Monday, June 15, 2009

Old Man on the Plane

On my way home from Madison, WI, I had a connecting flight to Minneapolis.

I sat next to an elderly man, with a bald pate but for a ring of wispy wild white hair.

Liver spots told tales of probable sun exposure, and he moved slowly, but surely.

I noticed he was reading "War and Peace", in a very large library hardbound version. He was a little over halfway through it.

I asked him how it was, and with a slight inhale, he responded,


He then told me a little more of his view on the Tome, and conversation shifted.

He asked what I did, when I replied that I was an engineer, he told me that he had originally gone to Johns Hopkins for engineering, "But I didn't like the engineers. So I switched to physics."

Turned out he had gotten his PhD in physics at Hopkins back in the late 40's / early 50's, and did work at the Applied Physics Laboratory out there.

He then told me he was once in a lab "where all the glass was etched and the plants were all dead. Now, what etches glass?" he asked, in a somewhat wheezing voice.

"Acid?" I responded.

"Yes. What kind of acid?"

I wondered if he ever taught classes.

"Hm... sulfuric?"

"...Hydrofluoric." He explained that the lab he was in was using fluorohexene (-hexane?) to separate out uranium from ore.... for one of the atomic bomb projects.

It's amazing who you sit next to on a plane sometimes!

1 comment:

rewinn said...

What a great story!

It just goes to show, you never know who's sitting next to you ... right now! (...unless you're reading this alone. Right now I'm at the library and the person next to me is reading a web page in a Scandanavian tongue.)

I don't suppose that gentleman's wheeze had anything to do with breathing the stuff that etches glass?

I try not to think what I was breathing back when I was thermoforming kydex using a toaster oven ... too late now to worry!