This is a true story.
Back in the early 1990s, on my first L.A. go-round, we were sitting in our 1983, rusting-out but still trusted Toyota Tercel, outside a West Hollywood boutique hotel. A friend of ours was in town, on some official film bid-ness, and we were waiting to take her sightseeing. The weather was agreeable, I can only imagine, as a remembrance.
As we waited, I noticed a fairly sizeable car approaching us, slowly, from the opposite direction. I’d like to think it was a convertible because it makes the story that much better. But I couldn’t tell you for certain that’s what it was. It was probably just a big car, windows down, soaking in the nice weather I think I remember it being.
What I do know for a fact was that James Caan was driving that car. Jimmy Caan, baby, in what should’ve been a convertible but probably wasn’t, eating what I think was an apple but might’ve been some sort of sandwich. He’s driving towards us, slowly, slow enough that I can tell you for sure, swear on a stack of bibles, it was him.
Now, you have to understand, for someone my age and with the undying love I have for The Godfather, this is a big deal, huge! (Or ‘uge, as I imagine Caan would pronounce it.) Celebrity sightings don’t get much bigger or better than this. I’m all a-flutter. When he finally cruises right by us, should I say ‘Hi’ or play it cool with just a ‘Whattup’ nod? Or maybe don’t even acknowledge him, pretend he’s just another guy in a big car that should be a convertible, eating what might be an apple or possibly a sandwich. James Caan? So what? So what have you done for us lately?
What I couldn’t do, this being the early-1990s and all, and having no circa 2016-era cell phone, is to video the entire proceedings that were about to unfold in order to prove that what I’m going to tell you is absolutely true except for some of the minor details which only really add flavour to the tale.
Unbelievably, as he gets to almost right beside our car, James Caan slows his already slow moving vehicle to a stop. He’s right there, James Caan, looking at me looking at him through his open window. Oh my god! Oh My god!! Oh My God!!! OH MY GOD!!!! OHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGOD!!!!! Clearly, I’ve blown my cool and he noticed me, gawking at him, like some star struck, mouth-breathing, yokel from anywhere else other than Los Angeles or, possibly, New York. He’s going to say something smart-alecky or wise-acre like: Hey. Take a picture, pal. It’ll last longer.
But no. It’s even better. Miles better.
Through a partially full mouth (or maybe he took a moment to swallow, I can’t honestly remember), James Caan, car stopped, turns to look at us and says (and I’m quoting here):
“Where the fuck is La Cienega?”
It’s not a nasty tone. There’s no hotheaded Sonny Corleone ire directed toward us. It’s just mild frustration, expressed in an I-don’t-give-a-shit-what-you-think-of-me manner you would expect from James Caan. Note perfect, in other words.
While in this part of the city, La Cienega Boulevard is a pretty straight north-south (?) street, the layout of the area can certainly be disorienting. Santa Monica Boulevard has just finished going diagonally rogue, heading north-north-east toward Sunset, leaping up past Wilshire in the process. San Vicente meanders like an uncertain tributary. A regular grid pattern is interrupted enough times around here to unsettle even the calmest of drivers. James Caan does not appear to be a calm driver.
Not being from this part of Los Angeles but desperately wanting to be of assistance, I take a moment to get my bearings and begin to explain how he can get back to La Cienega. I’m not fast enough, however, to stop the driver behind Caan’s car from giving a quick beep of his horn. I imagine James Caan has been slow rolling for a while now, looking for La Cienega, and establishing something of a funeral procession of unwilling and not at all star-struck drivers behind him.
He’s not as understanding, it seems, as he shouts something like ‘Hold on a second, wouldya!’ back at the car behind him. James Caan then turns pleasantly back to me. “These people in L.A. Supposed to be so nice, right?”
I’m a little rattled, however, and try to quickly finish giving him directions. He has to turn left at the next stop sign and then another left when he gets to… whatever, whatever. It’s 20 years ago. Like I’ve got the exact details on this particular point.
Not that it matters anyway because the driver behind Caan, or one of them, at any rate, leans on his horn inciting James Caan to go ballistic. We’re talking They just shot pop/Carlo beat up Connie again/Michael went and enlisted full on nuts. An incomprehensible, expletive laced diatribe that felt like it went on for minutes but probably lasted 10, 15 seconds, max. Then, sweetly, pleasantly, James Caan turns back to us and thanks us for giving him directions that I’m pretty sure he in no way took in. It simply wasn’t possible. Not with all that commotion going on.
James Caan then proceeds to drive past us down the street, picking up his tirade in midstream, it seems, the yelling and screaming slowly receding, only due to the increased distance from us not its intensity. We sit back in our seats. Huh. So, that was a celebrity sighting.
Our friend emerges from her hotel. Getting into the car, she asks what all the noise was that she’d heard from in the lobby. I’d like to think, we took a suitable dramatic pause, looked at each other, and with simultaneous shrugs matter-of-factly responded: