Science Fair, the seventh collaboration between Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, pubbed with a 250,000-copy first printing. The pair embarked on an eight-city tour over 10 days, and filed this report from the road.
Tuesday, October 14
Dave Barry: The biggest issue between Ridley and me on our Science Fair book tour has been whether we should carry a wading pool. I’m serious. For the dramatic climax of our readings at schools and bookstores, we’ve been doing a demonstration of what happens when you drop Mentos mints into a bottle of Diet Coke. What happens is, you get a Diet Coke geyser spewing 10 feet and more into the air. This demonstrates a scientific principle, although we frankly have no idea what it is. We mainly just think it looks cool. But also the Diet Coke/Mentos reaction plays an important role in the plot of Science Fair, wherein one of the students creates a Nuclear Mentos demonstration that threatens to destroy a middle school.
So anyway, we’ve been making quite a mess at various schools and bookstores, and Ridley thought we should carry a small inflatable wading pool with us to catch the Diet Coke spew. I argued against it. We’re already carrying a lot of stuff, including a Rollerblade Barbie doll, which is also plays a role in the Science Fair plot. Rollerblade Barbie is a Barbie who wears rollerblade booties with wheels that spark when you turn them. She was deemed hazardous and taken off the market. But I managed to obtain a Rollerblade Barbie, and I’m carrying her in my suitcase on this book tour, and when we go through airport security I’m always afraid that the TSA screeners are going to discover her and pull her out and make me explain why I am carrying a doll with sparking booties. So I figure we have enough to worry about without also carrying a wading pool.
Ridley Pearson: There’s nothing like crowds, or lack thereof, to set a tone for an event (and a tour). Dave and I kick off our tour in New York to 12 people, and we have that sinking feeling that every author experiences out on tour. The Coke/Mentos demonstration launches three feet.
Wednesday, October 15
Ridley: We have a fabulous live radio interview with Steve Cochran at WGN and again with Mitch Albom from Detroit—total pros, both. We’re feeling better.
We have a great event in Century Middle School in Orland Park, Ill., near Chicago. The kids go nuts when we spew Diet Coke all over their gym. That evening, heading toward Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville, Ill.—a place where we’ve always drawn well—our escort makes an advance call and informs us that the crowd is only 15 people.
Dave: We are thinking about committing suicide by drinking Diet Coke and then swallowing a Mentos. But when we get to Anderson’s, there are 150 people jamming the store. Thank God for independent bookstores. The Mentos demonstration, reflecting our mood, launches eight feet.
We repeat the Diet Coke/Mentos experiment in various schools, bookstores and libraries, with the help of “laboratory assistants” in the form of young readers from the audience. They always volunteer eagerly, although some of them, particularly the teenage girls, become less enthusiastic when we inform them that as part of their protective safety equipment they need to wear mad-scientist wigs. Nevertheless the experiments always get a big reaction from the crowd. We suspect that a lot of the kids decide they’re going to try it at home. By then, of course, we are safely out of town....
Friday/Saturday October 17 and 18
Ridley: We arrive at Good Morning America to find an elaborate “science lab,” constructed for our segment at the suggestion of coordinating producer Patty Neger by set designer Kevan Locke, who is very creative, by which I mean insane. He turns what could have been the usual authors-sitting-on-a-couch-talking segment into a bubbling, smoking, zapping, volcano-spewing set complete with a nuclear Mentos mock-up. Dave and I have done hundreds of TV interviews and we’ve never seen something like this. The interview is done by Sam Champion, and all three of us wear lab coats and goggles (Dave wore Groucho glasses under his goggles). Not only do we set off the Diet Coke, but we also levitate a frog. It is a fake frog, and we levitate it using a clearly visible wire. But still we make an important scientific point, which is that we will do basically anything to promote a book.
Dave: We go through an insane stretch of travel, flying from Chicago back to New York for a school event and Good Morning America, then out to St. Louis—Ridley’s home town—where we have a fabulous turnout at the St. Louis County Library, drawing 500 people. The Mentos experiment shoots an impressive 10 feet, and we hand out stuffed frogs to the kids.
Ridley: Saturday we both fly twice: Dave to Chicago, Ridley to Seattle (terrific event at Third Place Books), and then both of us to Portland, Ore., that same night. We’ve both been in six cities in three days, and we’re whipped. The event at Powell’s in Portland is terrific (200 people) and we’ve found a rhythm to our talk, which has become a humor/science demonstration show.
Dave: We’re feeling pretty good now. We are not, however, smelling so good, as we haven’t been anywhere long enough to do laundry. We’re wondering if we can freshen our clothes with Mentos.
Monday, October 21
Ridley: We’re on to San Francisco, and hope to have dinner with Rock Bottom Remainders bandmate Amy Tan. We’re wondering how she will look in a mad-scientist wig.
Science Fair by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. Disney Editions, $18.99 ISBN 978-1-4231-1324-9