UFO Welcome Center
Bowman, South Carolina
"All spaceships got to have at least one door," said Jody Pendarvis, flicking a hidden toggle switch. A motor groaned, and the gangway into the UFO Welcome Center lowered to the ground -- very, very slowly. Jody grinned. "That oughta do it! Tall aliens, watch your head!"
The saucer-shaped UFO Welcome Center stands in Jody's yard. He began building it in 1994, intending it to be a place where aliens could be comfortable meeting people from Earth (it's 46 feet across, the same diameter as most UFOs, according to Jody). He later added a second, smaller saucer on top so that the aliens can take Jody with them when they leave.
Casual visitors to the Welcome Center might think it's abandoned. The lower saucer sags to one side, with un-aerodynamic lumps and bulges. Its bottom appears to be collapsing. The ground outside is littered with scraps of metal, mossy cinder blocks, extension cords, car batteries, plastic lawn furniture, empty jugs of antifreeze, and pieces of saucer that have fallen off. Local officials have toured the Center and been unwelcoming.
Jody doesn't mind. "They came around and inspected, wrote me up for about ten violations," he said. "But it's regulation for the aliens -- not for Bowman."
Jody welcomes everyone -- alien and human -- and cheerfully led us inside, which was even more chaotic than outside. Electronic parts and handyman litter were everywhere, power cords drooped across walls and doorways, layers of fallen debris made the floor crunchy. It's not a UFO Welcome Center for the human faint-of-heart. Jody apologized for the mess. "It looks like a barn," he admitted, "but I had to take all the real instruments out so you wouldn't see what the future age of space travel looks like."
The upper half of the lower saucer is ringed with small hatches. Jody poked his head through one to show how he watches for approaching UFOs, and explained that these were the doors through which the aliens would enter. "Here I am, Captain Jody Pendarvis of the UFO Welcome Center," he announced, assuming his role of ambassador. "Come on in! Welcome to planet Earth!"
Jody pointed with pride to what he claimed were the only eight screws in the entire structure. He said that the second saucer just sits atop the first (so that it can be easily lifted into space by alien technology).
That sounded dangerous to us, but Jody was reassuring. A mighty storm blew through Bowman in 2008, he said, knocking his fence into the road, the roof off his trailer, and the steeple off the town church. The UFO Welcome Center didn't budge an inch. "The safest place anywhere out here is the UFO," Jody said. "It withstood the wrath of God."
We followed Jody up some stairs and a couple of ladders into the second saucer. Its entire floor was filled with a large air mattress, covered with sheets and pillows that looked well-used. Strips of teal packing foam were stapled to the domed ceiling, a 24-hour blue sky.
"I sleep up here when it becomes over 55 degrees at night," said Jody, pointing to a small air conditioner built into the wall. Scattered videotapes and a well-thumbed paperback ("Flying Saucers Uncensored") showed that this upper sanctum was a place of enlightenment as well as rest. "This is my favorite spot," Jody said, sprawled on the bed like a rajah, occasionally peering out of a porthole.
No aliens have visited the UFO Welcome Center yet, but Jody believes that his past appearances on TV have reached other worlds, and that the aliens know to come to Bowman for a proper welcome. He's looking forward it, but said that he won't be lounging on his saucer bed when he rides the alien beam into the sky. "I'll be hangin' out in the door -- scared as heck!" If you want to see Jody, you'd better arrive before the Space Brothers do.