Friday, February 3, 2017

City of Stars

Life Lesson #2,017: It pays to be a tad crazy.

Without that reputation, I surely wouldn’t have been the first person an old high school friend, Jim Ronda, would think of asking to accompany him and his wife, Debbie, to the red carpet for the Screen Actors Guild awards.

I reconnected with Jim a few years back through Facebook and The 52/52 Project. Two weeks ago, as the winning auction bidder on four tickets to the SAG red carpet, he concluded he needed to invite someone spontaneous and “crazy enough to say screw it”: someone who would drop everything and fly out from Toledo to Los Angeles on the drop of a dime.

And so, obviously, I figured I must.

My son, Kyle—who had moved just the prior week from Milwaukee to Cincinnati—requested a couple days off his brand new job and left behind his still unpacked boxes to join us. In my family, the nut doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Our whirlwind long weekend in LA is worthy of a multi-page story, but the SAG red carpet—the impetus for our trip—was one incredible experience in itself.

Jim told us that front-row bleacher seats went for around $1,500 a pair. The rest of the auctioned seats, like ours, were first-come, first-served. Somehow, we managed to land in the front row anyway. Thank you, Jim. And thank YOU, fate and fortune.

From a fabulous vantage point, we experienced two sensory-overloaded hours of celebrity excitement.
Who did we see? Given my fairly limited viewing of popular TV shows, I didn’t recognize some folks until they were pointed out. And with the mob that gradually formed in the venue, we had a tough time picking out everyone in the crowd. Where do you focus your eyes, when anyone in front of you could be someone amazing?

But SOME people you couldn’t miss even if you tried. Those TV and movie stars who caused the biggest frenzy among the media and the audience: Viola Davis, Kerry Washington, Meryl Streep, Jeff Bridges, John Lithgow, Denzel, Lily Tomlin, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban. A few of them, including Meryl and Ryan, made a point of smiling and waving at our group. We reacted as could be expected. We swooned.

Stars we didn’t see being announced on the red carpet, but whom we just happened to spot in the crowd included: Bryan Cranston, Kate Hudson, Jerry O’Connell, Jim Parsons, John Legend, Natalie Portman, and Kyle Chandler (who, even in person, still looks uncannily like my late father).

We were excited to see the synergy among entire casts of a few shows, such as “Game of Thrones,” “Modern Family” (including little Joe, who wore a cape and gazed around in bewilderment), and “Stranger Things.” (The kids in the cast were way too adorable and appeared so thrilled to be there together. I had never seen the show, but remedied that as soon as I returned home.)

Many of the actors made their way over to the red carpet audience to shake hands, sign autographs, and take selfies. Among the friendliest of those I recognized were Modern Family’s Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Eric Stonestreet (who engaged us in conversation and asked where we were from), William Macy, Casey Affleck, Millie Bobby Brown (Eleven from “Stranger Things”), Amy Adams, Sterling K. Brown (Randall from one of my new favorite shows, “This Is Us”), Hugh Grant, Jim Krasinski and Emily Blunt.

I have met my share of famous people and have never been much of a celebrity whore. But I found myself a bit in awe while directly face-to-face with so many of my favorites, including Hugh Grant and John Krasinski (my beloved Jim Halpert from “The Office”). They both used my iPhone to take our photos and were warm, with a sweet, self-deprecating sense of humor.

Perhaps my biggest fan girl moment was spying Matt Smith, the eleventh doctor from “Doctor Who” (and now appearing in “The Crown”), across the room. He was wearing a bowtie, of course, because bowties are cool. Spotting him was such a huge surprise that he was the only person whose sighting prompted me to shout his name. Later, while I was busy waving to Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges—as one does—I totally missed seeing him walk down our row, right in front of me. Probably just as well. I might have embarrassed myself.

For me, a random middle-aged woman from Toledo, sitting along the red carpet at a Hollywood awards show was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I can only imagine how these celebrated actors and actresses felt that night. Because the City of Stars was shining—just for them.

We never know when a relationship through a generous acquaintance, along with serendipity, might combine into a surreal and electrifying experience. Sometimes, that ends in a dream come true.

So, here’s to the fools who dream.

Have you ever been star-struck? 

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