mabfan (Michael A. Burstein) (mabfan) wrote,
mabfan (Michael A. Burstein)

Time Traveler Convention: A Report From the Past

Well, Nomi and I attended the Time Traveler Convention this past weekend. What do you expect? I'm a science fiction writer. If there's going to be a time traveler convention practically in my own backyard, I'm going to attend. Despite the late hour it was being held on Saturday night (well, late for us), we decided that the very tiny possibility that time travelers might show up made attending worthwhile.

Unfortunately, we didn't get to see as much of the event as we would have liked, due to our own personal religious practices. And for the same reason, we were almost completely turned away. Let me explain.

When I first saw that they were holding this convention, I wasn't sure if I wanted to attend. I made a point of checking their webpage frequently, and it was a good thing I did so. On Wednesday night, I discovered that they were requiring people to RSVP. Apparently, they had gotten such a huge response that the MIT campus police were concerned about people's safety. They told the organizers that they had to limit the event; hence the requirement to RSVP by email. So before the Wednesday night deadline I did so, just in case we really wanted to attend. Our places at the convention were secure.

Or so I thought.

Nomi and I observe the Jewish sabbath from Friday night until Saturday night, which meant that we wouldn't even be able to leave home for the convention until after 8:30 PM. But that seemed okay; time travelers were asked not to arrive until 10 PM, so all it meant was that we might miss a few of the lectures beforehand. However, on Friday night at 11:39 PM, the organizers sent out an email to those of us who RSVPed, with the following warning:

The rain location for the Convention will be Morss Hall in Walker
Memorial Building, Building 50 on the MIT Campus. Access will be only
from the East Campus Courtyard. The Hall has a capacity of 465 people,
so no more than 465 people will be admitted. Until 8:10 PM, only
people from the guestlist will be admitted. After that, it will be
open admission until the 465 seats are filled. We cannot guarantee
admission if you are not on the guestlist or if you arrive after

Of course, since Nomi and I don't use our computers on the sabbath, we didn't see this email until Saturday night. It sounded as if my RSVP would not be honored. What to do?

A chance had to be taken.

We called for a cab to take us to Kendall Square, and we arrived at MIT around 9:20 PM. We walked over to the Walker Building, which has two entrances facing towards the East Campus Courtyard. The right entrance had people gathered around it, and an MIT police officer guarding the door. She was turning people away, but we approached her anyway, with a printout of the reply email in hand.

It wasn't good enough. Morss Hall was already filled to capacity, and despite the fact that I had RSVPed, we would not be allowed in. Of course, a minute later she let five people enter, but I recognized them as being the organizers of the convention.

We had to decide if we would leave or stay, and given the light drizzle and rain we didn't want to stand outside. However, I noticed that the left entrance to the building was open, and that people were occasionally coming out of it. And so I did something that normally I wouldn't have done, but I felt entitled, given the fact that I had RSVPed.

I went over to the other entrance with Nomi, and we went looking for another way into Morss Hall. What we discovered was that the entrance did not lead to Morss, but it did lead to the darkened gymnasium on the top floor. And, lo and behold, the organizers had set up a video feed and rows of chairs in the gymnasium, so people who hadn't made it into Morss could still watch the events going on downstairs. Nomi and I settled into the uncrowded space to relax and stay out of the rain, and as we watched, two thoughts went through my mind.

On the one hand, the organizers should have told the police officer to direct people like ourselves to the gymnasium on the top floor, where the video feed from Morss Hall was being played. Presumably, that's why it had been set up.

On the other hand, the video feed was extremely inadequate. The picture often looked overexposed, and the sound echoed so intensely that it was impossible to understand what the speakers were saying. Furthermore, the feed kept sputtering out, going black with loud static.

According to the programs which we picked up later, the speakers included three MIT professors: Edward Farhi, Alan Guth, and Erik Demaine. I've heard both Farhi and Guth speak before, and they're quite good. Farhi has done research on time travel, helping disprove a proposal for time travel made by J. Richard Gott III back in the 1990s. And Guth developed the inflationary model of the universe. It would have been interesting to hear what they had to say tonight; but as I noted above, we could barely understand or even recognize the speakers.

At 9:58 PM (and I know this exactly, since for the convention I made a point of setting my watch to the atomic clock in Colorado, adjusted to Eastern Daylight Time), head organizer Amal Dorai told the assembled multitude to leave Morss Hall and gather in the East Campus Courtyard, where the landing platform was set up for the time travelers. During that time, they'd be turning Morss Hall from a lecture space into a party space, clearing out the chairs and setting up a stage for the bands. Nomi and I managed to mingle with the throng on our way out, hoping that we might be able to get into Morss Hall afterwards. In the meantime, there was the landing platform to see.

The landing platform was surrounded by yellow police tape which kept the crowds at a respectable distance. The platform itself was white with red warning signs painted along the edge, and a red clock face symbol painted in the center. A pitcher of milk and a plate of cookies sat on a stool in one corner, presumably to attract time travelers to the platform. Smoke drifted around the platform, presumably from a block of sublimating dry ice.

It was already 10:03 by the time we had reached the platform and no time travelers had shown up. That didn't stop some people from doing a countdown, which reach zero with no time travelers arriving. Nomi was concerned that the organizers might have arranged for some sort of hack, to make it look as if a time traveler had arrived in case no real ones did, but fortunately they were serious enough about the event that they did not. So we stood in the cold drizzle, between the two brick buildings of East Campus, along with 500 people, waiting for something, for anything, to happen.

And, as I already predicted here, no time travelers showed up. There were a few revelers dressed in costume, presumably as people from the past or famous fictional time travelers, but no one I recognized.

By 10:15 PM they were announcing that Morss Hall was open again, and Nomi and I walked briskly to the front, hoping to get inside. However, as we walked, we heard that blue wristbands had been distributed to the people who had arrived on time, and that we would need to show our wristband to get back in.

No matter; they were letting people into the foyer of Morss, so we stepped inside to get out of the rain, and ran into one of Nomi's co-workers who is on LiveJournal and Blogspot as twitch124. She had managed to get to the convention on time, and was standing at an MIT computer, blogging the convention even as we talked to her. As it so happened, she had a blue wristband she was not using, as she was going to a bachelor party instead of hanging around for the time traveler party. Another friend of hers with a blue wristband was also leaving for the same bachelor party, so Nomi and I got their wristbands and were allowed to enter the Hall.

I hate to be critical, but it wasn't really worth it. There was a decent band playing some time travel songs, and the crowd was standing around watching them, but that was about it. (For the record, according to the program, three bands were scheduled to perform: Hong Kong Regulars, Off White Noise, and Quick Like Fox.) There were signs on poles that said things like, "Delegates from institutions established from 1500-2000," "Delegates from institutions established from 2500-3000," etc., but obviously, there were no delegates. I did spot Edward Farhi, and I made a point of introducing Nomi and myself as I had heard him speak on time travel many years ago and had enjoyed his talk immensely. He seemed interested by the fact that a science fiction writer had shown up.

In the end, the convention would have been a disappointment for us had it not been for one thing. A DeLorean owner named Hank Eskin, who runs the webpage, had agreed to bring his DeLorean to the convention, and it was parked right outside Walker. (For those who don't know, a time machine is installed in a DeLorean car in the Back to the Future movie trilogy, which is why it was so apropos to have one present.) Mr. Eskin was an extremely affable fellow, and he allowed people to wander all around his car and examine it, so long as no one sat inside. We got to talking, and by an odd coincidence, it turns out that he lives only a few blocks away from us and is one of my constituents. Small world.

Nomi and I left the Time Traveler Convention at 10:45 PM and were home by 11:30 PM. And before you ask, no, we didn't see you there. (Well, unless you were Nomi's co-worker. What I mean is, no, your future self didn't manage to travel back in time to attend.)

One final thought -- I would have loved to have snuck in a British Police Box from the 1960s...
Tags: science-fiction

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