Bob Beard is certain there's a nerd inside all of us. Yup, even you. There's no shame in admitting it, he says, since it's more socially acceptable than ever to be a member of the pocket protector brigade or to be a major geekazoid. For proof, look no further than the ever-growing number of people turning out for the annual PBS Nerd Walk in Tempe.
And according to Beard, who founded the Nerd Walk in 2011 and works as a community engagement specialist for Eight Arizona PBS, this year's event on Saturday near Arizona State University's Tempe Campus will have its biggest turnout to date.
"Anybody who feels sort of a kinship with the nerd identity can come out and be a nerd for whatever it is they want to be," says Beard, who's previously contributed to Jackalope Ranch. "I tell people, 'If you think you're a nerd, then you are one,' and should come and be a part of the walk. It really doesn't matter what you're a nerd for."
As with its previous two editions, the Nerd Walk will be part of the ASU Homecoming Parade, which follows University Drive westward between Myrtle and McAllister avenues, and will feature a horde of people wearing gold T-shirts with the PBS Nerd logo that Beard designed for the event.
Costumed enthusiasts (natch) are also the norm, as are stilt-walkers, performance artists, and other eclectic examples of nerd-dom who are proudly waving their geek flags high.
"Whatever anybody wants to dress up as and sort of put their nerdiness on display is awesome," Beard says. "I think people like the fact they can make it their own."
That includes people geeking out during the walk by uttering chants like, "Sine, sine, cosine, pi...3.14159," in something akin to a military marching cadence like they did last year. It was an amusing situation to Beard, who participated in the chants, both as a nerd and a former Marine.
"They're chanting the things you're not going to hear at a typical athletic celebration. It's kind of culture jamming [with] 200-plus nerds walking down the street between football players and frat houses chanting about pi," Beard says. "It's funny because I was in the military, and then we've got a couple of other nerds that were in the military too, and we we're the ones belting it out. It is oddly militaristic but not in a threatening way because we're all pale, four-eyed dorks."
Besides the chants, each of the walks has also included an appearance by a nerdy vehicle of some sort, which in previous years has been a smart car and a DeLorean DMC-12 made up like Doc Brown's time machine from Back to the Future. At this weekend's edition, the Arizona Ghostbusters will drive over in their accurately created Ecto-1 to participate, which Beard is particularly happy about.
"I am huge nerd for Ghostbusters," Beard says. "So I was very excited that the Arizona Ghostbusters came onboard."
They won't be the only members of a particularly niche fandom at the event, he says, as the members of Doctor Who costuming group AZ T.A.R.D.I.S. will be there, and they'll be bringing along a Dalek to boot. It's sort of apt, considering that the famed Timelord's adventures were only viewable on PBS in the U.S. long before they were on BBC America.
PBS has been a source of nerdiness since its founding back in 1970, says Colleen O'Donnell Pierce, the public relations manager for Eight Arizona. Hence the event's two-fold goal of bringing together the local nerd community and celebrating the network's history of brainy programming.
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"It's really about cultivating that sense of community. That's the main thing. But also how people's interests and their uniqueness, no matter what they're interested in, has been cultivated by PBS in some way," she says. "Almost any show [on PBS] relates to someone's interest whether it's about space or some kind of science thing or arts, dance, or music."
And painting, too. You can't forget about Bob Ross and his happy little trees. In fact, we wouldn't be surprised if someone comes to the Nerd Walk on Saturday dressed as the late artist, complete with afro and paint palette.