Have you ever had plans to meet someone and got there really early. Not like
10 or 30 minutes early, but an hour or two. Does not matter why, maybe you got
the time wrong, or vastly over estimated how long it would take to get there.
What would you do while you waited? Would you get a snack, try and find
something to read, sit around aimlessly? Me, I like to walk around wherever I
am. Maybe it is a big building with a lot of corridors. Perhaps it is a school
ground with some forest paths. Regardless, it is time for an unplanned
constitutional. Maybe I go left, maybe I go right. Perhaps I take this path,
perhaps I take the other. I will not quote Frost at you, but you get the idea.
Sometimes I see people, sometimes I do not, depends where I am. Not the point
of the exercise. I am just burning time waiting. And yet, something else is at
play here. The walk is time limited. You have an end time at which your
wanderings must stop. What if that were not true, what if you just kept walking
and saw everything you could? What would change? Maybe you would see something
unexpected or maybe, low odds that it might be, you would change? This is a
little story of how little things changed me.
Back in University (sometimes it is fun to be pretentious) a few days before
my first undergraduate class there was a club fair. A kind of menagerie where
people convince you to join their clique. The school had a pretty clever play
of only serving lunch that day next to the club fair. So I found myself eating
some Aramark ‘food’ and poking around the tables. Nothing much of interest to
me. I got hit up to join the Society of Black Engineers. Which got the academic
intent right, but maybe missed some other clues. We live in a color blind
society though so I cannot fault them. Things were pretty much a dud so I
started to work my way back to my dorm. Oddly though, while I was making my
exit, I spotted a friend from high school poking around a club table. This was
surprising for two reasons:
1. This friend was a year older than I, yet remembered me.
2. I had no idea he went to this school.
It was a pleasant surprise, serendipitous for those of you studying for
Challenge. There was some minor talking had. It was a hot day. He was
actually there to promote a club, The Society of Physics Students (presumably
all college clubs are societies). Not that he was a major player in the
organization. I suspect, like me, he was there for lunch and wanted to eat near
some people he knew. Regardless, it was fun, speaking of things past and
present. The club was running some simple experiments, playing with a spinning
wheel to show angular momentum, physic things. They gave me the first meeting
date, whatever, I did not really care.
A week goes by, turns out I do care. New school, new Paul. One of those
points turned out to be true. So I am looking for the room, a little before the
meeting time, and the thing about Umass Lowell is they named these two building
next to each other Olsen and Olney. Incredibly easy to get missed up. So,
expectedly, I go to the wrong room first. The tip off was it was an office, and
the second clue was it was empty. I go to the other building and try the same
room number over there. I give the door a tentative push, it is locked, key
card reader outside. How could it be this room? Why would it be locked? At
least the other one was open. So that was an anticlimax, but I know know the
building names a little better. I am walking away with my back to the door when
it opens which I was not expecting to happen.
“You looking for SPS?”
That is not the exact conversation, but it is the intent. I became an SPS
member a handful of minutes later even though I was not studying physics nor
taking a physics class. Then I made some new friends who would be one of the
few constants for my next four years. The name of the club was SPS, but it was
more of a social than academic organization. Very useful to know people who
were more experienced than I in many fields. They kept me in the loop for
things to do and kept me sane. I remember the dinners we would have. Hour long
affairs, people coming and going. Leaving far after closing time. I never ate
and talked so much in a cafeteria before. Six years on the contact has lessened
with distance, but we still drop notes on occasion.
Now consider one point in this story. The locked door. What if I had not
pushed it? No one would have know I was there, I would not have been in SPS,
and my life would be lesser for it. Now how often does that ‘what if’ happen? I
got lucky this time, but I am sure I missed the connection more often than
Just got to keep walking I guess.