A little over a week ago my boss came to my office, insisting that she had to take a few pictures of me, but wouldn’t tell me what they were for. I’m not usually to big on having my picture taken, and I don’t really like being kept in the dark either. But I begrudgingly let her take the pictures. Her camera had the “anti-red-eye” feature, which lights the flash repeatedly before the picture is taken. After several shots, I had it all timed down so that I knew precisely when to stick out my tongue and make a face for the camera. Eh, it got a laugh, at least. I tried a couple more times to get out of her what the pictures were for, but she wouldn’t fess up. I gave in and forgot about the whole thing.
A couple days later she left for the annual Southeastern Planetarium Association conference. Personally, I’ve been going to conferences since 1996. Up until last year I hadn’t missed a single one. Scheduling conflicts at work kept me away. Then this year, there were some other issues that kept me from attending. My boss understood my frustration at having to stay home, but there was really nothing that could have be easily done about it.
I suppose the thought of a conference full of planetarium people might sound a bit boring or stodgy, but nothing could be further from the truth. SEPA is a group that knows how to have a good time when they get together. My boss figures that, with around 1000 planetaria in the U.S., and not all of them with full-time staff (many of them are high school domes), that as a rough estimate there are possibly only 900 or 1000 full time career planetarians in the whole country. We may be spread apart but when we get together in our regional conferences we’re a close tight-knit bunch. Especially the SEPA group. Sure we can be serious and get down to planetarium business, but then there are also lots of side trips - if there are any observatories, aquariums or science museums with space artifacts in the area, we’re bound to take a visit. Natural history is also a favorite. Conferences are tightly scheduled, and we have to keep moving all the time. Most of us are very tired by the end of the day.
Conference attendees always find lots of good food and drink. (One of the biggest inside jokes is that we all prefer Woodchuck draft cider as our beverage of choice. Where else but a SEPA conference do you find a room full of grown adults chanting “Wood-chuck! Wood-chuck!” And what’s more, they’re usually still sober at the time! What can I say, inside jokes just don’t make sense unless you’re on the inside.)
I recall one field trip we took where nearly everyone in the back of the tour bus each had two or three red laser pointers. Hey, we’re planetarians - we always have a laser pointer handy, and these days they’re so cheap to make that equipment vendors give them away as conference swag. We must’ve spent the better part of the trip chasing each others’ red dots around the ceiling of the bus. Why was this hysterical? I have no idea, but I’ve rarely laughed as hard.
Many of us specialize in music, storytelling and bad puns as well. We’re all geeks of a sort, and we know it. It’s professional development and a hell of a fun vacation at the same time. And usually it’s just good clean fun. Then again after too many Woodchucks, well, regrettable things can happen.
Anyway, my boss flew back into town on Saturday. I came in to my office this morning, to find a few items stacked on my chair:
[li]a conference bag full of papers, posters, brochures and various other trinkets[/li][li]a Japanese-style paper fan (courtesy of star projector manufacturer Goto Inc.) with my picture pasted to it, the central item in what has come to be known as Virtual Drew Project.[/li][li]a six-pack of Woodchuck[/li][/ul]
My boss ROCKS!