Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Explosions, Collisions, Exams

Well, it's been quite a week or two.As some may know, I have been working hard towards getting my P.E. (Professional Engineer) license. This license allows the engineer to legally sign on drawings confirming that a design is correct, testify in a court of law, and show that he or she is generally capable of making competent engineering design decisions where human lives, health, or property is at risk. In order to get a P.E. license, one must first pass the E.I.T. (Engineer In Training) exam, accumulate three years of industry experience, and then pass the P.E. exam.

I've been studying for almost six months for the E.I.T. I have also been working long overtime hours (about 60 hours per week) until recently. Fortunately, the design project I've been working on so hard finally went out to the client. I suddenly found myself on a normal working schedule on October 1st, so I decided to really put the pedal to the metal studying. For a solid month (minus, of course, Sukkot) I was studying for three hours per day on weekdays and all day Sunday.

Two Fridays ago, I left work early to try to get in some studying before Shabbes started. There I was sitting at the intersection minding my own business when I heard some popping noises and looked in my rearview mirror to see flying glass and pieces of car. Before I could think, I was rear-ended and my car was thrown into a busy intersection. My car still ran, and I managed to pull to the side of the road with pieces of my car falling off. I really consider myself fortunate, since the person to the left of me had her car totaled and was hauled off in an ambulance, and the person to the left of her and to the right of me were both smashed up in the accident, but I walked away with only rear damage but a running car.

My car managed to limp home. On the way I was consoled upon hearing that Arafat died. I made a temporary repair by duct taping my bumper back onto my car, which has held up very well even in the rain. My insurance broker keeps calling me with tips to weasel money out of the insurance company.

The E.I.T. exam is always given on Saturday, but I received an exemption for religious reasons, which the exam proctor referred to as a "social handicap" and I was allowed to take it a different day. The exam covers everything you learn as an undergraduate, including calculus, thermodynamics, statics, dynamics, electric circuitry, fluid mechanics, physics, chemistry, and computer programming. The test is eight hours long, broken up into a four hour morning section on general engineering and four hour discipline-specific afternoon section, in my case mechanical engineering. I feel pretty good about the morning section, but I’m not so sure about the afternoon section. It was a tough exam, and the effort of studying, taking time off from work, and actually taking the exam was so exhausting that I really don’t want to have to take it again. On my way home, I heard that, his recent death notwithstanding, Arafat was awake and eating cornflakes. A bad omen.

So I came home to the election, which leads me to a confession… I was so wrapped up in my studies that I missed the registration deadline. For the last week I’ve been sulking about my failure as an American. Thank heavens, the Prez-EE-dent was re-elected without my help. Unfortunately, Bush lost California, and all because of me. Still, it was quite a relief. I could say more on why I think it was right for Jews to vote Republican in this election, but then I might never be able to stop. To top off the good news, it was announced that Arafat died again. Two hours later, Arafat issued his congratulations for President Bush’s victory.

So, for the last week, I’ve been working overtime making up the hours I missed for taking the E.I.T. exam. Last night I had finally finished working off the hours, and it was to be the first time I came straight home at 5 P.M. since July. I thought that I was through the woods, but…
…three miles away from where I was working, about 200 feet behind my apartment, the utility company has been digging a pipeline to divert a local creek under the road for flood control. Construction workers managed to expose a pipeline carrying jet fuel from the refinery in Martinez down to the San Jose Airport. For whatever reason, they happened to be doing some welding work in the same trench. The contractor then decided to use a backhoe to drop sections of pipe into the trench instead of the standard and safer procedure of lowering pipe sections by crane. You can see where this is headed.

At around 2 P.M., the resulting explosion shook all of Walnut Creek, sending a ball of flaming jet fuel careening into the sky. At my work, ambulances and fire trucks raced by, but there was little they could do at that point. The blast killed three workers instantly. Two more workers are still missing (i.e. completely vaporized.) Because the fuel pipeline was under pressure, fuel shot out at high velocity and acted as a giant blowtorch, incinerating a house across the street and causing fires at three apartment buildings. One square mile of Walnut Creek, including my apartment, were evacuated completely. Firefighters put out the blaze but it kept shooting back up until late last night, when the rain mercifully started falling. Upon further investigation, I found out that the design was done by Carollo Engineers (my company.) This is the worst tragedy that our company has ever been involved in and the first where someone died. I was able to go home at 9 P.M. to find my apartment still in one piece, but the whole neighborhood stank from the fire. I checked the news before going to bed. It looks like the Arabs have finally confessed that, no, Yassir Arafat is not dead, and he will be buried in Ramallah on Friday.
Well, other than the road carnage, 60 hour weeks, tectonic political shifts, grueling exams, and catastrophic explosions of jet fuel, it’s been a quiet week here in Walnut Creek.

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