I could easily go on a road trip with my Jewish New Jersey mom, like Seth Rogen’s character does with Barbra Streisand in the movie The Guilt Trip. I’d just crank the AC, blast some Sirius XM Broadway, stop for lots of Starbucks lattes, pretend to listen—no problem. But I couldn’t imagine taking a long drive with Barbra Streisand. She’s like my mom, only literally a diva.
But I wanted to see just how good a Jewish boy I could be, so I offered to pick Barbra up at her Malibu house and take an hour-long drive to Beverly Hills. When I arrived, her assistant led me to a stately room overlooking the ocean that was filled with John Singer Sargent paintings, Chippendale furniture and a disturbing number of dolls. I sat nervously trying not to touch anything for half an hour until finally Barbra appeared and said, “You’re a little crazy, right?” When I realized that she had prepared for our drive by reading my columns, she moved on to her second question: “Why are all Jewish boys so horny?” I got about a quarter into my answer when, luckily, she started giving me a tour of the house, one of three she owns right next to one another. She took six years off work to help build the newest, most spectacular one and goes there less than once a month. “The bed isn’t comfortable,” she told me.
Barbra packed a Voss water and a cup of berries for our trip. As we headed out to the driveway toward a brand-new Ford C-MAX hybrid I was borrowing, she asked, “Is your car clean?” Then she got inside and—just like my mom—told me it was too warm. Five minutes down the road, as I was shivering, she said, “We have to turn the air down.” When I happily turned the dial up, she said, “No, leave the temperature the same, but turn down the air blowing. For the sound for your recording.” I told her the recording would be fine. “No, there’s too much air.” I began to feel relieved that Barbra hadn’t agreed to stop somewhere to eat, since we would have spent the whole time changing tables.
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Unfortunately, we’d gotten a late start, so we couldn’t do any sightseeing. I had suggested a day trip to Santa Barbara, but she agreed to only a one-hour drive. The movie director had wanted to shoot The Guilt Trip by having the two actors actually drive cross-country, but Barbra said no to any location more than 45 minutes from her house. “I love my home,” she explained. I can’t imagine how hard it would be to make the time to see your home while you’re on a long location shoot when you can’t even manage to see it while living right next door.
Although Barbra did not sing along in the car, she provided a fair amount of drama. Whenever we came within 20 feet of another car, Barbra would thrust her hand in front of her and make a little noise. “Look at that guy, all over the road!” she yelled about a car changing lanes. “Look at this guy!” she exclaimed about a driver ahead of us who was driving. When I suggested she drive part of the way, she told me she doesn’t drive anymore. “You know why? I was driving one day, and I found myself driving up the off-ramp of a highway.”
“When’s the last time you drove?” I asked.
“In the ’80s maybe.”
“You haven’t driven since the 1980s?”
“Wait—this is 2012. Maybe the ’90s.”
At first she refused the unsalted minipretzels I brought that I’d heard she liked, since she was about to get her photo taken and didn’t want any minipretzel bloat. “This is a pretty good brand,” she said, looking at my bag of Snyder’s of Hanover pretzels. “I’ll have one.”
Other than the temperature controlling and backseat driving, Barbra was a really fun, mellow driving buddy. She told me about her cousin Lowell, I told her what a mullet is, she told me she’s thinking of casting Lady Gaga as the lead in her remake of Gypsy, and I told her I was really, really cold. We agreed that she looks really young and that I should say so in this column. Barbra also told me that her body is trained to wake up at 6:25 a.m. so she can start trading stocks in her nightgown right when the market opens in New York City. When I asked her for picks, she told me the exact same thing my mom, who also has CNBC on all day, does: “Apple! Apple!” Toward the end, we called my mom, who was very, very excited. During the conversation I found out the only person more horrified than my mom at the fact that I haven’t seen The Way We Were is Barbra Streisand.
I dropped Barbra off at the hotel, where she gave me a hug, took the bag of pretzels and seemed a little too eager to get away. And as I drove home, feeling a bit lonely, I realized that I’m not at all sure my mom would be willing to take a road trip with me. But she sure as hell would take one with Barbra.