Homeopathy? Magnet Therapy? Dowsing? Orbs? Astrology?
James Randi lectures on these and related subjects for the new millennium
When: Saturday, September 29th 7pm
Where: Unitarian Universalist Church Main St. Montpelier, VT
Cost: There is no charge to attend
I began my three hour drive to Vermont around 11 am Saturday, September 29th. I was lucky to have a beautiful day and the leaves were just starting to turn their autumnal colors.
Jeff W. put out flags to mark his drive and house (and even so, I knocked on the wrong door). His condo is gorgeous, modern, filled with Randi paraphernalia, the Holy Grail bunny, dipping birds, hand boilers (one of which I wrapped for Jeff’s son’s upcoming birthday, using an Easter Island statue shaped tape holder) and food for carnivores and herbivores. Jeff himself is open and inviting; a friendly gadget geek.
I started meeting people from the forum: Mattfn (thanks for The Amazing Meeting stories/info), kittynh, nova land, John H, Rebecca (Watson, skepchick.org and skeptical rogue from Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe, who looks like my younger sister, not that Rebecca and I look alike, she looks like my sister in the ways that my sister and I don’t look alike...is anyone still following this? Am I still following this?), Lucy, Phil (who lives only one town over from me), mumchup, etc. It was wonderful to put faces with “written voices”. Everyone was laid back and there was an obvious comradery built on long term posting and gatherings.
At one point, Rebecca was on the computer in the kitchen checking the webcam pictures (the entire house, with the exception of the bathrooms I was told, was live) and in the JREF chat with Jeff W, who was on his computer upstairs. Jeff W told me that this was common and at another party there had been about six people sitting around his living room with their laptops in the chat room. All I can say is, “wow.”
Jeff was in a bit of a panic as he could not get a hold of Randi (his cell was off and Jeff did not have the cell number for those chaffering Randi from the airport, the Beadys).
All turned out well as the Beadys arrived with Randi. I have to admit here to bordering on “geeking out.” I was getting to meet the “Santa of Science” so to speak. Again there was a familiarity with those who had been to lectures and meetings before. Randi (in a dark blue suit with an incredibly vibrant orange tie) greeted everyone with either a hug or firm handshake and was doing some slight of hand tricks within two minutes.
Group pictures were taken; thanks to Rebecca for handling my “older than her” camera and making sure I actually got in some photos. Mr. Randi complimented me on my necklace and in a moment of “fan” bravery I asked if I could give him a hug. He was very gracious and indulged me (a surprisingly strong hugger for someone who had very serious health issues just a little over year ago).
Rebecca carried the kitchen laptop/webcam to Randi and he and the Bad Astronomer Phil Plait got to share a few live and in color moments.
Jeff W’s kids and a friend arrived and Randi had a few more tricks up his sleeve (or on his lapel as they involved his pigasus pin) for them.
Beady and I had a nice conversation about how I found out about Randi and skepticism (thanks Penn & Teller). He had some nice advise on authors and learning critical thinking.
I was lucky enough to get to ride with the Beadys and Randi from Jeff W’s to the Church. We stopped off at a cider mill (I picked up some maple syrup for Gram and a coloring book for my nephew Nathan). Both the Beadys and Randi had great stories on their work and woo-woo. As I was still a little awe struck (better to be thought a fool than to speak up and remove all doubt) I decided to just listen and keep my comments to a minimum (if my friend Ken is reading this I am sure he is having hard time imagining that).
Arrived at the Church and helped with set up. Between 50-70 people came. The lecture began with a short video of some clips of Randi’s past exploits (over Niagra Falls in a straight jacket, the Carson Show, with Penn & Teller, etc). Mr. Randi himself was engaging, smooth, relaxed, funny, educational and entertaining. He had one liners for those audience incidents (at one point a woman stepped out to the bathroom and as she left the hall through the door near the stage Randi glanced her way and said “It gets better”), tricks and sleight of hand to accent points and debunk psychic abilities, and handled questions from the audience with grace and patience.
There were two moments that gave a few people hesitation. Twice, instead of using the stairs, Mr. Randi jumped down from the small stage (“At 79 I shouldn’t be doing that; actually at 78 I shouldn’t have been doing that either”). I think everyone who knew of Randi’s recent health issues almost had to call for oxygen themselves at those moments.
After the lecture, about fifteen of us went to a local restaurant just a few doors down from the Church (The New England Culinary Institute Bar & Grille I believe). We had a small but elegant room filled with wine reserved. It was a nice group conversation, with everyone discussing magic and magicians they have seen/known and Randi doing a couple of tricks (one of which, as I was only about two feet from him, left me thinking 1) after watching Penn & Teller for almost a year I should know that, no matter if the magician is getting naked, never, never take your eyes off their hands, and 2) “Oh my goodness, I am so stupid. How do I have enough brain power to remember to breath?”).
Upon completion of the delightful dinner, I said goodbye to the super Beadys and Randi, who was kind enough to indulge me in another hug (one of my friends said that if I went to The Amazing Meeting I would be like a crack addict with $20,000 in on a street corner in downtown Detroit: Penn & Teller, Randi, the rest of the Skeptic Rogues from The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe podcast, Phil Plait, etc; I’d just be a mumbling mess and I said, no, I’d just be a hug harlot). I rode back to Jeff W’s with the terrific hamradioguy. The party was very reminiscent of community theatre cast parties, with its own special flavor of course: video games involving sewer marauding bunnies (which Rebecca annihilated: it must be a vegetarian thing), two lovely voiced sisters, Rebecca on guitar, amazingly carved pumpkin of jack o lantern Randi (and one of the Boston Red Sox) and presumably hot tub antics (of which I remain agnostic).
Hamradioguy was generous enough to allow me the use of his guest room for the night. Unfortunately he got an emergency call soon after arriving back at his house (ah, the life of a volunteer firefighter; no good deed goes unpunished...or maybe it’s no rest for the wicked...things that make you go hmmm....;-). In the morning, I had a wonderful breakfast with hamradioguy, a friend of his and his friend’s daughter (who has the same name as my great grandmother who lived in Morrisville, I wonder if it’s a Vermont name). Hamradioguy also snagged me a flyer for the Randi event. After getting a picture of the famous ladder truck, I was on my way home (lucky enough again to have a beautiful day for the ride).
I had the pictures developed immediately of course. My thanks to whomever grabbed my camera and got a shot of my hugging Randi. Beady: I understand why your friend held your hands to your side at the wedding you told me about. I have the pictures in a collage frame (and have doubles to hang at work). The flyer is also framed (perhaps someday I will see Randi again and ask him to autograph it).
This was a great ending to my birthday week off. I’ve met some splendid people, with whom I hope to share more good times in the future, and gotten to meet a new hero of mine (it’s a happiness when our geniuses are also nice people).