Yesterday I had the pleasure of crossing paths with celebrated film, television and stage actor, Wallace Shawn! It’s funny how that happened. I’d been ubering around Brooklyn and Manhattan all afternoon, and had just dropped off a young couple at the hospital. As it turns out, they were preparing for the delivery of the newest addition to their family. Thankfully, the expectant mother wasn’t in labor just yet, but rather was going to have her labor induced. So it wasn’t the chaotic “Her water broke! We need to get to the hospital and step on it!” drama-filled sitcom-scenario that comes to mind, but rather a nervous chattiness we shared with knowing that this was the last ride they’d be taking before their baby was born. Nevertheless, I was in such an overjoyed and introspective state after they got out that I considered turning my Uber driving app off and heading back to Brooklyn to get ready for the start of my big birthday weekend. But, before I could sign off, I got a request not too far from where I was driving and noted that surge pricing was in effect. “Awwww, what’s one more ride?” I chuckled, heading in the direction of the pick up, “Especially at two times the rate!”
The way Uber works is that once a driver accepts a passenger’s request for a ride, you see a first name and pick up address. There’s no last name or photograph, or any other identifying information of who the passenger is, so you never know who’s getting in. So, even though I saw the name “Wallace”, I thought nothing of the actor himself. That is, until I spoke to him on the phone. See, I’d realized that I was stuck in gridlock traffic and that it would take close to ten minutes to circle the block and arrive in front of “Wallace’s” pickup location. So I called him via the Uber app proxy number to ask if he’d consider walking the half-block to where my car was stuck in traffic to meet me instead of waiting another ten minutes for me to circle around front. Now, this is the thing, I don’t NORMALLY call my Uber clients and tell them to walk down the block to meet me. On the contrary, I’ll usually send a text message saying that I’m stuck in traffic and give them an ETA so that they can decide if they want to cancel or wait. But, this particular instance, I decided to forgo texting and just call him up. When I heard his voice on the phone, that was the first inkling that it might have been the Wallace Shawn that I was picking up. But, I dismissed that immediately thinking it was any other Wallace but him.
Imagine my complete surprise when Mr. Shawn appears at my car, bags in tow and looking to make sure that I was the actual driver he was expecting. I rolled down my window like, “Are you Wallace Shawn????” He replied, “Yes I am.” I IMMEDIATELY felt bad for having made him walk from where ever he was to my car on 9th Avenue, but at the same time, it made the most sense considering the time it would have taken to drive to his building. Once he got in, I gushed, “Oh my gosh! I am a big fan of your work.” Cliche, right? But it was true. I told him that this was actually the second time I’d crossed paths with him, as five years early, I’d been seated a few seats over from him at The IFC Theatre for a screening of Black Power Mixtape. He was very gracious considering my excitement, and there were so many quotes I wanted to throw his way, but I never like repeating actors’ iconic lines to them. How many times, I wondered, has this man heard someone scream, INCONCEIVABLE!, at him??? But between the Princess Bride and The Cosby Show, and Clueless, The Good Wife and Gossip Girl, Star Trek, Murphy’s Brown, and of course Taxi and My Dinner With Andre, how does one begin to pick any one role to discuss with such a notable actor?? Only now, since looking back over his IMDB page, do I realize his television career began eleven years before I was born!
After masterfully navigating out of the heavy gridlock and into free flowing traffic, Mr. Shawn asked how long I’d been driving Uber. I told him since September and that I really loved the sense of unknown adventure I get from day to day while driving. I mentioned that I am a writer, to which he asked, What type of writing do you do? So, ultimately explaining the type of stuff I do as a freelancer, I mentioned that I was also taking the time to write about my experience living in the Middle East where I taught English to Arab teenage boys in the UAE. THIS he found fascinating. He wanted to hear all about it and even sat back and crossed his legs, listening intently while I rambled off anecdote after anecdote. He, like most people I tell about the experience, asked questions about the culture and realities of living there and found my entire story intriguing. It didn’t take too long to arrive at his destination, and once we were there he was incredibly encouraging to me about completing a finished book of these stories. “I could really sit here and listen to you speak about this for hours!” he said. “Good luck! I can’t wait to read your book!”
I was still so excited to have driven him around that, even though I didn’t get to talk to him about HIS career, I was very grateful for the exchange. I turned to him and asked, “Do you mind if we take a picture together?” I tend not to ask passengers for pictures, not even Alec Baldwin when he got in. But there was such a genuine connection, I felt, as two people who were mutually appreciative of what the other had to creatively offer. So, I wanted a keepsake and Wallace Shawn was happy to oblige. I took off my dark shades that I wear when I drive, and he goes, “Oh wow! You look completely different without your sunglasses! You don’t look how I imagined.” It never dawned on me that when I talk to my passengers from the front seat looking forward, with a hat and dark glasses on, they probably don’t really get to see ME. Anyhooo, we said our goodbyes and he gave me a warm “Until we meet again” farewell. I really hope that happens!