My Greatest Stories
Some people have a life full of adventure, and others have not traveled over 20 miles from where they were born. However, everybody has at least one unforgettable story in their life. In my case, I do not consider myself to have led an adventurous life. I did not serve in the military, choose an exciting career, risk my life or live in a crazy part of the world. Yet, I broke two bones, got into minor car accidents, had stitches three times, been in two life-threatening situations, met fantastic people, and worked on two great projects. My family has had a similar level of adventure.
I thought it would be interesting to describe my top five most interesting/pride-filled/life-experience stories that happened to me or my family. However, I did not want to make my selection a list of “I am better than you” challenges. For example, I was a passenger in a race car with a professional driver. Clearly, describing this exciting experience would be bragging, not the direction I was going for. So here are my top five.
I took SCUBA diving lessons in high school, which became a minor interest. Diving is a dangerous sport, and I ran out of air twice. However, one dive stood out.
My father and I were on the bottom near a kelp bead off San Diego at about 50 feet. We began hearing a strange banging sound. We both thought an enormous ship was passing above us and its massive propeller made the sound. However, we did not see the ship above us or its shadow in the distance. We found it strange that the sand on the seafloor moved during the event, and the fish seemed confused. I looked at my father, and we both shrugged. When we returned, the people on the dock all asked about the earthquake. Wow, we dove during an earthquake.
My father grew up in rural Pennsylvania, and in his college years, he worked at the steel mills during the summer. The inside temperature was staggeringly hot, and to compensate, the managers placed a salt pill dispensing machine at the entrance. Every shift, each worker grabbed a handful and ate them to keep up their electrolytes. In addition, they each carried in a six-pack of beer for refreshments and would frequently visit the drinking fountain. Did the managers frown upon drinking? It was so hot that the alcohol went through the skin and acted like a natural coolant. So, the workers were never drunk. Also, OSHA was not a thing back then.
To make steel wire, enormous hot ingots come from the furnace and are pressed/pulled into long bars. These are then reheated and passed through dies to meet the customer’s size requirements. It takes several steps to make the final product.
My father’s job was to tie up each bundle of wire and then load it on a truck. This was mildly dangerous and not too exciting. The most dangerous job was the person who fed the red-hot wire into the die machine. He needed lightning-quick reflexes to grab the wire with tongs and fling it into the correct location.
The danger came when there was a mistake. The machines did not have modern safety guards or automatic stops. This meant the wire could wrap around the man and burn him to death. Scary. However, there was a perk. If the operator wanted the (paid) day off, he could fling the red-hot wire away (from him), making an enormous mess that would have to be fixed with a team of people with cutting torches. My father witnessed this spectacular event a few times.
The steel plant my father worked for was on the Allegheny River. One of the many items they needed to maintain production was a constant supply of oxygen and acetylene tanks for their cutting torches. At one point, it became apparent that they were losing oxygen tanks, and they assigned a person to investigate. He concealed himself in an air duct above the tank holding area and looked for suspicious activity. A day later, a truck arrived with a new shipment of tanks, and they were unloaded.
The truck drove away, and the supervisor stayed behind. After checking to ensure he was alone, he took an oxygen tank and rolled it over to a bank near the river. He placed the tank at an angle and pointed downriver. Then he used a hammer to smash off the valve. There was a mighty whoosh, and the tank went flying downriver. So yeah, they fired him.
I had a challenging college experience both inside and outside the classroom. Being away from home forced me to grow up quickly, and studying was tough. However, two unforgettable personal achievement moments stand out; both happened the same year.
In my second quarter, I took EE2002 (the second Electrical Engineering class), which was meant to “weed out” non-serious students. There was a 50% failure rate, and at least 25% of the kids took the class a second time. 10% of the kids were taking it for the third time.
Wow, this class was challenging. I spent every waking hour studying, attending teacher’s assistant study sessions, studying with other students, or doing homework. I even had dreams about the subject.
After the final, I was convinced I had failed the class. The professor posted the grades late that night, and my friend and I went to check. He passed. Yay. I was too nervous to check and made him do it. I passed!! The moment was so exciting that I hugged him, which caused him to be quite uncomfortable. To celebrate, I went down to the pond and threw old hard drive platters as far as they would fly.
This was an incredible personal achievement, and three of my friends in the class did not pass. One of them had to take it three times. Side note. They had better math skills, but I wanted it more.
During spring break of that same year, we drove to New York. My roommate Matt (who would be later called Victoria) (that is an entire blog) was into climbing, and he convinced me to tag along. We went to a place called “The Gunks,” which was a popular climbing destination.
An outcrop of rocks ranged from 50 to 200 feet high. The advantage was that each section had different difficulty levels, which made it perfect for all climbers.
I had zero climbing experience, and Matt had to show me how to tie knots, set up my gear, and climb. My first job was to watch everybody else and then do finger exercises in the cracks. An hour later, I started climbing for real. The first test was to climb up five feet and let go. This reassured Matt and me that the climbing gear would prevent my fall. My gear held, and I started climbing again. There were many difficulties, and the experience was super challenging. I got stuck once, and he had to climb up (without a harness) and help. Eventually, I made it to the top of the 500foot section. Wow, did the view look fantastic. I had EARNED that view.
That’s it. My five best life stories. Perhaps I should consider myself lucky. I know people who had horrific stories and terrible life experiences. Fortunately, my meager life stories made me what I am. After I finished this blog, I recalled a few more, and perhaps I will blog about them.
You’re the best -Bill
July 06, 2022
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