Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Basic Elements of a Story

Photographer Mike Sadowski and I were downtown burning up time and gas until our next assignment.

Me: Did you see that?
Mike: What?
Me: Drive back around the block.

There, parked on the side of South Temple was an RV that looked like it had been tagged (“God plays dice with Einstein,” " Astronomers do it all night”) by a gang of high school physics students.

It was Randy Schroeder’s “Bicentennial Big Bang RV.” Its exterior was graffiti-ed with posters of heavenly bodies, lunarscapes and charts of nuclides. The stuff planetarium gift shops are made of.

He developed his style of customizing when, years ago, he patched a dent in his car with what he had at hand -- a periodic table of elements. Schroeder was a construction worker who hurt his knee and went to community college in search of a new profession and rediscovered chemistry.

And now couldn’t stop talking about it.

He was a science-minded vagabond barnstorming the country, hawking his own instructional periodic table of elements to college bookstores, and delivering a non-stop monologue on the wonders of chemistry and physics to any TV reporter who’d listen.

The conversation bounced from spectroscopy to anti-matter to Californium to quarks to a few bars of Tom Lehrer’s “The Elements,” (There's antimony, arsenic, aluminum, selenium, And hydrogen and oxygen and nitrogen and rhenium) to his late Mom’s ’76 Dodge.

He towed the beater everywhere he went. It was autographed by seven Nobel physicists and two Nobel chemists. There, indeed, were the signatures of Sir Harry Kroto, the knight behind the Buckminster Buckminsterfullerene and F. Sherwood Rowland, who helped discover the hole in the ozone layer.

Schroeder was just passing through town. Looking for directions to the local planetarium. Until he made a feature reporter’s day.

There on the side of the road were all the elements of a great story. (“And nickel, neodymium, neptunium, germanium, And iron, americium, ruthenium, uranium…) And then some.

No comments: