05/27/2014 02:20 pm ET Updated Jul 27, 2014

Psst! Look Who's Sitting At That Table!

We're at a crowded restaurant on the Upper West Side waiting to be seated when I spot a familiar-looking man at a table near the front.

It hits me with that same tingle I get across my shoulders every time I recognize someone famous in New York -- it's Alan Alda, gray and distinguished, eating dinner with his wife and a friend.

I jerk my chin toward his table. "Alan Alda, right there," I whisper to my friend Randy. I sound like a cop on a stakeout, spotting his prey.

Randy tells his wife Alice, who's already noticed Alda, and I tell my wife, Kim, who says she actually met the man at the height of his M*A*S*H fame, when he was a guest on a TV show she worked on in England.

Well, I met him too, depending on how you define the word "met."

This was more than twenty years ago, when Woody Allen was shooting the movie Manhattan Murder Mystery on the Upper East Side. The Soon-Yi Previn thing had just exploded and as a reporter for the New York Post, I was sent to the film set to gather shrapnel.

They were shooting at Elaine's. Woody Allen didn't even look at the media as we swarmed as close as we could, and then someone said: "Here comes Alan Alda!"

He was a block away. I was pretty fast back then so I led the pack, notebook and pen in hand.

When I reached him I stopped and reversed direction, walking backwards to match his long strides. This is always a tricky thing. There's a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers element to it, and I'm no Ginger.

I've slammed into a fire hydrant or two with this maneuver, and back when he was a street reporter author Charles Lachman actually walked backwards off a dock while trying to interview a Kennedy. (Luckily, it was high tide.)

What do you ask in a situation this ridiculous? I had to say something, and here it came:

"Mr. Alda, do you have any comment on Woody Allen and Soon Yi Previn?"

Of course, he said nothing. He didn't acknowledge us, but he didn't ignore us, either. Just kept smiling and walking, a happy man on his way to work. Class, all the way.

And now here he is, all these years later, seated thirty feet from our table.

When we get up to leave, he's still there. We have to pass Alan Alda on our way out, and I figure:

What the hell.

I stop at his table just as he's looking over his bill, eyeglasses on the end of his nose. His wife nudges him. "Alan," she says.

He looks up at me.

"Mr. Alda, your work is wonderful," I say.

He smiles, puts down his bill and shakes my hand.

"Thank you," he says.

"Thank you," I reply.

That was it. I didn't ask for an autograph, didn't go for a "selfie," didn't mention our previous encounter.

Hey, I can be classy, too. Took me a little while, that's all.

Charlie Carillo is a novelist and a producer for the TV show "Inside Edition."