In addition to getting free cars, another great thing about being in advertising is the opportunity to meet fascinating people at free dinners in fancy hotels. This was the case when an old friend of mine, George Burns (the mag rep, not the comedian), invited me to a dinner at the Ritz Carlton Hotel, located in Marina Del Rey, CA. George’s magazine, U.S. News & World Report, was always able to land some heavy-duty Washington, D.C., face to speak at their dinners. This year’s speaker was David Gergen. Gergen was considered to be an ultimate D.C. insider. He started out writing speeches for Nixon, and quickly became the head speech writer. He was Director of Communications for Ford and Reagan. After taking a few years off, he returned to Washington to become a key advisor to Bill Clinton. He is one of those people in Washington who knows where the bodies are buried.
Because the invitation was for two, I brought a longtime friend and former co-worker, Deana Linderholm. As we arrived that evening, I was immediately struck by two things. The first was that the hotel was populated by gargantuan men who were quite loud and had fingers that seemed to have been broken many times. A quick glance at the marquee explained it. The NFL and Fox Sports were having their annual Summer Meeting here. The other thing that struck me was that the lobby was jammed with very attractive women, wearing very expensive dresses, and ambulating easily on their very spikey high heels. The only other organisation mentioned on the marquee was the National Association of Kosher Butchers. I had a hunch that these women were not part of that group.
We worked our way to the dining room that had been set aside for U.S. News. A number of familiar faces were already gathered at the bar. Another great thing about advertising was that you had the opportunity of drinking really great booze.
After all the booze was gone, we were asked to find our seats. I discovered, much to my surprise, that Deana and I had place cards on either side of Gergen! I should point out that there is a great deal of stagecraft at work at any media event serving food. The basic plan consists of four parts. #1: Serve booze before the dinner. This allows the mag rep and the magazine’s management to “work” the crowd. #2: Sit down and greeting. This is done to help the ad people remember who is buying the booze and the food. #3: Follow the order. Make sure to have your guest speak, or pitch, or opine BEFORE you serve the meal. The ad people are only there for the free food and booze. Once they are done eating, they will stampede toward the exit. #4: Serve dessert slowly. By doing this, the magazine is able to keep the ad people at their tables, waiting for the yellow sheet cake with white frosting. This gives the magazine salespeople one last chance to work the room.
We sat down on either side of David Gergen. I discovered him to be a very affable gentleman. He wanted to know what each of us did for a living. Each person around the table spoke in turn: Ad guy, ad guy, ad girl, spouse, ad guy, spouse, ad girl, ad guy. Perhaps to change things up a little, and because it was true, Deana said, “I teach Hawaiian and Polynesian dance.” This caught David’s attention. As this was the seventh dinner on his grueling cross country mag rep dinner circuit, he had become used to the litanies of “ad guy, ad girl, spouse.” “My, that’s an interesting occupation,” he said. “Did you ever have something embarrassing happen to you while you danced?” Interesting question. Deana thought for a moment and said, “Well something happened to a friend of mine as we were in line doing a very spirited Tahitian dance. I heard her squeal, then heard a “clack” and saw half of a hollowed out coconut shell hit the stage and roll away. My friend had lost half of her top!” David then asked, “Did anything ever happen to you?” She thought and then said, “One time, as we were exiting the dance floor, I passed too close to a candle on a table, and my grass skirt started to go up in flames. Fortunately, the dancer behind me saw it and immediately tore my skirt off.” There was stunned silence at the table.
It was time for David to speak. He opened his talk by saying, “Thank you very much for having me with you here tonight. Quite interestingly, I just met a woman who teaches Hawaiian dance. I’ve never met one before. Deana can you stand up? (Polite applause) I thought MY job was exciting. Deana was dancing one time when half of her coconut shell bra fell off while she was dancing on stage. As she tried to run off, her grass skirt somehow caught fire, and she had to rip it off.” (Polite laughter) “Wow!” Deana slowly sat down. After his speech, David came back and sat down at our table. When he was made aware of the factual mistakes in his story, he apologized profusely to Deana. I think that this may have been the reason http://www.factcheck.org was founded.
After the dessert had been consumed, George Burns came over and said, “Hey. Do you guys have to leave? Why don’t you meet me in the lounge for a nightcap?” Goodie, more free booze! Just as we were being seated in the lounge, I noticed the gargantuan men had been seated on one end of the lounge, and the attractive women, who were not Kosher butchers, were seated across the lounge from them. The only difference in their appearance was that now the ladies were all carrying their cell phones. As each one got a call, they would talk for about thirty seconds, write something down, then leave the table and saunter toward the guest elevators. Then it dawned on me! The NFL was here, and I was looking at the paid escort staging area!
After a few minutes, George departed, telling us that he had opened a tab for us in his name. More free booze. About three drinks later, Deana looked over my shoulder and shouted, “O my gosh!” I asked, “What?” She whispered, “That’s Terry Bradshaw over there! My brother is a big fan of his and he’d kill me if I didn’t get his autograph.” She grabbed a pen and a cocktail napkin and went over to the table with Bradshaw and several other ex-NFL players. I ordered another drink. About fifteen minutes later, I realized that Deana had not returned. I peered over the back of my chair and saw that Deana and the guys were having quite a good time telling stories and laughing. Oh well, that just means more bar nuts for me.
A few minutes later, two giant hands reached over the back of my chair and grabbed my shoulders. I turned to see Terry Bradshaw smiling down at me. “Hey hoss,” he said, “we’d like tuh apologize for keepin’ your lady friend so long. Please come on over and join us.” I got up and followed him to his table. I could feel the sixty eyes of the not-a-Kosher-butcher ladies boring into the back of my skull. In addition to Terry, I saw that Howie Long and Ronnie Lott were also sitting at the table.
Terry immediately asked, “Whatcha drinkin’?” Realizing that the NFL was buying drinks, I blurted out, “I’d like a triple Johnny Walker Blue Label…neat.” Everyone was having a wonderful time. Terry was telling a lot of jokes. After one of them, he gasped and said, “Ronnie, was that joke offensive?” Lott answered, “Of course it was Terry!” Then everyone would break out in laughter. I guess it was a shtick they did. More jokes followed. Howie Long and I started some small talk about where we had grown up. He in Boston, I in Detroit. We talked about what it was like growing up in an Irish family, and how the family traditions carry on. I found out that his grandmother and my grandmother both had the same picture of Jesus over the fireplace mantle in the living room. I had just finished reading “Angela’s Ashes.” I told Howie the story line. We both laughed at how many things in the book were familiar to both of us. He took out a pad from his coat and had me write down the name of the book and the author. He promised to read it when he got home. While we were still reminiscing, two ladies from the staging area came up behind his chair and put their hands on his shoulders. Not missing a beat, Howie kept talking to me while he slowly raised the back of his left fist to the eye level of the ladies. He then put his left thumb into the middle of his clenched fist and slowly pushed up his ring finger, revealing a very nice gold wedding band. The ladies made a hasty retreat back to their staging area. “Well done!” I said. He chuckled and said, “I don’t like to talk to them, and the ring finger/wedding band thing keeps them away better than Deep Woods OFF.” Soon, all the jokes and stories had been told. Ronnie Lott said that it was late and their first meeting was at 8:00 the next morning. Terry and Howie agreed. Hand shakes and hugs were exchanged with us before they walked off through an exit that didn’t go near the staging area. These three guys were no longer knuckle dragging gargantuan men to me.
Within fifteen seconds, the recently vacated chairs were filled by three twenty-something FOX Sports production assistants. They quickly affixed NFL lapel pins to their blue blazers. The pins must have been laced with mating musk oxen pheromones, because about twenty of the not-kosher-butcher ladies were now stampeding toward us. I grabbed Deana’s wrist and screamed, “Run for the exit before it’s too late!!!” As we ran out into the lobby, I looked back. It was a terrifying sight. Oh well, at least I got a lot of free booze and food…and had met some very interesting people.