I met the real Batman once.
I'm not talking about any of the actors who have played him on the big screen. And I'm not talking about Adam West, although I was first in line more than once as a child when he made his annual appearance at the World of Wheels.
I'm talking about the real Batman. I'm talking about the Batman of Birmingham.
A bunch of us kids were horsing around in someone's front yard and he drove up in his Batmobile. Batman was an African-American. He didn't wear black or blue tights but instead a sort of jump-suit that was white with brown trim. He had a brown motorcycle helmet that said "Batman" on it. He did have the right shape cape, although it was brown. He was very friendly, not particularly educated, and kept insisting "I'm the real Batman" to us a little more than was necessary, though, admittedly, he looked a good deal more like Evil Knievel than the Darknight Detective. And even as a kid, I wondered why he had latched onto the name "Batman" and not picked something more original or at least more appropriate. I think it had to do with his car, and with the fact that Batman was the only superhero so strongly identified with his wheels.
The Birmingham Batman drove a suped-up corvette, white with brown trim just like his costume, and covered in reflective decals. It had funky flashy lights, fins, and a half dozen different types of radio aerials. There was no such thing as GPS back then, but the car had CBs and police-ban radios, and some sort of bulky telephone. I remember a rocket launcher too, but that's probably just the embellishment of my childhood imagination.
And this Batman really was a genuine, honest-to-god superhero. He didn't have Bruce Wayne's billions--I recall he worked in a garage or something and spent all he had on his car--but every free moment he had, he spent on the road assisting motorists in distress. If you needed a ride, if you had a flat tire, if you'd been in an accident, he would come to your aid. He was all about helping people, every free minute of every day. And that's what made him a true hero.
I don't know his name. I remember reading it when he died, but that was a long time ago, and I was too little then to remember it now. The details were in the local paper, and I've been unable to find anything else about him since, on the Internet or elsewhere. But he died of carbon monoxide poisoning. He was working under his Batmobile, of course, when his garage door slid closed. He asphyxiated without ever knowing what was wrong. I don't know his age, but he would have been in his twenties or thirties. Those whom the gods love die young. He's the only real life superhero I ever met, and I still think of him from time to time.