Columnist CJ LaCava
(Born in NJ and now in the UK)

Meeting at the Dorchester
Posted on May 24, 1999 @ 5:00PM GMT

Bruce Springsteen was in the middle of doing four fantastic shows at London's Earl's Court. I had been to three of them already as well as one in Manchester.

It was the night of May 22, 1999. I had heard from a taxi driver that Bruce Springsteen and the band were staying at the Dorchester in London this week. This could be an opportunity for a 'chance' meeting.

It was Saturday - no show tonight. Last one for London was Sunday.

I asked my wife if she would like to go to the Dorchester with me for drinks after dinner. She thought it was a romantic gesture - we had been there before and had a wonderful time. I then confessed that I had other motives.

When I told her Bruce was probably there, she said, "Of course he's at the Dorchester. It's the nicest hotel in London." Probably so.

We arrived at about 9:45PM. There was some sort of ball going on. Lots of people were dressed up in gowns and tuxes.

The Dorchester bar was about half full and there were plenty of seats in the lobby piano bar. We usually park ourselves in the bar because there is usually a decent jazz band playing. But tonight I needed a view of the front entrance and the elevators - so we opted for the piano bar's front-most couch.

The piano player was quite good. He looked annoyed tonight though - the band in ballroom at the other end of the lobby were too loud and drowning out his playing. The band was terrible. Finally, somebody shut the ballroom doors completely - much to our relief. They were playing Elvis tunes and doing a rather poor job.

After two glasses of $16 a glass house champagne and a nice Cuban Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure #1 (from home), my wife Alison started to look bored and tired. I can't blame her, that morning she just got off a plane from Chicago where she was last week for business.

I told her we'd leave soon.

Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Danny Federici. He walked in with a woman and went right to the elevators.

My information was correct. Bruce and the band were here. I suddenly had a big grin on my face. This could turn into an interesting night.

I pointed him out to my wife - who was unimpressed. She was in Manchester show with me and we are both into Bruce's music. But this outing was not Alison's style. I'm lucky she decided to humor me. She knew what I wanted: an autograph. I'm a collector of autographed CDs and I was looking to add a huge trophy to my collection that night. I was armed with my best black, autograph pen and the cover from 18 Tracks turned around inside of the top of a CD case. (A trade secret of mine - this way the CD cover won't get bent and the signer has a hard surface to write on.)

My heart was racing. I might actually get it tonight. Alison commented she had not seen me so excited in a long while. I felt like a kid in line to see Santa Claus for the first time. I was euphoric.

It was now about 10:50PM.

We were about to order round two when I suddenly looked up to see a woman with long, straight, very red hair. It was Patti. She's hard to miss in a crowd (not that there was one). On her arm . . . Mr. Bruce Springsteen.

Both of them were dressed in black.

They were walking right towards us and not to the elevator. I grabbed the CD cover and tucked it behind my jacket and walked over. The pen was hidden in my jacket pocket.

I couldn't believe it. No body guards or entourage. Just Bruce and Patti by themselves.

I was so nervous that I was shaking a little bit.

Alison got up to look - she was impressed. Not only had I gotten the right hotel, I had The Boss alone in the lobby. What are the chances?

I walked right up to them and said, "Hello. How are you doing tonight?"

Bruce said, "Fine, thank you." They walked right into the bar w/o stopping to talk to me. Patti didn't say anything. I went back to Alison.

"They're in the bar. I can't believe it."

"Well, go ask them for the autograph," Alison said.

"OK. OK. I can't believe I'm doing this! I can't believe he is here."

I went into the bar and it was crowded. At the Dorchester, crowded means there were no seats - it was still easy to move around.

They were looking around. Then Bruce and Patti decided to leave. They turned around and looked right at me and started to walk towards me again, still arm and arm.

This is it. I'm going to ask. But how? How do I do this with some grace? I could say I'm from NJ or that my father has a flower farm in Coltsneck. I could comment on the shows or just say I'm really enjoying the tour.

Maybe I should say I really enjoyed hearing "Meeting Across The River" last night. That would show him I'm a real fan.

Then I could turn to Patti and comment on how nice her voice sounds this tour - especially on "Factory" and "Mansion on the Hill".

As these thoughts raced through my head, they walked passed me and I started to follow them to the elevators. I wanted to start a conversation with them so badly - but I could not speak. I was beside myself.

Patti pressed the elevator call button. I was right behind them at this point. The elevator opened, she got in. Bruce followed, but the doors closed on him and he just about fell over.

Bruce was drunk . . . and why not? It was his night off!

Patti made a face at him as if to say, "You clumsy oaf." and she started to laugh quietly, and then a bit louder.

Then I did. I got on the elevator with them - and it was a small elevator too. The Dorchester is a very old, traditional, English hotel. The elevator shafts were built a long time ago.

There I was. In an elevator car with Bruce and Patti. I could smell alcohol and perfume. I was so nervous. The author and performer of most of my favorite music was about two feet away from me. I couldn't speak.

Nobody had pushed any buttons in the elevator yet. Bruce probably didn't want me to know what floor they were staying on - and I don't blame him.

I pushed 7. Bruce didn't push anything.

"Are you making fun of me," Bruce said as he started to tickle Patti. Revenge for the dufus face she had just made at him a moment ago.

"Damn. Now I'm in over my head," I thought to myself. I wanted to talk to them. I wanted to get Bruce's autograph - I really wanted that. But, now I had crossed the line. There is no way to proceed now without looking like a moron fan who had gone too far in order to meet his hero. There was no way to get that autograph with any class or respect anymore. I had gone too far.

There was only one way to end this.

The doors opened on the 7th floor. Bruce was looking right at me. I was now smiling from ear to ear, but still very nervous - still thinking about the autograph.

"Good night," I managed to say finally.

"Good night," Bruce replied. Patti was silent, but still snickering at Bruce. He was smiling as well. Obviously they had a nice night out in London.

I got off the elevator and the doors closed. I pressed the down call button and got on the next elevator car. I took a deep breath. It was over.

I got down to the lobby. I was exhilarated from the experience, still smiling. The door opened and then I saw somebody else I didn't expect to see up close tonight. Waiting for the elevator in the lobby was . . . not anyone from the E Street Band . . . but Kelsey Grammer.

Suddenly a lot of the nervousness I had while next to Bruce was gone. I guess maybe since Kelsey wasn't such an important person in my life it was easier to have a conversation with him. He was very easy going and even appeared a bit awkward and nerd-like. He was tall and dressed in sneakers, jeans, and a sports jacket.

"Hello, Mr. Grammer. How are you doing this evening?"

"Oh, I am fine, thank you."

"Congratulations on all of your success with Frasier. It's really a great show."

"Thank you very much."

He got on the elevator and I got out.

"Good night," we said at the same time. What was I going to do? Ask him to sign my Springsteen CD cover?

I found my wife again and told her the story as if I was describing my first ride on a roller coaster to a best friend who had never had the pleasure.

"No autograph?" she said.

"No. No autograph. But I do have a great story."

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