Last April, I was on the subway in New York City with my mom. We were on our way back to our hotel from the 9/11 Memorial when my phone pinged at me.
It was a Google Alert.
This will come as absolutely no surprise to those who really know me (and probably even those who only know me a little bit) but I set up Google Alerts for my favorite actors and musicians.
A Google Alert is a lovely little gift, sent to us from the Google gods, that sends out all the up-to-date news and information that exists for whatever or whomever you've set up the Google Alert for. It's basically techno-stalking but I prefer to think of it as being a dedicated fan.
My current Google Alert list is fairly exclusive and includes: Al Pacino, Lindsey Buckingham, Gabriel Byrne, Stellan Skarsgard, and, for my sister, James Spader. (Updated for 2018: It now also includes Billy Bob Thornton and Hugh Laurie.)
Back to the subway: The alert I got that day was an article about a 45th anniversary screening of The Godfather films at Radio City Music Hall that was taking place the following weekend. The screening, the article informed me, would close the Tribeca Film Festival and would be followed by a panel discussion with the director of the films, Francis Ford Coppola, and The Godfather actors, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, James Caan, Robert Duvall, Diane Lane, and Talia Shire.
Here's the thing: Once my brain grabs hold of something, it will not let it go. Until it convinces my body to do whatever the hell it is that my brain has decided it's going to do, it will not shut up.
For the rest of that night this was cycling through my mind: You have to come back next week. You have to go to that screening. Go. Find a ticket. You have to go. Go find a ticket. You have to go.
Me: Well, brain, that would be a pretty expensive trip for just one night.
Me: What if the tickets are sold out?
They probably are. Use Stubhub.
Me: That will be even more expensive.
Me: So, we’re just never going to save money ever again?
So, I found a ticket (on Stubhub because yes, tickets were sold out), I booked a room for Saturday night, and set my alarm for 3AM Saturday morning.
It's worth mentioning here that I am not a morning person. At all. I can appreciate aspects of it. Yes, sunrise is lovely. But, I am not a morning person. When the alarm went off, I cursed at it and my brain.
Me: Is it really necessary to drive six hours to this thing today? Can’t we just stay in bed? I’m tired!
No. Get up. Yes, we really have to do this. Get the hell up and quit whining.
My brain is not a morning person either.
So, I got up. I threw some clothes in a bag, grabbed some Red Bull, and off we went to New York City, me and my brain. Again.
Short story made much longer by my rambling, I ended up running late. The screening started at 1PM. We were instructed to be at Radio City no later than noon, and it was already after 11.
Now, I’m okay with driving in New York City at this point, as long as I don't venture away from my normal route that I have memorized. How thrilled was I, then, that my usual route into the Theatre District that morning was blocked off coming out of the Lincoln Tunnel. Instead of going left into the city to 42nd Street, I was forced to go right and ended up on 34th. And it was like a whole different world back there. I felt the panic rise.
(Mind you, I have navigation in my car that rerouted me straight away and told me exactly where and when to turn to get to my hotel, but there was no time for rational thought. I was late.)
I got to my hotel about five minutes after I would have without the construction detour but it might as well have been an hour later. I checked in, changed quick, scratched out a thank you message in the inside cover of my book that I hoped to give to Mr. Pacino somehow. (Thank you for your work. You’re such an inspiration to me. Other embarrassing things. Blah, blah, blah, etc.) I stuffed the book into a gift bag and was back out on the street by 11:45, practically running to get to Radio City by noon.
I hit every intersection on the way to Radio City almost perfectly, with a “Walk” sign waiting for me at each one. Two blocks away, my luck ended. At 48th and 6th, I had to stop. Ugh. It was five minutes to noon, and I stood there, contemplating whether or not I could dash between the oncoming cars without getting run over. Only because my mother would never forgive me if that happened, I decided against it.
Impatient, I looked up and down the street, checking traffic and the clock on my phone. I glanced up 48th again and, walking toward me on the side of 48th, approaching from about fifteen yards away, was Al Pacino.
Alone. Just walking. He walked right up to me and stopped..
Picture it, if you will. There was me, starting to sweat because I hadn't bothered to check the weather report and I was wearing all black and my leather jacket. This is usually okay in the city in mid-April but that day was unseasonably warm, already close to 80 degrees. There was Al Pacino, also wearing all black (including black Converse sneakers, bless) literally strolling into my life and stopping to wait for the light, shoulder to shoulder with me.
My brain is usually pretty quick on its feet but in that moment it had nothing. It wasn't quite computing yet. I just sort of stood there. I was in that city on that day to attend a screening of two of the greatest movies of all time, starring this man. I was holding a gift for him in my hands. And he just...walked into my life.
At that point, I was wondering if that was the moment I’d completely lost touch with reality. It’s bound to happen someday with how much I live inside my mind. And I thought, well, today’s as good a day as any, I suppose.
So, here was me and Michael Corleone just hanging out in all black together in the 80 degree heat at 48th and 6th. I was sweating. He wasn't sweating at all because of course he wasn't. I side-eye
I side-eyed him for along moment. I was still wondering if he was only a figment of my fractured mind that had slipped between the cracks and out on to the street.
I lifted my hand and was quite relieved when my hand didn't just pass through him. I patted his shoulder lightly . I said, “Hey, Al.” At that, he turned and looked at me. I smiled. Not creepy at all, I'm sure. He straightened and replied, “Hey, man!”
And then he crossed 6th Avenue against the light.
For the second time in as many minutes, I contemplated throwing myself into oncoming traffic because of Al Pacino. But the traffic just kind of stopped for him. Each lane, one by one, as he crossed. I’m sure it was just because nobody wanted to mow a guy down but, for me, I was witnessing Al Pacino part 6th Avenue like Moses parting the Red Sea.
I crossed 6th too and made my way to Radio City with Al Pacino. No, I stayed back, not wanting to bother him (anymore) but if anyone asks you, I once walked with Al Pacino to Radio City Music Hall for a screening of The Godfather films.
He met up with a handler at Radio City. I remembered the gift bag then, still clutched in my hand, and asked the handler if she could please give it to him. She said sure. I continued to the first mezzanine and immediately bought a strong alcoholic beverage because my nerves were shot. And between getting up at 3AM, the traffic and construction issues on the way in to the city, and hanging out with Al Pacino on a street corner, I felt absolutely drained.
There you have it: The day Al Pacino literally walked into my life.
That was also the day I decided to never again question my brain. Ever. It knows exactly what it's doing.