Bug Coolers and Whale Parts: adventures of a bone collector

Bug Coolers and Whale Parts: Curious Mall Meeting

I’d like to tell you a little story about meeting a random guy with a car load of biological curiosities in an Olive Garden parking lot. If that doesn’t hook you, then I really don’t know what will.

A few years ago my partner came to me asking if I would accompany her to meet an internet friend who was currently driving through town and wanted to give her something. The whole thing seemed a little on the suspicious side as she’d never met the guy before and he wanted to meet her in a parking lot somewhere. A spontaneous and slightly clandestine meeting with a total stranger to receive mysterious goods? That sounds like the best Friday night out I could possibly hope for.

The meeting spot was in  a mall parking lot on the edge of town within close proximity to a very busy Olive Garden restaurant. This was a Friday night after all, and the place was teeming with people on dates or out with their families. Please, if you love someone, do not take them to Olive Garden. Just don’t.

Coolers and Coolers of Bugs

We don’t immediately see the guy so we pick out a parking space with a good view. Ten, maybe fifteen minutes pass before we see the guy pull up and park. The car he was driving was some sort of Sport utility wagon and seemed like it was largely full of coolers and assorted packages. The guy then gets out and we do the introduction thing. Turns out, he lives in California and makes this trip about once a year. The purpose of this trip? To collect bugs. Seriously. This guy travels out to Arizona and New Mexico every year with the express purpose of capturing live bugs which he then takes back to California and sells to people. All those coolers in the back of his car? Bugs. They were bug coolers. We were both astonished.

He then started pulling out coolers and showing off his specimens. Scorpions, beetles, insects of amazing size and diversity. He even gave us a few to take home. It was at about this point that I remembered we were in a crowded public place in fading daylight. People were rubbernecking as they strolled to and from the restaurant, looks ranging from disgust to confusion plastered across their faces. I decided to better position myself between them and the action.

Whale Parts! We live in the Desert…

The next thing he pulled out was an object nearly five feet long and curved like a bow, but heavier and thicker. He asked us if we knew what it was. The light was getting pretty dim by this point and my first guess was that it was an elephant tusk. Was it? I might have lost my shit if it was, and not in a good way.

A whale rib. It was a whale rib from a grey whale that this gentleman had personally harvested. He told us that he had the whole skeleton in fact, and assured us of its legality. He then told us that we could have it. Of course we accepted. We are not ones to pass up a free biological curiosity, especially one of this size and rarity. I imagine there are seaside towns where everyone has a whale rib, but we live in the Southwest desert.

He then pulled out a few finger bones from the same whale. It’s hard to hold something as thick as your arm and call it a finger bone, but yep. Those were for my partner to experiment with carving something out of.

The last thing he showed us as the last daylight was fading from the parking lot was a vertebra from the same whale. Imagine a bone roughly the size and shape of your average coffee table. That, sadly, was not for us. He was taking that to give to some other lucky fool.

It was at this point, in a now darkened parking lot, that our random biology lesson came to a close. It was fascinating. We still have the rib to this day, some several years later. The phalanges have been saturated cut and carved. Turns out that whale bones are extremely porous. I will probably never forget that clandestine meeting in the Olive Garden parking lot or the looks on the faces of the dumbfounded passers-by. It was certainly more memorable than any meal I’ve ever eaten there.

Author: Colleen

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