UFO Landing Port
Bob Tohak is worried about his sign. It's been up for only three years and already the paint is peeling. Rusty patches show through. "The guy who painted it did a bad job," Bob says, his voice edged with irritation. He assures us that he will have the sign repainted. He wants it to look respectable. Especially if the Space People show up.
"U.F.O. Landing Port," reads the lettering on the sign, and "We're Not The Only Ones." A bulb-headed alien points a skinny finger at a hovering saucer from beyond for emphasis.
The sign is attached at the top of a 42-foot-long fuel tank that has been raised upright into a vertical shaft. It stands in the middle of the gated compound of Tohak & Son Welding, among the flat corn and oat fields east of Green Bay. The compound is spotless. Bob understands the importance of presentation.
His appearance is a departure from the usual wan, would-be contactee. In his mid-50s, Bob sports an earring, a Marvin the Martian tattooed on one forearm attached to a beefy fist that could hammer nails. A gray rubber alien, topped with a Green Bay Packers knit cap, rides shotgun in his truck.
"It's something I believed in ever since I was a kid, that there was somebody else out there," he explains, handing us a snapshot of the landing port. On the back is a printed label, stating that U.S. law expressly forbids contact with extraterrestrials. Bob views this as evidence of a conspiracy. He gives a copy of the photo to everyone who visits.
Bob erected the tank in 1994. A year later he topped it with a welded steel landing platform, outlined with flashing blue lights (which can support the weight of helicopter -- or a flying saucer). "It was just the thought that, 'Hey, one day when they do show up, maybe they'll come to me first,'" he said. Bob also sees his landing port as freedom of expression, a gentle rebuke of the local human government that tried to get him to move his business to the other side of town. "My thinking was, if I can't deal with a black man or a red man or a yellow man, why don't I deal with a green man?' What could they say to me, that I'm dealing with green people? Well, I guess I'm crazy then, aren't I?"
Bob ushers us into the tank. It's pitch black inside, a condition that he promises to remedy with lighting and futuristic control panels, when he has the time. Bob has welded a spiral staircase up to the top, but it's a steep climb, with many hard, grimy surfaces that are painful to bump into. There's no room to maneuver. It reminds us of the nerve-wracking tetanus ascents up the Genoa Wonder Tower and the now-destroyed Pettibone Pagoda. It smells of warm metal. "It's not for everyone," Bob concedes, sprinting ahead to the top. "No fat people. You know, aliens are not fat."
We haul our sorry selves onto the platform through a hatch that Bob salvaged from the aircraft carrier USS Coral Sea, an architectural detail of which he is particularly proud. From up here, you can see, well, the road, and the fields stretching to the horizon. But it's the view above our heads that interests Bob. "We sit up here some time. Look at the sky," he says. It is an ideal vantage point to spot a passing space roadster, and to wave its occupants down for a Blatz or a Stroh's.
"People say, 'Yeah, well, that's that crazy old bastard down the road,' Bob answers when we ask him what the locals think of his creation. "And I say, 'Yeah, I am!'" What does his family think? Bob shrugs and grins. "My wife really doesn't say much. My son thinks I'm crazy. And he tells people that, too."
Casual visitors, some of whom drive hundreds of miles to see the landing port, are more supportive of Bob's work, and Bob is willing to please. "I gotta have something to do," he tells us. He's currently building a 24-foot-long submarine and he hopes to begin work on "a big aluminum spaceship." Bob has plans for the landing port as well, "I'm gonna put two big light boards up there so I can shoot lights into outer space," he tells us, "and I'll be able to turn them sideways so I can shoot them forward. Like in Close Encounters. I'm gonna have the music playing and everything."
And by then, of course, he'll also have the new sign in place.
"People are telling me that I should petition the President," Bob says. "That I should be a spokesman for the aliens."
"I'm just hoping that something'll show up."
Update - January 2008: Bob finally did get that new sign up on his tower. He adds that the "tower now has a satellite up top, and soon to have Ion Cannons." We're sure the aliens will appreciate that peaceful gesture....