The Adventures of a Costa Mesa Bigfoot
With a camera in his hand and a song in his heart, photojournalist Keith May chronicles the OC sightings of the suddenly not-very-reclusive Sasquatch
“Does it take everyone this long to get into a Bigfoot costume before robbing a bank?” my friend Jeff Beals joked as he struggled into the big, hairy, brown suit inside my car in the parking lot of the 7-Eleven on the corner of Placentia Avenue and 19th Street. We weren’t there to rob the joint: Jeff was simply going to pose at the pay phone, with the day laborers tossing quarters, and on a nearby kiddie ride, while I took pictures of him and any surprised Big Gulpers.
There would be more sightings of the Costa Mesa Bigfoot that day: Fairview Park, La Cave and at Newport Beach’s Lido Theatre. (We reached the limits of our bravery at a high-school girls’ indoor volleyball game: We walked in, all eyes turned to the man in fur, and we sheepishly walked back out.)
Throughout the day, as he tried to get into character, Jeff would ask, “What’s my motivation?”
And what’s my motivation for staging Bigfoot sightings all over Orange County?
I wouldn’t consider myself a Bigfoot fanatic, but Sasquatch has stuck with me ever since Leonard Nimoy first introduced my rugrat self to him in a 1977 episode of the In Search Of . . . television series. For a puny kid whose favorite book was Where the Wild Things Are and who identified with comic-strip outcasts such as Casper the Friendly Ghost and Ziggy, the idea of this ultimate outsider hiding in the deep forest from his slightly more-evolved cousins stirred deep sympathy.
“Some anthropologists believe that the creature could have come to the northwestern United States along with the Indians, across a land bridge that once connected Siberia to Alaska,” Nimoy offered. “Bigfoot may well be waiting for some sign that we are ready.”
Three decades later, I was riding a Yamaha FJR1300 through Redwood National Forest, headed for California’s Lost Coast. My only companion was a ukulele bungeed to the duffle bag that served as my backrest. As I leaned into endless, sweeping curves on a beautiful October afternoon, I entertained myself with the notion that Bigfoot was lurking somewhere in the towering, old-growth forest. Soon, whimsical rhymes began to flow. By the time I checked into a cozy motel in Ferndale, “Ballad of Bigfoot” was complete. The ukulele came off the bike, and a melody soon followed. In a minor key, of course. (For complete chords and lyrics, go here.)
On the ride home, I considered doing a Blair Witch-style music video for the tune. Or maybe I could find someone to dance around in a Bigfoot costume while I performed the song at open mics as “Skeeter Jackson.”
When I finally ordered that costume a couple of months ago, I posted a request on my Facebook page: “Who wants to wear a Bigfoot costume, and when are you available to do so? Kamikazi-style. Quick and painless. There and gone. Thanks in advance for your cooperation.”
I listed dozens of possible scenarios, from playing the ukulele to getting a pedicure to standing in line at the DMV.
That’s how it started. Just as a goof. But when I mention the concept—even to strangers— an avalanche of ideas inevitably follows (“Surfing! “Getting a haircut!” Driving a school bus!”). With each shoot, each scenario I cross off the list, I have to add another 10.
I’ve always preferred working in the larger context of a series: riding a motorcycle across the country in search of Americana, traveling through California in search of working dogs, exploring the Mississippi Delta in search of Robert Johnson, exploring coastal towns on a vintage dirt bike. But this Bigfoot project has taken on a life of its own. These photos are the just a small sampling of the results—and the list is still growing.
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