The Great American Race

Sunday brings us the Daytona 500, baby, known as The Great American Race.  Every February, tens of thousands of people from all over the country descend on Daytona Beach for the spectacle.  Some call it the ‘Super Bowl’ of auto-racing, but the truth is that the Daytona 500 is the first race of the season.

Fun Fact: Mr. R. and I attended FIVE Daytona 500s in a row, back when we had running around money.  It’s an amazing experience, whether or not you enjoy NASCAR.  We’d been dating less than a year when I mentioned that it was one of my ‘bucket list’ items, so for my birthday in October, Mr. R. purchased tickets for the following February.  When I told one of my friends, she said, “When you break up, can I have his ticket?”  A few years later, I had to divorce that friend, but that’s a story for another post.

And so it was that we attended our first Daytona 500 in February 2007.  Our seats were on the back stretch, not the best seats in the place, but we were thrilled.  Words can’t adequately describe the moment when the cars first roar past at nearly 200 miles per hour.  In later visits we sat on the front stretch between the start-finish line and turn one, right across the exit to Pit Road.  We sat low in the stands, once on Row 2, which turned out to be the front row.  Ear plugs are necessary, and you can feel the roar of the engines in your chest.  You need to have a cover on your drink because you get sprinkled with tiny particles of rubber.  Being directly across from the pits, you have a great view of the drivers and the pit crews.

The race isn’t the only attraction at the Daytona 500.  Outside the speedway there’s a whole city set up with interactive fan activities and every driver has at least one merchandise truck.  The on-track pageantry is really something to see, from the Budweiser Clydesdales to the driver introductions to the pre-race entertainment.

The first year we went, we walked around the whole place just to get a feel for it.  At one point, we saw a place where there was a gap in the fence and you could look straight out onto the track.  A female security guard was stationed at that spot.  Mr. R. approached the woman with a big smile.  “Would it be okay if I just ran across the track and ran back?  Real quick?” he asked her.

“Uh–NO!” she spluttered.

“But I’m really, really fast,” he added.  We died laughing.

One of my favorite stories is the year that Brad Paisley gave a mini-concert directly across from the start-finish line.  Our seats were much further down and only those ticket-holders were allowed in that section but I really wanted to see him.  Mr. R. headed on in like a boss until we were stopped by an usher.  “May I see your tickets, please?” he said.

I rolled my eyes at Mr. R.  “I just put the tickets away,” I complained.

“I’m sorry, ma’am,” the usher apologized.

I dug them out of my purse and waited for him to tell us we couldn’t come in.  Instead, he looked over the tickets, handed them back to me, and apologized again.  “I’m sorry.  Go on in,” he said.

Some things to consider if you ever go:

  • Pay to park near the speedway, like at the mall right across the street.  Do NOT, I repeat, do NOT use the free parking.  They put out in a pasture somewhere and load you up onto school buses.  We literally spent five hours after the race was over just waiting to get out of the pasture.
  • You’re allowed to bring in food and drinks–so DO.
  • Remember ear plugs.
  • If you’re considering purchasing the official program with commemorative die-cast, do it right away.  They sell out quickly.
  • Tickets for the front stretch are more expensive, and worth it.
  • And, oh, by the way, there’s a Krispy Kreme just down the street from the speedway.  Just saying…

I’m a little sad to be watching this year’s race from home.  But we have great memories of our times at The Great American Race.

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Amazing Date Night–Blast From The Past (4th and Final)

Mr. R. and I are lucky enough to have the holiday off together today.  Earlier this morning, while scrolling through the television guide, we discovered that The Love Boat was playing on the TV Guide Channel.  Of  course, we had to tune in and we spent the hour laughing hysterically.  The plot was so incredibly, deliciously cheesy.  Sadly, none of the guest stars we saw at the Princess Cruise 50th Anniversary/Regal Princess Christening Celebration were in today’s episode, but it was enjoyable nevertheless.

IMG_2295Meanwhile at the Celebration, toward the end of the gold carpet procession, I began to hear maddenly intriguing crowd noises behind us down on the pool deck.  I was torn between watching the last of the gold carpet celebrities and finding out what was going on down there.  Focus! I told myself.  Be in this moment!  One of the last to greet the media was Jeraldine Saunders, who, to be truthful, I did not know.  It turns out that she is a former cruise director and author of the book The Love Boats, the inspiration for the television series.  Not to be unkind, but she was a bit like Norma Desmond, all ready for her close-up.

With the gold carpet finished, Mr. R. and I made our way to the railing overlooking the pool area where we discovered there were celebrity interviews on stage in the center of the deck being conducted by Jill Whelan, who played Vicki Stubing in the series.  The celebrities we’d seen were being escorted in the same alphabetical order onto the stage to chat with Jill and all of this was being shown on the jumbo screen above us and to our right.

IMG_2288The ship was a lot more crowded than when we’d first arrived and it occurred to me that the guests down below hadn’t seen the gold carpet processional and so this was their first glimpse of the celebrities.  Two celebrities who’d for whatever reason missed the gold carpet but were interviewed onstage were Charlene Tilton, looking as cute as ever, and Adrian Zmed, who’s held up nicely.  Everyone chatted excitedly, discussing their current projects and of course, pushing Princess Cruises.  (They were all heading out on a three-day cruise the following day.)

IMG_2301After the interviews, the Ceremony began with the celebrities being introduced once again as they were seated in two long rows of chairs situated beneath the giant screen on our level of the deck.  It was hosted by Florence Henderson, a departure from the original plan which was for the event to be hosted by Tori Spelling, Love Boat guest star and daughter of the show’s creator, Aaron Spelling.  Florence Henderson mentioned that we may have been expecting someone else, but that there were issues due to someone’s lousy husband, never actually mentioning anyone by name.  “Ooh, she totally went there!” I gasped.

The ceremony featured a video outlining 50 Years of Princess, accompanied by an a capella group called The Mosaic, who mysteriously was backed up by a bass/percussion track.  Princess Cruises executives were introduced and were seated with the celebrity guests.  The original Love Boat cast was named the godparents of the Regal Princess.

IMG_2307Jack Jones appeared on the stage and performed the iconic Love Boat Theme accompanied by a live band.  I want to mention again that on the gold carpet, a reporter asked him to sing and he did the first verse and chorus right there without accompaniment.  It was pretty impressive.

Next on stage was a performance by Charo.  She’s been doing the same thing for decades, but you know, it isn’t getting old or tired.  She’s the same spitfire she always was.  At one point, she mentioned that she’s taken “cuchi-chuchi” all the way to the bank.  Onstage dressed in a sparkling aqua sequined and fringed jumpsuit, she did a bunch of her ‘don’t speak the language’ schtick and I was feeling a little disappointed.  That’s until she got out her guitar.  Folks, comedy shenanigans aside, Charo is an accomplished musician.  She played flamenco and by the time she was finished, I had goosebumps.  It was amazing!

Following Charo’s performance, the priest who serves as chaplain to Port Everglades took the podium to give the prayer.  He quipped, “I’ve never had to follow Charo before.”  Some around us agreed that it was the line of the night.

IMG_2315With the prayer finished, it was time for the christening, which would be in two parts.  We were told that along the side of the ship, fifty bottles of champagne would be released at once, commemorating the 50th anniversary.  Then on deck, a huge bottle of champagne would be released to christen the ship.  The Love Boat cast moved into place, first releasing the fifty bottles, which we were able to observe via the giant screen, and then the huge bottle that had been suspended over the deck since we’d arrived.  The bottle hit the bulkhead with a disappointing bonk, failing to break.  Someone on the lower deck pushed the bottle out so that it swung back and struck successfully, shattering and spraying champagne everywhere.

Immediately following the christening, the celebrity guests began moving their chairs to our side of the upper deck in preparation for the group pictures.  This photo op presented some challenges, the chief of which being that it was difficult to get everyone in one shot.  Another issue was that there were a number of official dipshits who were constantly in the way.  Mr. R. managed to get several shots of the group in segments.  I’m hoping you enjoy looking them over.  By the way, Adrian Zmed appears behind the left shoulder of Loni Anderson in her white captain’s cap.

It was the most amazing adventure I’ve ever had, which is exactly what I said after Tampa Bay Comic Con.  But seriously, beyond attending the Emmy Awards, where will you ever see so many celebrities in one place?  I’m so stoked for our next big adventure!

Amazing Date Night–Blast From The Past (3)

We’re finally getting to the good part.  Thanks for hanging in there with me.  These are the photos taken by Mr. R. as the former Love Boat guest stars made their way along the gold carpet at Wednesday’s Princess Cruises 50th Anniversary and Christening Celebration.  We were on board the brand new Regal Princess docked at Port Everglades in Ft. Lauderdale.

Everyone, without exception, was incredibly nice, pausing to answer questions, give mini-interviews, and posing for pictures.  Mr. R. and I were jammed between two large television cameras and he stood behind me, shooting over my shoulder.  I had prepared a couple of questions, but confession:  As the celebrities began moving toward us I became completely tongue-tied.  This is so far removed from what I do on a daily basis.  I totally glommed on to the reporter next to us, writing down little tidbits to use for this report.

Mr. R., on the other hand, has interviewed many politicians and celebrities, but he busied himself with the camera for the most part.  There was that moment, however, when he joked around with Rich Little for a bit, then took a selfie of the two of them with his phone.

I did manage to tell Lee Merriwether that she was stunning, which she was.  The photos don’t do her justice.  She smiled and thanked me graciously.

So for my notes…I started out so organized, but then, well, it was a little overwhelming.  I resorted to writing the names of the people that I saw and occasionally made further notes if I saw or heard anything useful.  I’ll try to make it make sense.

First up was Loni Anderson.  I’ve actually seen her before.  Once upon a time she was married to Burt Reynolds who, once upon a time, had a house in Jupiter.  I was eating at Ruby Tuesday at the mall one day and the buzz in the restaurant was that she was there, but wanted her privacy.  I made an excuse to leave my table and went looking for her.  She wasn’t hard to find–hers was the only table to have a four-foot spray of tulips in a vase on the table.  I figured, hey, if you really don’t want to be noticed…But I digress.  She was so cute in her little nautical outfit, including the Swarovski crystal dolphin purse.  She was also very nice.

Next there was Charo.  She is exactly the same as she always was, and as she chatted up the reporter next to us she uttered this gem:  “Wheeen theee sheeep heeet the fan, jyou yust throw a party!”  Say it a couple of times, you’ll get it.  She was absolutely adorable and she happily posed for Mr. R.  By the way, remember her signature “cuchi-cuchi”?  Today they call it ‘twerking’.  I don’t know what diva claims that move, but it goes all the way back to Charo.

Jamie Farr stopped to chat with my new buddy, Next Door Reporter.  He was funny and gracious.  He told us that on his episode of Love Boat, he gave Heather Locklear her first on-screen kiss.  Well now!  Joyce DeWitt chatted about her LB appearance, outlining the plot of the episode.

I was thrilled to see Florence Henderson and Chris Knight.  Who among us hasn’t at least once wished that they were a Brady?  Jack Jones stopped by and was persuaded to sing a bit of the iconic LB theme (he later performed the whole thing during the ceremony).  Pam Grier mentioned that she lives on a ranch in Colorado and that she has a new biopic coming out soon.

Diane Ladd revealed the fact that before her LB appearance, she had done a touring show with Gavin MacLeod.  Lorenzo Lamas chatted briefly about Falcon Crest and expressed his appreciation that his LB episode was an actual cruise to Greece.  Most episodes were shot on a Hollywood set.

Rich Little came down the carpet stopping along the way to do his thing, spot on impressions of various celebrities.  He was super nice and very funny.  Lee Merriwether was dressed in winter white slacks, a matching turtle neck, with a navy blazer, and she looked fabulous.  Remember her apricot curls during her Barnaby Jones days?  They’ve been replaced by a sleek short gray style that’s stunning.  We also saw Tracy Nelson, Kristy McNichol (I wanted to be her when I was a kid), Don Most, Doris Roberts, and Mackenzie Phillips. There were other celebrity guests who did not make the gold carpet but they attended the later festivities.

Slightly disappointing was the fact that the original cast did not appear on the gold carpet.  They were not introduced until much later.  There’s still a lot more to tell.  Stay tuned…

Amazing Date Night–Blast From The Past (2)

To continue from Part 1, Mr. R. and I accepted the invitation to attend the event celebrating the 50th anniversary of Princess Cruises and the christening of their new ship, the Regal Princess in Ft. Lauderdale.  The powers that be for that event needed a great deal of information, including our driver’s license information.

Believe it or not, we kicked around the idea of not going.  After all, it meant having to get off early from work, not always easy to do.  Then we imagined sitting on the sofa on Wednesday night, looking at each other, and saying, “We really should have gone.”  Don’t they say, “You never regret the things you do, only the things you don’t.”?

wpid-20141105_145820.jpgAnd so it was that we headed down to Ft. Lauderdale on Wednesday afternoon.  Media check in at the ship was at 3:00.  We followed the directions to Port Everglades where we had to present our identification to security before we parked in the area literally beside the ship that was reserved for media.  We entered the building and again presented our IDs, this time to the cruise employees.  They exchanged them for media passes and explained that they would hold our until we left.  We were also required to fill out customs forms that asked whether we’d traveled to west Africa recently and if we were currently sick.

wpid-20141106_061434.jpgA pleasant man from the public relations firm escorted us onto the Regal Princess, stopping at the top of the gangway for us to have our pictures taken by security agent at the entryway.  We then proceeded through the amazing multi-storied atrium all done in white and gold with its twin spiral staircases, to the elevators that took us to the 16th deck where the pool is located.  He explained to us that we were to continue on the the next deck via a stairway to where the media section was prepared.

We discovered a small group of media already set up along a gold carpet runway next to the eastern rail of the ship.  Each media outlet had its own designated area and we quickly found ours near the end of the carpet runway.  We saw crews from Entertainment Tonight and Access Hollywood in addition to local news crews.  Cameras were already placed on tripods along the gold carpet so we squeezed in between two other news crews.  Mr. R. brought a DSLR camera from the station and I had my handy-dandy reporter’s notebook ready.

wpid-20141105_151656.jpg
Waiting for the event to begin, we took shelter during a brief rain shower.

According to the PR representatives, in addition to the original Love Boat cast, who were being named the ‘godparents’ of the new ship, there were twenty-nine Love Boat guest stars in attendance at this event.  We were handed a packet listing the stars in alphabetical order from Loni Anderson to Adrian Zmed, along with recent photos (the better to identify those not easily recognizable).  These celebrities would soon be making their way along the gold carpet and would be happy to answer questions and pose for pictures.

Following the gold carpet, there were to be celebrity interviews on the lower deck beside the pool.  The media had a designated place from which to observe these.  Later, there would be a ceremony for the christening of the ship.  Finally, there would be a photo opportunity wherein all of the celebrities would pose for group pictures.

All I could think was, Are you shitting me?! 

*Note: These photos were taken with my phone.  The next post will feature the photos by Mr. R.  Stay tuned…

Amazing Date Night–Blast From The Past (1)

Earlier, I hinted at a once in a lifetime date night.  I think it’s going to take a few posts to capture the whole thing, but I want to begin at the beginning.

Mr. R. works as an assignment editor at our local ABC affiliate.  He’s the guy who takes the phone calls and gets the e-mails when there’s an event or other news story.  A couple of weeks ago he mentioned to me that he’d been contacted by public relations people for Princess Cruises.  Princess is celebrating 50 years of cruising and they have a brand new ship, the Regal Princess.  The media was being invited to cover a celebration of their Golden Anniversary and christening the new cruise liner.  The entire cast of The Love Boat television series would be in attendance along with several celebrity guest stars of the show.

wpid-20141106_203049.jpgI thought that sounded like a really cool assignment for somebody from the station.  Mr. R. also mentioned to me that he’d received a huge box from the press people containing some Love Boat souvenirs.  He brought it home one day.  When you open the box, it plays an instrumental version of the Love Boat theme.  Inside were two captain’s hats, a Love Boat clipboard, two confetti poppers, and a squeezy Love Boat.

The trouble is, nobody at the station was very interested in covering the event.  A few days later, we kicked around the idea of us covering it.  After all, Mr. R. is an accomplished photojournalist, and I occasionally blog.

Long story (slightly) shorter, we accepted the invitation, signed up for Media Passes, and made the necessary arrangements to cover the Princess Cruises 50th Anniversary and Christening of the Regal Princess in Ft. Lauderdale.

To be continued…

NaBloPoMo_1114_465x287_NOV

But Not This One

Several years ago, Mr. R. and I took a cruise to the Western Caribbean.  We had an absolute blast!

Key West was our first stop, but it was not ideal.  We were in port from 7:30 am until noon and, simply put, Key West does not do mornings.  It’s more of a sunset kind of place.  Who wants to do a Pub Crawl excursion at sunrise?  We opted just to walk around town and do a little shopping.  At the time, Mr. R. was all about collecting shot glasses (he’s since gotten over it) so we stopped in a little souvenir place to browse.  He ended up purchasing a cool memento of our visit for about $5.

The next stop was Mexico.  We docked at this little pier in the middle of nowhere.  You had to take a cab to Playa del Carmen.  But the place had lots of vendors for those less adventurous souls who didn’t want to bother finding a way into town.  We checked out the blankets, baskets, marble chess sets, and other items for sale.  Then we came across a guy with shot glasses.  Mr. R. carefully perused his wares until he found exactly the one he wanted.

“How much?” he asked the vendor.

“Twelve dollars,” came the reply.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Mr. R. objected.  “I bought a shot glass in Key West yesterday for $5.”

“Si,” countered the shrewd businessman.  “But not this one.”

Tampa Bay Comic Con Day 3 (Yes, I Know I’ve Skipped Day 2)

Tampa-Bay-Comic-ConI promise I’ll write up Tampa Bay Comic Con Day 2, but that’s going to be one huge post.  First I want to spend a little time giving a shout-out to some really cool artists we met on Sunday.

When Mr. R. and I made our attack strategy, we intentionally left the enormous exhibit hall for the last day.  Due to the stringent “flow” regulations, we’d been forced to walk through it each day (believe me, you’ll hear about that later), but we never took the time to browse until Sunday.

One of the first artists we met was a young woman from Savannah named N.M. Beguesse.  She’s the creator of Angelboy, a graphic novel.                           ( http://angelboy.com/home )

angelboy
Angelboy http://angelboy.com/home

I don’t know a lot about graphic novels and manga, but I love the independent spirit of someone who finds a way to do something she loves.  When we met, she explained the plot of the story and the process by which she creates her work.  As we watched for a few minutes, we saw her physically put her book into the hands of potential customers, the better to make sales.  If you have any interest at all in fresh new graphic novels, give her site a visit.

One of the more fluky moments came when we met a group of artists from West Palm Beach and discovered that Mr. R. actually knew one of the guys, Bohdan Neswiacheny.

convictioncover
Conviction http://www.resistanceentertainment.com/

The group is Resistance Entertainment                      ( http://www.resistanceentertainment.com/ ) and they describe themselves in this way: “Resistance Entertainment is a South Florida company focusing on unique and inventive media content. Our endeavors include film and television production, comic books, novels and music.”  They produce several comic series including Blackbird and Morningstar.  Of particular interest to me was the comic series, Conviction, which is set in West Palm and features a female lead character.  I love the tagline: “The world is filled with good people who deserve the love and respect they are given.  This book is not.”

A third artist you should know about is Scott Markley with his company, Time for Hugs                 ( http://timeforhugs.com/wp/ ).

grim sleeper
Unconscious: The Grim Sleeper http://timeforhugs.com/wp/

He has several series, but the one he showed us was Unconscious: The Grim Sleeper, a character who is the younger brother of the Grim Reaper.  Talk about sibling rivalry.  This guy also showed a great deal of hustle and drive, and I liked him a lot.  Use the link to check out his site.  He’s also on Facebook.

Finally, I want to talk about Alex Asfour, designer and illustrator of IdeaStorm Media                             ( http://www.ideastormmedia.com/ ), a freelance design and illustration studio.

travel poster
Travel Poster http://www.ideastormmedia.com/

When we stopped by his booth, I was immediately attracted to his vintage-look travel posters (we bought a beautiful one of Paris).  Being Comic Con, he also had various pop culture posters and I couldn’t resist a very cool one of The Walking Dead.  On his website he offers art and design services, so if you’re in the market for that sort of thing, check him out.  I might just have to order the poster of Barcelona…

Now, I know you’re dying to know about the time I was a mere twenty feet away from Pedro Pascal and Richard Madden.  All in good time…