When I arrived at my small but fashionable International Hotel yesterday, I was dropped off by two of the European Professors who were at my workshop. We stood in the lobby chatting for bit before parting ways. The three of us were perhaps a notch or three below the typical level of stylishness of most people who stay at this hotel, and I got a rather frosty reception from the front desk clerk. I was beyond caring about details like that, and was just glad to be in a quiet, relaxing place.
Today the same front desk clerk continued to be politely disapproving when I had a brief conversation with him, but again, it's not exactly going to punch a hole in my day if I don't get a cheery good morning from everyone I meet.
I had to deal with some administrative issues before leaving the country, and this turned out to be somewhat complex. I approached the issues in my usual Scientific way: I collected data on my options, used the internet and made a phone call or two, took notes, and was mulling what to do. Just then, miraculously, a college friend of mine who works at the American embassy here called the hotel looking for me.
I asked her some questions and she said she'd call back in a little while. She did, calling via the front desk of the hotel. She mentioned the embassy, dropped a few names, sort of implied that I might be a relative of the American ambassador (a contention that for various bizarre reasons was plausible), and voila: all my problems were solved.
In addition, the front desk clerk became my best friend. Now he beams at me when he sees me and asks after my health. I think I liked him better when he was terse and glaring.
I had lunch with my diplomatic friend and, in addition to getting caught up on the usual stuff (mutual friends, kids etc.), I asked her about her job. Not surprisingly, a lot of it is 'political'. Academics involves politics of a sort as well, but most of us academics aren't very good at this aspect of our jobs. I am in awe of my friend who gracefully navigates through a political universe. I want to name a scientific object or process after her.
Hooray for college friends. In the years since graduating from college, 98.57% of the friends I have made are academics, and 99% of these friends are Physical Science Professors. With all due respect and affection to my professor friends, I am glad that I also know some interesting people -- my college friends -- who have interesting non-academic lives (and not just because one of them helped me to untangle administrative complexities in a foreign country and to become the recipient of insincere affection from a hotel desk clerk).
9 years ago