Living in Los Angeles can be a surreal experience. Where else can you find Harrison Ford squeezing cantaloupes in the produce section of a grocery store or wait in line behind Minnie Driver for your turn to use the Porta-Potty at a crowded flea market in Pasadena? Drop a stuttering farm girl from the cornfields of Illinois into the mist of that and you got little ole me. Sometimes my life feels like a scene out of one of those sitcom pilots that never quite make it to network.
Apparently, the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. When I moved from the family farm in Illinois to Hollywood, CA., my Mother didn’t waste any time racking up her frequent flier miles. Yep, my Mom comes out to visit me every chance she gets. I love it. Nothing cures the homesickness of a farm gal in the big city like a visit from her Mama. Of course, the fact that she cleans my apartment and makes me dinner is always a bonus. One year my Mom came for a visit the week of her birthday. I knew exactly where to take my wonderful Mother to celebrate– The Polo Lounge!
OH…MY…GOSH…talk about surreal. The Polo Lounge is nestled inside the legendary Beverly Hills Hotel. This hotel was built over a hundred years ago and quickly became the hot spot for Hollywood royals. Fred Astaire would read his morning newspaper by the pool. Elizabeth Taylor spent six of her eight honeymoons in the bungalow suites of this hotel. Marilyn Monroe’s favorite bungalow was #7. Decades later the Polo Lounge restaurant still remains a superb spot to catch a glimpse of Hollywood’s best known celebs. If you can afford a lunch there, which is the price of a dozen Denny’s Grand Slams rolled into one, you are almost guaranteed to see a very famous someone, who is someone. My buddy, Mike, and I once made a pact to try to eat at the Polo Lounge once a month for a year. I had to give up a lot of trips to Starbucks that year to keep up my end of the deal. But, it was worth every Frappuccino sacrifice. One month we ate lunch at a table next to Priscilla Presley and Jane Fonda. Another month MeatHead, Mr. Rob Reiner, himself walked past our table as he greeted a giggly Goldie Hawn, who was already seated on the patio. Then there was the month we sat kitty-corner from Joan Collins, who was wearing a fabulous designer hat. Well, I thought her hat looked like a lampshade, but what do I know about hat fashion? My personal best is a hot pink bedazzled ball cap I once purchased at a 76 truck stop outside of Flagstaff, AZ..
My beautiful Mother definitely deserved a birthday lunch at the legendary Polo Lounge. Mike picked my Mom and I up in his convertible and drove us to Beverly Hills in style. I had reserved a plush crescent shaped booth in the corner of the lounge that had a great view of the entire restaurant. Our waiter treated my Mother like a royal birthday diva. It was perfect. Except, there were no celebs. What the heck? Where are they? Don’t they know it’s my Mom’s birthday?!! Maybe I should have had my people, call their people. Gosh darn it, I could just tell my Mom that the young lady two tables over is a YouTube star and be done with it. Is it wrong to lie to your Mother on her birthday?
In the grandest of fashion our waiter presented my Mother with her birthday cake. It was made of chocolate ganache and topped with gold sparkly shavings, a silver birthday candle, and a plaque made of white chocolate that read ‘The Beverly Hills Hotel’. Like we were going to forget where we were. The waiter lit the candle and began to sing Happy Birthday in the style of an old MGM musical. My Mother looked so happy. It was like she had turned into a young Judy Garland, and the waiter was Mickey Rooney. “Make a wish!” the waiter said when he finished serenading my Mother.
My Mother closed her eyes, took a few moments, nodded her head with a smile and said, “I made my wish.” She leaned forward and blew out her candle.
Suddenly everything was in slow motion. My Mother sat back in her chair. Mike, the waiter, and I began to clap and say, “Hhh-aa-pp-yy B-irrrr-thhh-dayyyy.” Then, as if perfectly on cue, in walked a celebrity. It wasn’t just any celebrity. It was as if my Mother had summoned the A-Plus of the A-List Hollywood actors. And he didn’t just walk into the room. He strolled in like a modern day Gene Kelly with the charm and confidence of Clark Gable. Now everything had gone from slow motion to a still freeze-frame. It was like the whole room stopped as my Mother’s birthday wish was seated at the table directly across from ours. My Mother grabbed my hand. She leaned in and quietly exclaimed into my ear, “It’s Titanic Boy!!!” Yep, she was right. It was Titanic Boy, otherwise known as Leonardo DiCaprio.
Now ladies, I don’t know how many of you have eaten chocolate ganache while in the presence of Leo, but I highly recommend it.
The waiter brought our check, and it was time to go. ‘Happy Birthday, Mom’ Thank God my sweet Mama got to see a celeb. Little did I know that my friend, Mike, had worked a charity function with Leo a few years earlier.
“Follow me,” Mike said. “I’ll introduce you to Leo.”
What?! No! “We can’t,” I said. “He’s eating.” Actually, I was fine just staring.
“It will be quick. Come on,” Mike said as he walked towards Leo’s table. My Mom and I looked at each other, shrugged, and followed Mike like a couple little country mice.
When we got to the table, I noticed that Leo was eating a plate of blueberry pancakes. How about that? All the fabulous things on that posh Beverly Hills menu, and Leo orders the pancakes. Mike said hello and reminded Leo of the charity that they had worked on together. They chatted for a quick moment, and then Mike said, “I’d like you to meet my best friend, Melinda.” Holy Blueberries, Leo knows my name.
Leo then locked eyes with mine. “Hello,” he said with an award winning smile.
Suddenly, like something out of a Marvel movie, I felt this energetic pull, almost like an invisible magnet pulling me towards Leo. It was like he was a SuperHero, and he was using his eyes to pull me across the table. Holy Batman, is this some kind of alter dimensional enhanced charisma bestowed upon only the select few. I tried to speak, but couldn’t. “Let go of me,” I was silently uttering from inside my mind. “Please let go of me, before you drag me across your maple syrup drenched buttermilks.”
Just then Leo let me go, grinned, and took a bite of his pancakes. I took a deep breath, made sure my feet were firmly back on the ground and said, “It’s nice to meet you. This is my Mom. She is visiting from Illinois.”
Leo then put down his fork, turned towards my Mother, leaned in, and looked directly into her eyes. Oh, no! Is he going to do that magnetic thing again? I looked at my Mom. It was like she was floating an inch above the ground.
“Hello MOM!”, Leo warmly said to her. Oh my Gosh, Leo just called my Mom ‘MOM’. “It is so nice to meet you, Mom.” he continued. “Are you enjoying your visit to Los Angeles?” It was silent. Say something Mom. Why aren’t you answering him?
I looked over at my Mom, and she was gone. It was like she had suddenly vanished. Where the heck did she go? I then caught a glimpse of my Mother running out of the restaurant and into the hotel lobby. You gotta be kidding me. My Mother just literally blew off Leonardo DiCaprio! I looked back at Leo. He had the kindest, yet puzzled look on his face. I had to say something. I took a breath and said, “How’s the pancakes?” You gotta be kidding me. All the things I could have said to Leonardo DiCaprio, and I said ‘How’s the pancakes’? Now I know how Jennifer Grey felt in Dirty Dancing when she said, ‘I carried a watermelon’.
Leo just grinned, winked, and said, “The best in town.”
I took off in search of my Mother. Finally, I found her in the hotel lobby sitting on a chaise lounge giggling like she had just been locked in a bathroom stall with Cheech and Chong. I sat down next to her and sighed, “Oh my gosh, Mom! I can’t believe you just ran out on Leonardo DiCaprio!”
It was very clear my Mother had a bad case of nervous giggles. “I…I…just…I just…” My Mom said in between her bouts of laughter, “I just didn't know what to say.” She buried her face in between the back of my shoulder and the chaise lounge as an attempt to contain her laughter. The hotel manager, who had been watching us from the front desk, rolled his eyes as if to say, ‘Tourists’.
My Mom finally sat up and gave me the biggest hug. “You know what, my little red in the head?” my Mom whispered. Yep, that’s what my Mom calls me when she’s about to get mushy. “This is the best birthday ever. Thank you.” She was right. It was a great birthday and another Mother-Daughter adventure for the books.
“You're welcome,” I said. “But your birthday is not over yet. On the way home, I thought we could drive past Clarke Gable’s old house and yell lines from Gone with the Wind out the window.”
Mom and I stood up, grabbed hands, and strolled out the front door of The Beverly Hills Hotel like a modern day Lucy & Ethal ready to annoy whoever was currently living in the house formerly owned by Mr. Rhett Butler himself.
~ “Frankly, my dear…”
~ “After all, tomorrow is…”
~ ”How’s the pancakes?”