The man who has helped keep me sane and happy over the last 17 years passed away last month in Costa Mesa, California, at the age of 91. His name was Duvall Hecht and though I had never met him his creation has been my daily companion on my long commute to the lab. In 1975 Mr. Hecht and his wife Sigrid invented Books on Tape.
Mr. Hecht founded B-o-T because wanted more things to listen to when he traveled. And once I started driving from the north suburbs to Westchester every day, I realized that I did too.
Barb actually tried audiobooks before I did, listening during her long drives to Joliet for a part-time hand therapy position. It was in her car that I had my first taste, catching a snippet of the Richard Russo novel “Empire Falls” while on a day trip. And I thought, “this could work for me, too.”
Thus began my long love affair with books on my car CD player. My passenger seat is never without a hard-plastic encased set of discs in their filmy envelopes. I have become adept at using one hand to fish the next CD out when the current chapter ends while driving at
80 75 65 mph on the Tri-State. Only once has a disc somehow found its way into the innards of the dashboard and disappeared for good.
And what a marvelous and varied bunch of novels I have listened to. I started with “East of Eden,” still one of my all-time favorite books. Of course, I had to listen to all of “Empire Falls,” and a whole bunch of other Russo books as well.
Oh, the places I have visited during my daily commute! I have traveled through Europe via Hemingway, explored Westeros and The Seven Kingdoms with George R. R. Martin, and ridden on the Underground Railway and to a reform school in Florida with Colson Whitehead. I have listened to Jack Reacher escape from dozens of impossible situations and heard Stephen King create dozens more. I heard Patti Smith tell her own rock’n’roll story in “The Kids are Alright,” and listened while Keith Richard shared the narration of “Life” with fellow mumbler Johnny Depp. And I laughed and cried while listening to “The Book Thief” and “All the Light We Cannot See.”
Lately, my car CD player has gotten squirrely. Every time I turn the car on, the CD backtracks, anywhere from 3 seconds to 3 minutes. I spend precious listening time figuring out where I am. And I know my next car won’t even have a CD player. Just one more reason to retire and say goodbye to my long commute.
But before I do, I want to bid Mr. Hecht a fond farewell. You powered me through the last 17 years, and for that, I am ever grateful.
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