Sunday, August 06, 2006

weather in the middle or not

106°F. Humid. The long gray road looks rubbery in the heat. Burnished, pliant metal; two portions rolled out elastically and equidistantly from St. Louis and Kansas City. They meet in marital tolerance beneath the firey haze of Columbia. Brown, dormant grass along the shoulder gives way to scrubby trees, more grass, and perhaps another road.

Downtown was mostly devoid of pedestrain activity. The few people that did brave the heat seemed to be choreographed: slowly, but rhythmically pacing from one spot of shade to the next. As little loitering as possible.

The diner was a real diner. A very small, low profile but bulging building perched on the very edge of a very large parking lot, isolated; across the street and across the parking lot, larger buildings loomed against the orange heat. Michael and I each had two eggs, hashbrowns, sausage, and one biscuit with gravy (I had coffee as well). We argued over breakfast for sport. Mike is hard to argue with because he oozes persuasion from every pore. I never quite know how he has convinced me, but I am typically convinced. We talked about the usual upbeat stuff, you know, human population growth, the impending crash? how? when? ebola? asian bird flu? nothing new? under the sun?


Everyone at the diner was very nice.

Beatrice was a skinny, tiny, wirey, 65 year old, white haired woman who got very excited about things and laughed a lot. She had a warm, melodic, wide ranging, crackly southern voice and beautiful wrinkly, milk chocolate colored skin. Beatrice was the janitor in the Biology Department at one of the local colleges who whistled a lot. She drove a giant 1978 Dodge Ram. Beatrice was a very bad driver. It was a good thing she worked nights when the lot was mostly empty: Beatrice took up two, sometimes three parking spaces.

She would often pop into the lab to "get the trash", which really meant, "talk to you for 20 minutes when you should be working." But Beatrice was a very cool lady. She had learned enough about science to have a good sense for how knowledge is produced. Beatrice would say things like, "What's your null hypothesis? Are you shooting for a tier 1 journal? Data analysis is the worst!" She wanted to be a scientist very badly, but Beatrice had a learning disability which made reading hard for her. Beatrice still took physics and biology classes now and then, just for fun: "Wheeeel, it is free, so I like to take advantage of that, you know."

She was also very fond of robots. She never married, had no kids, one sister in the next town, but her house was filled with robots. For a while she made robots that were like remote control cars but were robots instead. They actually moved around and what not. For the last couple years, however, she just made robots because they look cool. She had a couple displayed at the library in an exhibit called "Science and Art: Bridging Boundaries: the In Between: Space".

They are mosaics of discarded scientific accoutrement, these robots. Orbital shaker base, 10 empty petri plates, bits of autoclave tape as well. She asked me for two 1ml pipette tips so I gave her four and a couple 100μl tips for good measure. She said they would look very "coooool" on her new robot.

Beatrice lived in a trailer in a bad part of town where there was, for some reason, a lot of sand in the road. Her trailer was not air conditioned. Beatrice died while we ate our biscuits and gravy at the diner.

1 comment:

Pell said...

Yeah, his is well done. I'll send you an e-mail.
John Tam