Friday, February 25, 2022

Strangers on a train


     “Excuse me; is this the right track for the train going downtown?” an older man asked Tuesday, as we stood waiting in the Northbrook Metra station.
     I told him it is, adding that he needn’t worry about missing his stop, Union Station.
     “The train will empty out,” I said. "Everyone will get off."
     The man explained he had not been downtown in a long time, since he is retired. I asked what he did when he was working. He said he was an engineer; he did architectural drawings on the first 40 floors of the John Hancock Center.
     I asked him what was it like to work for Fazlur Khan, the great structural engineer who, along with architect Bruce Graham, conceived the building in the 1960s. Those Xs on the outside of the Hancock aren’t just cool-looking — they provide structural support, freeing up floor space. It made very tall buildings economically viable for the first time.
     “He was wonderful,” the man said, proceeding to tell a story about the large technical drawings they’d produce.
     “The paper was thin, and there was only so many times you could erase it,” he said. An architect arrived with a mass of changes, and the man despaired at fitting them all on the existing drawings.
     The train arrived. I entered first, took the double seat at the front of the car, and gestured him into the seat across from me.
     The man told how he presented the situation to Khan.
     “Whenever you bring someone a problem, you should also bring a solution,” he said, excellent general work advice.

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2 comments:

  1. Maybe I shouldn't be amazed but I am, that some very smart people believe in God. I tend to watch a little bit too much tic tock. But there are some pretty smart people on there. I have run across a lot of people who have left their religion. All of the ones I have seen are women. Some Mormons, but most were of evangelical faiths. They seem to be the worst for women. I suppose there is a reason why it is women who are questioning their religions more than men and talk about it. Many of been shunned by family and friends. I just saw one woman who was in the Southern Babtist Convention and left. She left with four kids and nothing. Religion is such a grift.

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  2. A nicely rendered account of a chance meeting that most wouldn't haven't given a second thought to. You don't mention it, but I would suppose that guy was blown away that his mentioning his work on the Hancock drew an inquiry about Fazlur Khan. His query about the train having been posed to the rare commuter that could have promptly made that association.

    "For the first four days ... the fetus is as a big as the period at the end of this sentence." And for an infinitesimal moment, the entire universe was as big as the period at the end of this sentence. Theoretically. As you note, the interpretation of those pieces of information can vary greatly.

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