Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Neutron Splicing and Other Adventures (part two)

In case you missed part one you can click here to read it. For those in a hurry, we left off where my four male dinner companions and I climbed out of our limo to eat at Cracker Barrel...

(More Fun Than) A Barrel Full of Neutrons

I've always assumed that these four men were traveling together, but it's possible that one or more of them were tag-alongs like me. Actually, because I was essentially deaf and mute (because of my head cold and the severe descent into Waco made my eardrums feel like they had burst) they could have told me anything, like that they were an intergalactic group of Knights Templar on a quest for the Holy Grail, and I would have just nodded and smiled, trying to act like I could hear and understand. I'm sure they just saw me as a nice enough lady who was having a hard time communicating. I did try to explain that my ears hadn't recovered from the pressure changes of the flight.

We exchanged the usual pleasantries of asking where everyone was from, how many kids they had, etc. I don't know what any of them said because I just couldn't hear well enough. Add to that the noisy Friday night restaurant background chatter and I was just totally screwed. They seemed somehow impressed (or maybe it was well-disguised disapproval) that I was traveling all the way to Alaska by myself and that I was leaving a four month old baby (and two other young children) for a week as well. I tried to explain that after three kids I was confident enough to leave them for a few days and that they would be well cared-for by my mother-in-law and husband. The four month old wouldn't even know I was gone.

Mostly though, I was ignored by them as they were engrossed in their own discussions. At least in my miserable condition it seemed that way. The one who was sitting across from me did make more effort to talk to me even with all the hassle of having to often repeat things. He's the one that I thought was cute. Maybe they all were, but in my incapacitated condition I just didn't get a good look at all of them. And maybe I liked that he actually made an effort to talk to me. The conversation turned to what brought them to Knoxville and where they were headed and what kind of work they did.

As it turned out they were nuclear physicists that had been to Oak Ridge. Wow, cool, I was having dinner with a bunch of rocket-heads (meant entirely in the most affectionate sense)! They said that they had been there to assist or consult or something (remember I couldn't hear well) with the building of a new nuclear project. What I heard was "neutron splicing." See, with a Southern accent you also hear Southern as well as speak it. When we say "splice" it's actually something like "spulice" because we often tend to make single syllable words into two syllable words. They went on to explain that they were working on a particle accelerator that would 'scatter' parts of neutrons and that the resulting particles could be used in nuclear medicine, etc. How interesting! Too bad I was too deaf, mute, and miserable to really engage in a conversation. They actually had come from New Mexico where they worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory. And the facility they had visited in Oak Ridge was the Spallation Neutron Source. But I didn't realize that it was "spallation" and not "splicing" until after my return from Alaska and I googled "neutron splicing" and found that I'd misunderstood completely. I really hope they either didn't notice my stupid mistake or that they understood that I was too sick to really hear what they were saying.

After dinner we had to walk about a mile back to the hotel. It was cold, foggy, and drizzly. The road was in poor condition with lots of potholes and puddles. I wasn't wearing appropriate shoes for the conditions and my feet were killing me. During our hike back to the hotel their lively conversations of neutrons and whatever other exciting things continued while I was absorbed in my own misery. I was a little bothered by their seeming lack of chivalry, but really, what could they have done? I just toughed it out.

I had a bag of take-out food for my grandma roommates. When I finally got back they were very relieved and scolded me again for "running off with strange men." They said they were getting really worried because I had been gone for a long time. I explained that dinner took so long because the restaurant was busy and that it took a long time to walk back on that bad road. All's well that ends well, at least so far. And that night I slept with a complete and total stranger whose name I don't recall. If I hadn't been so sick I don't think I'd have been able to fall asleep at all because of the weirdness of the whole situation.

What is the strangest sleeping arrangement you've ever experienced?

Yes, there will be a part three soon, but as a courtesy to those who are only interested in neutrons I'll say that the rest of the story will consist only of "Other Adventures" and no more neutrons.


A Guy in a Bar said...

Nuclear scientists? I've tried that line, too. But I usually talk about neurons exploding, not neutron spallating. Of course, I still went home alone.

Rae Ann said...

guy in a bar, you should have tried Cracker Barrel!

CapitalistImperialistPig said...

So, about the neutron spallation - did they offer to show you any pictures?

Rae Ann said...

cip, no, I don't remember any pictures. That would have been pretty cool!

CapitalistImperialistPig said...

Strange sleeping arrangements? How about this one: When I was a soldier, a fire broke out on our post, so they sent a company of us up to fight it. We were a company of scientists, engineers, clerks and computer programmers - probably not the kind of crack troops you want to send, but hey there was a war on. After trekking up the mountain, we rather ineffectually fought the fire all day, after which we were suppose to be evacuated by helicopter and replaced by real firefighter. Well, the pilots used up all their hours bringing up the real fireguys, so most of us were stuck. Since it was July, they sent us up without field jackets. Since the mountain was 9000 feet high, it got darn cold as soon as the sun went down. I found a spot in the fire near a burning tree trunk, but the slope was steep, and when I tried to lie down above the fire I kept sliding into it. Below the tree, I slid away into the cold, dark, and potential drop offs. I finally found a relatively level spot where somebody had piled up timber for a big bonfire. I fell right asleep, but woke painfully when some stray hot coals burned through my clothing. By morning, the fires were mainly out, and just before dawn I saw two satellites paths cross overhead.

Rae Ann said...

cip, wow! That sure beats any other strange sleeping story I've heard. It's cool seeing those satellites remains one of your memories of that time. It's funny the little details that stick with us during stressful times.