 years, one could say that I am more than used to an extra 'layer' of security checks and make an effort to be compliant and transparent with the officers I meet. After all, their job is to keep the plane safe and I am most definitely, 'down with that!'

However, whether because of a cultural aversion Brits have, to answering any question in the affirmative, or rather in a presumptive manner, (basically, we're non-committal); when I step into the scanner and the officer asks me if I have anything in my pockets, I answer: "No, I don't think so". Which, loosely translated in our culture means. "I've checked them and found nothing, but who can be 100% certain about anything?" To which he replied: "Do you or don't you?" and I say: "I don't" and he says: "You didn't sound so sure a moment ago!" and then a 'to & fro' ensues, in which he keeps asking me if I'm sure, to which I finally reply: "Look, you've got me in the scanner, yes? So, do your scan, and then you'll know FOR SURE! if I've got anything in my pockets!" Without going into the details of the aftermath, of this cultural conundrum, of the differing employment of the active and passive voice in our countries; I will simply say that they found nothing in my pockets, and I for my part, like a good guest, pretended not to notice the severity of my pat down and thanked the officers for discharging their duties so professionally.

So, on to Portland, Maine (via Atlanta) for the 3rd Annual Cryptozoology Conference. I arrive well rested and make my way to the Clarion Hotel, which is very lovely, but unfortunately, now visually diminished, due to my unexpected overnight Orlando indulgence. I get up early, get my Merch, (books, banner, T-Shirts, Decals) together, and get in the lift, only to be joined by renowned Bigfoot researcher, professor and documentary 'star' of  Discovering Bigfoot & other notable Bigfoot documentaries, Jeff Meldrum. A light suddenly switches on in my head and a very reasonable voice says: "Whatever you do Andy, don't mention Todd Standing, Jeff probably gets asked all the time and that's not going to earn you Jeff's colleague-ship. Remember, he doesn't want to talk about Todd!) We say our goodbyes, I sip on a machine filter coffee (more about the coffee later) in the hotel lobby, which is being fiercely guarded by Coast to Coast's very own Tim Binnal, force a business card into his hand and head down to the conference, at Thompson's Point, a 5 minute walk away.

International Cryptozoology Museum
In Portland, Maine.
The first face to greet me is the lovely, Colin Schneider, otherwise known as 'The Crypto-Kid'. My reason for liking Colin, apart from his excellent show and research; is because the first time he ever interviewed me, he grilled the life out of me, and only told me he was going to do so, about two minutes before we went live. That kind of honesty and respect, I think, deserves the same in return. Next, I see Loren Coleman, somewhat akin, these days, to the legendary Sasquatch himself, in the mythical standing he has attained in the cryptozoology and paranormal community. His greeting is warm and welcoming and my nerves start to drop away. He jokingly hints that one of my fans (rivals) from the UK has been invited to debate me, and seems pleased with the sudden look of terror in my eyes, which quickly turns into a mutual laugh of realisation, at this funny, but very naughty tease!  I see my table and get busy making it presentable, displaying my wares, as best as I know how, as an 'un-businessman'. Already, I see Jeff and Cryptid Wendigo, set up across from me and beside me Dave McCullough and Jonathan Wilk from Squatchachusettes and On the Trail of Champ documentary maker - Aleksandar Petakov on the other. Panic sets in as I suddenly notice anthropologist/Primatologist, NYU professor, and unwilling star of, 10 Million Dollar Bigfoot Bounty, Todd Disotell, approaching me! I begin silently praying that he doesn't ask me any technical questions! We have a brief and friendly chat, he buys my book, which I sign; and leaves to check out the conference....phew! ;)


Happy Hellos with - The Crypto-Kid - Colin Schneider, at
The Third International Cryptozoology Conference

This conference, to Loren's delight and my own, has more female representation than most cryptozoology conferences (Researcher, Hayley Eldridge, Author, Michelle Soulliere, Primatologist - Dawn Prince HughesChamp Lady - Katy Elizabeth) and among them of course, the equally valid and lovely male speakers; who will be making this 2 day event, a learning curve of the most enjoyable inclination.

The first day is filled with lectures, socialising and sales, after which, several of us head out to the centre of Portland to get some of Maine's renowned seafood. Our table consists of Jeff, Katy and Myself, Travis Cartoonist and his daughter Angelina, Colin Schneider and his partner Serena and Aleksandar Petakov. The conversations are both funny and general and I manage not to ask Jeff about Todd Standing, until I hear Katy, asking Jeff: "So who is this Todd That I keep hearing about?" to which I reply: "Katy, I'm sure that Jeff doesn't want to talk about Todd Standing right now" and she says: " Not Todd Standing, Todd Disotell, who's Todd Standing!" I'm then forced to explain to Jeff the promise I made myself not to ask him about Todd Standing, to which he says: "I don't mind talking about Todd, at all" and proceeds to spend the next half hour speaking about their time together. The conversation is both enlightening and reassuringly professional and slowly moves on to the subject of children, of which I have two (girls.) I am shocked to find out that Jeff has 9 children, 7 of whom are boys! My admiration is now shifted from his risk-taking as a tenured professor, in openly researching Bigfoot and I suddenly understand his bravery in this field, as being nothing more than a paltry gesture, when pitted against the responsibility of having 9 children. I start to wonder if his Bigfoot 'obsession', could just be a way of getting out of the house, from time to time. ;)

'Table of Thrones'
Our lovely group, out on the town, in Portland, Maine. 
Jeff's lecture the following day, called, '50 Years of the Patterson/Gimlin Film', is eye-opening, but also reaffirms a benchmark to which we should all adhere, which is; if the PG footage which has never been disproved and cannot be physically emulated, is the benchmark of Bigfoot 'photographic' evidence, then anything (film/photo) below this standard is really, no evidence at all. As a researcher, like many others, who regularly suffers from a type of  'Red Circle PTSD'. I heartily agree with this standard and realise that we in the cryptozoology and Bigfoot community at large, are extremely lacking any evidence as compelling, as this iconic film.

Monday morning comes and I head out to get a coffee and call home, from the hotel car park, where there is good (international) reception. As I'm dialling, I see a smartly dressed woman in her late forties approaching me. She appears to be speaking to me, so I remove my headphones and greet her. The conversation that follows, shows that it is hard to identify 'another country's crazy, through your own cultural lens'. It appears throughout our 5-minute conversation that she is trying to pick me up. I will always remember her opening line: " I've just finished taking cocaine all night with my sister and we were just saying what a beautiful morning it is....so, what are you doing today?" I reply: "I'm leaving town..."

The 'King of Kong' himself,
Cryptozoology Legend - Loren Coleman.

After escaping my suitor, I meet Katy in the lobby, to get ready for our drive to Vermont, to investigate the Lake Champlain Monster. An obsession she has cultivated, for the last 8 years, before finally moving her life and possessions to the Lake, just over a year ago. Before we can leave this part of the country, we head down to New Hampshire, for a promised breakfast goodbye and a look through the private collection of International Fortean Society's, James Boyd. As we pull up next to his lakeside home, we are greeted at the door, by this lively, funny and incredibly knowledgeable elderly gentleman. James has certainly been an adherent of cryptozoology, or more properly, Fortean research for most of his life and his awareness of the myths, legends and cryptids of my country is impressive. He is also a self-proclaimed witness of the Tatzelwurm, which he had witnessed in New Hampshire as a teenager. James saw the creature, running along a dirt road and followed it. He observed it from a close, but safe distance, as it hurriedly tried to burrow its way into the side of a railway embankment. The animal, which he describes as being about 2 feet long, jet black, with single yellow stripes on either side of it, was travelling at an incredible speed, appeared reptilian and did not have any discernible legs. He did not see it's head. In cryptozoological terms, this is a niche claim, and one not reflective of the creatures, that would naturally be included on the general eyewitness menu. James has clearly made the investigation of the unknown a lifelong dedication and although I am sceptical of extraordinary claims, I confess, unusually,  in this instance, that I have no doubts about the veracity of his story.

A small sample of the awesome private collection of Fortean, James Boyd.

We eventually leave the lovely Mr Boyd and hit the road; and after a few hours of searching for anything that resembles a Starbucks or similar 'cappuccino style' coffee outlet along the road, I catch sight of the impressive Adirondacks. Coming from such a small country as Britain, the scale of wilderness takes my breath away and reinforces my feelings about the isolation and habitat that Bigfoot, may have, in which to roam, in parts of the US.

Sunset on Lake Champlain
Arriving in Vermont, I am greeted from afar by the sight of what looks like an inland sea and realise that we are far from the coast. Unsure, I ask Katy if this is Lake Champlain and she seems happy and proud to confirm my question, in the way that I would feel showing a tourist to the UK, Westminster Abbey or Stonehenge. I get out my phone quickly to check its stats, assuming it to be one of the great lakes, next to which Google confirms that it is merely a barely perceptible blip on the map, next to The Great Lakes. However, if you consider that our largest body of water in Britain is Loch Ness at 23 miles long and 1.7 miles wide, the scale of the tiny Lake Champlain at 107 miles long and 14 miles at its widest is unnerving. Katy tells me that although, it looks calm today that it is a dangerous body of water, due to its size and sudden bursts of inclement weather.

We spend the next 4 days on and off the lake, visiting beautiful bays and spots, where she has been successful in sighting the creature and driving around the beautiful country settings in Vermont and New York, finally culminating in a late-night vigil, whereupon we snuck down to Arnold's Bay at night and threw some chicken into the water and waited, with our spotlight and a monocular, for some action. One of Katy's sightings took place at night, at this very spot, whilst was sitting in a car, with a friend. So understandably, my expectations are high. Aware of the possible habituation of this area by the creature and our isolation, our conversation recorded here, is comical in its capturing, of the growing, self-imposed fear, that we seem to be experiencing, in standing next to the blackness of the now; baited water and over examining every splash and rustle that we hear along the shore.

Katy Elizabeth, lets me sit on her 'stoop', at Button Bay
We also visit Button Bay and sit on a hill in Katy's usual spot and a known hotspot for sightings of the monster of Lake Champlain, where she keeps vigil and has spotted the head and looped neck of one of the animals in the water. Katy describes this sighting in detail: as a long neck, with a horse shaped 'reptilian ' head, that came out of the water in button bay. During this particular sighting, she witnessed the animals incredibly flexible neck, looping over itself, showing off its flexibility in near-defiance of the pervading paradigm within palaeontological circles, that even now believes that these animals, if they be, what I believe and the eyewitnesses describe them as being, were unable to lift their necks above water? We also visit Otter Creek, an area where there have been many sightings and where Katy has captured, some unidentified eye-shine on one of her game-cams, strategically place along the path that follows the creek back down towards the lake. The most intricate sighting I hear about is relayed to me by a companion of Katy's, who although of completely sound mind and body is afflicted with one of the most valuable and dangerous attributes a person can possess as a skill, which is an unfiltered and simplistic honesty. This lovely gentleman, who we'll only refer to as Mike, was also seated in a car at Arnold's Bay (location of Katy's night sighting) with a friend when they witnessed a long shape surfacing about 30 feet offshore. The animal, as Mike describes it, was over 20 feet long, greenish-brown in colour, had a bumpy back, and a long neck with a small horse-like head. The creature stayed within watching distance of the two witnesses for a few minutes before submerging. When I asked Mike why he didn't take a photo, he confessed that they were both in awe of what they were seeing and concerned about its proximity to them, to think about taking a picture. This excuse is one of the most common, among witnesses of unusual phenomena, for failure to document their sighting, and in no way indicative of a hoax.

Otter Creek Eyeshine - photo, copyright of Katy Elizabeth
People like Katy who claim to have many sightings are often ridiculed as desperate or attention needy individuals, whose imaginations are either predisposed to seeing what they want to see or to creatively translating various large fish and mammals, or flotsam & jetsam into Cretaceous Creatures; somehow reanimated and transposed into our current epoch. However, having spent just under a week following her daily routine, it is easy to see how those afflicted with a life-changing obsession for the hunt, are better placed than most to witnessing, not only the animals themselves, but with a careful ear to the ground, statistically predicting likely places for a sighting to occur, based upon perceived habits, derived from the overview of  positional sightings, in combination with the topography, ecology and seasonal changes of a large body of water, like Lake Champlain. Although, I do not doubt the passion and veracity of Katy's sightings and research. Along with others, like Steve Feltham of Loch Ness; the relocation of her life to her research area, is indicative of a sink or swim mentality, that can have serious life consequences for the unsuccessful in such an endeavour!  For my part, I wish her and all like her, the success that their dedication deserves!

B.O.B's Merch Perch at CryptidCon
After a busy but beautiful week in Champ's backyard, I pack my bags, thank my host and head on to Burlington Airport, Vermont, for the first of two flights to Kentucky, my transfer being via Philadelphia. contrary to all of my other American airport experiences, which have been very polite and helpful, Philly is reassuringly rude and I suddenly feel a sense of familiarity and relaxation come over me, as though I'm back home in London, its the same as when its damp and rainy in London and I suddenly feel like I'm back in Wales again. Not because damp and rain or abrupt service and rudeness are good, but because they're familiar and comforting. This is something I refer to as 'The Cultural Haggis Theory'. The world knows that Haggis is a disgusting culinary aberration, a blot on the menu of the planet; but to some Scots, it represents a traditional, childhood and therefore, comforting meal and bypasses the taste buds to be a tasty national dish.

Anyway, I digress. I arrive that evening for my 2nd speaking engagement, in the USA at Cryptid Con, a very big event and featuring some of the biggest names in the industry. I grab a cab for the 30-minute drive to Frankfort, the cabbie seems nice and wants to chat, So I start asking him about himself. Unfortunately, again, the cultural lens through which we judge content of character, based upon things like appearance, speech and other verbal cues is diminished in a new environment, and if I am amused that my cabbie is talking himself up in the first 5 minutes of our conversation; I am shortly horrified by the realisation that my driver is 100% batshit crazy!!! Our conversation or his monologue is loosely based upon becoming a cage fighter at the age of 37, whilst holding down two jobs and being the guardian of 6 kids. He has no formal training but is convinced that no one can withstand a hit from him if he just focuses on the tough life he has. I wish him luck in his new endeavour, but unfortunately this does not stem the tide of conversation, for he's not only going to become a cage fighter, but he is going to defeat the infamous Connor MacGregor and thereafter transfer to boxing and achieve what Connor failed to achieve, by defeating Floyd (Lightning Hands) Mayweather!!!!! He sees my doubt, which is hard for me to hide at this point, and justifies his confidence by explaining that his wife, the mother of 3 of his children, ran away with a drug addict and had 3 other children with him and then she and her drug addict partner, ran off and left him, with all 6 kids to raise. His and theirs! That is why he cannot be defeated in a fight, regardless of his opponent's skill or power. I admit to him, that this is a compelling argument and wish him luck. When we finally get to the hotel, I tip him generously and breathe a sigh of relief, when he apologises that he will be unable to pick me up on my return to the airport, Monday.

Taxi Driver: "You looking at me, you look, me?!"
The Plaza Hotel in Frankfort is situated in what appears to be a very quiet town, but its interior is grandiose and welcoming at the same time. I introduce myself to the team, who are welcoming and lovely and I head over to the bar, to drink a get a coke and acclimatize to my new surroundings when I spot Cliff Barackman, Seth Breedlove and a lovely guy named Adam and decide to spend the few minutes before check in with them. In this strange genre, you get used to the names, faces and the chats you have with your fellow researchers, but when meeting them face to face, you are suddenly confronted with the reality of familiarity, without actually knowing the someone, with whom you are acquainted, through talk or TV. The guys are very welcoming and do a good job of overlooking my nervousness, in the few minutes we share this space.

Cliff: "Security!!!"
The next day I rise early and head down to the dining room to a warm reception, Ronald Murphy and family. The Pairo'normal guys, Jesse James Durdel and co. and a host of lovely speakers, vendors and fans crowd the breakfast bar and each booth is filled with friendly, sleepy chatter. On to the vendor's hall, I remember Bobo walking over to me and saying, "Hey, it's Beasts of Britain!" I look genuinely shocked and secretly hopeful, that he does know me and it's more than just good conference manners on his part...and the big sign on my stall with my name on it, of course! I embark upon a blurry 2 days, filled with chats, sales, interviews and talks given by Cliff Barackman and Derek Hayes, Travis Walton, David Paulides, Linda Godfrey, Ronald Murphy, M.J.Dickson  and many, many other moreseome awesomes!

We finally come to my own talk. I arrive early and spend the next 20 minutes warming up with a few people who've stayed on since the last lecture and finally see the lights go down and embark upon the many wonders of the Beasts of Britain, which somehow now don't seem to belong to me, but feel as though I'm 'jumping somebody else's train!' I remember my own home-peeps, who've stuck by me and advised me throughout this two-year roller-coaster of research, writing and interviews and wonder if they could come and fill in for me for an hour until my nerves go??? In a moment my fear drops, before I can stop myself, I open my mouth to talk and for the first time in my life, hear my voice as it sounds to the ears of my audience....truly English! Talk done, products sold and on to party time! There is a wonderful atmosphere, lots of dancing and, oh no...Karaoke!!! My fears are quickly allayed by the rock and rap karaoke playlist I'm hearing and that my co-delegates, like myself all seem to be former musicians. I eventually succumb to the 'have a go hype' and get up to sing Radiohead's - Creep. How did I do?...well, I got to do an encore, but that could just mean that Americans are polite!

"Ummm, What Monsters???"
The day is over, I pack my bags and head down to the restaurant to find the lovely She -Squatchers, Jen & Jena, who have promised me a dinner date, but Kentucky closes early on a Sunday, so we order a few pizzas. We are joined later by Cliff and Travis, and I find myself out of body (symbolically), looking down on this motley crew of conversations and personalities. Jena is talking to Travis about her near death experience, Cliff is fielding my questions about Dogman and Jen is talking about remote viewing Sasquatch habituation sites, when suddenly we all stop to listen to something important that Travis has to say, which turns out to be, that his youngest son is freakishly strong, even though he looks very weedy and slim? This comment drags me back to earth and reminds me that we are, after all, just people, with regular lives, concerns and families; that are far more interesting than these alternative 'careers' , that we have fallen into.

The impression this trip has left on me is that, there are very few successful people in this 'genre', and that even the biggest of them, are not pampered, but man their own desks and sell their own merchandise, face to face. Others, who are stationed and 'locationed' at alleged cryptid habituation sites around the world (Lake Champlain/Loch Ness etc,) pay more for their interest than they are paid, always hand over fist, in every case! I have to ask myself, do I want this life without reward, or with the reward of ridicule if I present proof of a cryptid? I'd say no! yet, something that is inherent in the moreishness of mystery is also present in cryptozoology; that keeps us watching, waiting and writing about these allegedly, undiscovered animals, of the great unknown.

Extra Hot, Double Shot, 
Mocha with Cream!

Deep in the heart of  Kentucky at 4:30am, the following morning. A very tired and wired, fanboy, hails a taxi to the airport, to complete his second transatlantic trip, at the end of his (mini) tour of the USA! His assessment of Americans, in general, is that they are good people. Polite and open-minded, welcoming and eager to meet strangers from distant lands.

If I could change anything about this beautiful tree filled country of endless landscapes, cultures and customs, it would only be one thing..... it's coffee! Living on the shelf of Europe, and being a regular London commuter, I have not drunk anything but barista made, Italian style coffee for the last 20 years, and filter coffee, vanilla or otherwise, just can't compare, to our extra milky, double shot, whipped & creamy, Italian fayre.... in a takeaway cup!

A fond farewell America, I bid adieu to you, see you next year!!!

Written By Andrew McGrath





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