I've been a volunteer at the Dallas Museum of Nature and Science... well, ever since it was The Science Place. As a volunteer, I've survived merges and all, down in the paleo lab, working on dinosaurs. Volunteering at the museum helped after being downsized (and dealing with the idea that at my age, nobody was going to hire me -- ever.)
So today I went to the museum to volunteer on the floor -- away from the Paleo lab, mixing with the crowds, and thereby hangs a tale.
The new museum has five floors -- but is 14 stories high. It's huge, and there's a lot of interactive exhibits. So docents are an important part of the exhibit action, helping keep things from getting broken and helping the public with things. Since I have a lot of degrees, they can actually put me in any section of the museum (from geology to biology to flight to robotics.) I signed up for Robotics -- they needed 3 people there.
As I signed in, someone said "thank goodness! We're expecting 900 school kids in a few minutes."
"I can handle it," I said. I've been a docent at Audubon when we hand 1500 kids around. 900 kids is just half that. So I put on my docent shop apron and wander up to the engineering floor.
Nobody's there, so I start familiarizing myself with the robotics area, putting things away. A group comes in -- men in suits that even I can tell are expensive, women in clothing that... well.. they apparently would think Macy's was downscale. And here I am, a scruffy little scientist in slapped on makeup. But it's "showtime" and I'm the only one here.
"Hi! Welcome to the Engineering section!" I say, and show them around. Two of the women are friendly and interested, asking about the number of kids that come through. I explained that this was my first day and show them the gravity ball game. I haul one of the suits over to show him how to program a robot (I didn't know they needed battery packs) and got him interacting with that. As they left, one of the women said they had just a short time and asked what they should see. I recommended the Alamosaurus that I'd worked on for so long and told her a little about the beasts up there.
Then they were gone, and the supervisor showed up. Behind her were several classrooms worth of kids.
"Did you see the Bushes?" she asked.
"As in ex-President Bush. And his wife."
"Uh...." That's when it struck me that I'd just been showing Laura Bush how to play with toys and playing robots with the Secret Service. And I had NO clue who I was interacting with.
And then I played robots with about 800 kids. I'm going back tomorrow (to do robots because that's where they need the most help.) They have schoolkids again, and this time they're gonna get a formal lesson on robots.
And if Laura shows up, she'll get one, too.