That was the theme of a recurring series of articles in Readers Digest. I am sure most Insiders have come across people in their lives who have made an impact, caused a moment of reflection or aggravated us at the time. Here's a recounting of my encounter with a person that I met about 11 years ago, a really unforgettable character
The traffic slowed then stopped. I regretted my decision to take this part-time job, but it did get me in for free. The US Open comes to Pebble Beach every ten years, a week of golf but a hard ticket to get. Since I live a mile from the course, I applied for a job driving a van for the Pebble Beach owned Beach and Tennis Club, located along Stillwater Cove just off the 4th fairway. I transported members to the club where they dined and, if interested, watched golfers trudge by.
I reached down, jacked up the air conditioner a notch and looked in the tiny convex mirror to see how my charges were doing. The rich and famous seemed content to wait for the roads to clear, chatting amiably in the second and third row seats of the Ford minivan. I hunched over the wheel, then stretched, listening to the conversation’s ebb and flow about money, houses, plastic surgeons, jet planes, and friends. To them, I was invisible and that was fine. After thirty or so roundtrips I knew the routine.
June is normally freezing since a thick marine layer of fog blankets the central California Coast. For some strange reason it was near 90 with low humidity. The traffic began to inch forward so I took a shortcut past the Pebble Beach Lodge. Another part-time employee was there to open the doors and let people out. No one spoke to me or to him. I stared straight ahead, watching the heat rise from the asphalt parking lot.
The passenger side door opened, and I saw a small man wearing red converse tennis shoes hoist himself into the passenger seat beside me. He was small, about 75, dressed in clothes that had been in his closet for a long time, maybe too long.
“Hello,” I said, “I probably should wait for a few more folks before we go back.”
“No mind to me,” he said in a southern drawl. “Hey, can you take me home? I live not far from the equestrian center, and if you can I’d appreciate it. Sam’s the name,” he said thrusting a weathered hand my way. “You a car nut?”
“Sure, I mean I like them, but…”
“Well, you gotta see my new garage. It’s a hum dinger”
We left the club and crawled up the hill. “You say you live not far from the equestrian center?” I asked.
“Down the road quarter mile or so, turn left, can’t miss it. Bought the place a couple years back, had to fight those jerks in the planning commission, made me promise not to tear it down.”
“Yep, historic place, that kind of stuff. Never knew that there were so many rules. Paid two point five for it a year ago. Worth about 14 now they tell me but I don’t care. I’m gonna be carried out feet first, it’s my last house.”
There was a break in the traffic and we reached ten miles an hour. “So, this garage, tell me more about it,” I said.
“You remember that big sugar mill over in Spreckels, the one where John Steinbeck worked? Well, I saw they were tearing down that big stack there and I made them an offer for the bricks. Ten thousand red bricks to be exact. Couldn’t use a lot of them, but they’re my driveway.”
The limousine driver ahead of me stopped and waited for a flock of Canada geese to slowly cross the road. “Lot of bricks,” I said absent-mindedly.
“Yep, but I love my cars and I need to have a good road to get to ‘em. Take this street here and we’ll cut out a lot of traffic.” Sam pointed in the direction of a stern-looking California Highway Patrol officer blocking an entrance.
The policeman put his hand up, telling us to stop, and then as Sam rolled down his window, he approached the van. Sam knew the guy, and we moved through the barricades and away from the traffic.
The trees were bigger, the road clearer, and the houses bigger. I saw a red driveway that stretched forever, the new home of the ten thousand Spreckels sugar mill bricks, and turned in. I turned my two-radio off. Better to be out of radio range, or pretend that I was.
We came to an immense Spanish colonial house nearly dwarfed by new construction. Sam leaned forward, enjoying the view. “There she is,” he said proudly, pointing to the three story structure nearing completion.
“You’ve got a lot of cars,” I said pointing to the grassy field beside it.
“Fifty or so, last count,” Sam said as if doing the math. “They all run. I leave that Concours stuff to the young guys.”
We walked, Sam proudly pointing to features that he liked and wanted. He showed me some, mostly large Rolls Royce’s, a few classic American models from the 30s, all in average to good shape.
Sam told me he’d been married a seven times, that he’d been in a lot of businesses, but that he was first and foremost a car guy. Told me that sometimes he forgot everything else when he was out in the early morning starting them, since many needed to be run once a day.
To Sam it was all just numbers: ten thousand red bricks, 50 cars, 7 wives, a life spent doing what he wanted. And wearing red Converse sneakers.
A postscript: In the 1930s Sam invented the makeup brush and collected royalties the rest of his life. He passed away in 2009, and at his wake, held at the house with all those bricks and cars, a solemn gathering was shocked to hear Sam's voice over the speakers. Sam began his own wake with the words, "You're probably wondering why I asked you all to come today..."
Great man and unforgettable character.
Did you ever meet Hale Irwin?
He lived not far from me and belonged to the same tennis club as I did, Town and Country Racquet. He had a black mercedes with license plate, US Open (Would not happen today), and as he passed me one day he was driving and telling the kids in the car to behave (Real world). Likewise, I asked him one day about his famous golf shot at Pebble Beach, where the ball hit the rocks and came back on the course, he laughed, it was a "Miracle", I do not remember the date but it was a famous day in PB history, do you know this story?
Steppingstones - The subject of this discussion reminded me of a person I "met" while serving as an Assistant Attorney General and Special Assistant to the Attorney General of a New England state, other than the one I currently reside in. I put "met" in quotes because the meeting was via letter only.
One day I got a call from the Governor's Director of Constituent Services who was alerting me to a letter that she was sending over to me for response, as the letter was asking for legal advice. I should have known from her tone of voice what to expect.
The letter arrived later that afternoon. It was from a man in, as I recall, New Jersey, asking for information on our state's laws regarding taxidermy. Specifically, he wanted to know whether our state had any laws prohibiting the stuffing of a person upon their demise. He stated in the letter that, if permitted, he would prepay to have his body shipped to a taxidermist in my state, along with the prepaid fee for stuffing and then shipping to a party he would specify. In his instructions to the taxidermist he would also specify the position he would want to be mounted in. Needless to say, this letter came to be known as the "get stuffed" letter. I had to tell him that we could not give private legal advice and that he would have to check with a private attorney in my state. (And yes, the ideas that people in both the Governor's and AG's office had as to what the mounting position would be were, to say the least, somewhat imaginative.)
I suspect that it's pretty obvious why this letter writer qualifies as the "most unforgettable character I've ever "met."