Sunday, January 21
I woke up around 7am. I’m not sure how. Not only was I awake, but I was . . . aware. Against all odds, I had hosted a rocking party with constantly flowing booze and stayed awake until 2:30am, but was still pumped up for my talk in a few short hours. I was in that zone that lies just beyond “tired,” where my head buzzes with energy and my body gets a little tremble of excitement. I took a shower and grabbed some clothes. I wondered if perhaps I should dress up for my big presentation — cute heels and a skirt, say — but I knew that I’d be better and more entertaining if I could actually move without worrying about falling over on stage. Jeans and a t-shirt with sneakers would have to do.
I got down to the hall and people were milling around in the room next to the main conference room (where we ate lunch Friday and Saturday), waiting for the first of the presenters. I had a great big cup of coffee and sat down by myself at an empty table so I could stare at a wall and pretend I was a lizard in the rainforest. This helps me when I’m stressed. To be a lizard, I’ve found, you need to sit very, very still and wait for a bug to happen along. This could take a few hours, so you might as well just chill. Being in the rainforest is a nice detail, because it’s warm and there’s a trickling stream somewhere. Plus there are lots of trees to stick to and chill. This is my thought process on very little sleep.
A lot of my old and new friends were walking around, and slowly began sitting down at my big table. “Man,” they’d say. “That was a great party.” I would nod. “You feeling okay?” Nod. “Ready for your presentation?” Nod. I am waiting for my bug.
Many of my friends stick around even though the papers have started. I wanted to see some of them, like Harriet Hall’s. She’s a smart lady who has contributed to the Skepchick forum, and I remember that last year she took the iniative to give a TAM presenter hell for what she considered to be poorly researched nonsense. I knew, though, that I’d be better off zoning out.
Right after the coffee break, it was my turn to present. All my friends did a great job of applauding for a slightly uncomfortable amount of time as I had asked. It really got me jazzed up and ready to talk.
In my presentation, I talked about how easy it is to get your message out using web sites, forums, blogs, podcasts, and video. I end with the video segment, and then offer the audience a chance to get in on the YouTube craze by taking a skeptical version of the Blasphemy Challenge. I tell them I’d read a brief oath concerning the things we skeptics refuse to accept without evidence, and they could show their appreciation by applauding. I asked for help from an audience member, who in return would receive a large basket of free booze (leftover from the party). JREF forum regular VPescado, who I remembered from the previous night walking around with a nail shoved up his nose, immediately volunteered to help film me and the audience doing the challenge.
Everything went swimmingly, with the audience applauding enthusiastically on cue. Vpescado got his free basket o’ booze and I took my leave of the stage, relieved that it had all finally worked out.
From the stage, I needed to make a beeline for the bathroom thanks to all the coffee I had previously ingested. This was not to be, as I was immediately approached by so many people telling me I did a great job. Peeing can wait if it means I get to hear such things and receive lots of congratulatory hugs in a total lovefest. There were so many wonderful memories from this year’s TAM, and this was definitely one of the tops. I had worked really hard to make my presentation both creative and educational, so this immediate feedback — coming from people I liked and respected — was incredibly gratifying.
After finally getting to pee, I tried to watch the rest of the papers (including Steve Novella’s on “natural” medicine and Ben Radford’s talk on the media), but my brain was still buzzing so I didn’t absorb much. Luckily Ben ended the presentations with a cartoon, which my buzzing brain appreciated.
As I sat in the back of the auditorium, I checked my camera and with a sinking feeling realized that I couldn’t find the video from the presentation on there. What the hell? There had been some weird problem where the screen turned off shortly after we started recording, but I thought I had fixed it. I was really upset about it. My friend Patricio offered to send me footage he had shot with his camera from the audience, so at least I’d have something to upload. (So where is it, you’re asking. Well, the file he sent was encoded by our friends at Microsoft with DRM crap that made it impossible for me to edit despite hours of trying. I’m going to keep trying, but if anyone else out there has footage, please email me!)
After the talks, I went to check out of the party suite. I really, really hoped that it was clean (enough), but figured I just had to trust that Sam took care of it all. Sam went ahead to the Peppermill for lunch, and I told him I’d meet him there in a bit. I ran into Phil Plait at checkout and invited him along to lunch. We then ran into Randi, and invited him along, too. I also saw Steve, Bob, Evan, and Jay, but they were headed for the airport. We said our goodbyes and I think I saw Jay start to weep.
By the time we made it to the Peppermill we had snowballed into a group of about 12 or so. By this point, the lovely staff there was used to it. We enjoyed a great lunch, and it was really the only quality time I got with Randi the whole weekend. As we talked and joked and told stories, I thought about how lucky I am to have so many truly amazing friends. I can’t even remember what it feels like to be bored.
Sunday night I met up with John, a Skepchick-reader who I met a few months ago when he offered me a ticket to go see a play in Cambridge. We climbed in his rental car and drove a few miles away to Sam’s Town Casino, where there was another convention just wrapping up: Punk Rock Bowling! I had heard about it from my friend Jeff, whose band was playing the closing show. Jeff is another guy I met because of skepchick.org, since he is a great skeptic who offered to be in the 2007 calendar (he wasn’t able to get the photo done in time, but I’m going to bug him again this year). Jeff completely demolishes whatever preconceived notions some may have about punk rockers — he’s smart and thoughtful and very sweet. (For the record, I know a good number of skeptical punk rockers. I’m not sure what it is.)
John and I made it to the casino to find the place crawling with punks. We were bummed to see that the show was sold out, but on John’s suggestion we checked will call and found that Jeff had kindly put me on the list. Sweet! The show kicked ass, and afterward I got a few minutes to chat with Jeff before the next act was due to come on. Normally I would have stuck around and watched the rest of the show, but I was starting to get pretty tired and I had a big last day in Vegas planned for Monday, so John and I took off.
Back at the Riviera, I walked by the poker room and saw Sam hard at work. I thought that might be a good way to unwind before bed, so I sat down at the table and we had a good time. Because he lives in Houston, I don’t get nearly enough Sam-time outside Vegas, so this was a good way to spend my last night there. Around 1am, I told Sam I was heading to bed . . . he followed a few hours later.
Monday, January 22
I woke up around 6:30am so I could pack and get a shower. I woke up Sam to give him a hug goodbye and then took all my things down to the bellmen to hold for the day. I grabbed some juice and then went to a side entrance to meet up with my friends: Tim and Lynn from England, and Hutch from Alabama. A few months ago, Tim and Lynn booked a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon with another British couple. When that couple wasn’t able to make it to TAM, Hutch took one seat and insisted that I take the other. I had never been to the Grand Canyon, nor had I ever been in a helicopter, so I was beyond excited to be doing this with three fantastic friends.
A shuttle bus took us to an airport where we boarded a small 20-passenger plane to the rim at Grand Canyon West (where they are about to begin construction of a new skywalk, a glass-bottom bridge that extends over the rim). There, the four of us climbed aboard a beautiful red helicopter — I got to sit in the front by the pilot! We dipped down into the canyon, and it was beautiful beyond words. At the bottom, we climbed aboard a boat and puttered down the river for awhile, enjoying the scenery and chatting with Joe, our Hualapai guide. Then we got back in the helicopter, and as we took off a small herd of big-horned sheep crashed out of the bushes and ran away in front of us. Back up on the rim, we hiked around and ate lunch, and then took the plane back to the shuttle back to the hotel, all before 4pm. It was an experience that I’d recommend to anyone who doesn’t have a lot of time to really explore the Canyon. By this point, I have run out of appropriate adjectives to describe all this.
Back at the hotel, Tim, Lynn, and Hutch went off for naps and I headed to the bar, where I met up with Dave, a great guy from Alaska who takes beautiful photos and brings me presents. (Thanks again, Dave!) As we relaxed at the bar, more stragglers began to collect, and eventually we decided to all go out to eat. They let me pick the place, so we went to the Capital Grille, on the third floor of the Fashion Mall on the Strip. It was a bit more expensive than I remembered, but everyone was very good about not complaining. After all, it was our last big dinner together. We ordered some wine and sat around a giant circular table next to floor-to-ceiling windows that overlooked a darkening Las Vegas. The food was delicious, the service impeccable, and the company could not be beat. Our group slowly broke apart as people left for the airport, and eventually it was my turn, too. Hutch drove me to my gate and gave me one last parting hug. I said goodbye to Hutch, to the Vegas warmth, to the nonstop hugs, and to the mass of people who see the world in much the same way I do.
I boarded my plane around midnight, falling asleep immediately and waking up in a completely different world.
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