There is zero point zero percent chance you remember this, but once upon a time in a land far away we spent a couple of days together. And you were awesome.
Summer, 1988. Jacksonville, Florida. I was working as a promotions producer (called ourselves promosexuals) at Channel 17, the local NBC affiliate. My job was to try and coerce our handful of viewers (we were number three in a tiny market) to watch our tired reruns of The A-team, Good Times and Magnum, PI. It was a thanklessly unglamorous job that paid peanuts and only sounded impressive to those who thought anything that had to do with TV was “really cool.”
One day, our Promotions Director called me into his office to inform me that my job description had been expanded to “celebrity liaison.”
“Ever hear of an actress named “Sarah Jane Parker?” he said.
“No,” I said.
“Doesn’t matter,” he said. “I need you to schlep her around for a few days. Can you handle that?”
“Sure,” I said.
I did my research and found out that Sarah Jane Parker was, in actuality, Sarah Jessica Parker. She was starring on a little known NBC Show called “A Year in the Life.” The show was a critical darling, so the network was doing anything it could to pump up the ratings. They were sending one of their promising young starlets out on the road do a little local promotion. We were just one of a dozen plus stops on her promotional tour. My job was to pick her up at the airport and shuttle her around for a couple or days. I was bored, so it was a welcome diversion.
I watched an episode of her show to make sure I knew who she was and thought she was pretty cute with her otherworldly 1980s hair.
As I drove to the airport to meet her plane, I steeled myself. I’d heard horror stories of prima donna diva TV stars and imagined her arriving with a cadre of handlers. She was going to blow her stack when she discovered that I’d come driving a crappy Honda Civic no bigger than a shoebox.
I was a little taken aback when Sarah Jessica Parker walked off the plane alone and smiling. She came right over to me. “You’re Rob?” she said.
“Yes,” I said. She was a bit more petite than I’d imagined, had arguably the bluest eyes I’d ever seen, and the hair was even more impressive in person. Her smile was no faux I-know-people-are-watching-so-I’m-trying-to-seem-like-a-nice-person smile. It was genuine. I knew first impressions could be deceptive, but this three-named chick seemed sincere.
“Hi Sarah,” I croaked like Peter Brady on the episode where his voice is changing. “Welcome to Jacksonville.”
I asked if there were others, and she assured me she was all alone. Wow, no entourage. What kind of TV star was this?
I apologized for my car. I assumed that all celebrities drove around in stretch limos all day, and I wanted her to know that this would not be happening while she was with me. She put me at ease, told me that her car was also a compact. Sure, I thought. Sure, it is.
I made idle chitchat as we hummed down I-95 towards her hotel. I was nervous enough around ordinary members of the opposite sex, but this was a celebrity and a dad gum attractive one at that. I couldn’t even believe we were breathing the same air much less sharing the same cramped little stick shift.
As we rolled by the lights of downtown, I gave my star passenger a quick rundown on the lovely the city of Jax. I pointed out the Jacksonville Landing in the distance, told her that was where all the cool shops and restaurants were located.
“Wanna go hang out?” she said.
I wasn’t sure I’d heard right. “Excuse me?” I said.
“Would you like to hang out for awhile?”
“Uh, sure,” I said. “Fine. Let’s go hang out.”
I took her to a quiet little seafood joint on the St. Johns River. It was just starting to rain, and Sarah Jessica suggested it would be fun to eat outside under an umbrella.
“Reminds me of Paris,” she said as we settled into our table-for-two. “Okay,” she said. “Ask me a question. Anything you want to know.”
I hadn’t exactly prepared myself for an interview, so the best I could blabber was “Do you know Rob Lowe?”
She smiled and said that he was one of her best friends and a good guy. “Next.” I followed up with the similarly scintillating query, “Do you know Michael J. Fox?” She told me how they’d recently gone out on a date, and the paparazzi had followed her into the bathroom.
By the time the check arrived, I’d worked myself through the entire Brat Pack, and she’d fielded my fan boy questions with patient enthusiasm. I found out that she’d been Annie on Broadway and had been in a movie with Kevin Bacon called Footloose.
It was after midnight when I finally dropped her off at her hotel. I told her I’d see her first thing in the morning.
For the next couple of days, Sarah Jessica Parker and I were pretty much inseparable. I drove her to radio and newspaper interviews and promo shoots. I’d let her use my office phone to call boyfriend Robert Downey Jr. who was shooting a movie called “1969” with another of her best buddies, Keifer Sutherland, just up the road in Savannah.
In between our official business, we’d go to the mall or to eat or to just hang out and talk. There was something about her that struck me as unusual – or least something I hadn’t experienced all that often. She was just…nice. This pretty TV star was unselfish and thoughtful. Whenever she ran into a store to pick up something for herself, she’d always bring me back something, too. A candy bar. A Slurpee. Cracker Jacks. Whenever somebody approached her to say hello or ask for an autograph, she was genuinely friendly and approachable. Sarah Jessica Parker seemed to be head over heels in love with life – and the wacky people that populated hers.
And SJP seemed to intuitively know the exact thing to say to make someone feel ten feet tall.
There was a particularly shy and awkward young man at the station and, when I introduced Sarah to him, she seemed to intuitively sense it. “Sarah. This is Joe. People say he looks a little like Keifer Sutherland.”
“Oh, he’s MUCH better looking than Keifer,” Sarah said. Joe blushed bright pink, and I wondered if she knew that she’d made his life.
By the time I drove my celebrity guest back to the airport to drop her off for her flight home to LA, she had stopped being a TV star. She was just Sarah – a cool girl who I really liked hanging out with. I felt comfortable enough with her to ask her advice.
“Sarah, I’m thinking of quitting my job and moving to LA. I think I want to be a screenwriter.”
“Do it,” she said. “If you don’t, you’ll regret it. Never be afraid to be bold.”
As I dropped her off at the gate and said goodbye, she gave me a hug. “Look me up when you come to LA. I’ll fix you up with someone.”
I smiled and said I would. She turned back and blew me a kiss just before disappearing down the boarding ramp.
As I drove back to the TV station and my ordinary celebrity-free life, I thought about what Sarah Jessica Parker had said about boldness. Six weeks later, I rolled out of town with my little compact crammed to the gills with my meager possessions. I was headed west.
I made it to Hollywood four days later with Sarah Jessica Parker’s phone number in my shirt pocket. I never called her. Maybe I didn’t want to bother her, maybe I wanted to make something of myself first. Before long, her promising career took off full flight. SJP became a household name, an American icon. I watched from a distance and wondered if her legion of fans really knew what an amazing person she truly was. I decided to take her advice and be bold. I wrote a movie script. It made the rounds for a few years and then…one day – the phone rang.
When it finally got made, I found it ironic that my first movie starred Kristin Davis – one of SJP’s Sex and the City co-stars.