DNP '93

John and Raman Visit California

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

[To anyone over thirty (who is not a grad student): This story is entirely fictitious and should not be believed. Please feel free to skip right over it. PPSA does not promote or condone the views expressed within.]

As a physics graduate student the one thing we always look forward to are conferences. Travelling to scenic locations, big cities, and faraway lands are the entire point of physics (I guess). Just as Magellan explored the world in his day†I too seek to find the essence of the world through travels. The 1993 Fall DNP (Division of Nuclear Physics for all you smart people who wisely chose to not major in this field) Meeting was scheduled for Asilomar, California the land of gold.

Asilomar is located a few hours south of San Francisco, adjacent to Monterey (read The Cannery by J. Steinbeck) and just slightly north of Carmel (Clint Eastwood's home.) This is by far one of the most beautiful areas in our entire country. I bought my plane ticket with one of those credit card deals so that I could save my institution of higher education some money by buying early. The plan was to meet John in San Fran and then drive down to the conference and we would room together there. Things looked like they were going well until it was decided I really didn't know enough to give a talk (no arguments from me) and thus I wouldn't get paid to go to the conference. Well, as long as I already had the plane tickets there was no point in letting it go to waste! So I packed up, planned on meeting John in San Fran (hopefully with no food from New Mexico) and it was off to California†Beverley Hills that is...swimmin' pools, movie stars.... (OK, so it was really Monterey.) I brought with me all the basics†a credit card, my camera, and a ream of film.

We met as planned in SF and since John was getting paid to go to this conference he picked up a rental car for us and we headed on south to Asilomar. The trip down was right along the coast and the scenery seemed spectacular (relative to East Lansing anyway.) I began having a bit too much fun taking pictures and every mile down the road I would see something even more interesting than the prior mile and I would tell John to stop (yet again) and I'd snap another roll of film. Driving from one place to another really seemed to take much longer than anticipated. We eventually got to the Asilomar Conference Center which is located in a rustic setting right along the coast. It has many small cottages for housing and a lot of conference rooms for those exciting physics talks. It really reminded me of a sort of camp site place for kids. Once a long, long, long, time ago my whole sixth grade class (including myself) went up to northern Michigan to go camping for a week and "learn" things about nature. All I learned was that the little concession store closed at 6 P.M. so if I bought lots of candy bars then I could sell them for double the market price by 9 P.M. Kids will be kids!

Anyway, John went in the main building to check in while I hid in the car. He got the room key and we migrated to our cottage. The last remaining problem of the day was... the roomie. I really didn't feel like spending the whole week in the spacious back seat of the car so it was necessary to convince the unseen roomie to let me crash on the very small bed with John. The roomie wasn't in so we scouted the things he had left in the room to try to determine if he was a big shot physicist or a mere grad student. The evidence (as O.J.'s lawyer recently said) was not conclusive. John guessed that it was a student, because of the knapsack and textbooks. We waited around and eventually the mysterious professor from the east arrived. East of the Mississippi that is. He was from some Ivy leagueish sort of school so we went with the story of how my institution couldn't afford to support me on the trip so could I please stay with my buddy John for the week. Being a true physicist at heart he saw no problem with that. The adventure had begun. We then went to bed, since we were tired. Did I mention the bed was really small.

The next morning as our roomie awoke at his usual time of 6:30 A.M.†except of course for the minor fact that we were in California and it was only 3:30 in the morning, Michigan time. John and I just moaned. He made a bit of noise and went out running. He then came back and made more noise as he showered and prepared for the many talks he would attend that day. Eventually he left and then we worked on getting up. Did we then rush to make the first talks of the morning? I don't think so! Off to go sight-seeing †after all, this was California. Every morning of the week was essentially just like that except for the one morning John had to present his talk. That was the only day we made it to a talk. His was the first of the morning. We walked in. John talked. We walked out. It was a very productive and informative ten minutes. Then off we went again. Since I can't remember the exact order of all the fun things we did I'll just describe all the ones I can think of.

Monterey Aquarium:

This is one of those typical science museums where there is lots of hand on stuff and neat stuff to look at. This place is centered around a three story tall aquarium where a diver goes in every few hours and feeds all the fish inside the big tank. That includes everything from barracudas to sardines and also such fun things as seaweed and other unknown things. All the spectators are always hoping the barracudas will attack the diver and we would get to see a Jaws sort of thing but alas, nothing like that occurred. There was also a petting zoo sort of area where we could pet various things like eels and slimy stuff like that. Me and John really didn't feel like doing any of that sort of stuff if you know what I mean. Maybe someday when I'm really rich I'll get myself one of those three story aquariums. That would be kind of nice in my mansion. Oh - wait, I'm dreaming again. I must remember I'm in physics. Oh well....

17 Mile Drive:

This is certainly one of the most beautiful seventeen miles of real estate in the United States. It features such things as The Lone Cypress, Seal Island, and the Pebble Beach Golf Course. It costs a few bucks to get on this road but it is more than worth it. We got up there once during the day and twice at sunset. During the day you can see such things as hundreds of sea lions out on Seal Island†those suckers really do a lot of barking and it is amazing how much noise they all make. The sunsets were amazing! While looking over the Lone Cypress the sunsets were just a blaze of lovely color, with the ocean waves rolling on in on the side of the cliff that we were looking out over. Amazing colors. We don't get many evening quite like that one here in East Lansing. I shot a whole roll of film during one sunset, along with hundreds of other people that had really good cameras (like Hasselblads). If your ever in the area you have to go out on this drive! Once, when we were pulling out of a photo stop area I said "watch out for that hole" and needless to say, John never saw it. We bounced pretty hard in that big hole and later that day I noticed a dent in the side of our rental machine. It looked like someone had run in to the front end but after awhile we realized that the hole had made the front end of our cheap American car sort of buckle in when we had our impactfull meeting with the dreaded hole. Oh well, that's what you get with an American car. Oh, well... it was a rental.

Walk of Death:

Another fun thing we did was one of those silly things you do when you're out sight-seeing in a strange location. We did the "Path of History Walk" in the old part of Monterey. We had a lovely little map that described all the old famous houses we saw including California's first theater, their first brick house, and Robert Louis Stevenson's old house. They just don't make things like they used to his was a fun walk with lots of old adobes to look a. It got rather hot and sunny that day and it sort of did us in.


As most of us movie fans know, Clint Eastwood has a little restaurant in the lovely little city of Carmel. This is one pricey little city but it is rather quaint and well worth a visit. As long as we were there we had to eat at Clint's place. It was sort of like an expensive Peanut Barrel with lovely food items such as the Dirty Harry burger and the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly platter (whatever that is). John had a few cokes with lunch and those things of course are about three bucks a piece (as they are in most all of California for some strange reason). John also had us move three times until we found a table with less smoke, more clean air. I didn't mind this a bit, though. It's funny that these Californians who are so environment conscious, and concerned about their karmas would smoke so much. We walked around looking at all the little expensive stores up and down their main strip and the city sort of had a Santa Fe feel of pretentious artsy people. We also went to a really expensive mall on the outskirts of the city. This mall is sculpted into a hilly area and has tons of flowers planted all over the place. There are loads of tourist taking photos here, including John and I. Another thing I found at this mall was a bathroom. For some strange reason I really needed to visit the little boys room and I unfortunately manage to put too much of a strain on the engineering capabilities of the toilet, and the sucker got a bit on the plugged up side. No plunger was in sight so I made a run for it. A few minutes later we heard a page for the janitorial staff. At this point we left, just in case security came looking for me. Let me just point out that in California they are very concerned with water conservation so the toilets are truly designed to minimize water usage by having very small pipes and an exceedingly small tank of water that 'flushes'. Of course, I hadn't actually gone to the toilet in five days... Enough said on that! On to the next event....

Blown off:

As at most conferences, some of us old time MSU people tend to get together and go out for drinks. John and I made our plans with an unnamed editor who once spent some time at MSU and planned to meet that evening. As we sat around in the camp center waiting for Debbie we started getting a bit bored. After an hour of hanging around we haphazardly glanced at the message board. There of course were no phones in any of the "rustic" rooms where we were staying so this was the only means of communication with our physics buddies. In any event the message said that she was going to go out with some people from Penn rather than us Spartans. Needless to say we were bummed out so off we went to have our own drinks. We found a nice expensive little bar that had all glass walls and was hanging right over the Monterey Bay. A very scenic and nice little bar with a big open fireplace right in the middle. We had some nice inexpensive seven dollar drinks and then met two young women who wanted to go sight-seeing at Asilomar so off we went... Oh wait a minute, that was just my dream that evening. Such is life. We drank and then we came home and crashed. Another typical night for a couple of physicists. Only John shared the sheets that night (actually, we each got our own sheet and wrapped up in it).

Swimming adventure:

Asilomar was right on the beach and we walked over across a few sand dunes and planned to go swimming (at least John wanted to). Remember all those movies back in the sixties where everyone in California was always surfing? Well, there were some damn big waves out in the surf and John went wading on out in the cool water (it was October after all). There weren't to many people out swimming but there were enough of us tourist types to plunge on it. Locals all thought it was too cold of course, except for the crazy local surf-kids, who had nerve damage from too much cold water. Me†I just got my camera out and started getting a few pictures of the waves hitting rocks along the shore and a few of John. And speaking of John, he looked sort of like St. Nick on a vacation in the tropics after Xmas. He had a great look of fear on his face as 10 foot waves came rolling on in and landed on him. John certainly had his fun, he seemed just like a little kid on the beach for the first time. At least the water was a bit warmer than Lake Superior used to be (at least I guess it was).

Redwood Forest:

John and I were eager to go see the redwoods so off we went to one of the parks located near San Francisco. We got there rather early in the morning and it was very cool out down in the valley where the trees were. We got one the lovely little maps the park service provides and off into the wilderness we ventured. We chose the one hour path (we planned to be in San Fran later that day) and off we went. If only there had been a few T. Rexes kicking around it would have felt just like Jurassic Park. Since I'd seen the redwoods last time I was in California I knew what to expect. John had not seen the beast-like trees before and had the usual first timers reaction to the things. I, of course, was still quite amazed by the whole thing. Those trees are not quite the same as that 24 foot pine in my backyard (or should I say the landlord's backyard). In any event we hiked along and only had to take quick glances at the map when we came to intersections. In retrospect perhaps the glances should have been a bit longer since before long we were entirely lost. We just kept walking. We ran into some more people at one of those dreaded "I'll take the high road, you take the low road" intersections and they asked us if we could point out where we were on the map. Needless to say that didn't make us happy. We gave them directions and that made them happy... for the time being. We took the high road 'cause it was warmer up there than the valley. Eventually the path started heading back down into the valley and we figured out where we were. John of course had to show God's Gift to the humongous trees along the way as a troop of girl scouts came out of nowhere. After three hours of hiking we returned to the car and continued our adventure to the Big City. It's always worth a trip to the redwoods whenever you make it out to California!

San Francisco:

This is one big city that is loaded with famous landmarks. One of the places we went was Fisherman's Wharf where all the tourists are. Along with tourist came lots of beggars. We tried to avoid them but one of them came up to us and started telling us a lovely little story. He performed a magic act, and used the word "penis" several times. At that point John pushed a few bucks on him and we ran for our lives. John felt that it would make a good story and so he decided the fellow deserved to be compensated. That never happened to me in East Lansing† at least not since long island iced tea nights at Olga's, but then it was me using that "P" word so that was OK I guess.

We also drove all over town looking for some gigantic used book store that John just needed to see. As we drove all over the city looking for this place we got into a seedier and seedier part of town. We saw the place eventually but at that point we had all the windows rolled up and the doors locked and there was no way in the world I was going to get out of the car. So we just kept right on driving. We of course had to go to the Golden Gate Bridge and as usual I shot a roll or two of film. Up on one of the big hills that overlooks the bridge is an old military development where they put a long tunnel in a mountain and they had planned to launch missiles out of the thing to destroy war ships out in the bay. The plans never went through but it is now another thing to see when in the area. It looked to us that the missiles probably would have landed right in San Fran, so that is probably why the military gave up on the idea. Oh well, typical government productivity.

All in all it was a great little vacation in a beautiful area. If your ever there one thing you should really do is catch breakfast at the Lighthouse Cafe in Monterey. It is a great little cafe with some great home†cooking sort of food that really fills you up for an adventurous day ahead. It's a great joint to just eat your breakfast and read the news every morning†if of course you can afford to do that in California. Another thing to remember is that the locals (and thus the businesses) don't get up until about 10 A.M. on work days. So you shouldn't be surprised to find the barber shop doesn't open until 11 A.M. (this can be important when you're trying to find activities so you can avoid boring physics presentations!) One thing for sure, I'm looking forward to my next trip to California!

Last Updated 04/14/95.© 1996 PPSA