Remembering The Batman
I used to live in Birmingham during the mid-Eighties before moving to Memphis. Great city, a lot like Memphis in many ways. But one thing that city had that we've never had is The Batman. Not the comic book hero, but a real-life nice guy who gave for the benefit of his community, though he was undoubtedly living some sort of do-good fantasy.
Willie Perry drove his super-modified car around the streets and interstates of Birmingham during the early Eighties, stopping to help stranded motorists, offering rides to people who needed them and showing off for the kids.
I met him while I was working at an Arby's just off the Interstate near Hoover. He would pull into our parking lot and the kids inside would immediately jump up when they saw his car. They'd run outside and marvel at the man in the super-hero car and costume right there in front of them.
He'd come inside and always order the same thing. (I can't remember what it was now.) I'd offer it for free to him and he'd always decline. He was a very shy man who was much older than he looked.
And then he'd go back to his car and give rides to any of the kids or teens who wanted one.
I was reminded of him over the weekend and I can't help but wonder where is Memphis' Batman? It says something about Birmingham that it can produce and extol a man like Willie Perry. He was never attacked or robbed while on his daily rounds. Nearly everyone had seen him driving around and more than a few (like me) had their stories of running into him. He was universally loved and respected for his self-sacrifice in the name of civic good.
In the twenty years I've lived in Memphis, I've never seen his like here. We have a long list of the crooked and self-serving. We had Dancing Jimmy, the mentally ill, homeless drunk who'd dance for spare change. Is Memphis even capable of producing someone like The Batman? I think it says something about the character of this city when I say I don't think so.