Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Cut To Black
I had been in the New York City area just a couple of months when I got stuck in traffic on Route 17 out in North Jersey. I was still living in a hotel room then not far from the MSNBC studios, covering the aftermath of 9/11, and wanted to go grab some decent food without actually having to go into the city, so I headed west into inland Jersey and ran headlong into a dead stop, bumper-to-bumper.
I sat in it for maybe ten minutes before I finally gave some thought to getting out and having a look around to see what the hell was going on. That thought stopped cold the second the guy in front of me got out of his car.
It was a maroon Chevy Suburban. The driver's side door opened and out crawled a giant bear of a man dressed in a Tommy Bahama-style short-sleeve button-down with beige palm fronds on it and a pair of basic Men's Warehouse-looking slacks. As he looked around a bit in front of him, I couldn't help but feel like I'd absolutely seen him before but I just assumed it was the type more than anything. This was Jersey, after all.
And then he turned around and faced me. And it was James Gandolfini. No, it wasn't James Gandolfini. It was, sincerely, Tony Soprano.
The SUV, the wardrobe, the guy. On Route 17, the location of the infamous Satin Dolls strip club, better known to TV viewers as the Bada-Bing. I literally froze -- my mouth open slightly, breath shallow, heart-rate spiking -- because, for just a second, I wondered whether the man I was looking at really was Tony, the New Jersey crime boss whose exploits I had watched religiously since The Sopranos debuted on HBO. I wondered whether this guy would take me home to have dinner with Carmela, Meadow, and A.J. if I approached him, or better yet, to the Bada-Bing where I'd get to hang out with Silvio, Christopher and Paulie. I was a good Italian boy, after all.
It was one of the most surreal -- and one of the coolest -- experiences of my entire life.
Several outlets are now confirming that the great James Gandolfini, Tony Soprano, died today suddenly at the age of 51. While vacationing in Italy, naturally. The effect Gandolfini had on the way television characters are portrayed, with the anti-hero suddenly becoming the star, and the effect The Sopranos in general had on television simply cannot be overstated. It's still one of the best shows that's ever graced the medium, and Gandolfini, one of the best actors to ever create an indelible character, possibly the greatest, most fully-formed dramatic character TV has ever seen.
I'll always love The Sopranos. And I'll always remember my thrilling, kind of terrifying brush with Tony.