Sunday, June 21, 2009

Mr. Hogan

When I was a sophomore in college, I went on my first overnight field trip with the engineers from the lab where I worked (and still work, though fortunately my job description has changed since then). I traveled to far northern California with two engineers, both named Dan, to repair and update instruments on two scour-endangered bridges. We flew to San Francisco, where we were to catch a turboprop commuter plane to Medford, Oregon, where we would rent a car and drive back across the California line to the bridge, which was outside the city of Yreka (pronounced "why-reekah"). I write "would" because things didn't quite happen as planned.

We arrived at SFO without incident. After the Dans and I enjoyed a lunch of the airport's finest clam chowder, we took the shuttle bus to the commuter terminal to await our flight to Medford. About five minutes before the flight was to begin boarding, Dan Hogan announced he was going to go to the bathroom. Dan M. and I looked up from our books and nodded. Five minutes passed, and boarding began. We began to wonder where Hogan was - was he ok? Jumping to the worst likely conclusion, we wondered if he had a horrible allergic reaction to something and passed out in the bathroom, so Dan M. went to check the bathroom while I waited by the gate to see if Hogan came out to board the plane. When the final boarding call came, there was still no sign of Hogan anywhere. We asked the airline gate agent if Hogan had boarded the plane, but she was apparently prohibited by law from telling us who did or did not board. At that point, the plane pulled away from the gate.

We were now zero-for-two, having both lost an engineer and missed our flight. Since there was no sign of Hogan anywhere in the terminal, we concluded that he somehow sneaked past us and boarded the plane for Medford. Dan M. and I decided to take the next available flight to any point north and proceed from there. We flew to Chico, California, rented a car, and drove north to Yreka. Eventually, we were able to make contact with Hogan by relaying calls through University Travel Services (back in the dark ages, cell phones didn't travel all that well - remember roaming?). He had in fact boarded the flight to Medford, exactly as planned, and while we had cursed Hogan for ditching us, it became apparent that it was we who had screwed up by not getting on the plane. In the end, the three of us converged on Yreka and the rest of the trip was generally successful.

The remarkable thing about all this is that Hogan had managed to sneak past Dan M., who had gone to check on him, and then past me as I was watching the gate area. Mr. Hogan was not a man who moved quickly, ever. To this day, I don't know how this was possible.

The final outcome of this episode was the establishment of our lab's Permanent Rule Number 1: if there's a plane, get on it. Every man for himself. While it applies everywhere, and to modes of transportation other than commercial aviation, it applies doubly at San Francisco International.

Mr. Hogan passed away on Friday after a short illness. He was 66 years old. His last official activity with our lab was leading a student group on a tour of some major transportation infrastructure San Francisco.

May God bless Mr. Hogan's memory, and give us all the wisdom to get on the plane.