Towel Day 2017

Today is Towel Day. If you haven’t heard of this wholly remarkable holiday, it’s the day that fans commemorate the life and works of author Douglas Adams. If you haven’t heard of Douglas Adams (what prehistoric cave have you been living in?), he is the creator of that wholly remarkable book The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, whose narrative adventure has taken the form of a 70’s BBC radio drama, an early 80’s BBC TV mini-series, a “trilogy” of five novels, an early 80’s text based adventure computer game, an early 2000’s Hollywood feature film, and of course, a timeless towel.

A Practical Introduction to the Towel on a Towel

I thought, for Towel Day 2017, I would write a little about the Hitchhiker’s Guide, Douglas Adams, and the importance of knowing where your towel is.

A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you — daft as a brush, but very very ravenous); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.
More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitchhiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have “lost.” What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.

— Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is Douglas Adams’ best known book and has become embedded in popular culture. References to the Guide, the Towel, and the Answer to The Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything (42) have been seen referenced in all realms of pop culture life for the last forty-two or so years. Two weeks after Douglas’ death in May of 2001, fans organized the first Towel Day to commemorate his life and works. It has been growing in popularity ever since, to the point where on Towel Day 2015, astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti read a bit from The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy from the International Space Station, making it a truly intergalactic holiday.

Ford gives Arthur his Towel. “Guard it with you life.”

Many things have been written about Douglas Adams and The Hitchhiker’s Guide so I would like to add a personal story for this Towel Day, the story of how I got to meet Douglas Adams when I was 15 years old and already a super fan.

In December of 1998, when the internet was brand new and no one really knew exactly what to do with it, Douglas Adams launched his personal website douglasadams.com. Coming from a computer savvy household, I discovered the website quickly after it’s launch and what I read on it’s news page made my eyes widen and my heart quicken.

My favorite author in the world was coming to Bloomington, Indiana, a mere 4 hour drive from my house, to give a lecture called Living in a Virtual World. I knew I had to go, there was no question. But I had to carefully consider how I could make this trip happen because, remember, I was only 15 at the time. Luckily, since my dad, who had introduced me to The Hitchhiker’s Guide via the BBC TV series, was also a Douglas Adams fan, it wasn’t too hard to make it work out. Despite the fact that it was in the middle of a school week, my dad agreed that he would take a day off of work and I would take a day off of school and we would drive down and see the talk. My teachers thought it was great too, since it was educational.

It was amazing. It was my first time in central Indiana, a region that I would spend a large portion of my 20’s living in. We arrived at the Indiana University Memorial Union on April 12, 1999. With my leather bound edition of The Hitchhiker’s Guide in hand, we got an event program and entered the hall. We sat towards the front of the completely packed room and Douglas came out on stage. Douglas Adams was standing a few feet from me! In real life! I was in love. He talked of many things but what I most clearly remember was when he told the story of the train station and the packet of biscuits that had became part of his So Long and Thanks for All the Fish novel. I remember him reading a bit from a few different books and he must have talked about his new computer adventure game, Starship Titanic, and technology in general, though, that’s a little fuzzier in my memory. There was a Q+A session after the talk and then a book signing. I got my leather bound Hitchhiker’s bible signed by Douglas himself and it quickly became my most prized possession. Sadly, Douglas died only two years later. This memory has become a cherished one for me, something that can never happen again.

Hitchhiking through Arthur Dent’s hometown with my Trusty Travel Towel.

This Towel Day is possibly extra special because it’s happening two weeks and a day before Lazlar Lyricon 3, a fun convention happening in England for fans of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The convention promises to be a good time, filled with costumed fans and a weekend full of Hitchhiker’s themed events such as talks, workshops, a panel of special guests, a Vogon art class, Towel Olympics, Gin and Tonic tasting, and more.

If you plan to be there, leave a comment below and we can say hi in real life. I will be there on the Friday and Saturday, in full costume, celebrating my love for Douglas Adams and his greatest work of comedy/science fiction.

Hey, you sass that hoopy Ford Prefect? There’s a frood who really knows where his towel is.

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