“Set up tables 31-35 in the dining room for a party of 14,” James, the general manager at The Tap, said to another hostess. She disappeared into the dining room to arrange the tables. I frowned. We didn’t typically take reservations on Saturday nights, even if it was 9:30pm. James explained, “it’s for Mario Lopez.”
“Mario Lopez?” I clarified. That couldn’t be right.
“Yeah, from that dancing show. His manager called, so we let him make a reservation.”
From that dancing show?! Yeah, maybe. He was hosting America’s Best Dance Crew at the time. But Mario Lopez was so much more than a guy from a dancing show. He was AC Slater from Saved by the Bell!
“His manager said he’s okay with publicity,” James went on, “people coming up to him and asking for pictures or autographs. He won’t get upset about it.”
Even knowing he was coming, I couldn’t help but feeling starstruck when he finally walked through those front doors. The entire restaurant staff was buzzing with anticipation. And then there he was. AC Slater. The teenager I watched when I was a child, for hours on end in syndication, wreaking havoc on Bayside High. He hadn’t aged a day. And now here we were. Both adults. Both standing in this restaurant. Both hosts even, although one of us happened to be wildly more successful than the other.
When he flashed me that patented smile, I couldn’t help but blush. His smile was sincere, his eyes were kind, and his dimples seemed even bigger in person. I didn’t tell him that seeing him on television helped me feel “normal” about my Latin heritage. Or that my Abuela always thought he was so handsome. Or that I was actually much more of a Zack girl myself. Of course not. I just smiled politely, like I would at any guest and directed him to the hostess who had spent the last half hour begging to walk him in when he arrived.
When he passed by me again to go to the bathroom, I felt another rush of excitement. I knew he was a regular person eating dinner, but all I could see was the kid with the tough military dad. Jessie’s boyfriend. The captain of the wrestling team. It’s weird how television personas can imprint themselves so boldly in your brain that it’s hard to see the actors as people in their own right. Or maybe I just watched way too much TV as a kid.
He exited the bathroom and walked right up to my host stand. He flashed me another one of those killer smiles, and I had to remind myself that even though we’d spent so many hours together in my living room, he actually had no idea who I was.
He pressed down on the hand sanitizer bottle next to the candy bowl. Disinfectant squirted into his open palm, and he rubbed his hands together thoroughly. He observed, “they have these things everywhere now.”
Oh, if only he knew what was coming in 10 years. But I digress. That’s pretty much the most exciting part of my celebrity encounter story. A three second conversation about hand sanitizer. I smiled politely and nodded in agreement. He went back to his table to eat his steak.
I finished my shift and changed into my street clothes, a little sad that the excitement was over for the night. I was about to head home when a few of my coworkers convinced me to go with them to ask Mario Lopez for a picture. It felt silly. Like taking a picture with a character at Disneyland. But still, I wanted that picture. He was super cool about it.
I still have it. It was taken with an old digital camera I used to carry around specifically for Facebook purposes. Two coworkers stand on either side of me and Mario Lopez. We’re all smiling. It’s the blurriest photo in the world, but it’s still undeniably Mario Lopez.
And it’s the actor who played AC Slater. An actor whose work made a significant impact on me during a formative period in my life. I’m not a celebrity-crazy person, I don’t even follow celebrities on social media, but still, it’s cool that I met him. It’s cool that we took that picture – if only just for the look on my Abuela’s face alone when I showed it to her.