Walking with Ray Bradbury
Hi. I’m Walking Bob, and in my last entry I mentioned my favorite author, Ray Bradbury. That same day, Ray passed away at age 91. Ray Bradbury was more than an author to me; he was a mentor and a friend. Ray influenced my life as a writer by reading my work and sharing his encouragement over the past 35 years. He, too, preferred walking to driving, never even getting a driver’s license even though he lived in Los Angeles. When it came time for my family to move from Southern California, Ray applauded our move to Davis as shown in the note on the right. Next to my wife, Betty Lou, Ray has been the biggest single influence on my life from the time I first read Dandelion Wine through Ray’s Christmas poems that appeared in my mailbox each of the past twenty years.
Ray’s love for books and libraries was well known because of Fahrenheit 451, but he was also a fan of walking, as he showed in his 1951 story “The Pedestrian” where the main character is arrested by a robot police vehicle for simply walking the streets of a future Los Angeles. I happened to be reading that story and others in a 2010 collection called A Pleasure to Burn when Ray died. Another story in that collection titled “Pillar of Fire” had this passage with a man in a car talking with a walking man.
“Why don’t you ride?”
“I like to walk.”
“Nobody likes to walk. Are you sick? May I give you a ride?”
“Thanks, but I like to walk.”
Early in my days of walking around Davis, I had almost that same exchange with well-meaning friends who saw me out walking, especially in summer heat, and asked me to ride with them. By now they know that just like Ray, I walk on purpose so they just toot their horns or wave as they drive by.
Ray Bradbury first spoke to me in 1977 at a conference where a crowd of teachers listened to him talk about writing and saw him get upset when he learned that many of us said we wanted to be writers, but hadn’t read as widely as he wanted us to and weren’t writing and sending our work out to be published. He almost shouted, “Don’t talk about writing, don’t talk about painting, don’t talk about acting, don’t talk about anything. – Just Do It!” Then he gave us homework and said he wouldn’t come back and speak to us again unless we got to work.
That was the kick in the pants I needed and soon I was collecting rejection slips of my own. One short story I wrote was based on something Ray said, so I sent him a copy of the story. He wrote back on his home stationery with his address and phone number, called the story “special” and encouraged me to “PROCEED!” I always considered that my first acceptance as a writer, and soon I was seeing my work in newspapers, magazines and books. Thank you, Ray.
Many writers have been influenced by Ray and have taken advantage of his openness. For years, his address and phone number were listed in Los Angeles phone books. Bold people like “The Wild Bunch” director Sam Peckinpah and Davis’ own film critic and author, Derrick Bang, simply walked up and knocked on the Bradbury door to meet Ray. Ray was napping when Derrick came by, so Ray’s wife, Marguerite, and his daughters welcomed him in and entertained him until Ray appeared and took him down to his basement for a talk.
I visited Ray in his office, which is shown in the top photo, and had many meetings with him before and after talks at libraries, bookstores and conferences over the years. I had the privilege of reviewing several of his books and doing profiles on him for local and national publications. The last time I saw Ray speak, in San Jose, he said, “When I die, I’ll get fifteen seconds on TV, and they’ll talk fast.” Ray, your work will live forever and hopefully any of you that read this will give Ray’s memory more than those fifteen seconds.
Think of Ray when you walk by the mural in the alley behind Peet’s and Chipotle downtown, because William Maul’s mural was inspired by the story and screenplay by Ray that became “It Came from Outer Space”, the first 3-D science fiction film from Universal Studios in 1953. Give him more time today by checking out Ray’s website, by walking, not driving, around town or by simply reading a book, especially a book that someone has tried to burn or ban. Ray would appreciate it.