This recent text exchange between my daughter and me got me thinking about celebrity (Secret: I don’t know who Orlando Jones is!) and the exceptional people who work quietly among us here in Newport. Here are a couple who come to mind.
I brought my car to Coffee’s Texaco for a tire change the other day. Neal Coffee said it would be ready in an hour, so I walked through Washington Square to Ocean Coffee Roasters to kill some time.
Coffee’s Citgo has occupied a triangular patch of historic Newport for as long as I can remember. You have to pass it on your way out of town. He sells 3 or 4 used cars on a small section of the lot, offers parking on busy summer days, distributes doggie treats to canine passers by and fixes all kinds of cars all year long.
He knows everybody, and if you grew up in Newport, he probably knows your parents and grandparents. He’s a throwback to a more personal time. Now he’s contemplating retirement. I already feel nostalgic.
As I stood in line at Ocean Coffee Roasters, I overheard a conversation between a local guy giving directions to some visitors. He mentioned he had a stone carving business nearby, and I realized he was part of the Benson stone-carving family who run the John Stevens Shop.
The John Stevens Shop, located in a tidy historic building on The Point, was founded in 1705 and was run by 6 generations of Stevenses. When the family fell on hard times in the 1920s, Nick’s grandfather, John Benson bought the business and carried on. Today, the shop, now run by Nick, does exquisite lettering and monument design.
I confess, I was star struck when Nick noticed me listening and introduced himself. I had recently read of Richard Benson’s (Nick’s uncle) McArthur Foundation’s Genius Grant – Richard invented a method of printing photographic negatives on aluminum – and Nick’s own work carving letters on the World War II Memorial in DC. Nick’s father, John (Fud) Benson’s first big commission was the inscription on the JFK Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery.
My heroes are different than my daughter’s (which is not to minimize whatever it is Orlando Jones does). I suppose I might have been tempted to stay at the party as well had the Bensons or the Coffees been there. That said, Casey, I’ll be interested to hear how you did on that exam!