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Warren Odell
Photograph by George Sakkestad

Warren Odell

Tour Guide to an Anomaly

By Andrea Perkins

SIXTEEN YEARS AGO, WHEN WARREN ODELL TURNED 70, HE BECAME increasingly suspicious of rocking chairs, so instead of allowing one to entrench him, he called the Mystery Spot recruiter who had been haunting his senior center and signed up to serve as a tour guide. He has been there ever since. No other employee, and not even the current owner, has worked at the Mystery Spot longer than Warren Odell.

At 86, Odell walks slowly and uses a cane, but he talks fast, and because he is legally blind he doesn't look directly at the person to whom he is talking. His attire usually consists of trousers, button-up shirts and jackets (all in variations of beige plaid), which he spices up with a bright blue baseball cap, embossed with the yellow Mystery Spot logo. He takes his trombone with him wherever he goes and with very little prompting can be persuaded to let loose with rather good renditions of "76 Trombones" or "Harbor Lights."

After nearly two decades on the job, Odell is still a true believer.

"The mystery," he begins, "is that as soon as we enter the Mystery Spot, we lean to the southwest--that's the direction right behind me here--35 degrees. I know there is a force field here. There is nothing phony about it, just 100 percent what you see. The force field is what causes the leaning."

But Odell says that it is the "difference in height phenomenon" which is probably caused by "the density of light waves" that really "bamboozles" people.

"They go out of here talking to themselves." He says that cleaning up after the occasional case of motion sickness is just part of the job. "I have never seen anybody come down this hill and ask for their money back, and in fact if you asked them for double the admission fee, they'd give it to you."

Recently, Odell was diagnosed with a rare brain disease called cerebellar ataxia, which affects the cerebellum (Odell generally refers to his ailment as just "cerebellum"). The cerebellum is the part of the brain that processes information regarding the body's orientation in space.

"I'd never heard of this disease before," says Odell, an Omaha, Nebraska, native who came to Santa Cruz 20 years ago with his wife Maxine, who works a few yards away in the gift shop.

"The doc said I'd lost equilibrium for a while. That means that if I stand up in a dark room, and have nothing to relate to, I will fall over."

While cerebellar ataxia is most often caused by hereditary syndromes or brain infections, Odell's prolonged exposure to an anomaly invites speculation. He says that there isn't anything in the entire world that he would rather be doing, but lately his health problems have kept him from giving tours.

"The boss said to me, 'Do you see all those people coming down the hill with a thousand and one questions? I want you to answer them.' So that's what I do."


Readers' Choice Awards

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Critics' Choice Awards

Jesse Davis: All the Shoes That Fit
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Isabel Piekarski: Latin Dance Sensation
Juan Cuellar: Compassionate Warrior
Nate Brunskill: Film Fanatic
Sarah Gerhardt: Woman Who Rides Mountains
Seema Weatherwax: Late-Blooming Photographer
Stephanie Smith: Student of the Sciences
Theo Paige: The Not.So.Mad Fiddler


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From the March 21-28, 2001 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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