One day, probably twenty years ago, I was in a car with a bunch of friends of mine, and Arthur asked the question, “If you could have lunch with anybody, who would it be?” I immediately answered “Richard Feynman”, having just finished one of his highly entertaining books. A chorus of voices rang out: “But he’s dead!” “You didn’t say they had to be alive”, I retorted.
After a bit more thought, I chose Steve Wozniak. He was famously geeky, and interesting to me because of that. I had heard that he had started a company Unuson, and was excited about what new technology The Woz might bring out. And he was alive.
While Arthur’s challenge of who to have lunch was was purely hypothetical, it got me thinking. My father had been in the Physics Department at the University of Illinois with two-time Nobel Prize winner John Bardeen. I had realized years later, after Bardeen had died, that I could have probably gotten to chat with John Bardeen if I had asked when I was a kid. The idea of lunch with Steve Wozniak gnawed at me, and finally I wrote him a letter, telling him that I would like to have lunch with him. I expected him to say no, but to my surprise he said yes.
It turned out to be difficult to actually schedule the lunch, between my schedule and his, but we finally got a date and time settled… and then I had to cancel because of jury duty. After that, it fell through. I don’t remember precisely what happened, but I have a vague recollection that he simply got cold feet. This made perfect sense to me; if I were a wealthy celebrity, I don’t think I’d meet a stranger for lunch!
Still, the experience made me bolder about asking to meet people. At one point a few years ago, a talented young man named Ping Yee popped up on my radar. On the day when I saw his name in my daily San Jose Mercury News in two different articles on two different subjects and ran across his name in some source code, I decided I would try to meet him. I think he was kind of bemused and puzzled at that, but I ended up having a very interesting lunch with him.
While I was at Green College, I invited a number of the university’s top brass to have dinner with my husband and I, in order to give them more exposure to Green College, and I was a little surprised at the number who accepted.
I still haven’t had lunch with Richard Feynman, though. 😉