It was sad to hear of the passing this morning of Peter Falk. I never watched him on TV as a kid, growing up, for various reasons, but I saw plenty of Columbo via the beauty of re-runs and his appearances in film were very profound and thoughtful the older I got. From the Grandpa in The Princess Bride, which I wrote a lot about in a certain novel, to playing himself as an Angel in Wings of Desire and many other very memorable films. Those clearly being my favourite.
I met Peter Falk twice in life and was surprised both times. The first time I met him, I was walking my little dachshund 'Kira' over by Bob Hope's old house in Toluca Lake on Moorpark. I lived here for anyone curious as to where I was at in Burbank / Toluca Lake between 2000 and 2007. I miss that place a lot since I've moved out to the desert, but everything has a time and place and it was definitely time to go after Fox was born. 1000 square feet is just too small for three people.
On one of the streets where we were walking, many of them homes of the stars, a film crew had set up shop and was in the process of filming something, most-likely for TV. A lot of exterior stuff for CSI, Criminal Minds and other similar police dramas are all filmed in this area. CSI Las Vegas had shot something in the building next to mine once and all I can recall about it was the nightmare of a parking situation it created for four days.
That day, I had stopped at what is affectionately known as a 'Roach Coach' and got a can of coke. As I was stepping away, a few feet in front of me was Peter Falk. I didn't know if he was part of the film set right away or not until he asked me point blank:
"Hey, whattya shootin here?"
Flabbergasted, I tried to remain composed and I said that I didn't know, but it was likely a TV show. He smiled at that and bent down and petted Kira who had been sniffing around his shoes. Having met a handful of celebrities, I usually have a policy of not saying anything about being a fan or asking for autographs or anything of the kind and I've definitely met a few. I usually just behave as if they're my next-door neighbor whom I haven't yet met face to face but have heard about. This time though, I felt compelled. I said something like this:
"Mr. Falk, I just wanted to say thanks for the laughs. It really is nice to meet you." I put out my hand like an idiot, hoping for it to get shook, which he very casually did, and laughed. His response was something like:
"Ha! I'm glad you kids enjoy it. That's the best part."
It was a simple moment, but a real magic one for me. Being a huge fan of The Princess Bride, I really felt like he was a grandfather to us all. I think a lot of other people did as well.
I spent a lot of those nights, especially between 2002 and 2006 not sleeping at all and keeping very bad hours. I mostly rose when the sun came up and crawled back in bed when it went down. Having no obligations to be anywhere at the time, I spent a lot of time driving around the city at night and writing endlessly. Many nights, I ended up over at a local restaurant known as 'Bob's Big Boy'. The one in Burbank is a landmark and during the day is usually packed with tourists, lookey-loo's or studio folk grabbing a quick lunch. The Proximity to Warner Brothers can only be measured in feet. Looking back, I probably ate there two or three times a week.
One of the nights I was there, editing the previous mentioned book, I was sitting at a table by the windows in front and I was the only person there besides the cook and two other waiters. My waiter, Utai, who also shows up in the book, always brought my coffee with his thumb sticking half-way into the cup. A bit disgusting, but I felt bad constantly having to ask him to not do it. He just had some bad habits as a waiter, but was really a nice guy. Last I heard, he had retired from working at Bob's and had gone back to the Philippines.
That night, Peter Falk walked in and I immediately recognized him. I doubt he would've remembered me from when I met him with Kira though, which about a year and a half had now passed. He was sporting his signature late-in-life tan and had dressed very casually in jeans and a black button down shirt. Even at three am he managed to look classy. Noticing that I was the only person in the place, he swiveled around, looking at the empty restaurant and said this:
"Well, I guess it would be rude if I didn't sit with ya. Are you working?"
I can still hear his voice in my head, because for a common person like me, it was a moment I'd never forget. "Sure" and "Please" were likely all I could manage. He had said he couldn't sleep and was driving around and decided to stop and eat. I had the feeling it wasn't the first time he had felt like that and likely not the first time in Bob's at night either.
So, we had breakfast together that morning and he even read over the two chapters I was working on. One was a chapter about a strip club, which made him laugh and the other was a chapter about the LAPD, which he was surprised by and asked me if it was true. We spoke for a while longer about the LAPD Rampart Division scandal that had plagued the city a few years previous. I did mention meeting him with the dog, we had another cup of coffee and then after a few 'nice meeting ya, keep at it. That's good writing.' and 'be well,' he departed.
For a moment there was a period of awkwardness as I was leaving too, but I didn't want to follow him outside as that would've been weird. So I just waited a moment, paid my bill and headed out. Mostly dazed by the encounter. I've told this story only to a few people close to me over the years and so I thought it was appropriate to write about it now.
Reading about him today, hit me with a wave of sadness and made a part of me wish that I had stayed in Burbank / Toluca Lake and possibly had a few more moments with him. I think that's the way it is for everyone when someone you admire or love passes. You just have to be glad for the memories you do have, and be thankful.
But of course ... one more thing ...