He didn't have to do it. But he did.
This story goes back to circa 2009, give or take a year. I was pretty much a no one in the SEO industry (many would say I still am, and I wouldn't argue!) and hadn't yet begun working full-time at Search Engine Land. I was doing the solo consultant thing and had started to blog pretty successfully on local SEO topics, as well as doing a couple speaking gigs each year.
At one of the first SMX West shows, I had somehow been invited to a private event on Google's campus with about 20 other SEOs. It was an opportunity for us to have a conversation with Matt's webspam team and others from the search quality group -- to hear from them and for them to hear from us. I was too nervous to speak much in this group of smarter and more experiences SEOs, although I recall mustering the courage to give a minute-long plea for Google to look at how much spam there was in the Maps/Local results.
The event lasted a few hours. Matt and his team seemed genuinely grateful for the opportunity to hear from us. They thanked us and sent us on our way.
Somehow, I was one of three SEOs who didn't have a way to get back from Google's campus to the SMX hotel. I don't remember if we missed some shuttle, or if our ride took off without us, or if maybe we just failed to secure a ride back in advance. Anyway, point is ... there were three of us stuck at Google, none of us what you would consider a rock star in the industry or anything like that.
We were standing outside whatever Google building we'd been in, trying to figure out how we were gonna get back to the hotel. All of a sudden, Matt walked out on the way to his car. There were 1-2 other Googlers with him, and they were all surprised that we were still around, since everyone else was gone. (We were surprised, too!) When we explained why, the three of them looked at each other for a few moments and you could see everyone thinking in the silence.
All of a sudden, Matt spoke: "I can take you back."
We were taken aback by the offer, as you can imagine. I seem to remember one of the other Googlers saying something like "No, I'll do it. I live closer to where they're going." But Matt brushed the offer aside and insisted that he be our chauffeur. He said he needed to call his wife to let her know he was gonna be home even later than normal (it was probably about 11 pm by this time) and then we'd get going.
And sure enough, Matt Cutts drove the three of us back to the hotel. He didn't have to do it. But he did. It was no more than a 20-minute drive, but we had some fun conversations in the car, thanked him when it was over and he went on his way. Meanwhile, the three of us were a bit giddy that we'd just gotten a ride from THE Matt Cutts. :-)
And that's the cool thing -- even though we all thought of him as a Big Deal, he never thought of himself that way.
I had the pleasure of visiting with Matt many times over the years as I moved from doing SEO to covering the SEO industry -- and Google, especially -- during my years at Search Engine Land and working the SMX conferences. Here's the thing that you need to know: The Matt that I got a ride from that night was the same Matt we all saw at all the shows. He'd spend as much time as he possibly could speaking to anyone who wanted a moment with him. Or a photo with him. Or whatever. He was never too big or too good to help. That's a rare quality.
So when I think of Matt Cutts to this day, I think first about that generous late-night car ride he gave us. I don't think of him as a Big Deal nearly as much as I think of him as just a Good Guy.
Thanks for all you did for the search industry, Matt. We miss you.