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‘X-Files’ Fans Search for the Truth at Tustin Base

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Feeling left out of the “X-Files” clubhouse? Well, as they believe on the TV show, you are not alone. Read on if you don’t know Agent Mulder from Agent Scully, have no paranormal suspicions about anyone but your spouse, never log on for Internet chat about whether The Truth Is Out There, and think the Cigarette Smoking Man is the star of a Marlboro ad.

You still might want to know just exactly what is going on this weekend over at the Tustin Marine Corps Air Station’s Hangar 2, which incidentally happens to be big and remote enough for shadowy government figures to hide a couple of downed spaceships in. (It’s at a military installation, now isn’t it?)

So drop the lights to film noir low and follow along, as we visit the only Southern California stop of a $6-million, 10-city touring fan party and marketing extravaganza.

As with the darkly mysterious top-rated show, some questions will remain unanswered, of course. Like: Will the show’s set move to Los Angeles from Vancouver, Canada, next season to accommodate star David Duchovny’s wish to be close to actress wife Tea Leoni? Will FBI Agents Fox Mulder (Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) ever succumb to their unspoken attraction? And will they ever flip on a light switch instead of pointing dinky flashlights into a dark creepy building?

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On Saturday--the first day of the two day X-Files Expo, nearly 5,000 people drove in the gates of the base, winding through a disarmingly pastoral scene dotted with drab buildings and signs saying things like “Caution, Low Flying Aircraft” and “Operations Crash Crew” to reach blimp Hangar 2.

A bit of a line awaited them. But for $25 admission, they experienced an interactive fan party like no other “X-Files” convention.

“The helicopters parked outside, the uniformed Marine guard at the entrance--this venue is wonderful,” gushed Grey Eckert of Washington Court House, Ohio. He and his wife, both 40, are fans in the extreme. The couple flew to San Francisco for the start of X-Files Expo last weekend, then flew south. They attended “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” and did sightseeing before Saturday’s trip to Tustin. This is their vacation. After optometrist Grey and retired nurse wife Jennifer return to Ohio, they will travel to Detroit for the tour stop there.

“I compare this to a theme park,” Grey said, standing near the 500 fans waiting three hours for autographs of show stars, “because you have things to do, event to event.”

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First, a few facts.

The show’s story line follows two Washington-based FBI agents who investigate the so-called X-Files: cases of unexplained phenomena like alien abductions, ghosts, the occult and paranormal activities. There is skepticism within the agency and an ever-present foreboding that murkily defined government and non-government types are working against their efforts.

Now back to the hangar, where guests were given a bag of souvenirs called “evidence.” “Crew” members in black and white jumpsuits worked attractions.

Inside the cavernous wooden building, attendees asked insider information of the show’s writers and stars (including Mr. X--Mulder’s government mole). They also were photographed in a likeness of Mulder’s FBI office, played trivia games wearing Martian-like virtual reality helmets and previewed the upcoming “X-Files” movie. The plot is--what else?--a secret.

Tina McCraw of Tustin arrived early enough to only have a half-hour wait at what was the single most popular offering of the Expo: the $3 photo op at Mulder’s “office.”

“I’m a die-hard fan,” said McCraw, meaning she is what many of the 20 million weekly viewers call a Phile. Last year, she sent holiday greetings with Scully and Mulder featured in front of a Christmas tree, saying, “It’s scientifically impossible for a man to come down a chimney like that.” This year? Her loved ones may be getting a shot of Agent McCraw from the “X-Files.”

At the road show’s San Francisco opening last weekend, 7,000 people turned out, and parking and lines were reported to be tedious.

Fox Television, “X-Files” creator and producer Chris Carter’s production company and other organizers worked on correcting problems on stop No. 2. The show moves next to Dallas, then Atlanta. Most of the Expo stops will be at decommissioned military installations--chosen for the atmosphere they offer the discriminating fan.

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