Monday, August 8, 2016

That Time I Rode to New Jersey in an Unmarked Van

LUNCH 3 : Marisa Ross
My mother warned me about getting in unmarked vans with strange men, but at the time it seemed like a good idea.  Marisa Ross has a way of making anything seem like a good idea.  
We had a chance to make $100 and all we had to do was ride out to New Jersey on the 4th of July to “babysit.”  Since I knew there was safety in numbers – and I needed the cash - I said yes.  

We were told that a guy in a white van (Marisa swears it was black) would pick us up on Broadway and 89th Street.  Only when we arrived there were no children. I quickly became concerned that “babysitting” was a euphemism for something more lascivious.  But my fears subsided when we were engulfed in a sea of Italian men who made sure we were shielded from the sun, well fed, and never without a drink.  At the end of the day, we were each handed a crisp one hundred dollar bill, loaded back onto the van, and delivered safely to the city.

Effortlessly cool, smart and always ready with a quick comeback, Marisa is the kind of person who walks into a room and owns it.  She is, basically, the girl I wanted to be in high school.  She assures me that she was just an awkward theatre kid who desperately wanted the cool kids to like her.   

Somehow we found one another in New York City.  Marisa was a year out of college and had just moved to New York to be an actor.  I had just graduated from college and was having my first play produced.  Our friendship was almost thwarted when I was hesitant to cast her, a story she never tires of telling.
She moved to LA, but gave up on acting when she followed a boyfriend into a casting office where he was an intern.  The relationship ended, but the internship turned into a long-term commitment.  She worked her way up to being a casting associate before starting her own company.  Her eye for talent has launched the careers of many.  But it hasn’t just been luck that made her a success; Marisa has an impeccable work ethic.  She clocks grueling hours, especially during pilot season, when she could be working on four or five projects at a time.  But it’s worth it, she says: “Casting allows me to be an actor, a director and a lawyer every day.”

It hasn’t been easy.  There have been huge sacrifices along the way, including stint on a hit show, which required her to stay in LA while her husband and kids relocated to Chicago.  When the show ended she followed them, tapping into the relationships she built in LA to launch her new company.

Marisa is always good for an adventure.  She seeks them out.  We’ve been motorcross dirt biking, had our bodies exfoliated in Koreatown, our backs massaged in Thaitown, and taken cooking classes in Santa Monica.  In the months after my mom died she would insist we go for power walks on the beach and pedicures on Main Street in Venice.  She fusses at me about keeping my eyebrows groomed and my hair from going gray.  And I love her for it.  

We met in New York for a girl’s weekend, and even though our lives are different now, it was fun to revisit our former selves; this time with a few life lessons learned and a bigger budget.  We enjoyed lunch at Gitane, my favorite cafĂ© in Soho, which serves French-Morroccan cuisine.  We are bound by the history we share and mutual respect for one another.  “You were my first grown-up friend,” she says as we talk about our friendship over lunch.  “We didn’t have to be friends.  We weren’t in high school together.  We didn’t go to college together.  We chose to be in one another's lives.”
And it's true.  There are people who are in our lives because of familial bonds or circumstance.  But they are not always a reflection of who we are. The people we choose to surround ourselves are a reflection of our true selves. I look around at the amazing people in my life - at the people I plan to connect with during 40 Lunches - and I feel like I have chosen well.

Like what you read?  LIKE the 40 Lunches Facebook page.


  1. I love this so much. You are 100% correct that the people we choose are a reflection of who we really are and perhaps who we wish to be. I know that I typically surround myself with strong personalities!

    1. One of the things I've realized as I've been making my list of people to have lunch with is that I have spent my life surrounded by really dynamic people. They keep life interesting, right? Thanks for reading.

  2. Such a great story. I have a dear friend that I met in my mid-20's, while we were in grad school--I think of her as my first grown-up friend, too. Those bonds are so important in shaping our lives.(She now lives in my hometown, through one of those mysteries happenings of life, and my mom used to babysit her daughter. Go figure.)

    1. The world is such a small place and it's so interesting to step back and look at who and how people have come in and out of our lives.