When I got home from work, there was a Tweet from Levar Burtonthat he was hosting a “tweet-up” at Hemmingway’s Pub downtown. I spent about half an hour pacing back and forth deciding if I should attend or not. It seemed like a really strange idea. I interact with a lot of strangers on the internet, but not Levar Burton—I merely stalk him on Twitter. And further, I think I’m comfortable doing so because I’m not that interested in him. Geordi Laforge, totally fascinating; Levar Burton, not so much. For starters, he doesn’t wear a banana clip over his eyes.
So I decided it was simply too ridiculous an event to pass up. Plus, what if no one showed and Levar was sitting at the bar on his own, drowning his faded celebrity in a pint (not likely since he has 60,000 followers on Twitter and some of those nerds were bound to be fellow Torontonians). So I sent Mandi an email, voice mail and text-message telling her the plan and set off on this most ridiculous of quests.
I arrived at the pub and immediately saw there was a CityTV camera crew there. Well, I guess Geordi didn’t get stood up again. Thank god. I thought about turning around and going home right then. But I didn’t, it had been a cold ride in and I needed to warm up. So I squeezed past the CityTV guys interviewing some nervous graphic design nerds about Twitter and made my way to the bar, and hovered creepily behind Levar Burton. He was holding court, saying to a bunch of my fellow nerds some kind of “Hey yeah, Tweeple, woot!” and I was immediately hit with a wall of this is a fucking weird scene going on. I think I arrived with sort of the second wave of nerds, what appeared to be a second round of hand-shakes was circulated.
He shook my hand, with a big excited smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes, and asked my name and I transferred my weirded-out feeling to him out by saying, “Jakob…. uh… Amp… per… sand.” (Which is my Twitter handle.) He seemed vaguely disinterested in meeting the immensely socially awkward “Jakob_Ampersand” and turned away to—not greet someone else but—take a long pull on his pint.
I was deciding if it was a good moment to ask him to record a shout-out for Nerd Hurdles (I’d brought my portable digital recorder for this reason, actually the main and slightly disingenuous reason I was there) when the nerd scrum started. Suddenly the critical mass in the room reached a peak. Where did everyone come from? I’m not sure. But they were all super-excited to be meeting Levar Burton. I felt a bit like a poser since I don’t get “star struck” so much as most people seem to. Levar seemed like a genuinely nice guy, but not someone—I mean as a real human being—I had any real desire to speak with. So it was fascinating to watch people interact with him. These were people who clearly loved him not just for Star Trek, but also Reading Rainbowand Roots. Really, I wanted to meet Geordi Laforge and Geordi Laforge was, of course, not in the room. When you meet Levar Burton, you meet the Reading Rainbow guy.And, really, all I wanted was to get his voice saying “This is Levar Burton and you’re listening to Nerd Hurdles.” It made me feel a bit dirty.
So I decided I’d just stick around and watch the show. And it was a show. Two guys made a transporter joke and Levar rolled his eyes and snorted with mild contempt. The one kid turned to his friend and said, “I think he hates me” and then they laughed. To be fair, I guess they were taking the piss out of poor Levar.
I guess I was too, in a more subtle, scenester-nerd douche-bag kind of way. Like when I asked him if didn’t he find it cold in Toronto. Levar doesn’t like negativity. He only responded to the high-energy positive people in the room. Which makes sense. If you have upwards to 25-50 people to greet, why waste time on the Debbie-downers? He had a tendency to raise his glass in the air and make African war-whoops.
It was right about the half-hour mark I realized why I found the whole situation so strange. Did he alert CityTV to the event or were the City TV people just following him on Twitter and decided to bring their gear along? What was his motivation for hosting this event? Wasn’t it a bit of an ego trip? All eyes were on him the whole evening and he wassoaking it up. And why not? Why did that make me feel weird? Why shouldn’t be meet his fans? Isn’t it really awesome he made himself available? Perhaps because it wasn’t an evening about a community of Twitterites meeting up, but a bunch of fans fawning over an actor they stalk on the internet. Or was it something more and I was missing it? I couldn’t decide.
Eventually, just before Levar was set to leave, Mandi showed up. I decided I’d try to get a shout-out for the Starbase 66 podcast instead (a nice gift I thought) and maybe catch him on the street as he left where it’d be quieter to do it. So while we waited for the opportune moment, we circulated Nerd Hurdles cards to the attendees (Mandi gave one to Levar himself) and were having such a good time talking to our fellow nerds we missed him leave. Sorry, Admiral, we dropped the ball on that.
Levar left and we followed soon after. Then, suddenly, we got reallyexcited about having met Levar Burton. It was the strangest thing. He even peace-signed to us from his cab as he drove past. I felt bad about questioning his motivations for the night. We were pretty amped-up so went home and recorded a podcast about the evening which will be uploaded sometime next week — without a Levar shout-out.