15 minute mathematics advice (3) /w Krishnaswami Alladi

One of my professors from University of Florida; the very person who taught me the first graduate course in q-series and partition theory; one of my academic recommenders; it is a pleasure to know Krishnaswami Alladi. I learn a lot from him in every conversation we have, and this is no exaggeration.

 

This time on camera, we chatted about Krishna’s thoughts about mathematics. We somehow found ourselves in a conversation about the origins of the Ramanujan journal.

 

 

15 minute mathematics advice (2) /w Christoph Koutschan

It is always great to chat with Christoph. I am happy to know him for 3 years, and I have listened to his advice many times before. It felt like the right time to share his intuition with people.

Especially right after becoming a postdoctoral researcher under his mentoring, I had many questions. I had a great chat with Christoph. I hope you’d also find it just as enjoyable as I did.

 

 

15 minute mathematics advice (1) /w Stefano Capparelli

I recently had the chance to chat with Prof. Stefano Capparelli in his office at Sapienza University of Rome.

I want to share our conversation with the public. I hope that this conversation, I enjoyed very much, would also be interesting/enjoyable/inspiring/helpful to others.

 

 

I also want to add that I had a great visit at Sapienza. I will remember this research visit as a fond memory.  Stefano and Andrea, I would like to personally thank you for your hospitality once again. I hope that we can get in touch and finish some projects we have started in this period.

 

An account on the 16th International Conference on Srinivasa Ramanujan

Kumbakonam, Tamil Nadu, India. 21-22 December 2018

Srinivasa Ramanujan’s legacy is undeniable in the mathematics community. His uncanny story from his birth in the small town of Kumbakonam to his election as the first Indian as a Fellow of the Trinity College in Cambridge and his early passing is well known and now even in film format. The accomplishments he packed in his 32 year long life, in a bad choice of words: his “innovations,” makes him the Steve Jobs of mathematics. One can only wonder where mathematics would have been if he were to see 35, 40 or even 50?

Ramanujan’s legacy is transformed into heritage in his hometown with the efforts of the Shanmugha Arts, Science, Technology & Research Academy (SASTRA) University. This young university built a reputation for their quality of education inside India and for the Annual International Conferences on mathematics inspired by Ramanujan’s work. Later, this annual conference is crowned with the Ramanujan prize to acknowledge ground-breaking achievements in the spirit of Ramanujan of researchers under the age of 32. Although I do not know its past, nowadays this prize is considered to be of the highest rank in number theory, and even considered as a predecessor of a possible Fields medal, which is awarded for researchers under the age of 40.

I had the privilege of delivering a lecture in the 16th International Conference on Ramanujan among a handful of local and international researchers. This conference packed a lot in the one and a half days. On top of the first day’s tight schedule with seven lectures, we got to listen the addresses of the prize winners on the second day’s morning. The 2018 SASTRA Ramanujan prize is shared by Yifeng Liu and Jack Thorne for their invaluable advancements in number theory. It was no surprise that these researchers were inspiring and it is clear that they will be pushing the boundaries of knowledge for a long time.

For most speakers this conference started at the Chennai airport. I would also like to start reflecting on my experiences from there. After getting the invitation, getting the visa, getting ready, getting to the airport, getting to Chennai airport after midnight came my first sight of India: chaotic… yet somehow familiar. It took me a couple of failed phone calls and walking around the arrival area twice to find the person picking me up from the airport. I was the last one to arrive on 19th of December (technically first one to arrive on 20th). GP, a college friend of my former professor from University of Florida and the Ramanujan prize committee member Krishnaswami Alladi, was a long time volunteer of this conference. We started chatting as we wait for the cab to arrive. GP met everyone that I know in the community and more. Over the years of volunteering, he collected many interesting and sometimes really funny memories with the influential mathematicians, and he was not a bit shy to share.

The next morning, I got to meet my graduate school friend Chris Jennings-Shaffer. Although we were living in adjacent countries, it was the third time that we met in another country. It is no surprise that University of Florida and its graduates were showing some presence in this conference. Three members, Krishnaswami Alladi, Alexander Berkovich, and Frank Garvan, of the four member number theory group are all active and leading researchers in Ramanujan influenced mathematics. Krishnaswami Alladi himself was a part of this conference, and me and Chris were, in a way, representing our former advisors Berkovich and Garvan, respectively. After the breakfast the conference invitees started to meet around the minibus that will take the crew to Kumbakonam.

The details I missed about the traffic in India were all visible in the morning. The roads were just as chaotic as the insides of the Chennai airport, if not more. Inside the bus, it was the driver, a chaperon from the SASTRA university and the conference group and the honking noise. The cars speak in the language of sounding horns to indicate the overtakes in Chennai area. Most trucks even had “Sound Horn” written on their back, demanding indication from tvertaking vehicles. Our driver, in every single strip of the way and in each trip, sounded his horn to anything and everything: from the upcoming trucks (that clearly can see us) to the monkeys sitting on traffic barriers . Yes, there were some monkeys around the mid-point of the road. Begging and looking for food from the passing vehicles on the highway. We were getting honked at in the rare occasions our horn wasn’t at use. The symphony of the klaxons became the normal ambient noise of the Indian roads while we chatted and got to meet each other more. With a lunch break, it was getting dark when we finally made it to Kumbakonam, but the days schedule still included a short Ramanujan themed pilgrimage.

We started with the school Ramanujan went to. A big compound stuck in time with pastel blue outside walls and bright green parrots nesting on its higher floors. Our bus parked right in front of the Ramanujan’s bust and we started to wander around towards the building. Krishnaswami guided us around the school after some group photos in front of the building; it was clear that he knew the building like the back of his hand. After care takers of the school served us coffee and tea at the main classroom, and after I left my mark to this historic location by spilling coffee (gracefully), we took group pictures with Ramanujan’s bust and headed to Ramanujan’s house. This tiny house in the middle of Kumbakonam was now a modest museum for people to visit. Another bust of Ramanujan in the middle of the house triggered another big photo session. This time the photo shoot needed to be done in small groups due to the limited space. There weren’t much furniture to reference any living conditions but, just by looking at the size of the house it was clear that it could not have been a comfortable life. Maybe Ramanujan found his comfort in mathematics, maybe that discomfort was his key which took him out of that house and made him into this legendary name today. We signed the guest book and thanked SASTRA for the protection efforts and for turning this place into a museum. We moved on to the Sarangapani Temple down the road from the house. It was the first and only attempt of the group to walk on the roads. We did get honked at, a lot, but we made it to our destination safe. Mathura Alladi and Krishnaswami guided us through the insides of the temple where Ramanujan and his family worshiped. We got the blessings of Vishnu in his Vaishnava incarnation. The temple was almost empty at the time we visited, but we learned that it was only because that the previous day was the main day to visit this temple and it served thousands that day. It was a spiritual and once in a life time event… till the next day.

Although getting to Kumbakonam exhausted everyone, most of the group was ready for breakfast at 7:30 am. This was the suggested time by Krishna because we were going to SASTRA at 8:30 am. After a huge cheerful chat on the breakfast table about food, India, similarities and differences with other cultures and such, we found the day’s first speaker and pack in our bus. Crossing Kumbakonam in the morning showed me how rustic the town really was. It was crammed together and chaotic (as everywhere else), it was alive. I felt that I was in a protective bubble in that bus, which had two chaperons with us this time. We were only there to take part in a university activity and the life out of the bus was so much different than what I have seen so far. Not bad per se, just completely unfamiliar. The university delegation was waiting for us at the doors of the SASTRA Srinivasa Ramanujan Center’s door. We were guided to a big amphitheater and the inauguration ceremony started with the talks about the significance of Ramanujan’s legacy and how SASTRA was there, dedicated to protecting it. The actual ceremony included the presentation of the awards and some really nice talks about the history of the conference and the meaning of the award. The awardees then took the podium for short acceptance speeches. Both Yifeng and Jack kept their speech short but highly elegant. Not that I was giving an acceptance speech anytime soon, but I thought to myself that I couldn’t have managed to keep my speech that tidy. Now I have two examples to cheat from. Thanks guys.

The ceremony was followed by a photo shoot and TV interview sessions for the organizers and the prize winners. They made it to the news and to the newspapers the next day. It was great to see that mathematics being valued by a wider audience than usual audience —you know— mathematicians only. The award winners, this school, and the prize were definitely deserving to be recognized. Us speakers thankfully weren’t at the spotlight and got the chance to see the Ramanujan museum at the university. It was a nice collection with one missing link, an original piece. I wish the museum had a letter from Ramanujan’s hands, not necessarily mathematics related or anything, but maybe a letter to his mother or wife, who lived in Kumbakonam too.

The academic portion of the award started after the interviews. The amphitheater was filled with students on the back and their professors in the front. I hoped that the students were sitting there by their own accords. I felt bad for them, they needed to endure seven (mine included) long lectures. It was definitely too much for me now, after many years of training in seminar sleeping. The talks showed how many fields Ramanujan touched. I couldn’t find it in me to zone off. It was so nice to see all those beautiful questions, ingenious approaches, intricate details… all taught from the experts in these fields. There was one cryptography related lecture, where it was admitted that there weren’t any involvement of Ramanujan with the topic. On the other hand, time-and-time-again I have heard that Ramanujan just “approaches out of his grave and snatches the results off of people’s hands.” Cryptography researchers better be aware; they might find themselves in the backyard of Ramanujan any day now.

It was already late afternoon when the day’s program ended, but our hosts wanted to show us the Brihadisvara Temple of Shiva. It was an exhausting day, but with little to no hesitation we filled the the bus for a ride there. It was another long car ride of sounding our horn and feeling other people’s frustration over their horns. It was the end of the day after all, everyone wanted to be back home as the sun sets. We met our tour guide at the gates. He told us that particular day was the God Shiva’s day and we caught a unique day to get his blessing. All we needed to do was to get the blessings before the pantheon closed its doors. We entered the huge courtyard and hastily get the blessings from The Nandi (bull) incarnation of Shiva, the Shiva himself and his wife Parvati. It felt a little rushed to go from one shrine to the other one, but right as we were regrouping (and taking group photos) in front of Parvati’s shrine the sound of brass horns and conchs started. A group of followers started the intense ritual of carrying Shiva in a litter down the stairs with smoke and lots of brouhaha followed it. The relic and the horn players made their way into the shrine of Parvati to tuck Shiva goodnight with his consort. It marked the end of the day for Shiva and for us visitors of his house. It was definitely not a performance one can find in a mosque or a church.

The second and the last day of the conference only had the lectures from the prize winners. I, on the other hand, was more interested in the SASTRA University itself. On the first day around the lunch time, we got the chance to walk around the active school. I knew the school was in action, and at first sight it became clear that SASTRA was providing an incredible service to this developing region with the limited resources they have. If time permitted I wanted to see a lecture, and (although be a huge distraction) to share the experience the students have. I got lucky; not only that I did not miss the big lectures, the dean also arranged a classroom for me to visit. It was a complex analysis course for a mixed audience: some mathematics majors, but mostly from engineering. I am glad that I got the privilege to sit in that room with all those brilliant students, but I also want to apologize to the instructor for being a distraction. He asked me if I would like to ask anything to his students. I didn’t. I instead offered if the students would like to ask anything to me. They didn’t. With the instructor, we went through a brief conversation on my resume, and how I got out of Turkey and started to be a world roamer. Of course, that was to encourage the point that every single student can do the same. Nevertheless, it made me feel a little embarrassed. I wanted to be clear that it wasn’t boasting but an example for the students to aim towards. I can only hope that our conversation had the wanted effect on the students.

After lunch, we packed into the minibus once again to listen to honks for hours. The ride from Kumbakonam to Chennai area took about eight hours. By that time, Chris and I had about only four hours before our flights. It didn’t make sense to risk going anywhere else but to drop ourselves at the airport. We “worked” on a conjecture of Chris with our fried minds with banana chips and water till the boarding time came. No progress made on that conjecture yet… but much progress in me has been made in this trip. I may have not gotten the prize itself, but I have been awarded greatly. Maybe it was all those blessings and the red dots on my forehead, maybe it was all those influential mathematicians, maybe it was the place and its significance, but, no matter what it was, I took home many new views to digest, many memories to fondly remember.

 

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Workshop on Integer Partitions

Two related links: Nesin Mathematics Village and this workshop’s description.
Pdf Version: Workshop on Integer Partitions.

 

Nesin Mathematics Village, May 21–25, 2018

Nesin Mathematics Village

This unique place needs no introduction. I —while offending other valuable foundations— would always say that this is the one non-profit organization that has added so much to Mathematics community and Turkey in general. This is the only place that can take you out of today’s civilization[1], and accommodate you with open arms to do undistracted research, hold workshops etc. They try to support all academic events regardless of the size. They would try their hardest to provide accommodation, food, and of course the Turkish signature: unlimited amounts of tea. They even actively protect you by warning people to be silent and not to be intrusive if people start to distract studying groups. This village’s respect culture spreads across everyone there, from the founder Ali Nesin to the village’s volunteers and even to the young visitors.

I have been to the Nesin Mathematics Village three times. Two of these visits were 7 day stays, and one was an hour long touristic tour with some of my PhD friends. My first visit was in February of 2010. I was a student of Çetin Ürtiş at the time, working on my Masters Thesis. He organized a Number Theory themed workshop with Hamza Yeşilyurt, Ahmet Muhtar Güloğlu and Ömer Küçüksakallı. I remember this experience with fond memories. It was motivational. My second long visit was my recreation of this workshop. I have gained from this community and I wanted to return the favor. I wanted to have a workshop that some grad students can remember as motivational.

This place is a safe haven for thinkers. There is no politics, no business goals and the competition that comes with it. A village among all others with almost no permanent residents. A simple village that has chalkboards, tea, tables, and people with golden hearts that work hard to keep this place and its ahead-of-its-time vision. There are the ones who volunteer their times, and there are the ones in feeling who donate their hard earned cash. I want to thank them all for what they have created.

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The Workshop

Two days after the workshop I asked myself “Would I have organized this workshop any different?” The answer was rather easy. If anything, I should have made sure that there was a second leg of this workshop. Now that need was in jeopardy, but thankfully the negotiations were in effect.

I feel like I accomplished something. I feel proud of this workshop. I am still surprised how everything came together all so perfectly. 8 months ago, it was just a small wish of mine that I casually mentioned to my new boss. Veronika was to kind and supportive. I wish she could have been a part of the conference too, but our big boss is a cute little toddler that wants her mom around—not in a village in Turkey.

I was hoping to have a week-long lecture series of 4 to 5 researchers on Combinatorics. I thought having a group of researchers teach their related but non-overlapping lectures and share their techniques in their current research was a good plan to stimulate the interest of new grads students. At least it was a good plan in my mind. I was not expecting students to be able to follow everything or to like everyone. I didn’t need to understand everything in my plan. I couldn’t have asked for anything more from participants. But Heck! If there was going to be a workshop, I wanted to have the most liked lecture series. I was going to keep it accessible at every step of the way. Therefore, I decided to do the combinatorial treatment and proofs in the theory of partitions. I was going to talk about those parts of my research only and keep the interest of students by just shifting boxes on Ferrers diagrams left and right. This was the anchor for the theme of this workshop.

The workshop was going to be on the Theory of Partitions and q-series. Therefore we needed people that can cover classical theorems well. I knew the best two people that can present these classical things. Kağan from Sabanci University and Hamza from Bilkent University would have been great for introducing q-series manipulations and modular forms for congruences, respectively. Then came the harder part. I needed a topic (and a person that can introduce it) that could add a new angle to this workshop dream of mine. I got lucky, the Research Institute for Symbolic Computation turned 30 and many former students of this institute converged for this event. Veronika introduced me to Zafeirakis (Zaf) from Gebze Technology University. I was forming this workshop plan his research was a close cousin of theory of partitions. Most importantly he was interested in taking part. He was going to introduce Polytopes and Macmahon partition analysis. Not only that, he became the local organizer, and started our communications with the Nesin Mathematics Village. We have asked Kağan and Hamza for their participation and they both accepted.

Zaf and Kağan made the life easier for me. They made all the planning and handled all the correspondences. The only thing I handled after forming the group was Christopher Jennings-Shaffer’s involvement with this workshop. As the start time was getting close, Hamza needed to take a step back. It was a big loss. I still wanted participants to see the congruence side of the partition theory research. Chris, a close friend of mine from PhD studies in University of Florida, was in “close” proximity at the University of Cologne. He always had interesting research that I wanted to listen to too. I knew his topics were technical (just as how I felt about Hamza’s topics many years back). I thought that people should see some good use of Bailey’s lemma, rank, crank, and the spt-function. I felt that he would be willing to come and teach at this workshop, but the only caveat was that we couldn’t support his trip. He graciously accepted regardless of this issue. I was, one again, reassured that mathematics meant more than money.

I was in for a huge shock when the time came and I entered the village again. The village was almost a town now. It expanded greatly while not losing anything from its feel. The volunteer and the organization team had everything ready for us. They gave me a one room stone house under a mulberry tree’s shadow. Mulberries were tasty; they attracted many pretty butterflies, and sadly some sizely spiders. Chris picked a second floor room on another stone house on the next street. It was the end of the Antalya Algebra Days XX at the village. Many top Algebraists were leaving the town. There was also a middle school group acting their age as they wait for their lecture from Ali Nesin. We started to meet the participants of the workshop around dinner time. We met a three people research group from good universities that came together at the village to work on a mutual project. Our workshop was given the main library and they were going to be our neighbors in room next doors.

Our group was small but rather diverse. Kağan had the most influence in numbers. He brought some PhD and Masters Students of his from Sabanci. Zaf had his one student from his project. There were two from the Akdeniz University; this was a great surprise. I have met their professors Ayhan and Mehmet in my advisor’s workshop and now in a sense I was meeting that university’s next generation.

First two days we stuck with the original schedule of 90 minute lectures. It was a good crash course for the people, but it seemed like it wasn’t leaving enough time for interaction or to look over the notes again. It made sense to change the program to include some discussion and interaction time. We have shortened our classes and added a block of research time. This was a great decision. Every instructor suggested some problems some open problems, some just exercise. My problem attracted some interest, but we had no luck. I was able to do some brainstorming some people in this research block. It seemed like some people were a little shy to interact, but everybody still seemed interested. They have worked well and it feels like between us some participants caught some ideas for their future projects. Chris’ topics might have been a little hard—as intended. He had some interactions in these research times but he was free enough to get to do his own work.

Kağan, I, and his students got the chance to bounce ideas in the official discussion times. We talked about a certain portion of Alladi’s work. I am hopeful to see generalizations of those results in the future. Also the Antalya group asked me some really nice problems on the second day of the new program, I was really happy to see them interested. We had long chats on Thursday and Friday. A main breakthrough (in my opinion) came from the group that Zaf’s questions originally attracted. He was able to hook his own student, another confident participant, and later me. The problem we worked on is now being typed, so I will not say much about it. Who knows? Maybe it will even become a paper one day. This group stayed up late, had many math arguments, tried new things, wrongly calculated many things on the board, and laughed a lot together.

On the last night of the event, we had a dinner in the neighboring village Şirince. Every participant wanted to be there, and they had a great time getting to know each other more. It reminded me of the dinner we had in my first visit to the village. It reminded me of my professors joking around between themselves and how it made me feel that they were also just normal people. I was so happy that we had full participation. After the dinner, we had some drinks and had lots of chat at the village.

We decided to go back to the original program to cover as much as we can and also finish early for the last day. Some participants were leaving early and we didn’t want them to miss anything. I started the day, said my words, and said my thanks for the other organizers and participants. Kağan took us to the first half of the day. Zaf had enough material to present our findings in the second half. He went through what we have already found, how we calculated things, the difficulties, and unfinished parts that we need to address. Chris finished the workshop as early as he wanted to, at the high point of the spt-function congruences. He bragged about finishing early in the following days too.

I want to quote Chris on his tongue in cheek list of our accomplishments:

“Ali made sure to stay accessible,
Kağan made sure to cover everything Rogers–Ramanujan,
Zaf made sure to ignite some research, and
I made sure to finish early.”

Aftermath of this workshop was a mixture of two feelings: accomplishment and incompleteness. The workshop certainly came to a natural end, and it satisfied everything I hoped it would. On the other hand, it wasn’t stale yet. We were not bored of working deep into the morning, not getting enough sleep, but still waking up for the 8:30 am lectures. This made all of us say that there should have been a second workshop already planned in the horizon. That would have put our hunger at ease.

[1] Yes, that means limited Wi-fi access

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The Random 4: Stranded in Detroit

My end of many beginnings was the launch of my late year plans. I was going to my hometown to take care of some well needed business. The obligations I was carrying from Florida was worrying me a little. Went to Tampa airport to start a chain of flights on a sunny day. Said my goodbyes, checked in, cleared security, and went into an empty plane. “A short flight to Detroit” I told myself “don’t give in and fall asleep now; next one is the long one.”

Landed smoothly at Detroit, even a tiny bit earlier than expected. I felt better about my short layover. It was going to be easier to catch the next flight. I saw my connection’s gate information on the screen, and repeated it to myself for it to stick. Another fellow passenger of my route overheard my mumbling and joined me. We started chit chatting. An easy to talk to, down to earth girl with a nice smile. Pauline was a tourist in Florida. She felt that Miami had nothing touristic or nice to offer; just like any other honest tourist Miami ever had. Hearing what I always thought from her made me a little happy inside. She needed to go back to her home in Belgium to start working. A nice job description, her job consisted of entertaining young children. She picked playing laser-tag with kids as the example activity.

Florida work needed to be addressed, especially the comments about the new paper I submitted the day before. After a short review of the information at the gate, I left and found myself a seat. Some emails, some typing, some reading to make sure everything is in order… The written boarding time came and passed before I know it. We weren’t boarding.

I walked towards the gate and found Pauline there. There was a short delay. We chatted more as we wait to board. I learned that she was supposed to connect flights from Atlanta, but there was a delay. She changed her route to include Detroit after she got recommended that this would be faster. That was what she identified as her mistake. Standing right under gate’s information screens, we started socializing with other people as they come and go. Not long after the first delay, came the second one. A lot of faces dropped at the gate. We listened to the reason all together. The front light of the cockpit wasn’t working. They had a spare at the hangar. It was going to take some time to go get and install, but everything was under control. We got assured that the crew was good to fly till 2 am. It was not going to be a problem, the issue was going to be resolved by midnight and the crew was going to fly us safely to our destination.

Me and Pauline kept chatting about the job she needs to catch on Monday morning. I suggested walking around the airport a little bit. I remembered the inter-terminal tunnel with the shooting lights. This wasn’t the first time I had extra time in Detroit airport. I spent 5 hours there last time my mom decided to buy a ticket on her own. The tunnel was close to our gate. We walked it back and forth talking. The tunnel was as weird as ever. We talked about me working at a university, her being a medical student and trying to pick a field of focus. I made my preemptive guess on what she will pick without knowing her much, but influencing her by writing something here won’t be fair.

The gate crowd was, if anything, more upset when we came back 15 minutes later. The delay was in effect. There were snacks and warm soda cans on some pushcarts to keep the stuck passengers busy. Snacks wasn’t cutting it though. People needed to steam off and the airline employees were feeling this heat over the counter.

Grégory, a cool French man with an Indiana hoodie and style cut facial hair, joined us at the counter. I thought he was a proud Indiana Univesity student at first. We shared short stories. Me, Turkey, leisure and business… Pauline, work Monday, Belgium… Grégory was on a vacation around Washington D.C. and the Indiana area with his family. They had a road trip and saw acres of corn fields. He needed to cut his vacation short and go be back on top his DHL customer relations position in a couple days. Him and I kept chatting, and later looked at his Washington photos. I have added Washington D.C. to my short-list of places to see.

We were hanging out around the gate to catch the next delay announcement of the dreaded 2 am. The pilot himself announced that if the mechanics can find the broken cable out of the gillion cables in the cockpit we could still go. At that moment 2 am was just a placeholder. We kept on chatting with people at the gate. No two people were trying to go to the same final destination, our lives were just intersecting at this one flight. The one flight that made us all miserable together.

Snacks in front of the counter got paper-thin blankets and pillows added to them. Bright red blankets created a new fashion trend at the only gate that still had some people. We were officially the last flight of the day. A tribe of mostly angry people sitting and waiting for one broken cable in their tribal colors. People were fed up and angry, the group that I was in… not so much. We kept it humorous. The situation was not ideal, but were the mechanics going to find the cable any faster if we were to join the grumpy side?

Around that time we also got Cameron added to the named people of this story. Tall, sympathetic guy, putting his money on a prayer circle to improve our chances of a timely take off. He was a seventeen year-old on his way to Germany to payback a visit to the exchange student he hosted. He commented on how the people were giving a hard time to the airline employees, and how he wishes to never be at the receiving end of those complaints. His sentence made me think of teaching and all my student interactions. I thought about Grégory calling people and hearing the customers’ reaction when he tells them that their parcel is not going to make it on time. Then I thought about Pauline becoming a medical doctor and listening to people’s problems as her daily profession. Didn’t say anything to Cameron, but I felt like being the complaint department for some was just a part of being a human. I hoped that his wish comes true.

Complaining to a powerless representative 30 to 1 was still unjustifiably inhumane. He would have sent all of us to our houses instead of taking that abuse any day.

Some time passed and as we close down on 2 am, pizza appeared at the gate. Representatives put the pizza in such a way that it looked like we were boarding the flight with our boarding-plates. I focused too much on how they got the pizza in the secure area. Did the TSA ask for a boarding pass of the pizza guy? Did the boxes fit the scanner? We laughed at these things as we enjoyed our lukewarm slices.

After we got the pizza induced morale boost, the expected news of the overnight delay hit the floor. It was 2 am. The pilots were tired of sitting around and they were deemed not safe to fly. We needed a new crew from Atlanta. We were the last flight of the day, no other plane was flying in or out that night. It meant waiting for the morning… Without losing any time another announcement made clear that all hotels in the area were filled. Detroit was a busy town that night.

We sat around, chat with people: mostly heard where they were heading and where they made a mistake in their trips and ended up in Detroit, charged our devices, and tried to pass the time. Time passed, but it wasn’t going fast enough. The night was too long and we were waiting for a new flight number scheduled for almost 10 am. The random 4: Pauline, Grégory, Cameron and I decided to walk the entire terminal. We took it slow. There were too many empty gates and closed shops to cherish. We talked about the basics that make us ourselves in the entire hour-long trip. Who we were, what we do, what languages we speak, what mistake(s) lead us to Detroit that night. Later we talked about how people were shy to have conversations with strangers in general… And of course, how playing laser-tag with kids and getting paid for it was a great gig

A little before 5 am the terminal train started commuting again. The night was coming to an end. Cameron somehow found out that a close by coffee shop was opening at 5:30 am. Our excitement was visible. I claimed the check. It was a thank you to this group. Thanks to these guys, the night passed without me hitting my head on every wall I see in that terminal. I guess it was the Mediterranean, sun-touched skin thing in me. As Grégory named us, “The crew” didn’t understand why I wanted to pay but I was able to assert it. I think I remembered the Turkish saying which I can only translate as “a coffee-chat can worth 40 years of memories” and knew I wanted to remember that night.

We were right at the door to see the coffee shop’s metal curtains lift up. Walked right in with a child like excitement, started deciding, and ordering. The clerk asked:

“Where are you guys all from?”

Cameron took the lead and started listing. The confused clerk, with lots of laughter mixed into his sentence, asked

“So you guys don’t know each other at all?”

Our laughter confirmed him

“You look close, like you know each other for some ti…”

A lot more laughter…

We took our drinks to the terminal train and started riding it back and forth.On the way to the train, Grégory said “I always thought the city name t-shirts they sell at the airports were unnecessary, but I am really thinking about getting one from Detroit now.” He was right, those t-shirts were souvenirs for these type of nights. People were starting to fill the airport, and we still needed to check what happened to our flights. Couple of trips on the train was enough for this tired bunch to get bored. We left and went to our gate. Sun was coming up.

The rest is all about getting boarding passes, arranging new routes for the missed connections. You go talk to a representative and ask for the best, she talks to a representative over the phone and asks for the best, and they… takes time and patience.

We all ended up in the same flight to Amsterdam that we waited all night for, but we didn’t get to sit together. Not that we tried.

The most important thing was that, a senior high-schooler, a medical student, a young adult, and a father of three, all from completely different backgrounds enjoyed the company of each other. We couldn’t have done this on a “normal” day. Out of our comfort zones for a night, we met each other at the basics and saw how we were all OK in our own way. We unexpectedly molded friendships from our one-time misery.

 

I should have had the night connecting July 30th to 31st, 2016 in my nightmares to come, but instead it will always be a fond memory.

 

Ali Kemal Uncu, Jul 31st, 2016

The random 4 in Pdf format

 

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