Shambhala Sun | September 2014
On Track with Paul Newman
Between blockbuster movies, car racing, and salad dressing, Paul
Newman was one of the world’s most recognizable celebrities. Yet, says MICHAEL STONE, he was one of those rare people who could sit still and watch the rain
I’d seen Paul Newman around the track. He wore shades, he
always had his collar up, and he seemed like the wise, rebellious leader of
both his team and the entire paddock. He said good morning to everyone, like a
man from a time when men were elegant.
I was twenty at the time, studying philosophy at the
University of British Columbia, and depressed. In the summers I ran
communications and marketing for a racing-car team owned by a wealthy
businessman from Toronto. Through my girlfriend, Laura, I was introduced to
Paul at a dinner in Monterey, California. Laura thought I’d be able to find a
job with his team.
Our first private conversation was at the Homestead
racetrack in Florida. Paul was sitting in an oversized chair in his custom bus,
tracing his fingers down the window as raindrops streaked the glass.
“Michael?” He stood up and reached out his hand.
“Good to meet you,” I said.
“Do you bet?”
“Not really,” I answered, looking down at his white
socks and running shoes.
“Have a seat,” he said.
There was just a small table between us, and my left knee
was almost touching his. He was wearing a Kmart baseball cap and white golf
shirt, and it was funny to see someone his age and so admired covered in
corporate logos. Feeling like I needed to say something, I stated the obvious:
“It’s been raining a lot.”
“How long,” he asked, “do you think it takes for a raindrop
to go from the top of the window to the bottom?” His watch was on the table.
Maybe he’d been timing the raindrops as he’d been sitting here alone. Maybe he
wasn’t alone much. “Pick a raindrop,” he said.
I pointed to one on the window and he pointed to another. My raindrop moved slowly down the tall, tinted window, touched another
raindrop, then shot down to the windowsill. Meanwhile, Paul’s thin, old finger
traced the path of his raindrop as it dripped slowly down the glass,
then crossed the window toward me and finally came to a stop right in front of
“Again,” he said.
This time I chose a drop at the top of the window. It moved
sideways and then stopped. It was absorbed by another droplet and then the
whole area pooled, becoming one large drop, which slid down. Paul’s raindrop
made a slow, straight line to the bottom of the window, and he looked over at
me and smiled.