Feature: Bigfoot in Moose Lake, Minn.

By Christa Lawler
Duluth (Minn.) News Tribune

Moose Lake area residents who claim to have seen Sasquatch will share their stories on an episode of “Finding Bigfoot” airing 9 p.m. Sunday on Animal Planet.

The team of researchers and television crew visited northern Minnesota in August to investigate a concentration of claims around the Kettle River. The hour-long TV program, in its second season, shows the four-person team touring the woods on all-terrain vehicles, meeting with residents, re-enacting anecdotal evidence, then doing their own investigation decked out with night- vision gear, jump suits and lures.

“I’m excited and a little nervous about what we’ll look like on there,” said Kristy Aho, who is featured on the episode with her husband, Dale, and four young children. They claim to have seen Bigfoot while partridge hunting in the area of Automba about three years ago.

Aho said her husband had gone into the woods to make a loop past some birds. The animal had been squatting, then jumped up, creating a loud crash. She described the being as human-like, upright on two legs with hands swinging down by its knees and about 8 feet tall. Then it took off running.

“The whole ground was shaking,” she said. “The four-wheeler was shaking. We saw it run by about 15 feet away from us. I was really scared. My mind knew it wasn’t my husband, but it resembled a human.”

The fight-or-flight instinct kicked in, Aho said, and they opted for flight. It took a while for Aho to feel comfortable going back into the woods, but she wasn’t uncomfortable sharing her story with the viewers. While the people featured on the show are earnest in their stories, to other people Sasquatch is no more than campfire lore on the level of the Loch Ness Monster and UFOs.

“You feel like people are going to make fun of you or put you down if you say you saw one,” Aho said. “It’s intimidating. But we know what we saw.”

Lorraine Tomczak is in the Aho’s camp.

“That doesn’t bother me,” she said of naysayers. “I was very fascinated that they would want to talk to me. I wasn’t worried about that kind of thing.”

Tomczak saw a creature on Carlton County Road 6, going west toward Automba about a year ago. She describes seeing a big ape with human features. She made sure the doors of her station wagon were locked.

“I was going into town that day and the thing was looking into a vacant trailer house,” she said. “He was, I don’t know, curious, like animals and people are.”

Tomczak and “Finding Bigfoot” researcher Cliff Barackman revisit the trailer during the episode and, using a tape measure, determine that it was about 9 feet tall.

“He was a big thing,” she said. “I didn’t know it was a male, but the lady on the road ahead of me said she had seen the family jewels. I said I didn’t look that close.”

Tomczak wants to see Bigfoot again. She has even had a dream about encountering an entire family of Bigfoots (Bigfeet?) and being allowed to hold a baby Bigfoot.

“I was fascinated by it,” Tomczak said. “It was something you don’t see every day.”

The investigative team includes two men who claim to have had Bigfoot sightings, according to their bios on Animal Planet’s website: Matt Moneymaker had his first encounter while camping in a swampy area in Kent, Ohio; James “Bobo” Fay has had multiple sightings, his first in 2001.

Cliff Barackman has only seen evidence of Bigfoot. Ranae Holland is the crew’s resident skeptic, a biologist charged with identifying the creatures behind recorded growls and broken trees.

She said she thinks the people featured on the program genuinely believe they have seen Bigfoot and would pass a lie detector test if pressed. But she also said she believes a lot of sightings can be explained and that it is likely other animals being misidentified.

“The human mind is a funny thing,” she said in a phone interview. “Shadows and the way a canopy can move and you see something – your mind will start molding things into an object it wasn’t.”

Holland grew up in Sioux Falls, S.D., and said time spent with her late father was time spent either testing stuntman gear or watching movies about UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster and Sasquatch. Part of her reason for being on the show is the connection to him. Part of it is the lure of a Bigfoot story and how it captures the imagination of children and fosters critical thinking. Part of it is pure curiosity.

“What’s out there that is creating this phenomenon?” she said. “That fascinates me. We can’t seem to get tangible evidence for me to say OK, I believe.’ I want to know one way or the other. That’s what keeps me going back out into the woods when it’s cold and I’m hungry. I want to see what these people keep telling me they’re seeing. They’re seeing something. OK, if Bigfoot is real, show your ugly, smelly face.”

This story ran in the Saturday, January 14, 2012 edition of the Duluth News Tribune.

Daily news: Gordy’s Hi-Hat on ‘Diners, Drive-Thru and Dives’

By Christa Lawler
Duluth News Tribune

Gordy’s Hi-Hat accentuated the drive-in vibe for Monday night’s premiere of the Cloquet seasonal restaurant’s segment on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”

A 20-by-11 1/2 -foot screen was erected in the parking lot for the viewing party. Friends and fans sat on the blacktop, blankets and lawn chairs. Some leaned against cars. A line for free root beer floats — these were full-sized; no skimping — ran from a table outside of the Warming House next door all the way to Gordy’s wooden porch.

Owner Dan Lundquist was in a white apron, working until about a half-hour before the 9 p.m. start of the Food Network program starring Guy Fieri, a bleached-blond spiky-haired rock ‘n’ roll-ish food aficionado who tours the country checking out unique dining experiences.

Lundquist had seen a script, but had no idea how the 50-year-old establishment his parents started on Sunnyside Drive would translate to a national audience.

“It’s not about the restaurant; it’s about us,” Lundquist said, indicating the community, the customers, the couples who met at Gordy’s and the families who make it part of an annual trip to northern Minnesota.

At the show’s first mention of Minnesota in preview clips at the beginning, there were hoots from the 300-plus members of the audience.

Marilyn Lundquist, the restaurant’s grill cook who founded the shop with Gordy Lundquist in 1960, starred in the bit that featured a behind-the-scenes look at double cheeseburgers, onion rings and homemade chili.

“Look at all that juice,” Fieri said, holding his burger up to the camera.

Fieri pattied burgers with Gordy Lundquist. He chopped onions for the rings, his eyes visibly stinging.

“I’m just sad because I don’t have a Gordy’s next to my house,” he said.

He poked fun at Marilyn Lundquist for her pronunciation of the word ketchup.

“What?” he asked.

“Catsup,” she said.

“I think that means ketchup,” he said.

Marilyn Lundquist held her own with the host, and had him help her make chili. He called it “sweet” and “nostalgic.” As the show aired, she walked quickly through the crowd barely looking at the screen.

Gordy’s Hi-Hat had its own Guy Fieri look-alike on hand. Derrick Harmon, who has a similar build as the sunglasses-wearing Food Network star, had his hair bleached a lighter shade of blond. This included a strip on his chin to match Fieri’s two-toned goatee. He wore a striped short sleeve button up, but didn’t spring for the tattoos.

Harmon works at Gordy’s and his co-workers noticed the resemblance during taping.

He caused a few heads to turn.

“Everybody wants a picture,” Harmon said.

Dan Lundquist watched the show with his family, and then thanked the audience for attending. The place cleared out before the third segment of the show aired. Who knows where Fieri went next this week.

“It was fantastic,” Lundquist said.

The episode at Gordy’s was filmed in May, and the crew hit a couple other hot spots in the area, too:

At Sara’s Table/Chester Creek Cafe, Duluth Grill and Northern Waters Smokehouse.

The Northern Waters episode featured its famous smoked bison — which literally made the host drool — and aired on June 21.

Originally appeared in the July 27, 2010 edition of the Duluth News Tribune.

Bits: Full body apparition edition

Zak Bagans didn’t believe in ghosts until he saw one. Now he is part of a Three-Amigos-meets-Megadeth-roadies posse of men who hunt them on the Travel Channel’s situation comedy X-treme reality show “Ghost Adventures.” Bagans & Co. aren’t pussies like those affable wimps on “Ghost Hunters Interntional,” who try to lure apparitions with quaint British accents and 1970s transistor radio technology. Bagans taunts the ghosts, asks to be pushed down flights of steps or slapped in the face. “If this is the gates of hell, why don’t you come out and get me!” the hero growls.

(Show us on the doll where the shadow man touched you, Zak.)

Is Bagans hot? His skin bulges with muscles, like badly whipped mashed potatoes. His tight black T’shirts reveal paranormal-activity-induced temperature drops with pinpoint accuracy. He speaks in a Keanu Reeves tenor. He has the wingspan of a Wyvern. His baggy black jeans, and that chain that connects to his wallet say: “I don’t skateboard. But I know some people who do, and sometimes I hang out with them. Behind the Pump ‘n’ Munch.”

There is no doubt that Bagans is a badass. He pushes the limits. “Don’t taunt the voodoo,” his friends had to remind him when he got verbally abusive with the air an empty room in New Orleans. One time he was possessed by an old woman. It was like his entire face was in drag.

Originally posted on July 20, 2009 on Schadenfreude.

Bits: Now with 100 percent more mime

Season 6 of Nip/Tuck premiered on FX on Wednesday night, offering a not-so surprising plot direction for the character Matt McNamara, the Michael Jacksonest animal, mineral, or vegetable still on this planet, expelling breath. No kidding. John Carter Hensley, who plays Matt McNamara, looks more like MJ than both MJ and Diana Ross combined.

The son of both Dr. Sean McNamara and Dr. Christian Troy — a long story that would require a chalkboard and possibly a Kimber blow-up doll — announced to his two dads:

“I want to be a mime.”

Of course he wants to be a mime. That’s the natural progression for a character who:

1. Performed his own home circumcision;
2. Learned threesomes before learning twosomes;
3. Fell in love with his life coach, a beautiful post-op transsexual, whose secret was revealed when one of Matt’s fathers raped her. (What? She had a shallow cave. And if anyone knows anything about caves, it’s Dr. Christian Troy, resident … um … spelunker).
4. Joined a band of neo-Nazis after he was beaten and bathed in urine by a vicious crew of transsexuals who were retaliating against a hate crime Matt committed in the aftermath of realizing the woman he loved was a post-op transsexual.
5. Had a little brother who was born with hands shaped like lobster claws.
6. Fell in love with the porn star Kimber Henry, whom both of his dads have also fallen in love with — Dr. Christian Troy more seriously than Dr. Sean McNamara, who mostly  just tried to plant his seed in the extremely lifelike aforementioned Kimber Blow Up Doll.
7. Impregnated Kimber, got hooked on meth with Kimber, and eventually lost Kimber to one of the Duke brothers, the blond one, who plays a veteran porn star — a role for which he has to stretch about as much as his sausage casing-like Levi’s.
8. Graduated from high school.
9. Fell for a Southern Belle, who came to Los Angeles looking for her birth father. It wasn’t exactly incest until they found out that Dr. Christian Troy is her father, too. Right?!

So, mime school is the next obvious step in Matt McNamara’s highly-predictable life. He’s already been able to silently order a small coffee and knock over a mom and pop cafe, using a gun that shoots bouquets of flowers.

Has anyone else ever noticed that this is the best thing on TV?

Originally posted on October 16, 2009 on Schadenfreude.