Friday, March 18, 2005

Ten weeks down, 4 to go

Levar Burton spoke today at the National Press Club's Luncheon Lecture today, and I arrived just as the meal was ending so I could hear what he had to say.

Levar Burton was my hero when I was a kid because he was the host of "Reading Rainbow," the shouw I would watch every day when I got home from school. My mom used to tell me how long something would take in "how many Reading Rainbows" it would be. For instance, a three hour flight to Texas was "Six Reading Rainbows." Yes, it meant that much to me.

Every episode was journey into some part of the world, but it would only go part of the way into a concept. Levar would always leave you with less than what you wanted from a story or an idea. In order to get more, you'd have to read on your own.

And read I did. I read and read... and then I started writing. And now I'm here, a reporter in the nation's capital. Yeah, he's very awesome in my eyes.

Levar stood up at 1:00 P.M. today in the Press Club and started speaking, and it was amazing to behold. It was nothing like the speeches by Eliot Spitzer (N.Y. Attorney General) and Sen. Ted Kennedy I saw there.

This was passionate, this was strong, this was amazing. He didn't look at the cameras, but at everyone around the room. He cared about this audience, which was composed of several families with children as well as reporters and dignitaries.

Cameras were all over. One pro shooter hammered away on his shutter like it was a football game, another fumbled with his flash between single frames. Parents around the room pulled out digital cameras to capture the scene, and one little girl took a pink Barbie camera out of her purse to capture the moment for posterity, and then carefully put it away.

He seemed to be a bit unhinged, almost crazy, and his voice was a loud whisper, one that everyone could hear and filled with so much energy for his subject. What was his subject? I'd describe it as an exploration of life and learning.

He dove into the meaning of reality, and how our thoughts determine reality itself; that the way we percieve the world decides more than anything.

He talked about a three-year-kid named Teddy that thinks he's a superhero. He wears a cape, jumps around his house and believes he will grow up someday to be a true superhero, "And guess what," he said, "I'm not betting against Teddy."

He talked about being raised a catholic, entering and then leaving the seminary, and finding his way to his career as a "communicator," the best description there is of what he does. He talked of the corporal punishment he recieved as a kid, and got a laugh with this line:

"My mother was a social worker, who was I going to complain to?"

He finished his speech, and asked for a moment before taking questions. He took out a small digital camera and took several pictures, rotating 360 degrees at the podium.

The questions were great. Two kids asked if he'd go fishing with him in Montana (he said yes, as long as it's catch and release), someone else asked about the biggest challenges for kids today. He joked about it being adults.

Another person asked about the future and spaceships, and he says in the most sci-fi genius voice I've ever heard with his eyes going crazy "Here's a cool thing about the future: we won't need spaceships to travel."

Someone asked about the recent "Gay Buster" fiasco, and he yelled, before the question was through, "FREE BUSTER!"

They saved the Star Trek questions for last, and he grimaced when asked about Enterprise's cancellation, and spoke absolutely candidly: "The motivation was just 'let's make as much money from this as we can,' and that hurts... That hurts."

And of course, at the end of it all, right before the president adjourned the event, he signs off like he did on every Reading Rainbow episode: "but you don't have to take my word for it."

I stood up and followed Kate and Jessie downstairs, they took pictures of him with their phones (ain't technology great) and left before the rush. Dozens of kids walked up to the podium to meet him and I stayed in back. I wasn't about to knock a kid out of the way, especially not these kids, many of whom were ill.

The line disappeared, and I walked up and waited for him to finish a conversation with a club member before asking for his autograph. My heart nearly pounded its way out of my chest as I stood there in the presence of my one-time-idol. He signed the cover of my notebook, I shook his hand and was on my way.

What a day.


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