In mid-1967, S_ [my wife] changed jobs at Cornell. She had taken mathematics, statistics, and computer programming courses for two years and done very well. Her qualifications for research jobs, rather than clerical jobs, had been achieved. She looked around, interviewed, and received a job as a programmer in the Radio Astronomy Department headed by Carl Sagan. She was shortly assigned largely to a young post-doctoral researcher doing analyses of the surface of the sun. This was an excellent job and a real advancement; it was her first professional job and testimony to her strong effort over several years to make up for her mistake in leaving math at UNH. E_ G_, the researcher to whom she was assigned, was only a few years older than she and treated her more as a colleague than as an employee. S_'s morale soared, and I shared her pride.
As it turned out, E_ was scheduled to go to the radio telescope at Arecibo, Puerto Rico, a facility run by Cornell, in the winter 1968. So S_ and I coordinated our schedules so that she would accompany E_ to Arecibo for two weeks while I went to Caltech for three weeks in February 1968.
I left for Caltech before S_ left for Puerto Rico. I had reserved a room at the Athaneum on the campus. I was to fly out of Syracuse to Chicago, thence to Los Angeles. The day prior to my flight out, upstate New York had a snow storm, so the interstate was plowed, in places, to one lane and the bridges were icy. S_ drove. Over one bridge--a highway overpass--the change from the snow traction to ice-covered bridge was sudden and S_ skidded the car. The momentary loss of control heightened our anxiety about the 60-minute drive to Syracuse. As we drove north toward the city, we crossed the "snow-belt" and snow level became appreciably deeper. At the Syracuse airport, in the early morning, the heavy overcast sky was still spitting snow occasionally and dry sworls of snow whisked about the recently plowed runway.
As I walked, in the white and gray atmosphere, toward the waiting 707 jetliner, I felt anxious, an anxiety produced by the drive to Syracuse, concern for the flight in such terrible weather, and a loneliness. The loneliness, accentuated by a childhood insecurity over separation and change of locale, would increase during the entire research stay.
I remember little about the flight--at least little that can be definitely assigned to this flight and differentiated from a half-dozen other cross-country flights I have made since then. I recall quite clearly, however, my arrival in Los Angeles.
The flight arrived in Los Angeles in early afternoon. After a long journey along a "moving sidewalk"--familiar to me from the movie "The Graduate"--I emerged from the terminal into an enormous and theatrical burst of sunlight and a sensuous warm air. My response was nearly shock; I felt faint and disoriented. My eyes scanned the high-tech terminal area rapidly for an object to fix upon, and found a palm tree. I focused on the palm tree with the intensity of a panicked swimmer holding onto a life-saving float.
I had been given instructions how to get to Pasadena and the Athaneum by D_ K_, a historian of science at Caltech with whom I corresponded about using the Robert Millikan Papers. I had nearly memorized these instructions, and now their directions rose before my mind like a video-prompter. I looked around for a sign announcing limousine service. This was nearby, and I purchased a ticket to the Huntington Sheraton in Pasadena, where I would obtain a taxi to the Athaneum, which was on the Caltech campus.
In the unfamiliar geography of Los Angeles and light-headed from the sudden emergence into Southern California's theatrical clarity and scale, I was incapable of observing and remembering much that I saw on the auto trip to Pasadena. But, somewhere, I had a vision that has remained with me always as symbolic of this new place. For many years, I thought that I glimpsed this vision at the margins of a palm-tree dotted parking lot near the airport. Later, before devoting nearly as much attention to the rational reconstruction of this vision as a religious mystic would his conversion experience, I understood that the vision must have been obtained in Pasadena. I had simply been incapable of maintaining linear sequence, when I arrived, and experiences collapsed.
The vision was this. As the limousine was turning a corner an intersection, and slowing for this purpose, we passed a small parking lot, which was not filled with cars, but had many palm trees festively decorating it. There was no sound now, as indeed I had not registered sound since my arrival at LAX, as if I were watching this experience in a silent movie. The sunlight slanted and luxurious shadows enriched and gave density [to] the scene, as tropical undergrowth does to a rainforest. Through the framed windows of the limousine as if a flashing series of still photographs, suddenly I glimpsed a woman riding a bicycle along the parking lot. She was a young woman--instantly I decided she was in her twenties and married. She wore a short-sleeved shirt and red shorts. Her long and slender legs pumped the bicycle effortlessly; she glided as on air, rather than on macadam. She did not notice our limousine, but rode, smiling, toward a residential street, which seemed to beckon her with its cool and shaded tunnel of trees and houses, out of the balmy and brilliant afternoon light.
"Oh, God," I thought, as this vision slipped from my eyes into my memory, "Oh, God; I don't care what you do with me, but get me to Southern California. Let me live here."
- Epiphany (August 19, 1982)
- Temptation (July 18, 1983)
- No Heating Blanket Needed (August 13, 1983)
- Bumps After the Road (August 15, 1983)
- Outside (August 23, 1983)
- All That Is Gray Is Not (August 26, 1983)
- A New World (August 27, 1983)
- Screwed-Up Resistance (September 5, 1983)
- Peace and Reconciliation (September 7, 1983)