WINTER STAR PARTY 1996
Interview with Alice Newton
Interviewer - Sandy Barta
Photo (Winter Star Party - 10 minute exposure,
caption "painted" with LED flashlight ) - Bryan White
The scene: Alice trapped in the dining room, the
astrarrazi pursuing her. Guys in the kitchen, bonding over strong
coffee and comet talk (CCD observers' group night). Stray teenagers
one level down, in the home theatre, watching "Basic Instinct",
but swearing that the panting sounds carrying to where mom sits
upstairs stem from an old "Lassie" rerun.....
Alice: I've never done this before. I hope
I don't sound too stilted; I'm really not like that.
Interviewer: This is the first time I've done
this, too. What questions should I ask you?
Alice: Geez, this dialogue sounds almost like
the first time I went on a blind date to an outdoor movie theatre!!!!
Interviewer: Hey, clean it up, or I won't
be able to print this in SkyNews!!
Alice: Yeah, but the National Enquirer PAYS BETTER,
Not to mention, if you clean it up TOO MUCH, nobody will believe
you EVEN TALKED TO me....
Interviewer: Well, okay then. On to business.
When does the Winter Star Party (WSP) take place?
Alice: At new moon, usually in late February
to early March. (Whenever OUR Christmas overdraft balance threatens
to recede slightly.)
Interviewer: Do you do any observing?
Alice: Well, that depends. I certainly don't
spend a lot of time out at night, looking through a telescope
at stars and stuff. Most people go South for the clear skies,
but I have to confess that my interest is pretty much limited
to observing the nutcakes who come out to these meetings. And
what fun it is I do have to confess though, to not having been
bitten by the astronomy "bug" as such. This is probably
because I took my very first look at the sky through a 20-inch
telescope, and this only after I had spent much time admiring
Jack's deep sky images. So I guess, in spite of the warnings to
the contrary, I still sort of hoped to see M42 look in the eyepiece
just like it did in a glossy print. WRONG!
Interviewer: So why do you go to the WSP?
Alice: The history on that is quite interesting.
1986. We were on our way to Peru to observe Halley's Comet - Jack
had travelled down the year before to select the best sites in
Peru from which to view. About 300 Americans and a few brave Canadians
were to travel through Lima, Arequipa and Cusco over a 3-week
period. We had to stop overnight in Miami in order for everyone
to assemble for the trip down. We had barely arrived in our hotel
when we got a phone call saying that a guy named Tippy D'Auria
was "dying" to meet Jack. We decided that inviting a
total stranger and his wife to the hotel for dinner would be less
dangerous than dodging bullets to cross the parking lot to eat
at a nearby McDonald's.
I hear they were great company. (After a large number of appertifs
and copious quantities of some Cuban, I tipped over and TO THIS
DAY, have absolutely no recollection of the rest of the evening.)
However, obviously Jack went on to impress Tippy and his good
wife, Patty, who the next year called and invited us both to his
new star party in the Florida Everglades. To make a long story
short, we went, had a fabulous time with the 150 or so brave souls
who observed on "Mahogany Hammock" amidst alligators
and all manner of things that went bump in the night. We even
earned ourselves shirts sporting a huge red cross and a Mosquito
insignia with the words emblazed on it: "We gave blood generously
at Flamingo". (The following year, Jack was invited to speak
! in Atlanta, and we've missed only 1 or 2 Winter Star Parties
in the 9 years since).
As an aside, the WSP has long since outgrown its site in the Everglades
and has moved to the bugless Florida Keys. Space permits 600 registrants,
but the party is always sold out within 24 hours of registration
opening! And this year, another 400 were on the wait list who
never got in (in spite of efforts to scale the fences at midnight
or fake their I.D.)!
Interviewer: Now, I've heard you have a mischievious
streak and like to "doctor" photographs of people foolish
enough to stay in the area when you have a camera in your hands.
Tell us about that.
Alice: About four years ago, I put together a
collection of these abused photographs and flashed them around
at the WSP. As the album was passed around and people started
offering-up GENEROUS CASH bribes to stay out of next year's offering.
So, of course, the idea suddenly sprung into my head that I should
make slides and do a visual presentation, THEREBY MAXIMIZING ON
THE POTENTIAL EMBARASSMENT OF MANY OF ASTRONOMY'S LUMINARIES.
Naturally, the more protests I heard, the better the idea seemed.
At the time, most talks given were pretty straight, (although
Donald Parker's had some absolutely hilarious stuff thrown in
along the way). Party organizers seemed to think that my idea
would be okay, as long as I paid my own malpractice insurance.
Jack:The comet looks great!! There should be some film
in the freezer. Do you know where it is? I can't find it.
(Slight delay while Alice went to check under the mastadon chops
for the frozen film, last seen in 1989).
Alice: Well, I'll be -- there's hamburger in
here marked "best before June 14, 1990".
Jack: Fine, but what about the *&^$$## film
Interviewer: Alice, would you please get back
to my question! How did the whole thing go at this year's Winter
Alice: It was unreal. As I approached the podium,
some fools chanted AND even did the wave for me. (The only other
person in my life who ever did that for me was my mother, - I
think it was on the day I announced I was leaving home.....)
Interviewer: Since I can't get this woman
to be serious, I think we'll end the interview here. And the rest
is history; can finally be told. About Alice, and about the REAL
origins of Mad Cow Disease!