Fifty years ago Tennessee Williams’s play A Streetcar Named Desire opened on Broadway. Marlon Brando starred as Stanley Kowalski, and Jessica Tandy played the role of Blanche DuBois. According to Wikipedia (where you can find nearly everything about anything), Blanche is one of the most recognizable characters in American drama. She preferred “what’s magic” over reality and drank too much. When the movie came out in 1951, Brando was still playing the crude and brutish Stanley, but Vivien Leigh took over as Blanche. The play contains many memorable lines, including Blanche’s famous “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”
No one ever confused me with Blanche DuBois, and I never aspired to play the role, or Stanley either for that matter. But I did get to utter that famous line, just once. It happened in Atlanta, in 1988.
I was there for the Democratic National Convention—a partner of mine was running for President. I had a small part in that particular drama, moderating a program dealing with election law and counting the vote (hanging chads came along years later). After the session was over, I found myself on the street with an eminent Arizona lawyer and his young colleague (he told me to keep an eye on his associate, and he was right—today she is Governor of Arizona.)
The three of us shared a problem. We had no way of getting from where we were to our hotel downtown—no car and not a taxi in sight. Cell phones didn’t exist, we couldn’t find a pay phone, and I didn’t have a clue what to do. The Arizona lawyer took the matter in hand and waved down a passing motorist. He told the driver we were from out of town, didn’t know quite where we were, and could he give us a ride. “Hop in,” said the driver. “I’m not going downtown, but I’ll be glad to take you.” I think that is what is known as southern hospitality.
On our way he pointed out some of the local sights and asked if he could drop us off a block or two from the hotel. “One way streets,” he explained. Being a resident of Boston, I understood that problem. He pulled alongside the curb, and I got out. There, on the sidewalk, was a street vendor selling hot dogs and soda under a sign that said “Streetcart Named Devour.” I took one look and knew my Blanche moment had come. I looked at the driver and said, in my best southern accent, “Why thank you, sir. I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”