I'm sure it looked really cool in his mind when he was planning it, imagining a full house of screaming fans, and his cheap-looking scarf (copies of which were on sale in the lobby for $20) wafting in the wind during his jog toward a secure place to chill out as we all anxiously awaited his return. But, in a harshly lit meeting room of mostly empty chairs, watching a fey, middle-aged man – in jeans and a black zip-up jacket from North Face, no less – jogging and wheezing his way down the center aisle to the back of the room, where fewer than a hundred people half-heartedly applauded until he finally just walked out (presumably to the men's room) was just sad and depressing.
That feeling of empathy was short lived, however. Undercover and playing the role of “Wade,” I, along with my fellow Operation Bumblebee investigators, felt anger and scorn for what, in our opinion, was obvious charlatanism.
“Operation Bumblebee” was the brainchild of Susan Gerbic, co-founder of the Monterey County Skeptics, and creator of the Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia project. She and several others had been working for months on the project, gathering the funds necessary to purchase tickets, arranging various strategies to control for “hot reading” (online and other research tactics that some psychics use to increase their hit rate), as well as attempting to find people willing to participate. Once I learned about the project, I jumped at the chance to take part. Although I came late to the mission, I also came particularly well suited for the task. I serve on the board of directors for the Bay Area Skeptics, I have a flexible work schedule, I trained as a stage actor in college, and for a number of years in the 1980s and 1990s I was a true believer in all manner of New Age nonsense. My instructions were to devise a character for myself that: a) had lost a loved one; b) wanted to regain contact with that loved one through Chip; and c) totally believed in psychics and otherworldly claptrap. This would be my first foray back into the world of psychics and New Agers since my conversion to rationality and sanity. It was, to put it mildly, a surreal experience. And, much to our delight, the plan went off without a hitch.