Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Night That I Met Sylvester Stallone

There are very few actors that inspire as much as Sylvester Stallone has. Yes, everyone has their personal heroes. And for those who know me, Sly is at top of the list. Yes, Mel Gibson is as well (but for "other" reasons). Rocky is universal to most people. You're told that you can't achieve what you're setting out to achieve. Told that you can't go the distance. All in all, you're told you just... Cannot. Rocky is the "fuck you" to those people. THAT is what makes Rocky universal to everyone. The whole message of Rocky is not ACHEIVING, it's going the distance. You can die saying, "I tried". Sylvester Stallone IS Rocky. And everyone has a Rocky Balboa in them.

Before I delve into how the night unfolded, I'll be honest, I wasn't all too happy about the announcement of the Rocky spin-off "Creed". I absolutely loved Rocky Balboa (2006) (you can read my review HERE). In fact, it's my favorite Rocky film. I felt it concluded the series so fucking perfectly. So the idea of a spin-off was a little disconcerting. But then the realization of them having to film in Philly set in. And that's when I realized that the dream of meeting my hero could possibly become a reality. I immediately warmed up to the notion of "Creed".

I remember being at a bar with my friends JD, Jen and Mike. And I thought, "Why not do a Philly Rocky Tour?". Were chances of meeting Sly slim? Of course. But I figured I owed it to myself to tour the spots in which catapulted his career and made history. We all agreed on the idea, considering Philly is only an hour away from us. We chose a date, January 28th. It just so happened to mesh with everyone's schedules. A week before the said tour, a few people couldn't do it. So we kinda' nixed the plan. I found out that Stallone was staying at the Four Seasons in Philly, and said, "Fuck it." and booked a room. If this was my chance to meet my idol, then that's what I'm going to do. As I got to the room, I got a call from my buddy JD saying, "Hey, Jen and I are in town, so if you wanna' get dinner somewhere, I'm game". He booked a reservation at Victor Café (IE: Adrian's Restaurant in Rocky Balboa). Even though, we didn't do a tour of the rest of locations, at least we got to go there, enjoy a meal, drink, maybe drink some more, and well... Drink a little more. And on top of that, that was actually on the top of my list in terms of locations to visit.

Now, bare with me with the little details that seem to be unimportant at first. They most definitely matter when all is said and done. JD and Jen said they were picking me up at 5:30, so I put on my black dress shirt (under my Rambo shirt, of course), and headed down to the lobby. Lo and behold, they arrived right on time. I told JD that I would leave my metal vest in the car since it's a classy restaurant. For those of you who don't know, Victor Café is an old school Italian restaurant in South Philly where the staff (waiters, bar tenders, etc.) sing opera every half hour or so. It's fancy, yet very homey. So we arrive on the street in which the restaurant is located, find a parking spot and head to the restaurant. The only issue... I forgot to leave my metal vest in the car. Whatever, it's too late, we're already headed over. Once I get to the exterior of the building, I'm just in awe. I've seen Rocky Balboa AT LEAST 30 times. To be at Adrian's Restaurant was just incredible. You walk a few feet to left of the building, and that's the alley in which Rocky gives his son the speech "It ain't about how hard you hit, it's about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward! How much you can take! And keep moving forward!". We walk in, I see the bar to the left that Paulie insults everyone. To the right is where Spider Rico was sitting. I peek down the steps, there's the kitchen Spider Rico was doing dishes. Everywhere I looked, I had the film playing over and over and over again in my head. The hostess seats us, and the water girl comes over. My buddy JD asks, "Is Stallone coming tonight?" as a joke. She pours our water and says, "You never know..." In an almost nervous fashion. Once she left, I turn over to JD and ask him, "Didn't that seem odd?". He didn't know what I was talking about. I elaborated saying that the way she said it was just odd.

As we're looking over our menus, our waiter Carl comes over. He asks how our evening is going, etc. And JD jokes again, "Is Stallone coming in tonight? He's in town". He responds, "He's got a reservation". I drop my menu and stare directly at him and say, "Are you fucking serious?!". He said that he should be in soon. JD then explains to our waiter what an enormous Stallone fan I am. I don't think I had the words, breath or composure to do so. I then showed him my Rambo shirt, the Rambo pins, Rocky IV and Expendables patches on my vest. Immediately after our waiter had left the table, I took both Jen and JD's hands and put them on my chest. My heart felt as if it was going a million miles a minute.

Fast-forward about 20 minutes, I see Jen and JD look over to the front of the restaurant, I felt like the girl in Jurassic Park holding the spoon of Jell-O knowing there's a Velociraptor behind her. I was afraid to look. Because I knew who was there. I then look to my right, and there he is... Rocky Balboa, John Rambo... Sylvester Stallone. You would have to ask my friends what the fuck I did. Because I felt as if I was going to black out. I can't remember my initial response. All that I remember was when he was walking towards me to sit down at his table about 20 feet away, mopping the floor with my jaw as I gave him one single wave... Then he waved back with the look of, "Yo, how you doin'?". I was ready to burst into tears.

Our waiter had come back to the table and I had asked him if I could cancel my dinner because I was ready to throw up, cry, and kill myself. I felt like a girl on prom night. The only appetite I had was for wine, wine and more wine. I still could not believe that the trip that we had all planned was nixed and last minute we decided to go to the restaurant anyway. It's unfathomable as to how well the timing was.

So it was our waiter's turn to sing, coincidentally right between our table and Sly's. Through out the duration of his performance, Sly is DIRECTLY in my eye-line. Did I want to stare at him? OF FUCKING COURSE. Did I? No. Even though, inside I was losing my shit, I didn't want to portray that. Through out his performance, I made eye contact with Sly once, and all I that I knew to do was... Give him a thumbs up. What the fuck? Luckily enough, he gave a wave back. By the time our waiter's song was over, it had gotten around to the staff that I was the biggest Stallone fan in the room. One of the staff members had given me words of encouragement to walk up to the table and meet him. Stallone may be my hero, and I may be an enormous fan, but I didn't want to burn myself by interrupting him eating his meal. But as pointed out by the staff, he was almost done. So I went upstairs to the bathroom, took a piss, washed my hands until the skin almost fell off and looked into the mirror building up my confidence to walk up to him. I said, "FUCK IT! DO IT!".

I walked down the stairs and walked up to his table. On the one side was the actor Frank Pesce and what I believe was his daughter, and Stallone on the other side, with his arm on an empty chair. I said, "Mr. Stallone, I hope Im not interrupting your meal, but I am an enormous fan of yours, and would love to have a picture with you". Then I proceeded to show him my Rambo shirt to make him aware that I wasn't just someone who knew who he was and wanted a picture. I wanted him to know that I was a legitimate fan. I'll never forget the words, "Sure, sit down". HOLY. FUCKING. SHIT. I sat down next to Sly, and by that time JD and Jen had already walked over to take pictures with Jen's camera. Here is where the metal vest comes into play. As I sat down, Stallone grabbed my vest and said, "What is all this shit?". I then proceeded to tell him, "It's your shit. I've got a Rocky patch, an Expendables patch, Rambo pins". Then he said, "Isn't this heavy?". To be quite honest, I don't remember a god damn word I said in response to that. Jen took the pictures, then I asked if I could take a selfie. He agreed. I then called it a "Slyfie" and he laughed. After, I showed him pictures of my guest room which is comprised of Expendables banners, Escape Plan banners, Rambo standees, and a knife case of all of the Rambo and Expendables knives. I remember him saying, "Wow, you've got all the knives". I then thanked him for his time, shook his hand then went back to my table and consumed as much wine and beer as I could without throwing up due to sheer excitement.

We milked the rest of our time until we felt he was about to leave. I just wanted to shake his hand and thank him once more to really show my appreciation... Or just to interact with my hero once more. Whichever one. We went outside, he left, I said, "Thank you again, Sly", he took pictures with Jen and JD, he said goodnight, and then he left.

I already have the pictures printed and framed in my apartment, and I still cannot believe that it happened. Ever since, I've felt like the happiest man in the world. Though, a long-winded transcript of my experience it may have been, there are so many details that I have left out. I would just like to thank Carl and the rest of the staff of Victor Café, and most importantly JD and Jen for sharing the experience with me. I love you guys.

"This is the greatest night in the history of my life"
Rocky Balboa, Rocky II

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