The Explorers Club
At first glance, the crowd in tuxedos and black evening gowns looks like the high society set at the opera or a charity ball. Poised and coifed. Grey haired older gentlemen adorned with medals for distinguished military service. But then the bag pipes begin, and on closer inspection, you find that members of the Explorers Club are anything but conventional.
The cocktail conversation is similarly exotic. Forget stock tips. You're more likely to hear survival stories. Jim Fowler, who wrestles alligators on Mutual of Omaha's 'Wild Kingdom', he has quite a tale.
You might picture the Explorers Club as a place to swap old war stories, and a visit to their tony Upper East Side Manhattan headquarters wouldn't change your mind. The armchairs in the wood-paneled rooms seem suited for men in smoking jackets savoring cigars and recounting close calls, perhaps with a nod to the stuffed polar bear guarding the stairway. Founded in 1905 by survivors of Arctic expeditions, the club was men-only. Times have changed. They've just elected their first woman president. So a portrait of Faanya Rose will go up in the photo gallery next to other famous members like Admirals Peary and Byrd, President Theodore Roosevelt.
But back at the dinner, I learned that, contrary to appearances, the Explorers Club is less about rehashing the past than it is about educating for the future.
That's Don Walsh, who became a member after making the world's deepest ocean dive at 35,800 feet, almost seven miles beneath the sea.
In fact, if you describe them as adventurers, most 'explorers' will correct you. It's not about the glory of being first, they say. The mission is discovery. Astronaut Buzz Aldrin put it this way.
Aldrin and others see the club as a kind of incubator, to foster new ideas and inspire further exploration. For Gary Kopff, a surprisingly young-looking mountain climber in his 50's, the Explorers Club is a haven in a world that doesn't understand his passion.
His wife Judy is not one of those kindred spirits. She notes that many of her husband's mountain climbing friends have died.
And while her husband finds comradery among the daredevil scientists, Judy meets other spouses at the club who share her apprehension. For him, the common bond is comforting. But for her?
But these folks are survivors. . .of shipwrecks and Anacondas. And they share the lessons they've learned so others can avoid the same mistakes, make a safe trip home and return next year for another Explorers Club dinner.
In New York, I'm Jeff Tyler for the Savvy Traveler.
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