Somewhere down the Pacific Highway the strangle hold of suburbia gives way to wine country. You want to believe everything past Sherwood is a place where grapes grow well. Seventy years ago was a different time when ultra-modern technology, still light years away, allowed a UFO to swoop through the McMinnville area skies. Paul Trent took photos of the craft much like the one pictured above and the rest became history that has included a celebration of all things UFO related for the last 20 years.
Aliens are necessary. They give people an identity as either believers or non-believers. Anyone above “UFO nonsense” would still have to give it up to the people of McMinnville for devoting a weekend to the celebration of alien culture. Strains of unalien carnival music lead us downtown. My first glimpse through martian eyes was cosmic. So many people in the streets the cars had to dodge them. Minutes into my arrival I came to a realization. I don’t have to wear jeans slitted up the thighs to be cool. How can aliens be stranger than the people surrounding me?
Waiting for the parade to start, I spotted my first alien but couldn’t figure out which pocket my camera phone was in. By the time I got it out I was distracted by a gorilla across the street, then an upright monkey, who had no place in a UFO Fest, walked by. I was in the midst of an occasion that caused people to dress anyway they saw fit. The theme was broader than expected. Walking through the festival’s retail tent section, I found myself too jaded to make contact with Portland celebrity, the Unipiper. I was enjoying the wares that were all things alien, soap with alien faces being my favorite. An alien fashion t-shirt displayed the phrase “Get in Loser.” My mind wandered. Why are aliens portrayed with big eyes and skinny bodies? I know this comes from someone’s description but it seems clichéd. Aliens need a better publicist or better yet, a stylist.
At the Bigfoot tent, one of the retailers looked intense. I’m not going to be the one to question why Sasquatch paraphernalia is being pedaled at UFO Fest. Next door there was a rep from Bath-Fitter, again, why? But then why shouldn’t everyone jump on the bandwagon even bath-tubbers? Maybe there’s a special on alien shaped tubs. This niche market only gathers once a year. Mother was right though, I am a purist. I’m only in it for the aliens.
As we waited, my wife, Ronna, pointed out that the scariest part of any parade is when the random dude, this one had his skull and face painted blue with black spots, walks the parade route by himself. This parade started off unofficially with three intrusions. A group of men approached pushing what looked like a grill, but turned out to be a speaker. As they passed, I heard a man say, “One of the things the bible says…” before I got distracted by my philosophical musings that religion and alien celebrations don’t really mix. Minutes later a simple, yet effective, giant dryer hose wearing guy broke into the parade unpermitted.
We found the media section of the parade route and settled in. The event seemed to be an excuse to sport alien fashions and get your face painted. I overheard someone say, “They have to have a beer garden set up around here,” and of course, the beer drinking excuse. I asked myself why I’m so fascinated with plastic alien blow-up dolls. Kids in renaissance costumes were ready to fight off aliens. I felt safer. I wondered if the parade would ever start? The media section was a reminder that you never really have to leave the house. Everything will be live-streamed. I wondered if alien candy would be flung from floats? Restless kids might have wondered about this too as they danced and lay down in the streets. The parade was not on time. Before the parade started impatient aliens turned on each other. I watched two kids swing blow-up aliens dispelling their parade anticipation energy.
Waiting, I grew tired of aliens and alien joke t-shirts—funny in small doses. (Have you seen the one where the flying saucer beams up a Sausquatch?) Where’s this bleeping parade? Finally, the first few caddy convertibles carried, in a Grand Marshall vein, what I assumed would be politicians but ended up being festival speakers and UFO experts. Out of the corner of my eye I caught a guy walking down the sidewalk sporting an alien related t-shirt that read, “What is real” No question mark. What is real appeared to be alien floats full of homegrown creativity. There can’t possibly be many UFO themed parades. Yet hear I was at one so brilliantly conceived albeit a bit off schedule. Real aliens could have crashed this festival and who would have known?
Floats floated by. A mishmash of Martian chronicles: A helicopter festooned with blow- up aliens like something our of Star Wars, a flying saucer hoisted up by a genie lift. The Linfield College marching band, out paced by all the other local school bands, couldn’t find motivation to play their instruments. They’re just kids paying too much for their education. Another freaky participant was spotted until I realized it was only a mask.
The giant Alien puppets holding utensils were my favorite. Ronna insisted Aliens invented the spork. My reverie was broken up by a parade attendee saying, and it’s only the second quote I got all day, “Excuse me, do you mind you almost hit me twice with your elbow.” I apologized and spared her a rant about my being a practicing journalist who got carried away taking photos of passing puppet aliens. This woman had no idea she was in the media section. The second photographer, who showed up late and stood in my way, didn’t even make it obvious. This town, with all it’s great shops and restaurants, was proving itself to not be big enough for the both of us, and my elbows. I seethed for the rest of the parade.
In all it was a day of goofball weirdness. Let’s hope no aliens were pissed off with so many people making sport of them. I took away memories of silver face painted folks under giant foam cowboy hats who strutted their stuff and square danced while some we-can-fend-off-aliens-with-martial-arts street fighting broke out to the tune of a Led Zeppelin song. Jiffy pop lid headed Parade watchers cosplay players and other foil contraptions crinkled my brain. Our fest experience ended with psychedelic boogie-woogie music after hearing the tale of a guy in a beer line who was wearing an Area 51 shirt and talking about his visit to the area that ended with him watching security guys through binoculars while they watched him back with their’s. You could have many interesting conversations at a UFO Festival that might make you question what is real. As long as there’s a question mark I’ll be okay.
More photos from the parade can be found here: