There she was, outside the Jersey City Marriott. You know the type. Oversized sunglasses, white pants, and a Federal Witness Protection Program T-shirt. A real Sopranos fan.
She winced at my rusty 1995 Jeep Wrangler, and counted my cowlicks. "You're what a Wolf looks like?" she says. "You're Buck?"
"Maybe … and maybe not," I says. "What's it to you, sweetheart?"
But I knew her story. She knew mine. And it was no time to get cute.
The Sopranos' fourth season was only days away, and like the rest of the world, I was losing my mind. The closer it got to the premiere, the more I played cops and robbers. I was becoming a pseudo-Sam Spade, with one foot in a noir fantasy.
‘Take Us to Tony’s House’
I needed information, and fast. So I drove out to Jersey City, to meet with the best in the business — Soprano Sue.
Soprano Sue happens to be the brains behind the SopranoSueSightings.com Web site, and a consultant for the Sopranos On Location bus tour. It was my one chance to see the real locations of all Tony's hangouts, including the infamous Bada Bing strip club.
It was crazy, I know. We were on the trail of an imaginary gangster. I brought an old poker associate, Mr. Umansky. He was a photographer who didn't carry a camera and I was a reporter afraid to ask questions. We're old friends.
"Take us to Tony's house," I tell Sue. "We want to see Tony."
"You'll go where I take you," she says. "And you'll like it."
So she showed us the Sopranos tour itinerary. It wasn't pretty. We were heading to the butcher's shop where Richie Aprile got chopped into mobburger, the diner where Christopher nearly got whacked — the new cultural highlights of northern New Jersey.
Along the way, we'd see every shallow grave, every dark alley where Silvio and Paulie gave chumps lessons in "old school" respect. But one thing was clear. She wasn't taking me to Tony's house.
Was she playing me for a sucker?
I had to slap her around a little. "Listen, you — and listen good. I didn't come out to Jersey on a Saturday to smell the fragrant landfills. You're taking me to Tony's house."
OK, reality check: I didn't slap anyone around. My recollections may be a little embellished. But Sue Sadik really is a 41-year-old former private detective who's the master at finding the Sopranos cast when they're shooting — no matter how grungy the location.
The Gospel According to Tony
If I'm a poor sap living out a gangster fantasy, at least I'm not alone. In the last 2 ½ years, some 3,000 fans have taken the Sopranos tour — and some make the pilgrimage in full gangster regalia, right down to the pinkie rings and pointy leather shoes.
One measure of a classic TV show is the number of rabid fans and ancillary products it produces. Sure, Trekkies set a milestone by translating Shakespeare's Hamlet into Klingon. But The Sopranos is well on its way to creating an alternate universe that rivals anything on Planet Vulcan.
Sopranos fans now have their own lingo, cookbooks, landmarks, college course — even a religious leader, a minister in Houston who's written The Gospel According to Tony Soprano (Relevant Books).
And then there's Soprano Sue. She grew up in Clifton, where Sopranos creator David Chase was born. Chase later moved to North Caldwell, the basis for the town Tony and Carmela call home.
"There was a lot of mob there when I was growing up," Sue says. "My high school boyfriend used to brag that he was related to Lucky Luciano."