A Mostly True Story|
by Glenn Campbell
Before we get started, I'd like to introduce you to the crew of fools who accompanied me on many adventures. Each one is everything that you could ask for in a friend: trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent. Well, except maybe not the reverent part, since no cow is sacred when they get to gabbing around the campfire. And also not clean, especially after they have hunkered down in the desert all night, searching the sky for who-knows-what. But they definitely live up to all the other things, which happen to be the official qualities of a Boy Scout. That, indeed, is what you would call them: grown up Boy Scouts -- camping under the stars, orienteering with map and compass, experimenting with telescopes and other gadgets, and pretending to be spies. Each member of the troop had his own special skills, contributing to the power of the whole, and at least until the end, there were rarely any conflicts. We formed, for a time, a league of superheroes united in the service of Good. We called ourselves the Groom Lake Interceptors.
There will always be some question about what defines an Interceptor. There is no membership form to fill out and no formal roll call. Who is and is not an Interceptor remains a matter of debate, since the group evolved with time and many interesting people made appearances. I guess that the main criteria for membership was actually showing up at the Interceptor events -- you know, espionage of various sorts -- which mostly happened on an ad hoc basis without any formal announcement. But even showing up was no guarantee of membership. For example, take the Swiss Mountain Bat, who badly wanted to be a member of our group and even flew in from Switzerland to join some of our expeditions. An insurance accountant by day and enthusiastic UFO researcher at night, the Bat would have been the first Yodeling Interceptor had he made the grade. He didn't. He was amusing at first but became merely annoying, and no one ever considered him "one of us."
It is not like this was any kind of exclusive group, however. Being a little annoying was okay, because we all got annoying from time to time, and it is not like we excluded the Bat deliberately. Anyone could be an Interceptor just by calling themselves that, and the Bat was a member as much as he wanted to be. He just wasn't a member of the core group. The Interceptor organization was like the layers of an onion, or, more precisely, a Tootsie Roll Pop. Anyone could be part of the crunchy candy outside, but only a few were members of the chewy inside, with the main criteria being that you were chewy and not crunchy. Have I lost you?
Anyway, here are the nine Earthlings who I considered to be the chewy center, mainly by virtue of having shown up year after year and exhibiting special Super Powers that contributed to the chewiness of the whole. There will be more about each of these characters later, but for now a brief introduction will suffice. They are listed here in no particular order.
The Great One (also known as Agent Orange and Spy Two) was a secret aircraft hunter from the Old School. His claim to fame was capturing the first photograph of the super-secret Stealth fighter before the government acknowledged its existence. When I first met him, he was engaged in a quest to regain his former glory by snapping a photo of the hypothetical Aurora airplane, capable of extraordinary speed, which was said to replace the venerable SR-71 spy plane that the Air Force inexplicably wanted to retire. When it came to lurking around secret bases, he was the acknowledged master -- The Great One -- to whom the rest of us bowed down. He was also the acknowledged master of flatulence, notable both for pungency and duration, and although this would not normally be considered a Super Power, with slight amplification it might become one, and it certainly provided much amusement during our night missions along the border.
But The Great One was not just looking for human-built craft. He was also intrigued by the testimony of R. Lazar, who claimed to have worked with alien spacecraft in an underground government facility and who may have caught a glimpse of one of the short gray aliens out of the corner of his eye. The Great One knew Lazar, considered him a friend and was convinced that the story was true. One night, shortly after Lazar's story broke, The Great One was alone in the desert just outside the military border. It was a dark, moonless night, and he was doing as he often did, sitting in his lawn chair under a known flight path, waiting, watching, camera at the ready, hoping for a big break. Visions of aliens circulated in his brain as he tried to make sense of the information he had just heard. He was totally alone, on empty rangeland fifty miles from the nearest civilian outpost. He was mentally calculating the royalties he would receive for capturing photos of both the Aurora and a flying saucer, when he felt the hot breath of an alien on his shoulder.
The Great One jumped, and the alien jumped, and both of them ran away screaming. Actually, only The Great One was screaming; the alien was grunting and mooing, as it took the form of a cow, who had sneaked up on The Great One while his attention was focused in the other direction.
Although a believer in Lazar's claims, The Great One never inquired into them very deeply. He was, fundamentally, an airplane nut, not a UFO nut. He lived to hunt secret aircraft, collect the histories of secret aircraft, and even collect a few of the aircraft themselves. He was the proud owner of an A-12 Blackbird, the fastest plane in the world (or at least the fastest acknowledged plane). Technically, it actually belonged to an aviation museum in Minnesota, but The Great One had acquired it, arranged for its transportation and even rode in it as it was being transported. He was proud to say that he was the only man on Earth who had flown in the cockpit of an A-12 that was inside the belly of a C-5 transport plane.
Older than the rest of us, Spy One was a gentleman in all respects, with more manners and grace than all the other Interceptors combined. (No flatulence here.) Like The Great One, Spy One was a secret aircraft hunter from way back, but he was one of the few who actually made a living at it. He was an accomplished military aircraft designer, in miniature, having worked for years for the Testor Corporation designing plastic model kits of both real and hypothetical military craft. His greatest quest was to release models of secret aircraft before the government acknowledged their existence. Spy One and The Great One (known in this context as Spy Two) formed a lasting partnership as they shared intelligence and pursued their common goals. Like Spy Two, Spy One had his own career high when he produced the first plastic model of the Stealth fighter, well before the government admitted it. The model itself wasn't terribly accurate; it missed the plane's most obvious feature, its angular and multifaceted shape. But his was the first, and in the cutthroat industry of plastic modeling, that's what counted.
When the Testors Stealth model was released in the 1980s, some members of Congress were very upset. In committee meetings, they angrily accused Spy One of aiding the Soviets. A secret FBI investigation was launched against him, and he came out squeaky clean. A former [military branch?] veteran and [aviation company?] employee, Spy One's patriotism was unquestioned. The only blemish on his record was pulling a similar stunt with the secret U-2 aircraft a couple of decades earlier. Spy One publically identified this "weather research aircraft" as a spyplane and was the first to release a plastic model of it. In the view of certain Congressmen, he was therefore a Communist sympathizer who was doing it to us again. The Air Force, however, remained silent about the Stealth model. They knew that Spy One got the technical details wrong, so they were happy to let the Soviets buy and build as many model kits as they wanted.
Spy One is no longer with us, having passed away a few years ago, but his legacy remains. Before he retired this sphere, he gave us the XR-7 Penetrator, which was his version of the Aurora spy plane, and the SR-75 Thunder Dart, his vision of a larger "mothership" that might launch the Aurora from above the clouds. He also designed a 15-inch flying saucer model based on the technical specifications of Lazar, which turned out to be one of Testor's best-selling model kits ever. With these breakthrough projects, Spy One gave a final "touché" to his company's arch-enemy, the evil Revell Corporation. The accuracy of these models has not yet been tested, however, even a decade after their release. The government has not yet unveiled the Aurora or the Mothership, and Lazar's saucers remain firmly locked up in their underground bunker at "Area S-4," where no free man can visit.
Agent X was a freelance journalist and photographer from Juneau, Alaska. He was easily the most dashing and handsome of the Interceptors, until he lost every hair on his body in a freak biological accident. Whether hairy or hairless, Agent X was always one to push the limits of the envelope, be it in military watching, in extreme sports or in matters of taste.
When I first met Agent X at the Little A'Le'Inn (the bar and restaurant closest to the base), he still had hair and was decked out for a major mission. He had all the latest hardware: night-vision goggles, telescope, camera with a mammoth telephoto lens, scanner radio, survival rations for a week. And of course he was stylishly attired in camouflage fatigues that were exactly appropriate for this particular desert background. (You could never accuse Agent X of lacking a fashion sense.) We both agreed on the challenges of his mission. He wanted to capture photos of things flying out of Area 51, but if the security patrols detected you at one of the public viewpoints, they would shut down activities until you were gone. It was too far to walk in from the highway, but if you drove in on one of the rugged dirt roads, your car would trip one of the hidden road sensors approaching the border. To circumvent these problems, X and I hit upon a plan: I would smuggle him to the border in my SUV, and he would remain there, artfully concealed, for several days of reconnaissance.
When we implemented the plan, X hid in the back of my car. We drove toward the border and tripped the road sensors (which we noted on our scanner radios). I dropped him and his equipment in a secluded location, then I went on to conspicuously view the base by myself for a few minutes, waving at the Cammo Dudes on the other side of the border. (They never wave back.) Then I conspicuously left, briefly visiting X again in his hiding place. "Now, you are not going to cross the border, are you?" I said, having briefed him on the consequences of doing so. X assured me that he was only going to view the base from public land.
The next day, I was driving to Las Vegas and passed through the town of Alamo, where I spotted a fashionably camouflaged hitchhiker, to whom I was kind enough to give a ride. Turns out, X had tried to cross the border. The Cammo Dudes detected him, pointed their searchlights at him, and X took off. Fortunately, he made it back across the border before the Dudes caught up with him. A Sheriff's deputy arrived and gave X a "courtesy" ride to Alamo. They didn't arrest him, but I think he got his ego knocked down a couple of notches. (Don't worry, it has bounced back.)
Although X has done his share of border-lurking since then, I don't think he has ever again crossed the line. He has sublimated his envelope-pushing urges into the destruction of rental cars and in running for public office in Juneau. I never heard about the results of his political campaigns, but if I were a voter in Juneau, Alaska, I wouldn't trust a man with no hair.
Hand was a traffic engineer from Irvine, California, with a secret passion for anti-gravity research. Of course, I must correct myself immediately by saying that "anti-gravity" is a misnomer. What we are really talking about is "gravity reduction technology." Hand will be the first to tell you that there is no such thing as anti-gravity, and he should know. After slinking around with us along the border of Area 51, he went on to earn a physics Master's degree in the subject of gravity, motivated by the desire to prove or debunk certain UFO claims. He then worked for a short time at a government laboratory in Washington State that was conducting serious research into the nature of gravity. It was enough, I understand, to drive him back to traffic engineering.
Hand was our best investigator. He was in all ways an engineer, concerned with solving technical problems in the real world. While I was distracted by politics and public relations, Hand was completely focused on solving the current mystery, whatever it may be. He wasn't a data collector as much as a tenacious puzzle solver, and whatever data he sought was strictly linked to answering the question at hand. Once a mystery was solved, he cast it aside like a completed crossword puzzle and moved on. It was Hand who first researched and explored the Tikaboo viewpoint, which is the only place on public land where you can still see the base. When searching the map for viewpoints, Hand even factored in the curvature of the earth, which effectively lowers the elevation of a mountaintop by about 20 feet [?] over a distance of 10 miles. Hand was also the premiere Lazar investigator, so thorough in his research of the S-4 flying saucer claims that some people called him the "Lazar Assassin." Assassination wasn't his aim, however, and in fact Lazar wouldn't die. It turns out, Hand needed a Master's degree to solve this mystery.
Hand also dabbled in the paranormal, but not ghosts or astrology or anything wishy-washy like that. He focused on a subject that was more empirical and engineer-like, something called "remote viewing." I recall sending him cardboard boxes in the mail, each of which contained a small, obscure object known only to me. Upon receiving the package, but without opening it, Hand and his wife would attempt to visualize what was inside. Hand himself wasn't terribly good at it, but his wife seemed to have some genuine talent. She would draw or describe the contents, and upon opening the package, it was found that she was reasonably accurate, even stunningly accurate at times. I am not saying that this was a scientific experiment, although every attempt was made to control corrupting factors. I am only saying that there were intriguing results from time to time.
Later, the Hands and I attended a private weekend seminar with a reputable psychic researcher who taught us some exercises in remote viewing, precognition and psychokinesis. In the evening, as we sat in the living room of the researcher's home, someone hit upon a brilliant idea. They went out to the Goodwill second-hand store a few blocks away and bought some silverware, spoons in particular, and in fact they bought all the spoons the store had. We then proceeded to bend the spoons with the power of our minds! Some spoons obviously were of thin, sheet metal construction that could be bent quite easily, but others were solid, silver-plated honkers that seemed unbendable by manual human force. Once again, Mrs. Hand seemed to have an exceptional talent; she would rub the stem of a spoon gently while casually discussing some other topic, and without warning the spoon would turn to rubber and seem to fall limp across her fingers. Don't believe me? I'm telling you I have proof: I have the bent spoons!
The Ayatollah was a Los Angeles-based aviation journalist and arch-skeptic who would scoff at the spoon-bending story just mentioned, and that is chiefly why we loved him, for his scoffing. He was our bearded conservative fanatic, and he lived alone in a haunted house near downtown L.A. that we referred to as the Mosque (although he believed in neither hauntings nor Allah). As a friend of the evil skeptic P. Klass, perhaps the most hated man in ufology, it is sometimes hard to understand what the Ayatollah saw in our group. From his standpoint, the Interceptors started out fairly sane, concerned with secret military facilities that definitely existed and hypothetical aircraft that may or may not have been real but that could at least be proven or disproven. The UFO stories that we began to take seriously were, to him, total bullshit, but that didn't prevent him from coming to our events. If you started him going, he would tell you exactly why Lazar was full of crap, and none of us could disagree with his logic. I just thought he should loosen up a bit. In my opinion, he was a bit too hung up on this concept of "truth." I mean, can't you just wing it sometimes?
Having an inexplicable lust for truth and a Masters degree in aeronautical engineering, the Ayatollah was probably the world's foremost "forensic aviation journalist." He lived for the day when airplanes crashed so he could dissect what happened and report it gleefully in the lurid tabloid he worked for, Aviation Week and Space Technology. When American Airlines Flight 587 went down in a Queens neighborhood a few weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, killing all on board, terrorism was immediately suspected. This was a convenient explanation the would have gotten both the airline and the plane's manufacturer off the hook, but the Ayatollah had a different theory. Based on the details of the initial investigation and his own arcane calculations, he concluded that the plane crashed because the tail fin fell off, which is always embarrassing. It seems that the pilot pushed too hard on the rudder, which stressed the fin beyond its limits. This is like taking a hard left turn in your car and having the steering wheel come off in your hands. This hypothesis was discouraged by both the airline, since it implied pilot error, and the manufacturer, which had known about the limitations of the rudder and failed to inform the pilots. The Ayatollah published his theory anyway, and the official government crash report confirmed it two and a half years later.
For his fine detective work, the Ayatollah got to keep his job at the tabloid and won accolades from the 17 people who actually understood what he was talking about. It didn't do much to sell newspapers however -- at least not like the rampant speculations of earlier years. In the 1980s and early 1990s, the tabloid ran a number of articles on mystery aircraft based on the reports of unnamed sources. The craft included the Aurora, the Mothership, the pulse-detonation "Pumpkinseed" and the silent black "Palmdale Triangle," which was said to drift slowly across the California desert late at night. Some readers came to refer to the tabloid as Aviation Leak and Space Mythology, which upset the Ayatollah a great deal. He would have published none of this claptrap, but he had no editorial control. The Ayatollah believed in data, not speculation, but his was a lone voice crying in the wilderness, heard only by those 17 people, including Klass.
Just between you and me, I think the Ayatollah was suffering from the same disorder that I am currently recovering from, which I call Obsessive Data Collection Syndrome (ODCS). In the beginning of our adventures he took a lot of notes on little pads of paper, and hardly a meal was eaten or turn taken on the highway without an annotation being made. What was he recording and why? In the course of some of our camping adventures, it was discovered that the Ayatollah's socks and underwear were neatly labeled with the date they were placed in service. Of course, this information is important to an aviation expert because when you have an inception date, you can know when to conduct scheduled maintenance and eventually retire the equipment before fatigue becomes evident. At the haunted Mosque, the Ayatollah faithfully recorded on video tape every episode of The Simpsons, which was apparently his favorite show. These cassettes were then labeled and organized by the tail number of each episode. (You didn't know that Simpsons episodes had tail numbers, did you? These are unique serial numbers appearing momentarily in the closing credits.) Unfortunately, the Mosque was piled high with projects that he never had time to properly organize and file, like dirty dishes from previous years and tall stacks of old newspapers and magazines that hadn't been gone through yet but that couldn't be thrown away because they might contain useful data. This is the painful reality of ODCS.
It may be beyond hope, but someday I would like to see the Ayatollah's life totally fucked up by a wife and kids.
The Good Merlin (a.k.a. Shadowhawk) billed himself as an "aviation archaeologist," and he was the spitting image of Indiana Jones (including the outfit and hat but not the black whip). His specialty was historical crash site investigation. Unlike the Ayatollah, who mainly dealt with physics and paperwork, Merlin focused on artifacts and bone fragments, mainly connected to crashes that happened long ago. His modus operandi was based on Merlin's First Law: Whenever something crashes, no matter how well the site is cleaned up by government forces, there is always something left behind. This law is 100% true for conventional aircraft, so it is also assumed to be true for crashed alien spacecraft, of which there are many in the literature. While not a UFO believer, Merlin was game for any kind of crash site investigation, as long the location was reasonably specific.
Along with a colleague, Merlin visited Roswell, New Mexico, to investigate the alleged UFO crash sites of 1947. (There are actually three competing crash sites based on three different versions of the story.) They found nothing of interest at the primary sites, but their eyes were drawn to a rugged hillside near one of them where there was a bright metallic glint. In nature, glints and reflections are rare and always attract the attention of a desert traveler since they usually indicate some object of intelligent construction. Whether or not a glint appears depends on your position, the orientation of the object and the relative angle of the sun. Some glints may be visible from a certain location for only a few minutes once or twice a year, so when you see one, you need to investigate it before it is gone. After some difficult climbing, Merlin and company reached the site of the glint to find an aluminum TV dinner tray. Since there was no explanation for how such an object could appear in this remote location, it was concluded that the aliens must like Hungry-Man dinners.
We called him the "Good" Merlin to distinguish him from a certain alien ambassador who you will meet later. I wouldn't necessarily say that Ambassador Merlin was evil, but I wouldn't call him good either. In any case, the question is now moot, as the Ambassador has since been recalled to his home planet, while the other Merlin is still with us.
As with a high proportion of right-brained males, Merlin is afflicted with ODCS. Unlike the Ayatollah and myself, however, Merlin seems to have reached an accommodation with his disease. His living quarters contain none of the multidimensional piles that fill our living spaces (and, yes, my residence still looks like the Mosque). All of Merlin's data is neatly organized in three-ring binders, and all of his artifacts are precisely cataloged and cross-referenced in ways that we can only dream of. Wherever Merlin has lived, he has constructed a private museum, as carefully curated as the Smithsonian, containing the colorful booty of various expeditions. When he lived with his parents, the museum was his bedroom. (As a matter of fact, I believe he had a thermonuclear device in there, although his many Geiger counters assured that radiation never got out of hand.) Now that he is married, his very tolerant wife has given him a separate room for his collection.
Merlin's success in managing his disease, and the Ayatollah's and my abject failure, lies in the concept of input control. While the data-collecting interests of A. and myself are wide-ranging and inevitably overwhelm our processing capacity, Merlin is very focused. He knows what data he wants, and once he attains it, he does not seek anything else until he has properly cataloged and filed what he has. Merlin is engaged in the disciplined business of "data mining", while A. and I are possessed by "data gorging," which is like two pigs slopping it up at the trough. And the data that Merlin has collected by his precise and highly structured means has been impressive. It was he who found the evidence that Area 51 is actually a detachment of Edwards Air Force Base (in California), not Nellis Air Force Base (in Nevada), so when Nellis authorities say they do not have a base at Groom Lake, they are technically correct.
Merlin hasn't been seen much in the field in recent years because he got a job with NASA as an aviation historian. Now, he happily collects data, organizes it in 3-ring binders and gets paid for it, too. Some people get to live in Heaven.
Agent Zero was a machinist from Hemet, California, known for his good-natured enthusiasm, whose proudest accomplishment was the design and manufacture of the official Interceptor decoder ring. This precious jewelry, given to each of the inner core of Interceptors, had a wheel on its face that translated ancient Hungarian characters into English (which is the end point of a very long story we will get to later). Inscribed in the middle of the wheel was a graphical representation of a boron atom, which is only thing that the aliens really need from Earth. Agent Zero was also the designer of our official polo shirt. Above the pocket was embroidered, "Groom Lake Interceptors," and below that were 10 ancient Hungarian characters. Using your decoder ring, you could translate those characters into the English phrase: "HULAR SUCKS." (And that, again, is another long story we will get to.)
Agent Zero is the only core Interceptor who was never featured on any Area 51 television program. I myself taught him the easy editing technique of raising one's middle finger when the cameraman pans past, thus assuring that the shot will never be used. Agent Zero owned his own machine shop, stamping out various metal connectors and other parts, and some of his biggest clients were military contractors. Not wanting to bite the hand that feeds, Zero kept a low profile regarding the news media and did not dance naked in front it like the rest of us.
The day I met Agent Zero, I tried to kill him. It was nothing personal, really, merely a hydrological issue.
Through careful map study, I had discovered a stunning new viewpoint into the Restricted Zone. This peak, marked "Cury" on the map, allowed an unobstructed view of Frenchman Flat, site of most of America's above-ground atomic tests back in the glorious days of mushroom clouds. This would have been a great place, on public land, to view or protest those tests, but no one seemed to have recognized it. The only problem with this viewpoint is that it required a substantial hike to reach: about seven miles across open desert from the nearest public road. I visited Mt. Cury myself in April and decided that it was so good that I needed to announce it to the world. On the internet, I invited the whole world to join me on a repeat expedition in June. Of the entire planet, about eight people showed up, including Agent Zero.
In my announcement, I warned people that this was a long and difficult hike across open desert, and I gave a figure for the amount of water that was needed by each person. If we had each brought that much water, we might have been okay, but none of us did. Between April and June, the temperature went up, and although it wasn't scorchingly hot at this high elevation, our perspiration increased accordingly. We had reached the viewpoint and gotten about halfway back, when all of us ran out of water. When this happens in the desert, it is like hitting a wall. Every step becomes difficult as your body begins to shut down. Zero seemed to be doing the worst of any of us and was lagging way behind. I pushed ahead, not doing well myself but intending to find water that I could bring back. Fortunately, one of our group had taken only part of the hike and was waiting for us where we had left him. When I reached him, he still had water, and I made sure that it got back to Zero. When I got to the car, I was shaking and shivering in the heat. I drank as much water as I could, but it still took a half hour before I stopped shaking and two days before I fully recovered. I had learned a humbling lesson about the dangers of the desert and my responsibilities as a leader.
Agent Zero not only survived that day, but came back again and again to join our expeditions. This is called masochism. The man obviously loves pain. Over the years, Zero and I have developed this fun relationship where I try to kill him and he tries to stay alive. I admit that my efforts are half-hearted. He's such a sap, and if I really killed him, who would I have to torture?
The Minister of Words was a staff writer for Popular Science magazine. He lived on the top floor of a house near the Hollywood Bowl with about a million potted cacti, many of whom had names. (I don't remember most of the names, but Groomer was one of them, I believe because he was born in the Groom Lake area, then abducted.) This place was the Ministry of Words, and he was the Minister by virtue of living there. The interior of the Ministry looked an awful lot like the Ayatollah's Mosque nearby, and when the Minister and Ayatollah carpooled together to come to Area 51, you could pretty much guarantee that they would be ten hours late as they compounded each other's delays. However, the Minister was an entirely different creature from A. and I. We were right-brained, and the Minister was definitely a lefty. While we were obsessed with concepts and data, the Minister was a creature of words. He certainly produced enough of them, but it wasn't just the quantity that counted but the superior quality. These were always perfectly selected, inventively humorous, gourmet-quality words, each like a fine wine precisely chosen for the meal. These were words that you would pay $500 each for in a boutique, and we got them all for free. In front of the campfire, you could wind the Minister up and start him going, and he was more entertaining than television. The only occasional drawback was the absence of an off button.
As the background music during our outings, the Minister wove a rich and contextual verbal tapestry that, by definition, cannot be adequately recorded or described by the words of a mere mortal such as myself. I can only give hints of his greatness. Secret aircraft were "batmobiles." Cows were "stealth bovines," and the Minister evaluated their camouflage patterns: Black on white was best for Night Stealth, and brown on white was better for day. The Great One's giant binoculars were "hooters", an appellation of which the The Great One heartily approved. UFO watchers were "saucerheads", and when we spotted one, the Minister would say, "He was abducted. Did they probe him? Yup, probed 'em." (Referring, of course, to the famous alien anal probes which fascinated the Minister.) The Minister also had an unhealthy attachment to all things squid, and there was a long thread about hamsters and duct tape that I don't want to go into.
Throughout this book you will find numerous clever ministerisms, although they may not be properly credited to him since they have become part of the background lexicon that we now take for granted. One memorable word was "lebaronable," which is properly pronounced in the French manner (no final syllable). This refers to the condition of an unmaintained dirt road and arises from Agent X's preference for renting (and destroying) only Chrysler Le Baron convertibles. A road that could be passed by the Le Baron, even with some damage, was considered by the Minister lebaronable, and the word stuck to our vocabulary even after the car itself was discontinued.
When I asked Agent Zero to recall some more ministerisms, he wrote back: "This is like trying to remember all the witty things Mark Twain or Will Rogers said. You can usually remember a few, but what you remember most is that they were wickedly witty and appropriate to the moment. The Minister was good at blurting out a random phrase or the punch line of an unknown joke just out of the blue. A favorite was: "Wrecked 'em? It damn near killed 'em!" Or: "Chewed the bag right off 'er!" None of this made any sense or had anything to do with Area 51, which is the whole point in saying it out there on the border.... My memories of those halcyon days are of laughter, a heavy dose of scatological humor, and more laughter. The Minister could take a routine commercial phrase and make it funny. I remember laughing convulsively as I hauled a heavy tripod up Tikaboo, while the Minister shouted "SEGA!" behind me, very sharply and with a Japanese accent like the television commercials of the day. It recalled a prisoner-of-war movie where I was the yanqui cur. I remember eating huge quantities of potato chips fried in Olestra, at the Minister's urging, just to examine the gastrointestinal effects. I remember sitting around the campfire drinking Fucola Cola and Brainwash Soda while listening to other caffeine junkies argue over who was more suave and debonair: those in three-color camouflage, or those in five-color. I remember flying the flag of the United Nations at our camp, for no other reason than to insert ourselves into the conspiracy theories of the saucerheads. If, upon this canvas, you place the dulcet oration of The Minister, it's like trying to describe the work of Michelangelo -- simply impossible."
A more concrete skill that the Minister brought to our group was the scamming of the latest gadgets and gizmos directly from the manufacturer. Under the cover story of being a legitimate journalist for Popular Science, the Minister could borrow just about anything, from night-vision goggles to the latest SUV, ostensibly for "evaluation." And we evaluated the hell out of these things. We will never forget the brand new, low-slung $70,000 sports car that the Minister brought to one of our expeditions (the make and model of which I will not reveal). Turns out, it was an all-terrain sports car, as the Minister managed to drive it amazingly far up a barely lebaronable road. Was this the evaluation that the manufacturer intended? Back on the open highway, the Minister and Ayatollah brought 'er up to Mach speed, then switched on the afterburners. At one point, they spun out of control on an icy patch, and when the motion stopped, the end of the car hung over the edge of a cliff, just like in the movies. They destroyed a set of very expensive tires on that trip, supposedly due to misalignment of the suspension, and the manufacturer was very apologetic.
The Minister was never a data collector himself; for that, he relied on others. His profession was translating complex scientific concepts into common English, usually by schmoozing with the people who know and getting them to explain things to him. For this reason, I will always associate him with Popular Science, even though the magazine has turned to crap and he has since moved on. He was the "Popular" part. The Minister was always a people person, craving the interaction of others. I think that's why all those cacti got names. L.A. was never really his kind of place. It was too spread out, too antiseptic, too sunny. Eventually, he ended up back in New York, which is Hell to me but evidently the planet where he belongs.
Psychospy was me, or a reasonable approximation thereof. He was the only Interceptor who actually lived at Area 51, or as close as you can legally live, which is the tiny town of Rachel, Nevada. In January 1993, Psychospy drove his camper from Boston to Rachel and plugged it into an RV site behind the Little A'Le'Inn. Thus began his thousand days of residence in Rachel and his five years of active involvement in the Area 51 story. Psychospy explored every detail of the area, published the Area 51 Viewer's Guide and organized the initial public events that brought the Interceptors together. He appointed himself as the public relations officer for the secret base, since no one there would do it, and he entertained every form of visiting news media. The Twin Peaks of his 15 minutes of fame were a profile of him in the New York Times Magazine and an appearance on a 2-hour Larry King UFO television special broadcast "live from Area 51." It was all downhill after that. He was arrested and charged with Obstruction of a Public Officer. Later, he vanished for those seven years.
I guess Psychospy's hallmark was ambiguity. He was definitely a man with a mission, but it was hard to figure out what drove him or what his mission was. To all of us, including myself, Psychospy was a bit of an enigma. It is not that I am a mystery to myself. To me, I am perfectly straightforward. I am consistent from moment to moment and year to year, and if you want to know what my goals are, you only need to ask. Nonetheless, every once in a while something happens that makes me scratch my head and say, "Who is this guy?"
Was Psychospy a UFO believer, or a debunker? Was he working with the government, or against it? Was he a Republican or (heaven forbid) a Democrat? Was he Christian or atheist? Was he straight or gay or something to do with animals? With Psychospy, you never quite knew. I said, all you need to do is ask, but sometimes that only deepened the mystery, because he tended to speak in carefully crafted soundbites (suitable for television), expressing his views succinctly but never fully explaining himself. I wish I had some easy answers for you about Psychospy, but I am way too close to the man to have any perspective on him. Since this book is mostly about him and his adventures (along with numerous appearances by the aforementioned crew), you should have plenty of opportunity to judge him for yourself.
There were numerous other Earthlings who did not have decoder rings but who nonetheless played critical roles in our activities. We can never forget Ranger, Navigator, Randy the Schmoozer, The Bat, The Commish, The Cops, Coyote, Little Zero, The Crazy Scotsman, FIASCO, Baron, Miss Cynthia, Framer, Skydog, Mr. SETI, Robocop, [need more names here]... the list is endless. You may meet some of these people as the story progresses.
There were, in fact, a huge number of people who contributed to our efforts, including many with no code names whatsoever. They went by handles like "John" and "Susan", and although their names may have been bland, they often provided some fantastic leads and resources. I am especially grateful to my hundreds of internet contacts, most of whom I never met in person but who gave me many valuable tips, usually in the form of, "This is something interesting that you really should check out." The internet's massive marketplace of ideas is probably the final chewy Interceptor, although Agent Zero can't possibly produce enough decoder rings for everyone.
Every league of superheroes needs a cabal of evil forces to fight against, and we had that, or at least I did. I must say, however, that evil in the real world isn't quite what I thought it would be. Evil doesn't wear a black hat, and it doesn't have the sinister background music that you hear in the movies. Real evil isn't usually alien invaders or nefarious government conspiracies; more often, it is small people and moribund organizations defending themselves in the only way they know how. Evil is the behavior of the living dead, whose existence is so painful or numb that they don't notice or care how much pain they inflict on others. Good people go to work for evil because they need the money and don't know anything else, and eventually they become evil, too. Everyone is a nice person when you first meet them; it is only when they are pressed to the wall that their evil comes out. When that happens, you don't want to give them a clever code name or laugh about their weaknesses. You just want to get away.
No one who is evil thinks they are evil. They think they are good, taking reasonable steps to protect themselves from the evil forces that they think are arrayed against them. Evil is a logical response to paranoia, where one perceives threats that do not exist. We'll learn a lot about paranoia in this book, because Area 51 certainly was a center of it. The secret base at Groom Lake was a sort of dark star: It didn't do much but sit there, while paranoia was drawn to it, and evil spewed out. I hope all of this becomes more clear as we explore the base.
The league of Interceptors was greater than the sum of its parts, but even all of us together, out there in the desert, were very, very tiny. You could see our campfire, because there were no other lights on this side of the mountains, but it was still a very small campfire in a very big place. On the other side of the mountains was something huge and silent, which I call "The Presence." The Presence was always sensed more deeply at night than during the day. To us, it was something alive. Although we never talked about these feelings, I think we all had a sense that The Presence knew who we were, understood our motives, and knew our future. It could have been God, I'm not sure. The question people always ask about God is, Does He exist? They assume that there is a yes or no answer, and if the answer is yes, then God must really care about us. I have come to see that there is a third alternative: There is a God; He knows everything, but He is a very busy Man, occupied by a lot of Important Stuff, and He doesn't have time to bother with little people like you and me. That, I imagine, would be the greatest cosmic joke of all: There is a God, but no one is special in His eyes, so we're still alone.
All of us Interceptors had the sense that we were on the edge of something big. I think even the Ayatollah had to feel it. The Presence contained knowledge that was forbidden to us at the time but that would soon be revealed. Our mission, I guess, was to push on edges of the the Presence and try to get it to open up. This, I now see, was a dangerous undertaking, because you don't want to piss off God. You never know when He might reach over the mountains and snuff out your campfire.