BEING introduced to Clint Eastwood is something like seeing a California redwood for the first time. The difference is that this redwood, even at the age of 78, reaches out to shake your hand with a firmness that still intimidates no matter how much time you spent preparing your grip (for the record: three days).
He arrived for the interview at the Mission Ranch restaurant here as if he owned the place, and it didn't make any difference that, in this case, he does. He had his first legal drink in the bar while he was stationed at the nearby Army base in the late 1940s. In 1986 he bought the property and rebuilt it to his taste, with a piano bar, heart-stopping views of the ocean spray on Point Lobos and plenty of meat on the menu. Despite what you might have read on Wikipedia, Mr. Eastwood is not a vegan, and he looked slightly aghast when told exactly what a vegan is. "I never look at the Internet for just that reason," he said.
It's been 20 years since Mr. Eastwood was mayor of Carmel, but clearly he's still the king around here. Unlike the taciturn characters he plays on screen, he's voluble, chatting and laughing with his staff with a sharpness and enthusiasm that make him seen far younger than his age. After showing me around the property, he insisted I come back that evening for a steak dinner. "We've got good chow," he said. Go on: you tell him you've made other plans.