I’m often asked who my heroes are. And I line up a list
of names. I never get through all the ones that I should
and it’s different every time. But I try to include a few
obvious ones – Bob Dylan, Brian Wilson, Neil Young.
And I try to mention a few lesser known names – they
shouldn’t be lesser known if you’re asking me (which is
exactly what’s happening) – Bob James, John Waters,
Janet Malcolm. But there are so many problems with lists.
Number one: They can never be definitive. And secondly
they can start to go on and on and lose the reader. The other
thing – and this is off-list now – is that lists are sometimes
more than what you need. The simple truth for me is I have
one hero. And I have never mentioned her because I don’t
know her name. So as important as Steve Martin was when
I was growing up – and Wes Craven and Stephen King and
Suzanne Vega and Larry Bird and Steve Gadd and Robert Cray
and about 200 other names…oh, and my friends and family
too, of course, the greatest thing I ever saw was when some
visitors up at my family home were leaving in a rental car, and
it broke down in the driveway. They’d barely made it to turning
around when smoke billowed, and the steering wheel locked.
My dad used to sell cars – so he decided that meant he could have
a good look under the hood. And besides he was probably thinking
if he confirmed the death of this one, they might leave his yard
driving a brand-new vehicle. Old habits die hard. Old cars too.
The guy no longer driving the rental car got out and kicked at
a tire – pretended he was a man that knew about these things and
scratched his head as if the diagnosis was about to come to him.
His wife didn’t even remove her seatbelt. She just stayed put, reaching
into the glove compartment where she took a large book and turned
to her place. Put her head down and carried on with her reading. Not
for her the awkward smiling of a here-we-are-again hello so quickly
after that goodbye. Not for her to pretend she knew the first thing
about cars. Or billowing smoke. Or any of the nonsense that was
stopping her from getting to wherever Point B was meant to be. She
was stuck – for that moment at Point A. And the car had failed in its
simplest of duties. But she had her book. So she started to read.
Since she hadn’t been driving and wasn’t a mechanic and
didn’t have an alternate method of transportation. She was just going
to sit in that seat and read while a tow-truck or a taxi turned up to
fix whatever was wrong. I got the feeling that as far as she
was concerned there was more right with the situation than wrong.
When you’re meeting someone for the first time you cannot take out
a book and read. It’s considered quite rude. And when you’re driving
it’s dangerous to read. It’s certainly never recommended. Even in the
passenger seat there’s a motion sickness that creeps in if you’re turning
pages while wheels are turning. So she had found a perfect window
(even though it remained rolled up tight). She had said her hellos and then
her goodbyes. She had not been rude. And now since she was never going
to add anything to the current situation and was only ever going to be a minus
she sat and caught up with her reading material. She was my hero. In that
moment and every day since. I’ve never met her again, don’t remember
her name, couldn’t tell you one other thing about her (apart from the
fact that she used to be a spy, some sort of assassin-level government
agent I believe – so that’s rather interesting right?) but I now
take a book with me wherever I go.