“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.


36 thoughts on “The Celebrity

  1. That’s adorable šŸ™‚

    I don’t have any particularly interesting celebrity stories. The previous mayor before the current one of the large city next to my suburb (the one called “Capital City” in my blog, it’s not too hard to figure out where that is in real life if you want to do the research) is a retired basketball star who grew up here and came back to be a community activist and leader after his playing days were over in the early 2000s, and one time around 2009ish I’m pretty sure I saw him in a Chipotle in the central part of the city. But I left him alone, figuring that celebrities probably prefer to be left alone when they’re making a late-night Chipotle run. (I did see him again a year or two later, at a basketball game in that same city, and I said hi. That was a little bit more normal place to greet someone like that.)

    I had season tickets for that team for seven years, and several times I went to events where you could stand in line and meet players and media personalities for that team. But that’s a little different, because it’s not unexpected. And another basketball player who finished his playing career here stayed in the area and eventually opened a bar and restaurant right down the street from the arena. I saw him on the street once while I was walking from the train station to a game.

    One of my more interesting celebrity encounters happened just a few weeks ago, although this wasn’t face to face. A musician, who was in a band that had four hits in my teen and young adult years (I’ve shared a few of their songs on my blog), is doing livestream shows to highlight charities during COVID. His band is working on new music, and one of their songs was pretty openly political, drawing a lot of complaints from people like me who don’t agree with his views. (I didn’t actually post anything about the song, I just debated whether or not I still wanted to watch his shows after that… and I decided I did.) He acknowledged in the next show that a lot of people had things to say about that song, and then he invited people who disagree with his politics to reach out to him and tell our sides, because he doesn’t really have a lot of people with our views in his life, and he wants to understand us and break through the stereotypes. So I debated whether or not to say anything, and 24 hours later I wrote him a long email explaining what drives my views. He acknowledged something I specifically said in his next show (but didn’t call me by name), when he was talking about the response to what he said, and he did eventually email me back twice. That kind of discussion with people who disagree with you is what we need if we are going to heal our divisions.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for sharing your stories! I’d forgotten, I’ve seen a few hockey players hanging around here too!

      But I especially love your story about that musician. That’s so cool that he was open to discussion and actually responded to your email! That’s really commendable, and exactly what people need to do more of. Breath of fresh air!

      Thanks again for sharing šŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Definitely! If/when concerts are allowed to happen again, I definitely want to see his band live. They were here a few years ago, and I thought about going, but I didn’t. In one of his emails, he said something to the effect of I don’t know how to heal our divisions… and I said, it starts with what you’re doing right now, listening to people with other beliefs and backgrounds and understanding where we come from.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Great story. It reads like a good fiction story. Even better to know it’s true. You are a true storyteller. Thanks for stopping by my blog, Always Write. I’d love to have you join the discussion of my short story “Jenny’s Bumpy Start.” I don’t have any great star stories, but my husband went to school with one star who had a locker just down from him. Very fun story. šŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  3. That was so much fun to read šŸ™‚ And he sounds sweet and humble, which is so nice šŸ™‚ I’ve had a number of celebrity meetings myself, all different types and all nice in their own ways. Some have been fleeting and in passing, not wanting to bother; some were more. Probably the most notable and amusing, other than getting to meet and hug Michael J. Fox many years ago (Family Ties), was when I was in party planning, was called for a job, met the husband/father and didn’t know he was a Soap star, Justin Deas (we didn’t watch soaps). Then the day before the party when we were setting up all the decor, I was up on a ladder when the wife/mother came in the room and I recognized her. I asked her son (who was enjoying helping us) if she was in “Independence Day” and he said “yes” (Margaret Colin). Anyway, it was a great birthday party, and we came away with autographed pictures afterward. I could mention others, but I won’t lol

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A great tale, AR. I’ll be sharing it with my sister, a HUGE Slater fan. That show was never on my radar much as I’m almost a decade older than she, but she’ll be drooling, I’m sure. Salute!

    Liked by 1 person

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