22 December 2016
By Rick Colwell
By Friday afternoon, I am full. Tired from the constant brainy fever of the posters, talks and evening discussions. I am ready to be home. My mind drifts as I stand in the lobby of the little hotel where I love to stay when I am in San Francisco. The bellhop grabs my bag from its spot behind the front desk, I give him a bill, and he stands next to me, both of us looking out the big windows at people walking by on Powell. I am waiting for the airport shuttle and now thinking about the flight home and the next things on my list.
I know him from past years. He is serious, with a thatch of dark hair, and he avoids eye contact. Maybe I’ve heard him say something in the past, maybe not. Still without looking at me he asks, “Were you attending AGU?” Surprised, I glance at him and reply, “Yes, since Monday.” A bus goes by. Still not looking at me he squints out the window and says, “You’re good people. You’re trying to understand our world. Thank you.” I am stunned and before I can say anything he adds, “Don’t get me wrong. You don’t tip like bankers, but you do good work.”
My shuttle arrives and I leave the city. But the bellhop’s words are with me years later. I remember them when I wonder, maybe like all of us sometimes, whether the world notices what we do. Shared with all of you now, you can be reassured that even though we aren’t big tippers, we are trying to understand the world. And it matters.
-Rick Colwell is a professor at Oregon State University in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Science. He studies microorganisms in deep terrestrial and subseafloor environments.