OR- A Kick Ass Oregon History Review of the D.B. Cooper 40th Anniversary Shindig at the Ariel General Store
Alright, so the past seven or eight days have been something like ya read about. In the last week, I have personally met or spoken with
1) DB Cooper’s Widow
2) DB Cooper’s Daughter, and
3) DB Cooper’s Niece.
All married or related to three DIFFERENT DB Coopers! Needless to say, it has been a crazy fuckin’ week!
Of Course, we started off the week on November 20th, 2011 with www.orhistory.com’s “DB Cooper 40th Anniversary eSpectacular!” at Mississippi Studios. A great review of that Kick Ass Oregon History event was written here.
Geoffrey Gray, author of the book SKYJACK: The Hunt for DB Cooper, held an “official” symposium on the criminal and the caper at the Portland Hilton on November 26th. I presented at the event, and hustled T-shirts, and I won’t get too into this awesome event, but you can see Patrick Oppmann’s great CNN piece here, and you can read great reviews about it here and here. GG put on a damn good DB Cooper show, for sure!
But THEN the REAL party began! A whole grip of us symposium attendees caravanned up to Ariel Washington for the 40th Anniversary Party at the Ariel General Store. This location is roughly where DB Cooper has been hypothesized to have landed on that fateful November 24th evening, and this establishment has been hosting a drunken bash every year since, in the hopes that the hijacker himself might choose to attend the festivities. Included in my posse voyaging to this legendary soiree was DB Cooper (or a guy who sure did look a lot like him), Melissa Lang (orhistory.com’s “assistant and/or art director.” Her choice of hats.) and an “aviation journalist” from Arizona named Bob that caught a ride with us. This commemoration proved to be a Kick Ass event!
And such an event surely could not pass without your intrepid and ribald Resident Historian, Doug Kenck-Crispin being in attendance. Embedded, one might say. Deep Cover. Giving you the straight shit. To document the historical relevance for future Oregon Generations, of course! Oh, and drink a shit ton of Raineers in the parking lot, indeed… All Work, around here at www.orhistory.com…
So let me tell ya – Ariel, Washington is REALLY far away from Multnomah county… and not so distant, geographically.
The area outside the general store was packed with swilling and smoking Cooper devotees as we drove up the dark, foggy two lane road, like something right from a Lovecraft novella. Think Dunwich. We had to park several hundred feet away and walk into the Bud and Coors Light slamming crowd. The bar was even worse: push-your-way-through packed. There aren’t too many places like the Ariel General Store in Bridgetown, so to give you a teeny tiny taste of context – imagine a really small version of the cowboy bar in The Blues Brothers. But with way more DB Cooper shit on the walls… It wasn’t really much of a general store from what I could tell – it just looked like a shit kickin’ tavern. Like something you might find in Wallace, Idaho, but without any fancy whores.
There were, however, EIGHT DB Coopers for the look-alike contest, and ORHistory.com’s DB Cooper, Chad Torrey, was one of the finalists in the contest, we are certainly proud to report. Fuckin’ A, Man! But there was also a flight crew (pilots and stewardesses) of Northwest Airlines Flight 305, meticulous to the T right down to their emergency procedures passenger cards in their pink crew bags with the NW logo emblazoned. It’s all in the details, Sugar…
Along one wall of the bar was a collection, nay, almost a shrine of pages upon pages of yellowed Cooper newspaper articles. A few other related items were there such as Brian Ingram’s card, the iconic sunglassed-Cooper emblazoned on the face of it. Oh yeah – and dead deer heads, too. Lots and lots of dead deer heads.
Above the natural stained wood bar bar were pinned hundreds upon hundreds of business cards, one said to be DB’s own card that he himself left at the 25th anniversary bash fifteen years earlier (and no fuckin’ way am I revealing the name on the card here). In all of the chaos of this bustling, busy bar I couldn’t keep my mind off the cards and kept taking quick rifling trips through the layered mass to see if I could find this fabled, mysterious marker to the real culprit… maybe…
A 12 oz can of Raineer cost $3, and a gristly, anemic , grease squirty hot dog was two bucks – “sorry – out of relish.” There was also a bowl of “Cooper stew” available – but it just looked a little too creepy for me to dare to try. You Portland foodies would have been ah-palled!
Tom Kaye, whose group citizen sleuths just broke the news about the titanium on the clip on tie was present, as was Brian Ingram, the boy (now man) who found all that Cooper Cash on the Columbia in 1980. Jerry Thomas, a legendary Cooper sleuth was there too, although there had been talk before the event that he might have been 86’d from the spot. That dude is tough as nails, and I wouldn’t have the sack to 86 him from anywhere. He stayed quite a while. Scientific Illustrator Carol Abraczinskas, who is all geeked out on the Dan Cooper comic issue, was pleasant as all get out. (Notably absent was Galen Cook, Geoffrey Gray, Clyde Lewis and his buddy Scotty. Oh, and Ben.)
It was a great time to informally chat with this historical cast of characters. I asked Brian Ingram how he thinks the money got to Tena Bar – I was kinda loaded, and I was standing next to Tom Kaye, who had just pontificated the “Bubba Theory” – that an early morning fisherman picked up a hitchhiker dressed in a black suit, who gave him $6K in marked 20s, and Bubba, after he dropped off the hitchhiker, turns on the AM radio, and hears about the caper. Bubba freaks out and buries the cash at… Tena Bar. I asked Ingram – “You found that goddamn money. You dug it up. With your own fuckin’ hands. I want to hear what you think, what your gut tells you, cause you were the first one to touch it since it got there. How did that money get there, Brian??!” He paused, and said “I think DB Cooper buried it there, or at least someone that got the money from Cooper.” Right in front of Tom Kaye. Classic. Classic, geeked out to the max on all this Cooper Shit moment…
And herein lays the beauty of the DB Cooper sleuthing. There is no right answer. There is no idea, no conspiracy too far out there. A transgendered aircraft mechanic? She could be DB Cooper. A CIA style black ops team working for the Department of Transportation/FAA? Oh that group is at the far table, right under the elk head with giant green sunglasses. Everybody is right. And no matter how “scientific,” every theory could be wrong. Pure genius, DB. You pulled the perfect caper. Just grab me another Raineer, cause the party is on!
At about 11:30 or midnite or so, Chad and I looked up from our nearly empty beers. The crowd had thinned down a bit, and he and I were just about the last Cooper sleuths left in the joint. Long, peculiar, uncomfortable looks ensued from the indigenous. We had been warned by Ben, Geoff Gray’s friend about this intrinsic, inevitable “witching hour,” and we slammed the rest of our backwash packed swill, grabbed the attaché case and parachute, and walked out the door.
So how to end this perfect party, on this most illustrious of nights celebrating one of America’s most dubious crimes? Why by sleeping like a fugitive from justice, of course!
Fact of the matter is, I was planning on getting too fuckered up to drive, and also I was kind of broke after all the DB Cooper Days to spring for a shitty Battleground motel – that I would have to drive to anyways. We went back to my car (a Honda Element) and put up the seats, spread out a freezer blanket, and put down the sleeping bags. After a solemn, ceremonial moment, and a good, bladder clearing piss, parked on an embankment down the two lane road road from the general store, we crashed out.
Strange things were afoot at the Ariel General Store… There was magic in the air, or some other fitting cliché that denotes weirdness. Much, much later that evening, Chad awoke and told me he had a dream that DB Cooper himself, clad in black suit with a skinny tie, mythical briefcase in hand, strode down the foggy embankment, out of the dense brush, and stood, silhouetted in the middle of the road about 50 feet away. He just stared at us, in our frigid, uncomfortable slumber. Was it just a dream? Or was it the ghost of DB Cooper? A manifestation of the legacy of his spirit? Perhaps it was the very man himself, but ageless, living in a camp trailer just a few feet away from the Aerial General Store? We may never know. It was the stuff of legends, though… in a sleeping bag, in the back of a car, on a foggy rural Washington road… allllll kinds a Cooper style!
Can. Not. Wait. For next year.