The lobby of the NHMU was decked out in bright colors for the event. Photo: Benjamin Tilton
If all speed dates had 14-minute intervals between partners, the speed dating industry would have collapsed on its awkward head long ago. However, The Natural History Museum of Utah has filled these deafening and potentially desperate minutes with its own spin on the “get to know you” franchise by adding wonderfully brilliant people you actually want to hear from. Instead of listening to brief summaries of rotated non-interest you, get harrowing tales from people who have stared death in the face, shrugged their shoulders and been like, “Eh… it’s a living.”
This was the first event of its kind so no punches were pulled in its presentation. Italian sodas and delicious dessert-ish hors d’oeuvres were available with cheerful consistency. I kept hoping they would stop bringing out these peanut butter, cream cheese and chocolate waistline catastrophes, but alas, their persistency had me smacking my gums like a dog that had just peanut butter. Desserts aside, the evening had an extremely pleasant beginning. The crowd was talkative and intelligent which, since the start of social media, was a rare and treasured occurrence. I actually enjoyed listening for the first time since grade school and made a mental note that audible listening is extremely pleasant compared to written texted gibberish. This event was giving many mindsets a chance to collide and all the different conversational explosions were a joy to witness. This crowed was not there to present their intellect, only to appreciate it.
The evening centered around five experts that were scattered around the event in various cardinal directions. You got 14 minutes with each expert then a gong was sounded and you rotated to the next expert. First up and northeast was Nathan Morreale, an AirMed Flight Paramedic that told a story about an avalanche rescue that had three women in my group in tears. The honest and toiling tale was told in a way that had the group in awe and you could see the burden of these adventures in Morreale’s eyes. Sadly, real heroes seem to carry far too much weight to ever appreciate themselves the way we do. Morreale’s was no exception and his story was incredibly engaging and thought-provoking.
The gong went off and I headed a little south to Olympic Free-Style Mogul Skier Heather McPhie. McPhie is adorable, polite and so down-to-earth you have to remind yourself that she is one of the ballsiest women on the face of the earth. McPhie happily bounced through various stories the way a child would after an exciting day, except her stories involved mid-air flips on frozen, almost 90 degree surfaces followed by the navigation of vicious snowy lumps. She was so expressive my photographer struggled to capture her, but her enthusiasm fed into my creamy peanut butter sugar rush and when the gong went off I almost skipped to the next expert.
John Platt, a Wildland Firefighter with the Logan Hotshots, was due south and sat in front of one of the most amazing Utah sunsets I’d ever seen. Platt did not need stories to captivate his audience. He simply talked about what he did on a daily basis and mouths dropped all on their own. Hiking five miles a day is commendable but doing so with chainsaws, axes, and pounds of water makes you the kind of awesome I want to crowd around during a zombie invasion. Platt was so comfortable and personable that I could probably be entertained by him talking about a casual trip to the mailbox. He owned the most thought provoking statement of the evening when he mentioned that preventing/stopping wildfires is a disruption of the natural process. So the next time someone mentions the environment and humans disturbing it, let’s just hope their house and kids don’t reside in the woods.
Gong… and I rotate again. The stunt man located southeast Matt Griff, was next on my agenda. For proper Griff understanding, I suggest punching his name into YouTube. This gentleman has survived his face being on fire and still managed to be completely charming. Griff has an unassuming humor about him that seems to fit his career choice aptly. He’s quick to tell you he sells Title Insurance as a day job but Griff has racked up an impressive stunt catalogue: 17 films, trampoline dunks for the Jazz (owns a world record in this), and has a vast understanding of wigs from portraying various characters in their eventual deaths. Griff’s endearing traits were further enhanced when he informed the group he lets his daughter watch these said deaths. As a parent my giddy heart sung when I imagined hordes of ornery, loud children witnessing their parent’s fake death. Maybe then they’d listen… and all around the world bedrooms would be cleaner.
The last expert due north was Brandon Haberman. Haberman talks and looks like a man who’s said, “no” to insanity on many occasions. He has several trades but his work as a cameraman in reality TV has put him on frozen rivers (Ice Truckers), strapped him onto planes chasing other planes, and centered him in rooms filled with pseudo crazy models (America’s Next Top Model). For almost dying as often as he has, he’s one of the most indifferently charismatic people I’ve ever listened to. That evening he was speaking to us. Tomorrow he’d be ringside at a luchador match getting blood splattered on him. None of this fazed him and he casually and calmly smiled during his entire presentation while completing the night.
Afterward, the attendees got to mingle a little further with the experts and chat amongst themselves. I wandered around the modern décor, quasi bopping to the tasteful swing music (Louis Prima anyone?) and took note of everyone’s pre-ordained and hilarious name tags that you picked up upon entering (I was Sammy the Nut). The event was an unusual and exceptional success. The Natural History Museum did an incredible job and everyone involved was extremely helpful and knowledgeable. At this point all I can do is hope for more and wonder what clever tricks they’ll come up with next.