When I walked out my door on a cool morning in May to attend my first major star party I had no inkling of the magnitude and impact the experience would have on my life. By prior agreement I was to meet Doctor George and follow him down to Ft. Davis, Texas where the event is held each year. I waited patently by the University Golf Course on that fateful morning and just as my eyes were beginning to close for a tiny nap I felt the impact of air as a silver trailer went flying by.
Suddenly my cell phone squeaked to life. "Hey, good buddy, I got your twenty. Let's put the pedal to metal and get moving. We got miles to go before we rest."
It was Doctor George urging me on.
"Ten four." I timidly replied.
I was hard pressed to keep up but fortified with coffee, jelly beans and Julie Andrews on my CD player I managed somehow to stay the course.
It was not until several hours later when Doctor George dropped me off at the entrance to the star party that I was able to finally relax and wonder just what I had gotten myself into.
I pulled into the gate and immediately saw the sign:
DO NOT MAKE ANY SUDDEN MOVES
EXIT YOUR VEHICLE AND KEEP YOUR HANDS WHERE THEY CAN BE SEEN
It was then that Sheriff Rich came sauntering out from behind the Humvee with a possum on a long leash. As the possum began to sniff under my SUV I asked Sheriff Rich, " What is the possum doing under my car?"
"Look'in for contraband, Sonny. Wha'd ya think?" He hissed.
"Well, it seems kind of invasive - like, you know - violating my boundaries and not establishing a relationship of trust and respect."
"Don't use any of that high faulut'in psycho talk around here Sonny. And just be durn glad I didn't bring out the alligator this time." He snapped.
"Yes Sir." I gulped.
"OK. You're clean. Proceed to Checkpoint Charlie. Surrender all your money and any medication you have to the person in charge. We don't allow any funny business here. That's all." Sheriff Rich admonished.
While I was at Checkpoint Charlie I asked where the ASLC group was.
"Middle field. Go one sixteenth of a mile north, turn east, proceed for another thirty-second of a mile then south for about thirty five seconds at five miles per hour should put you right there. And, oh yah, don't go near the Upper field. That's for the better folks. You don't belong up there."
By now I was feeling totally confused and somewhat intimidated but I gathered up the courage and asked, "Well, if the Upper field is for the upper people then what is the Lower field for?"
"Ah jeez, how dumb can you get? It's for the untouchables - obviously. Use your brain boy, use your brain."
I must have missed something he said because I came out about three arc degrees off my target and as I was driving I kept hearing the sound of glass and aluminum crunching. Oh well.
I finally found the ASLC group under a large canopy eating Mars bars and watching 'Lost in Space' videos.
I heard a snicker and somebody whisper, "Here's another newbie. Is the pit ready?"
Well, I decided to ignore that or pretend I didn't hear it because I was now in the presence of the Masters. At last I would find the meaning of 'Imaging The Stars' and become one with the universe. Or, at the very least, become one with my telescope. And, if failing to do that, become one with my eye piece. Anyway, you get the gist. Becoming one with something, anything, seemed real important at the time.
As if reading my mind Mystic Bob pronounced, "Ya can sleep over there by the fire ants on that goat head patch and see if that don't make ya one with something, ha ha."
"Gulp, sure Mystic Bob, anything you say."
By the time I got my tent set up it was getting late. Everyone else was out in the field covering up their telescopes. This was kind of confusing since it was clear and the stars were starting to shine.
With courage and determination I walked right up to Master Dave and asked, "Why are you covering up your telescopes when it is nice and clear?"
Master Dave looked at me as if I were being impertinent or just plain stupid, "Why do you think Grasshopper? Is not the sky as our minds, sometimes clear and sometimes cloudy?"
"Guessing not allowed. Two demerits. Four more hours in the pit with the armadillos."
"OK, OK," I replied. "But why are you coving up your telescopes?" I persisted.
"BECAUSE IT IS CLEAR! THIS IS THE TEXAS CLOUD PARTY! WE CAME HERE TO WATCH THE CLOUDS! GET IT!"
At that moment if I could have found a hole to climb into and hide I would have done it but realizing I already had to do eight hours in the pit (four hours for improperly installing red plastic on my computer and the four hours for guessing) I decided not to look too hard for a hole to crawl into.
"But, but," I stammered, "I thought this was the TSP."
"Well, well, ain't that just something. He came here to find the Texas Star Party. How cute. What do think boys, shall we tell him or let him wander around here all night trying to figure it out." Masters Steve & Steve crowed ominously.
Brother Chuck entered the conversation, "Come on guys, don't be so hard on the kid. He didn't know."
I was relieved to think I might get away with this one but those hopes were quickly dashed when I realized I was indeed at the wrong star party. If fact, I wasn't even at a star party. I was at a CLOUD party! Have you ever had a bad dream where you wanted to wake up but couldn't? Well, this was it - but it wasn't any dream. I had come to the wrong event but I could not admit it and to save face I could not even ask where the star party was. I would have to pretend I knew what I was doing here.
"Oh, I think he knows all right. He's just trying to pull something. He's sandbagging. He's probably one of those super duper cloud imagers from the Pacific Northwest." Prompted Brother Jerry.
"Heh, heh. Look fellows, I was just kidding. I knew all along this was the Texas Cloud Party. Why do you think I came? I came to watch the clouds just like you guys."
I was really sweating by now. Would they buy it?
"Oh yea. Then how come your telescope isn't covered on a clear night like this?" questioned Mystic Bob.
"Hey, I was going to cover it. Honest. Honest I was." I hurriedly countered and rushed out onto the field to cover my new Vixen 103 and get it out of the star light.
That seemed to calm things down a bit and anyway the Mars bars were starting to wear off and it was time to eat and watch more videos since no-one could do any imaging with the stars being out and all.
After that first night things turned for the better with lots of clouds and even some rain and everyone seemed to have forgotten those tense moments on that first day. I finished my pit time with the armadillos and made a whole hearted effort to learn to watch the clouds go by.