James Michaels
Ph.D. 1972

I realized early on just how special my years in the sociology PhD program were. I think it was because of the stimulating people (both faculty and graduate students) and the departmental culture that connected us. It was almost like the faculty and my fellow students were intentionally collected to be in the same place at the same time just for my benefit. When the time came, I was somewhat sad to leave because I was pretty sure that I’d never again be among such a stimulating group of people.

Below is a selected sample of memories:

After collecting damages from being hit by a car while crossing the street, Tom Robbins opened a Mexican restaurant called Tijuana Fats. I still remember the big poster promoting the restaurant that showed Fats (Tom) sitting in an overstuffed chair with pretty girls sitting on each chair arm. Tom was wearing a white suit with a string tie, and holding a cigar. He never looked better.

For one of his aggression studies, Des Ellis had a large fish tank with a mix of fishes, including some piranha. At selected times during the day he’d record piranha attacks. One day he was rolling the tank down the third floor hallway for a cleaning when it tipped over, dumping its contents down the stairwell. In another Ellis aggression study, a real pistol was used as a stimulus in a human gaming experiment; at least until the campus cops got wind of it. In his class we sought the answer to the Hobbesian problem of social order.

We heard the group of war protesters enter the building and march down the hallway. They stopped just outside our classroom so a student could step in and lambast Professor Simpson about something; maybe for having class while an unjust war was going on. In an I-wish-I’d-said-that moment, a student in the class stood up and defended Professor Simpson and our class most eloquently. Unfortunately, I don’t remember his name, but I won’t forget what he did.

We sat on the wall eating our lunches and watching the painter paint the sign over the soon-to-open Hector’s restaurant across the street. He painted “Famous since 1969.” The year was 1969.

Riding a motorcycle right up to the building was the best solution to the parking problem. Bud Matthews had the baddest/fastest bike around; a Kawasaki 900 Triple. Fred Reed had several BMWs. I had a puny Yamaha Enduro.

Karl Alexander came to the departmental picnic with his shoulder heavily bandaged. He had fallen from the back of an Army truck during a training exercise. I don’t mean to make light of this, because Karl coped with that injury for a long time, but some people just don’t mix well with Army trucks.

John Shelton Reed regularly played poker with the grad students. I considered this a generous income redistribution strategy on his part.

My first job after completing the program was a one-year visiting appointment for 1972-73 at the University of New Mexico. They were only hiring on visiting appointments because they had an old guard/young turks problem defined by the times. In contrast to the unfortunate academic environment, New Mexico as the Land of Enchantment was accurate.

We next landed in Baltimore, the city of hidden charms. I had a research position with the Center for Social Organization of Schools at Johns Hopkins for two years. My research colleague and I were trying to find ways to facilitate learning and academic performance in small group contexts. Karl Alexander was in the Sociology Department at JHU, and Bud Matthews was at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, so JoAnn and I were reunited socially with Karl and Sparky, and Bud and Gina. Karl stayed at JHU until his recent retirement, while Bud and Gina retired early to New Mexico.

Our final landing place was at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg in 1975. JoAnn’s job was in Learning Resources there. This place was the keeper. JoAnn’s interests in horse and dog training and showing developed into our “Hoof & Hound” limited partnership (we even had business cards). My own interests in autocrossing and tracking Porsches also developed fully. Disregarding the financial part, we both may have done better in our hobbies than in our jobs.

There is a sad note to add. JoAnn has Alzheimer’s and resides in Warm Hearth Village in Blacksburg.
michaelj@vt.edu
submitted October 2015