Gods and Heroes

The favorite restaurant of my young family (nearly 30 years ago) was the Capital City Diner on South Main Street in Concord. It was fun, served kid-friendly food, and the owner, according to his own staff, was cool.

Now, I spent a lot of time in the restaurant business as a young man (mostly as a dishwasher and cook-in-training), and one thing that I had never heard before from waitstaff or chefs was that the owner was “cool,” but that was what we were told. I was a freelance journalist at the time and, even then, it sounded like there might be a good story somewhere behind the scenes.

Hard to believe it’s taken so long to get around to actually working on the story of that cool owner, a guy named Alex Ray. The Capital City Diner is no more, but if you’ve lived in New Hampshire for more than a few days, you’ve probably eaten in one of Ray’s many Common Man restaurants around the state, or perhaps caught a show at the Flying Monkey in Plymouth. You’ve at least taken a pit stop at the Hooksett tolls on I-93, and appreciated the fact that the state finally has a worthy visitor center for the masses from Mass. (and beyond) who come here for adventure (and booze). All these are products of Ray’s creative vision and work ethic. And that’s just the part you see. He’s a tireless behind-the-scenes benefactor of causes from children’s theatre to recovery.

I’ve observed the state from a kind of sky box over the years as a result of my job, and certain people on the playing field have stood out and become personal heroes of mine. Inventor Dean Kamen, who sparks joy with his science-fiction-worthy gadgets (and his world-changing FIRST program) is in that group. So is alpha-homeboy Jud Hale of Yankee Magazine (who is now my fellow employee at Yankee Publishing). Add Arnie Arnesen, a Democratic campaigner from way back who always imbues her liberal worldview with good humor, candor and generosity, and uses her media platforms to keep the pot stirred (to “keep the scum from rising,” she says). Former Republican leader Steve Duprey, who now occupies himself as a developer trying to make Concord the coolest city in New Hampshire, is another hero of mine. There are a few others, and Alex Ray is high on the list.

I’m sure none of these are unflawed human beings, but each is someone I’ve looked up to and learned from, finding personal inspiration in the process.

Mythological figures, such as Zeus and Mercury, were similarly heroic, inspirational and flawed. In fact, Roman and Greek gods and demigods were often exhibits of the worst of human nature as much as the best. They possessed cosmic powers but had human foibles. So when I learned about how the world-famous sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens was celebrated by his artistic friends and colleagues in the Cornish Colony over a century ago, I completely got it.

You can read the story here, but briefly what took place is this: As the great sculptor was in declining health, on the 20th anniversary of the founding of the colony, an outdoor play was staged in his honor with his friends taking on the roles of classic gods and heroes. Saint-Gaudens was familiar with such symbolic pageants, but this one offered a surprise when the gods “broke the fourth wall” and entered the audience to present him with a mystical golden bowl, declaring him to be the greatest of them all.

We are each surrounded by a cast of characters who fulfill such roles in our lives, enriching, empowering, and sometimes vexing us along the way to our destinies. You’ve got your own list, I’m sure, or else you should get out more. And if it helps to envision them as your personal set of Avengers or Justice League members rather than a pantheon of toga-clad superbeings, that’s cool, but sometimes you’ve just got to step out and give the golden bowl to someone who really deserves it.

Someone like Alex Ray.

Categories: Editor’s Note