Fall Guy

Sometime soon, possibly today, Felix Baumgartner will put on a space suit, climb into a capsule tethered to a high altitude balloon, ride to the edge of space and then jump out, falling 23 miles back to Earth.

He’ll cover almost the same distance as yesterday’s participants in the Twin Cities Marathon, but in just a few minutes rather than 3 hours, powered by gravity. But it’s not just a whimsical daredevil stunt – the project is intended to gather useful data to make high altitude bailouts possible for pilots and even astronauts.

If successful, Baumgartner will break the record for plummeting, now held by Joe Kittenger, who dropped from 19 miles up when he was in the Navy, almost exceeding the speed of sound in the process.

Baumgartner plans to go the rest of the way to Mach 1, and has been planning the attempt and training for years.

Lots of things can go wrong at high altitude and excessive speeds, especially when a human body is traveling faster than any body has before, outside the confines of a machine. One group of experts suppose that Baumgartner might not notice when he breaks the speed of sound. Others have worried that one part of his space suit could hit Mach 1 while other sections are going slower, setting up potentially destructive vibrations.

Apparently the only way to find out what happens is for Felix Baumgartner to leap out of his capsule and let gravity do its thing.

When have you taken a memorable fall?

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75 thoughts on “Fall Guy”

  1. About 12 years ago, I was up on my roof blowing leaves out of the gutters. My neighbor, Pam, was down below scolding me for risking my life up there. I just laughed this off – that is until I came down the ladder which was positioned atop a lot of wet leaves. When I took my first step, the bottom of the ladder immediately skidded and I came flopping down to the deck. Pam saw the whole incident, came running over, and yelled to her husband to call 911. God, it was embarrassing! I was a bit tangled up in the ladder rungs, bleeding in a couple of places, and overall in shock. The paramedics and the cops showed up in mere moments to find me still laying there in a pile of wet leaves. For some reason, I kept telling them that I was “Just fine” and to go away. For some other reason, they wouldn’t leave! Stubbornly, I repeated that I didn’t need them there, so I was given a choice; I could sit, then stand up and if I could pull this off, they’d leave.

    I no more than was pulled to a sitting position when I collapsed onto my back again. And again. The harder I tried to prove that I was perfectly alright, they firmer the pros became until they finally just told me, “You’re going for a little ride, Nancy”. The ambulance ride was horrible because I was strapped to a hard back board and the rig had no shock absorbers, consequently causing me to be quite nauseous all the way to the hospital. Once at the hospital, I continued my “I’m perfectly alright” meme. A doctor came in, heard this, and promptly told me that a man who’d just come in an hour earlier had fallen from the same distance and he’d died. Suddenly, I took my little accident seriously. A few stitches and exams later, they told me I was being admitted for observation since each time I stood up, my legs would buckle. I haven’t been on a roof since either.

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    1. id forgotten about the ladder incident, i did that once where i had a new product to try that was basically a silicone spray to put on the botto of your lawn mower so the grass wouldnt stick to the underside and leave all the little clumps of grass on the lawn, i did the lawn mower set it off to the side and put the ladder up in fornt of the garage to climb up and see about putting up a basketball hoop . when i got to the top to either step off or step on i cant remember the bottom slid form being on the newly siliconed driveway and i came down and sprained both feet landing flat as a pancake on both at the same time. gosh it stung
      other two falls were warehouse incidents where there was work to be done and i had a forklift and a forklift driver as partneres and the falls were from being on the top of the forks 10-15 feet in the air carrying a wheelbarrow as i came crashing down to earth with a broken shoulder and the other time i was standing on piles of unfolded cardboard boxes while the forklift driver adjusted stuff that had shifted a bit. i was putting my shoulder to the shifting pallets when the cardboard boxes accordianed and shifted the weight so i was being crushed.i had to jump as the piles came crashing down and ended up with a briken foot. ware house accidents and work stuff are stupid painful ways to fall. i have always wanted to do hang gliding ( i need to look and see if richard bach of jonathan livingston seagull fame) is ok after his hang gliding accident) real live bungee jumping and the best is that jumping with the flying squirrel wings sewn into your flight suit. i love the picture of him jumping out of the plane with his wing/fin attatched. what a kick.

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      1. I’ve had a little experience being around fork lifts and even drove one. In the factory, where I was working, you had to be aware of any fork lifts that were near you because the drivers were expected to move from place to place very rapidly and can change directions very quickly. I was surprised that I was able to work as a fork lift operator for an entire shift in the busiest part of the plant. However, I wasn’t fast enough to hold down a job as a full time fork lift jockey.

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        1. OK, it’s time for this. I show it to the theater classes when we discuss safety.
          Uh, some minor bloodshed – a warning for the squeamish… :-)

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        2. That’s very funny, Ben. Well, I wasn’t as bad a Klaus on my only day as a full time fork lift driver. My main mistake was being very slow at getting a pallet down from a high place right in front of the boss. One of my fellow workers tried to “help” me by secretly disconnecting my battery when I was stopped. I figure out that he was pulling a trick on me and got going again without too much delay.

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        3. The fork lift operator needs to keep working all of the time and try to get everything to the place where it should be on time to keep production going. This is often an impossible task, but you have to try to do it.

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        4. At my dad’s stuffed toy factory, after he no longer was the president, they had an untrained kid running a forklift. With a load on the forks, he took a turn too fast. The forklift began to tip. He jumped out in time to get under it and push up. Splat. Dead kid.

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    2. You certainly don’t want to take too many spills like that. Glad you’ve stayed off the roof since. You were damn lucky that someone saw you fall and called for help. I shudder to think how long you might have otherwise laid there without being able to get up.

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  2. Just a few years ago I used to hike vigorously each day along a trail in the remote center of the Minnehaha Off-Leash Dog park. Believe it or not, that is wild country. I rarely saw anyone else there. The trail I hiked threaded its way up and down and around the sandstone/limestone bluffs that overlook the flood plain. Those rock walls are about 100 feet in most places, and in places the rock wall is sheer, going nearly straight down.

    One winter day with only Katie as a companion I hiked that trail. When I got to the one dangerous place, a long ascent that usually features hard-packed snow and ice underfoot, I carefully picked my way to the top of the bluff. And then my feet shot out from beneath me. I went down the rock wall the quick way, rocketing almost straight down. As I fell I thought, “No insurance! No insurance! No insurance! No insurance!” For I had no health insurance. I bounced off a few boulders and once I shot under a big limb lying on the ground that would have busted me up if I’d hit it. When I got to to the bottom I lay there in a daze, then carefully flexed all my limbs. I hadn’t broken anything. Poor Katie was terrified.

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    1. so you fell a hundred feet bouncing off boulders on the way to a slide finish under a branch and you didnt hurt anything? got up and walked back home? wow

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  3. Good morning. I am a careful person who doesn’t like being up high, but I have taken a few falls that were memorable. The most recent happened when I stood up awkwardly and then lost my balance due a cramp in one of my legs from sitting in a odd position for a long time. I can usually caught myself when I fall. This time I wasn’t in a good position to break my fall and my head came down hard against the corner of the baseboard leaving me with a fairly large cut in my head. The cut required several stitches to close it up. Apart from the cut, I was okay and a little embarrassed about having been so clumsy.

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  4. Morning–
    I’m having a metal roof installed on an old machine shed. I was just going to do it myself; it’s not that tall and not that hard of job. Oh, sure, the old roof is rotten in a few places; kinda like that old car where you can see the ground speed by under you.
    And I got lumber and screws and sheet metal… and about then realized my knees and feet just were not going to be able to do it. So I called in friends. Younger friends that bounce better than I do.
    They got started this past Friday. (Boy oh boy. You ever hear two engineers discuss a project? They’ll discuss it to death befor they get anything done! Sheez!) Started Friday, got all the boards on Saturday. Now just waiting for a less windy day to start the sheet metal.
    I teased them that the one guy who is unemployed; the one without health insurance, why was he the one working on the worst part of the roof? And he tried to fall through once when he missed a rafter. (Got in a hurry, wasn’t paying attention). Arm went through one hole, leg through another, but at least he was across a rafter so didn’t fall far. And just some minor scrapes. Whew!
    If that was me, I’d still be stuck in the hole waiting for help getting back out.

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    1. nice to have younger friends. i have a scaffolding set yup right now and am trying hard to avoid adding to my list of mishaps. i am the young guy in my story. the scaffolding is on loan from my buddy who used to do plaster and stucco work but gave up going up high because of failing equalibrium. he would instruct me on how to stand on the 2×12 and install the next piece of framework before the brace went in to stiffen the whole thing up. i had to rig a couple of boards to get one oddball place looked after before moving over to the other side where i cant think of a thing to get me 10 feet further out than i can reach. need to resolve it today. hope not to have any additional entries for the blog topic.

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      1. Good luck, tim. Please be careful. Haven’t heard about the Volvo lately. Is it running now? If not, perhaps you should work on that instead.

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        1. got it out for a test run saturday night. axel done other part done. took it up the freeway, back down the side streets and blammo the wheel came off and tore the axel out again. i hate it whn that happens. thats on todays list oo. did you think i print every detail of my life here on the blog?
          thanks for thinking of me. heated garage makes it tolerable.

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  5. I haven’t had any memorable falls except really annoying ones on icy sidewalks. My dad has fallen off the roof on several occasions, most recently only a few years ago when he thought he had to clear snow off the roof. On the occasions that know of, he has always done it in winter and always landed in a snow bank. He and my son, age 4 at the time, had a memorable plunge off a culvert into a ditch while tearing around on a riding lawnmower. Dad saw w\hat was coming, tossed my son off the mower onto the lawn, and then sailed with the mower into the ditch. Everyone, including the mower. were fine. Dad just laughed. He is still trying to walk without the nurses’ assistance, and landed on the floor of his room once last week. He is making lots of progress, my mom says.

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    1. Don’t blame you; neither am I! Not that I’ve ever fallen off one, but I have enough trouble on level ground.

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  6. Last May, as we had put the last of our gear away after breaking down our two-day convention, I was stepping off of a loading dock and missed the adjacent steps in the dark. I somehow landed on one leg and only scraped my other leg down the side of the concrete steps. Miraculously, I only needed a few stitches to close me up and didn’t break any bones.

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  7. Considering the number of tumbles I’ve taken in my life, it’s really ironic that the one the caused the most damage is the one I took in February. There was absolutely nothing glamorous or exciting about it. It most emphatically would NOT have qualified for America’s Funniest Videos.

    One that might have, had anyone witnessed it, happened when I was six or seven years old. My mother, my younger sister and I were going to visit mom’s friend, Mamie Lorentzen, a sweet and funny English lady who lived a short distance from our house in Stubbekøbing. I rode ahead on my bicycle that I had just learned to ride. I arrived at Mamie’s house, perched atop a hill, having pushed my bike up the long, steep, unpaved driveway, only to discover that her son, who was an awful tease, was at home. I decided to ride back down the hill. I had gotten into my head, don’t ask me how, that if you were going really fast on a bicycle, you needn’t turn the handlebars to alter the bike’s direction. I flew down that driveway at full speed, through the open gate at the bottom, and straight across the narrow road that ran past Mamie’s house. On the far side of the road was a wide and deep grassy ditch, and beyond that, a tall thorny hedge. I flew across the void above the ditch until the hedge with it’s thousands of thorns abruptly stopped my progress; my bike continued through the hedge into the park beyond. That’s where my mother found me, impaled on the hedge, no doubt screaming bloody murder. I had scars on my arms and legs for years, but was otherwise unscathed by the incident. I did learn that you need to turn the handlebars if you wish to change directions no matter how fast you’re going.

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  8. There’s a rather horrifying video on YouTube of an inventor in 1912 testing his version of a parachute (nothing at all like the contemporary parachute, it resembled a puffy coat and was probably attached at the ankles and shoulders). He was filmed jumping–or rather, falling–from the Eiffel Tower. The last bit of film shows a gendarme using a ruler to measure the depth of the impact he made upon landing.

    I’ve always been ridiculously cautious, so I don’t have much in the way of falling-down stories–I have a scar on my forehead from falling on concrete steps and one on my chin from falling in a metal shopping cart when I was very young. My adoptive grandfather was highly accident-prone, apparently, and did things like falling off the silo and breaking his pelvis. My adoptive uncle (the not-crazy one) followed in Grandpa’s uneven footsteps and fell off the wing of a bomber he was doing maintenance work on during WWII, fracturing some vertebrae. This was the same uncle who cut off the tips of the fingers on one hand while building a porch onto their farmhouse and had to have them reattached (and then went on to finish the porch). Much as I preferred that side of the family over the one I’m genetically related to, I’m quite glad not to have inherited that tendency from them!

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  9. Never fallen very far, probably because of my extreme fear of height. I have had many falls on my bike, Half of the minor ones caused by me. The rest of the minor ones and all three of the major ones caused by dogs, or rather dog owners who did not control their animals. Right now the Sakatah trail near here has become a park for unleashed dogs.

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      1. My high school classmate’s dad invented the cattle prod (called Hot Shot) decades ago. Seems the product really took off during the 60s riots. My class mate recently retired a multi-millionaire. It’s all OK, though, because he’s an ardent Obama supporter :)

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  10. A Sunday August afternoon a couple years ago. I was biking to the Minneapolis Downtown Library – or, as it’s called now, Central Library. I meant to turn onto 3rd Street going into downtown, but for some fool reason, I turned on 5th Street instead, which shares space with the light rail. I didn’t like biking on that street, so when the coast was clear, I biked across the tracks. Did you know that if you bike across train tracks at an angle, that the tracks grab your bike and throw it swiftly to the ground? I didn’t know that either, but I do now. No broken bones, no broken glasses, but I was whimpering in pain. I decided to not go to the library after all.

    Another bike fall – this happened when I was 10 and we had newly moved “up north.” My two older sisters and I went for a bike ride on the “old road” – the dirt road that used to be the road before Highway 61 was paved. Being older than me, they soon left me far behind. I wasn’t familiar with things yet, so was feeling like I was lost and wondering where on earth my sisters were. Biking on the packed part of a dirt road is okay, but if you bike on the shoulder, all that loose dirt makes biking more precarious. After what seemed like ages biking alone, a car came along behind me, and I got really nervous. I moved over so the car would have room to go past me and fell down. The lady got out and fussed over me and that’s when my sisters showed up. I was so embarrassed.

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    1. My worst fall was on a diagonal train track across the Sakatah. A dog jumped in front of me, I turned my wheel, which dropped into the slot. Broken thumb, ripped tendons in my wrist and hand, messed up my rotator cuff.

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      1. drove my bike over one of those rain gutter covers where the wter goes between the slats but not the leaves or newspapers. i had a new 10 speed with skinny tires and son of a gun the wheel goes in the bike comes to a quick stop and you sing soprano for a week. i had forgotten all about that one

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      2. Late Fall Bike Ride

        On mornings like this, when you clothe in layers,
        when you push hard against the south and west,
        the winds cut through cloth and you feel winter cold;
        yet drifting north and east grants you no summer.

        On a morning like this, before the sun finally rises,
        the sky is a dome of gray gray blue
        and wisps of fog hang before the mailslot of clear eastern sky.
        And Mozart wafts in your ears—except it should be Mahler.

        On mornings like these, just before the sun delivers itself,
        you see a blouse of clouds turn purple. And the boa of fog
        ionizes pink and orange, magenta and peach, and mauve.
        The horizon itself glows angry yellow, with bookends of mellow teal.

        On mornings like these, when the sun then doth come.
        For the few minutes it gives you view, you Know its nuclear furnace,
        its hyrdrogen-burning fire, which is beyond human imagination,
        that will quench only one day far beyond the human passage.

        On mornings like this, when the warm colors turn quick cold,
        to dull gray and steel blue and gray gray white.
        When you hear the dry leaves crush beneath your tires,
        you turn back to the west again and climb upon your pedals.

        On the only morning like this, finally you feel it,
        the carbon-burning fire of your own furnace,
        which has been more than once repaired by the Boilerman.
        And Mozart scales in your ears—except it should be Bach.

        On this Morning, which passes into a day neither and both Fall and Winter,
        you say “GLORY be to God for dappled things,” and undappled things.
        And you finally admit that the “you” in this poem is only a “me.”
        And you mourn not the morning and pass into the day and the night.

        And then The Last Morning.

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  11. My falls have mostly been close to the ground. I’ve:
    – blackened my eye by missing the bottom basement step (was carrying something that blocked vision) – landed on my knee, shoulder, and eye socket.
    – tripped on an uneven sidewalk while going at a fair clip, but thought in time to “tuck and roll” (I’d watched Joel do this so much during his playing), and was fairly unscathed. (Lady walking by commented “Nice roll.”
    – sprained an ankle when running through a field with an invisible “rabbit hole.”
    – started teaching kindergarten with a big scab on my knee (mini-skirt days) because I’d slipped on the cement when wearing slippery flats to a restaurant.

    One of the great things about folk dancing is that for a lot of it, you’re hanging on to other people. There would be a lot of falls due to loss of balance if it weren’t for that. :)

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    1. i think a teacher with good legs a mini skirt and scabby knees are about all a kid can ask for.likely tells more about who you are than would have been disclosed otherwise.

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    2. I have a list a little like yours, Barbara – especially the sprained ankle from running through a field (chasing cattle who were outside their fence),,, and then one nasty fall on ice five years ago – flat on my back, next to the horse barn. I saw stars! And then while I was lying there trying to decide if I should try to get up, the pony was nickering: where’s my food, she said. Eventually she got fed; she was old and slow, so I leaned on her while I took her to the water tank. A faster horse would have had to wait.
      I love your kindergarten story!

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    3. Your list reminds me that I have a short list of remembered falls. No doubt there are forgotten ones.
      – at age 6, I fell out of a tree (not far, really) and broke my arm (greenstick fracture).
      – at 24, I fell on the ice and landed on my tailbone – yow
      – about 15 years ago, I fell on the ice and hurt my wrist. No breakage but I was given a wrist splint. Soon thereafter, I fell again on the same wrist. The splint protected me, I suppose, but it felt bad since it had no “give”. Since then, I walk on ice like the old man on Laugh In, shuffling with tiny steps.

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  12. I’m too scared these days to climb up on the roof of my house for any reason. It isn’t climbing up there that bothers me – it’s that I can’t get back down. I climbed up there once to look at the chimney and the vents and couldn’t force myself to back down to the ladder and put one foot over on the ladder. I had to sit on my garage roof for over an hour before my neighbor came home and I called sheepishly for help getting down. It’s not safe to climb up on roofs or other high places if there isn’t anyone else around. Crystalbay is lucky her neighbor was close by and was concerned for her safety.

    I might have told this story here before, but when I was about four years old my mom took me to Mineral Springs Park in Owatonna. There was a really tall metal slide there with a long ladder to climb up, a platform, then a long, wavy metal slide down. I was pretty little, at four, and it was a very big deal for me to climb all the way up there, so I took my sweet time. I climbed up, reached the platform and looked down the length of the long, wavy slide. Suddenly a boy came charging up the ladder toward me, screaming “Yaaaaa-aaaah!” or some other terrifying thing and instead of launching myself down the slide, I jumped over the side. I landed flat on my back in the sand below the slide. I don’t know how far the platform was from the ground. I think perhaps around 16 feet. My mom was furious with me for being so stupid. I remember her scolding and scolding me about why I had done such a dumb thing. She took me to the emergency room but, except for my ego, I was fine.

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    1. That makes me angry with your mother because I feel for the terror of that little girl.

      I remember wasband yelling at son#2 when he fell off his bike. My first impulse was sympathy and concern and his first impulse was anger. Some people are wired like that. It could be that sympathy, concern and fear (for the other person’s health) could underlie the anger but I just don’t get it.

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      1. Lisa, I think it goes deeper than we realize. I know full well that that would have been my mother’s first reaction as well. I can’t recall a single incident of me getting hurt as a child where she reacted with empathy and compassion. Sadly, I suspect it might well be my own first reaction too. Luckily, I didn’t have any children to test the theory on, but I think that’s a common reaction among people who react to such incidents with fear. As a child I was fearful of coming home with a wet sock, and every mother in our neighborhood knew that fear was justified. They all tried to protect me from my mother’s wrath, and did whatever it took to get me back home without her knowing what kind of mishap I might have had. My mom went to her grave never realizing how traumatized she had been as a little girl and how in turn she had visited that trauma on her own kids.

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  13. i understand that was not the response from your mom you were looking for but she had to be wondering how much you you didnt want to slide so your response was to jump overboard instead? must have scared the crap out of her and she let you have it. i see it all the time with people getting upset with their kids for their not being better at anticipating what was going on in the little kids head. how would you possibly know how to react at age 4 being afraid of heights to a maniac boy charging you just as you go to the top of that scary place. where the hecjk was she when it came to guarding the ladder while her daughter was exploring the next great barrier to overcoming fear? how stupid was she? i would be furious with her but its not my place.

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    1. I’m only beginning to understand my mother, tim. She is a very sad, small, self-centered and anxious woman with a kind heart and a list of “shoulds.” I will never live up to her expectations of me, but it was never about me in the first place. It was always about her, and how everything and everyone around her was/is supposed to be. You’re right – I think she was scared when I jumped. She had no idea how scared I was feeling, nor did she care. It was then and always will be about how she was feeling and how badly I upset her. She is very sad now, and kind of helpless. I have to be aware of my feelings about her, of being stronger than she is, and I must take care not to hurt her because of those old feelings. Like PJ, she is part of the reason I never had children.

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      1. I’ve heard Antje at the Ginkgo Coffee House in St. Paul. She’s very good. I’ll be sure to alert you next time she’s in the area, Lisa, maybe we can go together. As I recall, I went alone to hear her, couldn’t find anyone else who was interested.

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