Writer Rob Gurwitt and I were in Providence City Hall: he to gather information for an upcoming story, and I to take pictures of whomever and whatever Rob thought would be in his story. After a morning and early afternoon shadowing the mayor, it was time to branch out and talk to some other public servants. This doesn't just happen. By the time we arrive at a given location, Rob has spent many hours alone with his telephone and laptop, making arrangements to meet with the people he thinks will give up the most and best information. The good thing about this is that we don't waste much of what little time we have (usually two days). The bad thing is that there's not much room in the schedule to wander around and get a feel for the place.
I have a friend, Ron, who lives just outside of Providence. At one time, I worked for him when he ran a weekly newspaper about education and a monthly magazine about teaching. Before he started both publications, he was a vice president at Brown University. He has often told me stories about sending photographers out for days, even weeks at a time, so that they could properly cover a story. This, of course, happened many years ago. Those days, I think, are probably over.
If I said that my friend Ron is a smart guy, I doubt anyone would want to argue the point. Rob (the writer) is a pretty smart guy too, and he dresses the part with his glasses and blue blazer. He looks like he's always thinking. I've spent many hours trying to sit still and stay quiet while Rob asks meaningful questions and makes notes in his yellow legal pad. Like Ron, Rob is no dummy.
Ron and Rob are not the kinds of guys you would imagine would enjoy a roller derby. But you'd be wrong.
In order to draw people downtown, the city of Providence has created a large open space surrounded by tiered seating, perfect for basketball games, skate boarding, bike riding, or just hanging around. When it's cold, they flood it and play hockey. The night Rob and I were there, the rink was being used for a roller derby practice. I learned this earlier that afternoon.
I immediately called my friend Ron, who had kindly offered to pick me up when I was through working for the day and drive me back to his house. I told him that I'd be staying later than planned so that Rob and I could take in the roller derby practice. I suggested he come and get me later than originally planned, or, if he was interested, he could join us at the practice.
He was definitely interested.
A few hours later, I was on my stomach in the middle of a ring of roller derby gurlz, trying to make artistic photos of color and motion. Ron and Rob watched safely on the other side of the barrier that surrounded the rink.
Later that night we enjoyed a delicious meal in town. The derby girls had done their job in keeping us downtown.
Story Behind the Story appears every Tuesday.