Vanessa and I had tickets to see Avenue Q on Broadway in a couple hours and had time to kill at our hotel bar in Times Square before heading out into the freak March blizzard.
Our hotel was directly upstairs from a McDonald’s that happened to be the site of a Winter Olympics promotion that day, but we were unaware anything out of the ordinary was happening below us.
We were just starting in on our first Flirtinis when two gentlemen sat down next to us. The one closest to us was already hammered. His mate on the other side was much taller and exuded confidence and charisma that was palpable even when looking at him with a mere sideways glance.
He was wearing a huge flashy ring that matched his flashy unusually white teeth. It didn’t take me long to figure out who he was.
Vanessa leaned toward me and asked with clenched teeth, “Is that Wayne Gretzky?”
“Yep,” I said casually.
We played it cool for a few minutes, while inside I was screaming, “OH MY GOD! OH MY GOD! OH MY GOD!” I’m a lifelong Kings’ fan, and this was like the jackpot of celebrity sightings (more interesting than seeing David Duchovny at Gobo and Ethan Hawke getting on the subway, both during that same week).
Soon Wayne’s buddy reached over to shake hands with Vanessa; this prompted Wayne to shake my hand and say, “Hi, I’m Wayne.”
No shit, I thought, but instead I said, “Nice to meet you.” Gretzky introduced his friend by name, and his friend said, “I work for Wayne. I’m his golf caddy.” Of course you are, I thought, because everyone has his own golf caddy at the ready.
The Great One asked what we were drinking and proceeded to order us another round when we were nowhere near finished with our first drinks.
We told them we were in town visiting my sister for her 21st birthday. Wayne said he had been part of the Olympics promotion downstairs. He’d had a long day and was over it.
After a few minutes of chit chat, I asked him, “Is that your Stanley Cup ring?” pointing to the diamond-studded gold rock on his hand.
“No, this is my World Cup ring when I played for Canada,” he smiled, realizing we knew who he was.
We talked about the unusually cold weather. “I just talked to my wife, who says she is sitting outside next to our pool in 80-degree weather in Thousand Oaks,” he said.
“We’re from California too,” I said.
“Really?” he asked, surprised.
“Yeah, we used to go to your games in the early ‘90s at the Forum.”
“No way!” he exclaimed, and leaned over and high-fived me. Seriously, Gretzky high-fived me.
“I used to collect hockey cards,” I added.
“Well, you should have brought them for me to sign,” he said.
“Yeah, because I knew you were going to be here.”
He laughed and ordered us a third round. I looked at my watch.
“We have tickets to a show in a little while,” I said. “I don’t know if I can drink all of this.”
I excused myself to use the restroom, and when I came back, Vanessa whispered, “He asked us to go to dinner with them. He said they’re meeting up with some friends. What do you want to do?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” I said, now guzzling my second cocktail, while my third warmed on the counter.
I DON'T KNOW? What was I, crazy? Say YES, you dumbass! How many times are you going to get asked to dinner with Wayne Gretzky? One! That’s it. One.
While we debated eating the cost of our show tickets, Wayne kept looking over his shoulder, antsy. “Hey, if you guys see the McDonald’s people, hide me! I’m all Ronald-out right now.”
Just then, a third guy showed up. “Hi, I work for Wayne,” he said.
Does everybody work for Wayne? I thought.
“He’s my manager,” Gretzky said. His manager turned out to be a really cool, down-to-earth guy who appeared to have the role of cat-herder.
“Are we going to have hockey next year, or what?” I asked them. (The NHL season had been cancelled that year.)
“I don’t know, and I don’t care,” Wayne said, shaking his head.
“Yes he does! Yes he does!” his manager quickly interjected.
Vanessa and I then went to the bathroom together to discuss our options. “It’s your call,” I said. “He asked you to dinner.”
“I think we should skip it and go to the play,” she said. “If we go with them, it will end up like a bad after-school special.”
“You’re probably right,” I said.
When we returned and declined their dinner offer, they pleaded, but then told us to meet them after the play, to which we quickly responded, “Okay!” knowing full well that they’d never be back to the hotel bar by 11:00 like they said they would.
We downed our drinks, took a couple photos for proof, and said our goodbyes. Vanessa even offered to pay the bill when it showed up. Gretzky insisted on paying because, well, he has more money than God. (A major league ball player once said to me about people who own teams, “That’s serious money.”)
I was already regretting our decision to leave as we walked down the street to the theater in the icy wind. “Did we just turn down dinner with Wayne Gretzky?” I asked.
“Yeah,” Vanessa sighed.
Who else were they meeting up with? I thought. Possibly some New York Rangers? Mark Messier? Shit. We blew it.
During Avenue Q—which was awesome, by the way—I spent the first half of the show trying not to pee my pants after guzzling those three martini glasses full of booze. It was like one of those bad dreams in which you’re trapped somewhere in a large crowd with a full bladder and nowhere to pee, only it was really happening, and I was cursing Wayne Gretzky because it was all his fault. He force-fed me those drinks. (Not really.)
Before intermission, I realized I absolutely couldn’t wait. I squeezed past a number of people and forced a lady in a wheelchair to move out of my way into the aisle. What a bitch. (Me, not her.)
After the musical, we hurried back to the bar and waited a half hour before deciding they were never coming back. We sat sipping beer, shaking our heads, and decided we were the dumbest women in Manhattan that night.
Or smartest, depending on how the rest of the night could have gone. We’ll never know.
Every once in awhile, I mention to Vanessa, “We should have gone to dinner with Wayne Gretzky.”
“I still maintain it would have ended up like a bad after-school special,” she says.