DNP '92 - Raman Visits the Southwest

by Raman Pfaff and John Johnson
Reprinted from V7N1, June 1994

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Where do I begin? It is April 1994, and the Spring APS meeting in Crystal City just ended-however this story is about the Fall 1992 Division of Nuclear Physics in Santa Fe. We must regress in time to a warm October in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I am working hard on massaging data for my thesis, while trying to write it in a month so that I can graduate in November. The V6N2 issue of the PPSA Magazine has just hit the streets. Pete and Paul fly in to present their thesis data. Raman, still a novice nuclear physicist, flys out for some sight-seeing. He was working on making tin targets at the time probably and didn't have anything to present-so that left him a lot of time to bother me.

Actually, I was pleased to have Raman visit. You see, I was having trouble concentrating on my thesis and he was more than eager to bitch at me. We didn't do much with Pete and Paul, since they actually attended talks, but we did pose with some of the local jackalopes and we had a nice meal at the top of the tramway at Sandia... but I'm getting ahead of myself.

I picked up Raman around the second week of October, if memory serves. He flew into Albuquerque on some cheap flight, and we spent the night at my Aunt and Uncle's house. The next morning we headed out for what we thought would be a fun-filled day of watching balloons at the annual Balloon Fiesta. We quickly figured out that this trip would be more eventful than planned when we heard the sound of screeching metal on metal when leaving the relative's house in the morning. We left early enough to see the mass ascension of balloons, but we didn't leave too much extra time for the unexpected. So when we realized that my break pads were toast, I decided to drive slowly, and, with judicious use of the parking brake, we had a great time watching hundreds of hot air balloons ascend into the heavens.

After the fiesta we decided that brakes were a good thing to have on a car, so we drove to Santa Fe. This wasn't too bad, since there weren't many required stops between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, but the parking brake was beginning to loosen. Pep boys fixed my car, just one more debt I couldn't afford, and we randomly met up with Allen Williams-my former roommate-who went out for cappuccino with us while Manny, Moe and Curly worked on my car.

Once we arrived in the bustling metropolis I like to call Los Alamos (I actually have other names for it that I won't mention!) we were visited by Tim Morrison. He was learning to drive so I let him drive us up to the local ski hill. Los Alamos sits on a mesa at 7500 feet, while the base of the ski hill is at least a thousand feet higher, but Raman had no difficulty adjusting to the altitude. In the next week he logged many miles around northern New Mexico, and did some hiking at old indian ruins. I was able to visit a nearby indian reservation with him and Tim, but my thesis was coming due and so I begged out of most of the fun and stayed locked in my room chained to my computer. I did hear about one interesting hike that he took into a nearby canyon. He let Tim drive and it seems my car got left running in a construction area for a couple hours while they explored the ruins.

The DNP meeting came and went, but mostly went. Pete and Paul had a good time, and we met them (actually we raced them to Albuquerque) at the Sandia tram. The tram is about a mile and a half long and winds up at the peak of the Sandia ski area. We underdressed for how cold it was up there, but then we didn't expect to be put on a waiting list for three hours to eat at the High Finance restaurant. I was able to get us an earlier table (only a 90 minute wait!) and we had some rich eatin's. It was at this meeting that the assembled God Emperors decided that the next issue of the PPSA magazine (this one) would have the theme of "Naomi's Birthing Cloth". Needless to say, Paul and Carl Nelson never got together on this and submitted an article. We hope to feature it prominently in a future issue though.

A couple of days later Raman left New Mexico-land of sunshine, for East Lansing, Michigan-land of eternal cloud cover. Raman's comments are included below. All in all, I think it was an eventful couple of weeks. Raman had a good time, and we stuffed ourselves on Mexican food, my car survived, and a couple weeks later I actually defended my thesis and passed! By December I was just finishing up a Phys. Rev. C article and I started work as a postdoc at Los Alamos. We decided that we would meet for Winter Carnival at Michigan Tech, and we planned for another educational DNP meeting in California in 1994. But now let's get Raman's point of view....


Fall had arrived and that meant only one thing was approaching, the Fall Physics Meeting and believe it or not it was near John's current home town out in New Mexico. Santa Fe that is. Red rocks, balloons, Indians, and emergency brakes awaited.

The trip began out of Lansing as the majority do, on a plane approximately the size of an average pachyderm. Somehow I made it to Chicago and off I went to Albuquerque. I met John there in the evening and the fun began. We spent the night at his Aunt and Uncle's home out there and the next morning we had to be up at 6:00 in order to take part in one of the greatest hot air balloon festivals in the world.

I couldn't figure out how to set my little wristwatch alarm that I had recently purchased so we just assumed John would have no problem getting up in time to wake us. As usual this was no problem since John has a built in clock. I felt more like death on a candle stick. It had been a cool fall evening and we ventured outdoors into the stark thin aired morning. Into John's Berettacus we climbed. As we drove away my spirits were picking up and I was really getting excited. About one minute later we were trying to come to a stop at the bottom of a tiny little hill and the brakes decided to start disintegrating and grinding the front wheel. Being clever car people (sure) we said there was only one thing left to do... proceed to the balloon festival and don't use the brakes along the way. In the plan was the provisional use of the parking brake when necessary. After the festival we would get the brakes fixed and then drive back to John's.

Off to the festival we proceeded. John was not quite used to this lack of brake action and it took him a bit to get used to it. With a few of the cars I owned in Miami I'd gotten much experience in this field and gave him many pointers from an insider.

We arrived at the festival. It was dark and crowded with a feeling of joy in the air. Occasionally we'd hear a blast from a gas jet igniting in a balloon. Many kids were running around looking for good jackets to steal. The first thing to do was get some breakfast at one of the many stands. Of course since I was now in New Mexico I wanted to eat as much strange stuff as possible so I had a breakfast burrito and a cinnamon roll.

As dawn approached the balloons began filling and I started getting excited. Our picture taking began. Over the course of the next two hours over five hundred balloons filled and left the ground. I was quite amazed by the whole thing and would highly recommend this to anyone that had an interest in something fun. As the last balloon (a giant parrot) was inflating, so was John's bladder due to the large Cokes he'd pounded with breakfast. He went off in search of a toilet and I waited with my awesome five buck camera to get a good photo. The shot finally came and off I went to meet John at the brakeless beast. Off we went in our search for a brake shop on Sunday morning at 10:00.

After a bit of driving down some back streets in Albuquerque we decided we didn't know where the hell to go so the decision was made to drive back to Santa Fe (an hour trip) and find a place there. Since the whole trip was uphill on a highway we wouldn't have much need for brakes anyway. I enjoyed the drive there with nice scenery which was very different than the mundane views in East Lansing. John gave me many details of things in the area to look at while I was around while we cruised along the road.

We arrived in Santa Fe, pulled up to a phone, and started calling around for an open shop that could get to us today. I cleaned my glasses off with my shirt while looking through the yellow pages and we think John did too (this is important later). The only place that could deal with us was the Larry, Mo & Curly Boys. This place sounded really trustworthy but off we drove down the city streets with no brakes - John had gotten the hang of it at this time and I would now call him an expert in the field. After getting to the shop we were told we had at least three hours to kill. We wished to go to the entertaining portions of town and do some sight-seeing so we found out the cab would run us around twenty bucks and we were quite boggled as to what we should do ($20 was tooooooo much!).

As we stood outside the auto store, along came a savior, John's buddy Allen. He had stopped by to return some strange looking truck part that he didn't need. We persuaded him to take us into town and kill some time with us. Into the heart of Santa Fe I went.

The city was truly beautiful. Very laid back with Indian structure and many very old buildings including the oldest house in the United States which has the oldest mummy in the US laying back inside it. We made our first stop at one of the finest (I hear) little coffee joints in town. It had a nice "air" to it. Very mellow and intelligent, kind of carved right into the ebb and flow of the blood of the city. After this we started looking through the downtown tourist trap shops which mainly sold Indian type goods. I found a nice small drum (head size) for around $9000, what a deal. Many things had price tags which were very large in order to hold all those zeroes they slap on there just for fun. Much of the art did have a very southwestern quality and it was very easy to want that sort of thing in your own life on a daily basis.

After a few hours we made it back to the vehicle of misfortune and then took the drive up to John's lovely abode in Los Alamos. It was approximately the size of a large refrigerator but what the hell, it was out West in the real world! The next day was the start of the conference so we didn't party to much that evening - and of course in Los Alamos everything closes by 8:00 PM anyway.

That next day I went off to the conference and John just sat around with his computer trying to learn how to use his TeX program to write his thesis (he had 3 weeks at this point). I sat in on a few sessions and then back to L.A. I went. This was my first good drive out there on the mountain roads - it was kinda fun. I did a LOT of driving while I was there. Anyway, the weather was beautiful and I wanted to go hiking so John made Tim give me a tour of a local hiking trail where there were Indian ruins. Tim of course was not quite up to a legitimate driving age but... he likes to look cool and drive around town.

We pulled up to the start of the hiking trail and some construction is taking place and it is rather loud. I lock my door and start walking down the trail. Tim is right behind me and gives me the tour guide lecture describing the area. He seemed rather knowledgeable. The hike went quite some time and we saw a bunch of pottery pieces from days gone by. As we got back to the car several hours later, Tim starts wondering about the keys. He doesn't seem to have them. The construction had also ended at this time and I notice the sound of a car engine as I approach John's beast. It seems as though the car has been idling right along for two hours and luckily Tim had left his door unlocked so that we could at least get back into the car. At least no one had decided to drive away with the beast!

Back to John's we went. All Tim could do the whole way back was beg me not to tell JJ about letting his car sit there in that condition. That secret only lasted about an hour after we were back. The vacation continued.

The following day most of the gang had arrived in town for the meeting. This included Paul Rutt, Pete Markowitz, and Debbie Brodbar. It was a good reunion of PPSA members who had all sprung into the world from good (lousy) old MSU. We did some of the lunch thing and them some of the dinner thing together over the next few days. One of the nights included a trip to Santa Fe's botanically outstanding areas - the local strip joint. Since us boys (Debbie didn't want to join us) only had $7 between us, we didn't stay too long. Our final dinner together was in Albuquerque on the top of the tallest thing in the area. It gave a great view of the whole city and would have made a great photo if we'd gotten there 10 minutes earlier - we missed the damn sun. The city lights were gorgeous.

One of the local interests is the supply of natural sauna's which abound in the area. Nice warm water comes seeping out of the earth and forms nice little havens in the middle of the woods where you can just kick back and think about life, liberty, and happiness. The entertaining part about this whole thing is that we really try to get back to nature, i.e. clothes are very optional in these things. I'd heard so much about this that I just had to make it there during my vacation. On the day before I left John, Tim, and I took another nice drive up into the woods and made a nice hike to a pool. Off came the clothes and in we went. The water was WARM. It was certainly an entertaining experience. There were around a dozen other people in the area just kicking back and enjoying nature. What a trip!

This was one of my most educational, entertaining vacations I've ever had. The area is full of Indian ruins, beautiful hiking areas, entertaining architecture, and an abundance of things to do for daily adventures. I put 1200 miles on John's car while I was out there - I had to see everything! The whole time I was out there, John kept saying "have you seen my glasses" and eventually we decided that they had been missing ever since the morning of brake repair. John also spent much of the time playing with his computer and learning how to write a thesis. I left two weeks before he had to have it done and apparently he managed to finish the thing in those two weeks since he now has a Ph.D.

One of the more entertaining things that occurred during this trip is the time when John wanted to visit the local Republican headquarters and wanted me and Tim to go get the car and meet him there. Well, we stopped by the opposition (Democratic office) and picked up a nice Clinton bumper sticker and put it on his car. It took him two days to discover the little ploy, but me and Tim had lots of fun snickering about it for days. All in all it was a great trip and I hope I can get back out to the area again in the future.

Last Updated 04/14/95.© 1996 PPSA