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I want to start observing the night sky, what advice would you give to get started?

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If you're dead broke (like most people) I would suggest you take look at a small refractor telescope, you could pick up a cheap-o Celestron Powerseeker 60/70 for something like 40 bucks. The useability of such a small telescope is very limited, but you'll be able to get a nice clear image of the rings of Saturn, four of Jupiter's moons, or nice views of the moon, maybe even a few Messier objects if you're patient enough. -but- If you're willing to drop a bit more coin, then I would suggest nothing smaller than an 8" reflector. For less than 200 bucks you can find something that will really impress you.

I used to take my crappy little telescope and drive up into the hills where light pollution was at a minimum, where I would just sit for hours trying to find Messier objects. Loads of fun!

As far as joining an amateur astronomy society, I would suggest you check with your local Community College's astronomy professors. At least here in California, one of the requirements of the astronomy classes is that there be opportunities to participate in actual observing. This means that there will more than likely be an astronomy group having "star parties" and other observing events, which will give you some good connections to competent groups.

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