The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life
. . . still studying and learning how to live

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Friday, January 27, 2012
Personal Reflections ...

About 36 years ago, I had graduated from NJIT with a bachelors degree in industrial engineering (where did all that time go?) and was anxious to get out into the world and start doing some real engineering work. But like today, the economy was bad and job prospects for college grads was not very good. I didn’t have a job lined up by graduation day in late May, and the Spring turned to Summer and then Autumn as I continued on a fruitless search for professional employment. I had a friend who also graduated that year, with a liberal arts degree. He had quickly lined up a job selling insurance in a small town outside of Pittsburgh, PA. Better than nothing!

One day the guy in question told me that he knew someone from a company that was hiring engineers, so he took my resume and passed it on to them. A few weeks later, in late August, we both took Saturday road trips out to the Harrisburg area and met up at the Rockville train bridge, where we took various photos of freight trains going over the Susquehanna River (just a hobby thing at the time). We didn’t spend much time together that day, and for whatever reason we both weren’t giving each other much attention (maybe because he had another friend with him and I had two other fellows with me). But he did give me a card with a name on it, and told me to “call this guy” about the job, and tell him that you were referred by “Harry”. The card was from “Salvucci Engineers” in Pittsburgh, but my friend didn’t tell me who they were or what they did. Nor who Harry was. And I didn’t ask.

I never did call the guy from Salvucci Engineers, as I just didn’t have a good feeling about it. Two months later I got a part-time delivery job with United Parcel Service, with the promise that if I did well I would be considered for a professional engineering job. Well, by Christmas it was apparent that I wasn’t cut out to be a UPS driver (or engineer), and I was back home again scanning the want ads. I was losing hope, and it seemed too late to call Salvucci. But just when things were darkest, literally (right around this time of year with its late sunrises and early sunsets), an interview followed quickly by a job offer came through from the federal Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington, DC. I finally had a professional career started.

I left the Bureau some two years and six months later, and never held another engineering job; my work life took a lot of twists and turns after that. But government work had set the theme for me, as I have spent most of my working life with either government or not-for-profit agencies. Even my one stint in private industry was with an insurance industry rating bureau, which was technically organized on a non profit basis (although it was completely controlled by for-profit insurance companies). I never experienced a small profit-oriented commercial firm such as Salvucci.

I mostly forgot about Salvucci; some years later the friend who gave me their card told me that he had talked about me with a high-up there, and that had I called and gone out for an interview, I probably would have been hired. But I was working steadily by then, so I gave it little further thought. I can’t say why, but today out of nowhere I started thinking about that little incident; kind of a “what might have been” musing. What if I had gotten a job with Salvucci Engineers and had moved to Pittsburgh? Would my career path have been radically different? Would I be different today? Would I know different people, think different thoughts, live in a different town and under a different circumstance?

I would venture to guess that the answers to those questions are all ‘yes’. Life is a complex but loopy phenomenon, a non-linear recurrent feedback function as the math people might say. And those situations are subject to chaotic behavior, whereby minor changes at a starting point are amplified into major differences some time down the road. This is the basis of the “butterfly effect” in chaos theory, the idea that if the butterfly doesn’t flap its wings, the weather will go one way (say, a hot, sunny drought), but if it does, things will be very different (hurricanes and blizzards).

Given the chaotic nature of complicated things like human lives, one can never say just where “the road not taken” might have led. We like to imagine that we would be happier and more fulfilled, but it could have gone exactly the opposite way. So who knows what would have happened to me had Bob and I been in better moods on that humid summer afternoon outside of Harrisburg, and had Bob taken a few minutes to explain what Salvucci is and how he made contact with them on my behalf.

In the 36 years since my missed opportunity, the Internet has brought scads of data about almost everything under the sun right to our fingertips for instant access. So I did a search about Salvucci Engineers. It looks as though they were a prominent, successful professional engineering firm back in the 70s and 80s, but went bankrupt just before the start of the 21st century. Various people have mentioned their memories of working at Salvucci on blogs, and a handful of ex-Salvucci employees have passed on to the next life with a brief mention of their service there on their obituary. Would I have been more like them, respectable family guys with stable engineering careers? Instead of the crazy, twisty path that my adult life has taken?

As the Zen teachers say, all we have is the present. But we also have our memories and our imagination, and that’s not such a sin despite the fact that those things can mess up our quiet meditations in search of Zen “suchness”. I can’t know how my life would have changed had I gone to Pittsburgh back in late 1975, but I can fruitfully ponder the quandaries of time and fate that underlies such wonderings. All we know is the present, but what we don’t know (and know that we don’t know) might also give our lives meaning and flavor (just as what we don’t know about quantum physics somehow gives tiny elementary particles charge and spin). We all have our “Salvucci Engineers” incidents, and I think that is a good thing. Let us celebrate the mystery of it all!

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:34 pm      

  1. Today, I decide to Google Salvucci Engineers out of curiosity, and that is where I came across your blog. I had worked at Salvucci Engineers, 1978-1981, as a civil draftsman. The entire business was dependent upon the steel & railroad industries. They hired me because I’d worked for US Steel and they though that I had connections that would bring in work. I was the only female in that department, with one more in a different dept. I was told by an “oldtimer” that I was taking a breadwinner’s job. That was the ‘blue collar man’s club’ mentality back then. It was probably kismet that kept you from working at Salvucci. I don’t think you missed out on anything by not working there, but you’ll never know.

    Comment by Kathy Martin — September 5, 2012 @ 10:13 am

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