Saturday, September 10, 2005

September 10, 2005
I hitched a ride with Robert Ray, who drove me down into the Beast at four yesterday. He dropped me off at the Ritz Carlton at 24th Street and Camelback and I easily found the bus, parked around back, and met the bus driver, who had the unlikely name of Roger Champagne. “I’ll bet you get a lot of comments with that handle,” I said as I carried a box of magazines down the aisle and put a True West on every seat.

“It’s really a chick magnet,” Roger told me, shaking his head. “I don’t know why, but women love it. I get hit on all the time.”

“Really?” I remarked, looking Roger over and deciding he looked a bit like a younger version of Mike Ditka. “What do they say to you?” I asked, but before he could answer I knew I could probably guess some of the inane angles bus riding, horny women might use on him.

“Let me guess,” I yelled from the back of the empty bus, “‘I’ll bet you’re bubbly,’ or, ‘I like champagne. It makes me do things I didn’t know I wanted to do,’ and ‘So, do you go down easy, like champagne?’ Am I close?” Roger just shook his head like a very sad man. “Yes. I get all of those. I just tell them I don’t drink. I’ve been married for 36 years.” My respect for Roger went back up to a solid seven. (He still loses three points for using the term ‘chick magnet’ in relation to a name.)

At about ten to five, the women started pouring out of the hotel and came climbing onto the bus. It was probably at least 102 out and they were dressed smartly, with name tags, so I could easily harass them. They were all part of the National Foundation for Women Legislators, and as I found out, were mostly state legislators from all over the country.

One of the speaking tricks I learned from Wonderful Russ is to go to a speech early and own the empty room. Go stand at the place where you will be speaking and put your mental hooks, or markers, in the four corners of the space and claim if for yourself. This is my room, dammit! When you come into it, I own it. As Roger fought off the women getting on board, I mentally went through my paces and got my energy up. The first two people on the bus were from Pennsylvania. Most of the riders were women but this man and woman appeared to be a couple. They sat in row three, right under my nose. I made small talk about Pennsylvania and warned them I would be harassing them for about an hour and that if I did my job correctly they would want to drink heavily when they got to Carefree. I got a small courtesy laugh. Not a good sign.

The other women getting on were quite nice and seemed to like my cowboy hat and made comments like anybody going to a convention might make: “Are you going to do trick riding for us?”

At this kind of gig, there is this rough transition between the passengers all walking by you and then starting to talk (which is not the most optimum position to be in to command anything). But before I can even get going, the guy from Pennsylvania says, “Can we vote you off of being our entertainment?” I quickly told him they could as I reeled and wondered why he would say something so rude. “We want them,” he said, leering and pointing at a couple walking down the aisle past him. I guessed correctly that they were a musical duo, a guy and gal (yes, she was cute), who had entertained the group the night before and my Penn friend was pathetically trying to score brownie points with them, totally at my expense.

My ownership grapple-hooks, lashed into the back corners of the bus came ripping out, and boomeranged right at my head as my confidence imploded into nothingness and a little voice screamed loudly inside my head: “Jesus Christ, Bob! You’re a 58-years-old CEO of a publishing company and you’re shilling 40 magazines on a bus! Let’s get the hell out of here!”

Of course, I stayed. The bus started to move. I held on to the overhead bins, turned on the microphone and talked non-stop for an hour. “Over there, on that corner is where Glen Campbell got the DUI, hit the car, fled up that way, into the Biltmore, just beyond those trees and hid in his condo, which he just sold for $6.5 mil and moved to Malibu, California, where he probably paid $7.5 mil for a one-bedroom apartment.”

That was about the extent of my A-material. The rest was too embarrassing to relate. Oh, hell, here’s one more: “There were strong women out here in the old days. An Apache woman was captured and sold into slavery. There was a lot of slavery in those times, everybody, including the Apaches practiced slavery.” Across from the smartass from Pennsylvania, was a black woman representative. She looked down at her lap for the rest of the trip.

I got $350 for the gig. When we got off the bus in north Carefree, the guy from Pennsylvania walks up to me, shakes my hand and says, “I really enjoyed your comments.” Amazing. All my anger at him disappeared.

As the women went inside a private residence and art studio, I walked up the road to Saba’s Greek Food Restaurant to meet Kathy, Wonderful Russ and Wendy Shaw for dinner. Roger Champagne saw me walking and backed the bus up. “Want a ride?” he said with a smile. “Don’t you look bubbly,” I said as I climbed in the empty bus and we lumbered up the hill into town.

"God I hope you get big bucks for such a gig. I'd rather draw myself a warm bath and slit my wrists."
—Charlie Waterss

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