It was our first morning at the location. The set, a neo-modern house the art department had dressed up into looking more like a comfortable fortress, would serve as central focus for the next four weeks, most of which would be long and cold nights.
The geography was pretty steep, a hillside high above Malibu, with the only artery running though it being a thin strip of blacktop called Tuna Canyon Road, which happens to be the primary connection for the local mountain dwellers to Pacific Coast Highway.
So here’s the scene. It was around seven AM in late January, the sun was bright and the morning was crisp. After a brief confab in his trailer, Bruce Willis and I hitched a ride in a passenger van for the brief quarter-mile trip from basecamp up to the picture set. Maybe two or three hundred yards short of our bus stop, the van came to a sudden halt.
“What’s the hold up?” groused Bruce.
“Traffic jam,” said the driver.
“Traffic what?” asked Bruce, swiveling his view forward and ahead.
Sure enough, the conga line of vans and trucks delivering crew and equipment from base camp to the set had come to dead stop. Nothing was moving. Impatient as usual, Bruce unseated himself and tapped my shoulder.
“Let’s walk the rest of the way,” said the movie star.
I slung on my backpack, climbed out of the van and, as we continued our conversation while trekking up the road shoulder, the source of the traffic problem became clear. A long string of of Southbound commuters had somehow locked horns with the phalanx of North-slogging production vehicles on a strip of roadway better suited for one-way Prius drivers.
“Where the hell’s the CHP?” I asked.
“No clue,” said Bruce. “Looks like your basic, first day on location clusterfuck.”
Normal production procedure is to employ off-duty Highway Patrolmen on any and all locations where equipment and crew are using public roadways. And this was no kind of guerilla picture shoot. Fifty million dollars in budget and an all union motion picture crew.
“Whoops. Looks like somebody didn’t show up for work today,” I joked.
“Hawk’s gotta get a handle on this,” said Bruce. “Look at how far the cars are backed up?”
Sure enough, commuter vehicles were backed all the way up the hill. If we’d been in any place other than mellow Malibu, my guess was somebody would be laying on their car horn like tantrum-tossing toddler.
As we continued our hike to the set, passing by one stalled car after the next, I noticed the door to a shiny Honda swinging open. Out stepped spindly little dentist of about fifty years old.
And how did I know he was a dentist?
Okay, I didn’t. I hadn’t a clue to the man’s choice in occupation. But something inside me said “dentist” the precise moment he’d lept from his metallic-grey Civic. He wore khakis, a checkered button-down, and appeared meticulous in every stitch of his appearance. His attitude was another matter.
“What the hell’s goin’ on here?” said the dentist, directing his frustration at the taller and more famous of the two of us. And that was Bruce.
“Trying to make a movie, sir,” said the movie star.
“Well, some of us have to get to work!” spat the dentist.
“We’re all trying to get to work,” said Bruce, overly-polite. “I’m sure someone’ll be along and get this sorted out as soon as possible.”
“Maybe you didn’t hear me. I have to get to work!”
“Really sorry for your inconvenience. It’s the first day at this location -”
“Look at all these Goddamn cars you’re holding up!”
“Sir,” said Bruce calmly and, in his boots, towering nearly a foot over the little man. “I’m very sorry. I’ll make sure someone takes care of this as soon as possible.”
“Someone else?” angered the dentist. “I don’t wanna know what someone else is gonna do about it. I wanna know what YOU are gonna do about it.”
“I’m gonna get someone to take care of this right away,” promised Bruce.
“Someone else again! This is YOUR problem. I want YOU to fix it.”
“Listen. I can’t fix this –“
“The hell YOU can’t? I gotta get to work.”
“Sir, you already said that,” I finally chimed in, annoyance in me rising well beyond the even-tempered star.
“We’re gonna take care of it,” Bruce said, remaining far more patient than his shorter, somewhat invisible writer pal.
“But I want YOU to take care of it. NOW!” shouted the dentist.
“You want me to take care of it?” asked Bruce.
“You heard me! YOU gotta fix this and YOU gotta fix this right NOW!” I might add that the dentist was, at this point, practically frothing at the mouth, firing index finger bullets at Bruce’s chest.
The worldwide movie star, who’d exhibited far more tolerance than was humanly required, had clearly expended what calm reserve he’d brought with him.
“Listen, pal,” said Bruce, bending at the waist just enough to give the little dentist enough face for a wide-screen close up. “I was polite. I apologized. Said I’d see what I could do. But now, guess what? YOU can go fuck yourself.”
With that, Bruce flashed one of his trademarked, kiss-my-ass smiles, straightened, and continued walking. I followed, quickly catching up with his long and annoyed strides. All the while from behind we could still hear the little dentist spewing a tirade of vitriol in our general direction.
“Can you believe the guy?” pissed Bruce. “And I was being nice, wasn’t I?”
I couldn’t really answer. Not because I was stuck for words. I was merely laughing.
“Seriously,” said Bruce. “It’s not my fault the CHP didn’t show up.”
Still, I couldn’t respond. That’s because I was laughing even harder.
“What the fuck’s so funny? Some little man who practically attacks me and blames me for the stupid traffic jam?”
“Bruce,” I tried to say, still tickled.
“For Christ’s sake,” said the star. “I felt bad for the guy. Was gonna give him an autograph or maybe get him a crew hat for his trouble.”
“Bruce,” I said, at last finding some air behind my words. “It is your fault.”
“What the… I’m just a goddamn actor. Why’s it gotta be my fault –“
“Dude,” I said. “Look at what you’re wearing.”
“What I’m wearing?” he said, arms wide and palms out for punctuation. “What’s that got to do with…”
That’s when Bruce looked down, scanned himself, and began to crack up. That’s because he’d noticed that, head to toe, he was dressed as Bristo Camino’s top cop. Pressed pants. Same colored button-down shirt with official patches on the sleeves. And let’s not forget the shiny policeman’s badge and gun-belt. Everything but the hat and Ray Bans.
The dentist thought Bruce was the assigned traffic authority.
Bruce was laughing so hard I thought he was going to collapse.
“He didn’t know you were Bruce Willis,” I added.
Bruce continued to howl.
“Imagine his face if I’d offered to give him an autograph,” cracked the star. “’What’s this dumb-fuckin’ cop doin’ givin’ me HIS signature?’”
“Like to have seen that,” I said. Then we laughed some more.
“I suppose I should go back and apologize,” Bruce said, looking past to see that traffic had finally begun to move.
“Whoops,” I said. “Too late.”
Too late, indeed. The angry dentist had moved on to his appointed work day. I imagined him on his cell phone, screaming at some poor rube in the city’s film permit office about the off duty cop who’d politely heard his complaint, only to tell him to fuck off.
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