I love “accidental” encounters with interesting people of all types; they don’t have to be famous or notorious. Because I enjoy it so much, I’m sure I probably attract it. A couple of years ago I attended a fundraiser luncheon for a local private Catholic high school and sat next to Catherine O’Hara, an actress who had been in several of Christopher Guest’s movies, like “Best in Show,” which I had really enjoyed, as well as in “Home Alone” and “Frankenweenie,” and is very active in show biz. Since we were next to each other for a couple of hours we discovered we had things in common–liberal views, enjoying people, and movies, to name a few. Afterwards, I saw her in a TV documentary and expressing her opinions on the last page of Vanity Fair magazine, a publication I’ve subscribed to for years.
Airplanes are an ideal place to meet people. I have had some very entertaining conversations with seatmates. On the flight to Dallas for Thanksgiving not long ago, my seat mate volunteered that he had been raised in Puerto Rico and had worked all over the US. He and I had no trouble bonding over Stephen Sondheim songs from West Side Story—“I Want to Be in America,” for example. Soon he was telling me about his childhood in Puerto Rico, how the females in his family firmly ran the household, and the foods he liked. We laughed a lot.
On the return flight, my neighbor turned out to be an LA sportscaster on the local ABC-TV station. He was returning from a family visit in time to cover the yearly classic USC-UCLA football game. If I’d been a sports fan, I’d have known his name. We talked about how life had changed because of the Internet, and how we could use it to further our careers. It didn’t hurt that he had a great smile and was very attractive.
Ventura Boulevard in the Valley has every type of restaurant. I particularly enjoy the inexpensive Chinese food at Bamboo. Next door is a ritzy French place, Cafe Bizou. After one lunch, while waiting for the valet (shared by the two restaurants) to get my car, I spotted actress/singer Della Reese a couple of feet away: she had eaten French food. I decided to approach her and told her I was a fan and we talked a bit. I even gave her my business card. Was she being polite or did she keep it?
Lunchtime can be an ideal time to spot the rich and famous and perhaps spark a conversation. I was with a friend at a place called Gaucho Grill a few years back when she spotted her lawyer. At the table right behind us, my friend’s lawyer was with TV and Broadway star Kelsey Grammar. At that time I was writing a weekly column for the Daily News newspaper and was always looking for new interview possibilities. Besides, Kelsey had met my son at a restaurant not long before and had invited him and a few other young men back to his home. I introduced myself, mentioned my son, and Kelsey couldn’t have been more gracious and down to earth. Before I had a chance to schedule the interview with him, my life changed and I ended my column.
My daughter and I love Hamburger Hamlet, which has been on Van Nuys Boulevard for many years. Last time we had a late lunch there, Heidi spotted “Mr. T,” who had been on TV’s “The A Team” and also in the famous “Rocky” movie. Our favorite waiter was telling us the most famous person he’d seen in the restaurant over the years was Marlon Brando. Brando was very overweight by then and ate a lot, the waiter said.
One of my favorite places to start a conversation is Trader Joe’s, the unique grocery store that started in Southern California. They hire sociable, highly individual people who may have tattoos or wear crazy hats; perhaps that’s just part of the SoCal lifestyle. I wonder if they take a friendliness test before they’re hired! The atmosphere must affect the customers because they’re usually quite affable as well.
A few months ago, I spotted Sally Kellerman, famous for playing “Hot Lips O’Houlihan” in the original 1970 MASH movie (Remember actor Robert Duvall’s famous quote–“I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”) She and I were shopping for fruit and vegetables, and I took the opportunity to tell her how I’d enjoyed her acting. She welcomed the conversation and told me she really enjoyed singing professionally. Her distinctive low sultry voice is very much in evidence and I can imagine it would translate easily into song.
When I was much younger, I remember being a little embarrassed by my mother, who was a friendly Southerner who loved to talk to everyone. Now I find I have been doing the same thing for years. From mothers or fathers of babies to clerks or fellow customers, I’m not afraid of making a joke or coming up with a witty comment, and these days I can sometimes embarrass my own daughter!