One of the magical and awesome things about living in New York is that you’re going to run across celebrities. And when you work in a restaurant of good reputation, there’s a decent chance you’re going to be waiting on them. In my short year here I’ve run into or seen/served at the restaurant; Steve Martin, John Goodman, Bono, Scott Adsit, Anthony Michael Hall, Daniel Day-Lewis (three times, the last of which he was dining with Steven Spielberg,) Michael Emerson (Ben Linus from LOST and Person of Interest,) and Sharon Stone (not as high maintenance as you’d think.)
And the novelty was nice, but I honestly got sick of it pretty fast. Great, there’s a big shot who doesn’t want to be bothered in the first place, why should I piss myself with excitement? I don’t want to wait on them because of all the extra attention I’m going have to give to make sure everything’s perfect. And I can’t blow them off like I would another high maintenance customer. Actually the very idea of celebrity kinda pisses me off. So when one of the other servers run up, squeeling with joy, exclaiming “OMG! so-and-so celebrity is on table 42! ” I just role my eyes and continue getting my drinks for the guests I do care about. It’s even worse when another guest recognizes the celebrity and then starts probing me with questions about them. “No, I don’t know what they’re eating.” “No, they don’t come in at a usual time on a usual day.” “For fuck’s sake, I don’t have time to take your picture and angle it so they’re in the back ground.”
So imagine my surprise when this man tapped me on the shoulder asking for the bathroom…
Now most of you probably won’t recognize a radio celebrity. Especially not a National Public Radio one. But this is Ira Glass host of my favorite thing ever This American Life. At least I was pretty sure it was Ira Glass. I’m used to seeing pictures of him looking like this…
…clean shaven, scrawny, short Jewish man. The man who had tapped me on the shoulder was tall, at least like 6 feet, and he had a beard (like the top pic.) Also my associations with him aren’t visual, they’re from his distinguished voice. Oh and he’s one of my personal heroes. If you’re not familiar with This American Life. Scroll up and click on the link and start listening to it right now. There. I made another link so you don’t even have to scroll up. It’s a documentary style NPR show about very personal stories of Americans (and sometimes not Americans) and their lives. It has stories of love, living during a recession, there was one about a teenager that hit accidentally a girl with his car (but she might have committed suicide) and all the guilt he has to carry with his life. The episode “The Giant Pool of Money” explains how the housing crisis happened but in a very accessible and entertaining way. And they did it in May of ’08. That’s MONTHS before the recession happened. If you can’t stand radio, there’s a Showtime version of if they did 2 seasons of. The show has changed my life. The point is I was pretty sure it was him, but not 100%. And while all this is hitting me and I’m still trying to figure out if it’s him or not, he’s waiting for me to tell him where the restroom is.
Finally I snap out of my trance and tell him to follow me (I never do that, I usually say, “It’s down the hall and to the right.”) I immediately run to my friend Alice who I got addicted to TAL, and I can barely speak. “What the fuck is wrong with you, Jill?” And I’m all like, “I think Ira Glass is here.” To which she shrugs and says, “Oh. Cool.” Blasphemy. I hope she moves away to Los Angeles.
I spent the next hour or so periodically walking by the table intently listening to his voice trying to make 90% surety, 100%. TAL is Chicago public radio. Why would he be in New York? On vacation? But last weeks episode was new. And so is this week’s. Maybe TAL is done from New York after all. I begged the server to let me clear his table when they were done. Finally when the check was down. The credit card would tell all. When Tony snatchs up the check, I was right behind him. And there it was in embossed silver. IRA GLASS.
Now restaurant policy is that you never approach celebrities in any personal capacity. I feel it appropriate. But to just go up to the guy and say. “Sir, you do amazing work and it has changed my life. Thank you and don’t stop.” What would be the harm in that? But at the same time, he’s with his kids and his wife, and he’s probably pretty busy. He doesn’t need some nutty girl badgering him. Fuck it. I decide this is probably the only time I will ever see him. He’s not just some celebrity…he’s created something that touches me on a personal level and he does it every week.
The plan. Wait for him to get up from the table, as he exits say “Have a good day.” He will look up and say “Thank you.” As he smiles and waves, I’ll say “Excuse me, Mr. Glass…” and the rest will follow. Short, sweet, done.
But then Alice flags me down. She’s got this 7 top that ordered a bunch of cocktails (at lunch there’s no bartender, so we have to make them ourselves) and they are demanding to order food despite the fact that she’s making the drinks they just ordered. “But Alice…Ira!” Then I shut up and go to the table. I look over my shoulder. Ira’s still sitting. I’ve got time. The 7 top starts asking me all these stupid questions. “What type of rice is in the risotto?” “Where’s the salmon from?” “Can I substitute the spinach for a side of pasta?” “What’s your favorite thing on the menu?” Ira’s getting up. Fuck. I start bullshitting the table. Making up answers left and right. Finally they actually start ordering. I get it and Ira’s behind me on his iPhone.
I spin around and blurt out a “Have a nice day.”
He doesn’t even look up from his iPhone.
My heart is beating like crazy.
I take a few steps parallel to him and try again. ” I hope you enjoyed everything…”
Nothing. My hero walks out the door.
I go over to Alice. “Here’s the order. Position 3 has a gluten allergy.”