Pushing Ginger Rogers Around in Las Vegas

By Anthony Buccino

But in no time at all we had arrived at the top floor
of the largest hotel in the free world. The room where Rogers spoke was formerly part of Elvis’ suite, then it was a disco. Now, a 1930s film star was about to speak.


In a former life and a former career, I traveled around the country working on meetings and conventions. You could say that I saw a lot of the country, three coasts and the breadbasket. That is true, but what I saw the most were airports, hotels and convention centers.

About 10 days after I began my career in association management, the trade association that employed me had its incoming first family leave Greece aboard a TWA jetliner hijacked to Beirut. The wife and daughter of the incoming president were deplaned and abandoned penniless in Paris wondering the fate of their spouses.

Incoming president Bob Peel later recalled how the hijackers forced all the men to the window seats, had them empty their pockets, billfolds and hand over their passports. The hijackers were looking for Jews or Americans with Jewish names on board the ill-fated flight.

Of all the cash and possessions discarded into the aisle for the hijackers to pillage, the incoming president, a Midwesterner from the fertile fields of Kansas, regretted losing the only photos he had of long ago hunting dogs.

He had no photos in his wallet of his grandchildren, only his hunting dogs. Ultimately, the hijackers released the dad, but kept the son as a hostage for the next 16 days.

This story has a happy ending for the Peels. The family was reunited. The son, Bob Jr., was released and two weeks later in New Orleans, he led the Pledge of Allegiance.

Meanwhile, my wife and I discovered the old world charms of the Big Easy, Jackson Square and the French Quarter. As I recall, the ride from the airport to the Hilton Riverside and Towers cost about 20 bucks, and the seafood, all the food, was to die for. I fell in love with soft-shelled crab and blackened redfish. And we both increased our appreciation for jazz. If you can enjoy New Orleans in August, the rest of the year is easy as pecan pie. NOLA has become our most-visited city for vacations despite it being in a separate time zone.


For a while there, BBSI sent me to some distant city one weekend a month. Over time, I hit, Scottsdale, Ariz., Atlanta, West Palm Beach, Fla., Peachtree City, Ga., Denver, Las Vegas, Chicago, and Philadelphia. Some cities I visited more than once or twice. It sounds exciting, to see the world, its airports and hotels. My boss's wife, Muriel Vella, put it well, "Nothing takes the glamour out of travel like travel." While my new boss was lining up trips to Germany and Italy, I longed for home-cooked meals and watching my lawn grow.

On one flight from O'Hare to Lansing, Mich., I swear the whitecaps were splashing the belly of our puddle jumper. Another weekend trip found me outside the Los Angeles airport in my afternoon free time at the rooftop hotel pool. Each time a plane landed or took off my iced-drink slid a few inches on the tote table. How could anyone nap with all this thunder? Might as well try to nap on an aircraft carrier deck.

On a weekend trip to San Francisco I settled in at the airport Hilton on a Saturday afternoon and jotted out some post cards. The next evening, our work done, three motivational speakers, one spouse, and I piled into the spouse's rental car and headed into town for dinner.

About half an hour later I asked why the traffic signs were giving us the mileage to Los Angeles. It was my only time to San Francisco, but I thought we should have been seeing signs from the airport saying how far it is to San Francisco. That was when we realized we were driving the wrong way. On our way back, we saw Alcatraz Island from the highway.

We found a nice restaurant overlooking Fisherman’s Wharf and since it was Sunday night, we had the place mostly to ourselves. We sat and ate and drank and laughed and outside the fishing boats bobbed on the docks. No, I don’t remember what we ate, only that the time we spent in the lazy harbor was a good one.

In Kansas City, we got a great rate at a downtown hotel. I kept trying to figure whether Kansas City was in Kansas or Missouri. What I learned is that there is a Kansas City in Kansas and a Kansas City in Missouri and that they are across the river from each other. Also, the reason the hotel rates were so accommodating is that it was the same hotel where a few years earlier during a party the mezzanine collapsed killing some and injuring others. Of course, you wouldn’t know it now.

In Philadelphia, I met Richard Kiam, the guy who bought the shaver company. Well, maybe not met him, but I did get to find him in his room and escort him to the VIP party. He had the rasp of a heavy smoker.

Also, Dr. Ruth was in Philadelphia. She asked me for advice. Actually, she asked me for a milk crate to stand on so she could see over the podium. A lot of the husbands showed up to hear what she had to say to the women's group. We wrote questions on index cards and after she spoke, she addressed questions on the cards. One question concerned the change in temperament when a couple gets behind a locked hotel room door. When the lights go out, the sparks fly. We also had a Benjamin Franklin impersonator. You'd think with all the children he had, someone might have asked him about the locked-hotel-room-door syndrome. If anyone did, I didn't hear the reply.


Refrigerator Perry's shoulder pads!In Chicago I stayed at the O’Hare Hilton so many times it was beginning to feel like home. The best part of that hotel is that it is in the airport. To get there, you just walk across the street, or if the weather is lousy, take one of the underground accesses and, poof! You are in the hotel.

When we stayed in downtown Chicago, from our room we could see the green river below us. Out in the distance was Lake Michigan. Another highlight was seeing the fountain they use in the open sequence of TV’s “Married With Children.” Well, it looked like that fountain. Now, that I think of it, there were a lot of fountains in Chicago.

While I toiled in Chicago, my wife took my daughter to various museums and other sites. My daughter, then about seven, tried on a pair of shoulder pads that were once worn by Chicago Bear William “Refrigerator” Perry. Her entire body fit through the big guy’s neck slot.

She also saw a painting that reminded her of Kermit and Miss Piggy. Everyone else would recognize it as American Gothic by Grant Wood.

When I had a break, we took a quick trip to the top of the John Hancock building. My daughter, Andrea said, "Ma, the people look like bugs." I walked to the edge of the scenic overview, she was right, the cars were smaller than Matchbox toys. Meanwhile, my wife refused to come to the window. She chose instead to cling to the wall within inches of the elevator, ever anxious for our descent to the fine soil and concrete of Chicago Streets.

One of the perks of working at a trade association convention is hob-knobbing with the nearly rich and famous, or both.

Anthony Buccino and Dear Abby in a BBSI file photograph.In Chicago, baseball great Jim Palmer sat my 7-year-old daughter on his knee and said he, too, had two little girls. When Andrea asked how old his little girls were, he said dryly, "24 and 26."

Dear Abby was with us in Chicago, as was top-40s singer Ray Stevens. I got to meet Dear Abby, but not Palmer or Stevens. I had heard that Dear Abby (not her twin sister Ann Landers) wanted a photo of herself with me for her collection, so I couldn't say no.


There were some big shows in Las Vegas. The first time I was there I got to stay in Howard Hughes’ famous Landmark hotel. The main hotel was a round tower. We were in the low-rise buildings behind the landmark Landmark. It was okay, but it was not the center of attraction.

I would have thought that they'd have a hard time filling at theater for a show that starts at 2 a.m., but that only shows what I know about Vegas. I was disappointed to realize how jaded I'd become when I sat, unimpressed as  Siegfried & Roy did truly amazing feats with people and animals on a stage a few feet away from me.  

Film actress Ginger Rogers, in a BBSI file photograph.During later visits, I stayed in the largest hotel in the free world, the Las Vegas Hilton. In those days, the free world was much smaller than it is today.

It always seemed that when we were in Las Vegas was when we had the bigger names. There, we had Alexander Haig, Mark Russell, one of Bob Hope’s top comedy-writers Gene Perret, and, of course, my favorite, Miss Ginger Rogers.

Rogers was going to speak at our spouses’ luncheon. When I went to greet her at her room, we learned she was wheelchair bound.

In no time I was selected to push her around the cavernous halls of the Las Vegas Hilton.

After a wrong turn at a Y-split in the hallway, I had to retrace our way back to find the elevator. Miss Rogers quickly grew impatient with my navigational skills.

But in no time at all we had arrived at the top floor of the largest hotel in the free world.

Off to the side the Elvis Presley suite was being reconditioned for tours. The room where Rogers spoke was formerly part of Elvis’ suite, then it was a disco. Now, a 1930s, backwards-dancing, film star was about to speak about her finest hours.

Ginger Rogers sat on a riser talking about black and white slides of films from her heyday to our blue-haired spouses of beauty and barber suppliers, or, just about the only other people in world who remembered her films and her heyday as their own.

When a slide with writing appeared backward on the screen, Rogers stopped and yelled at her hapless assistant, then continued on through the presentation until the next backward slide appeared.

The poor girl tried to explain again and again to the former glamour star that all the slides were backwards on the rear-projection set up they had requested. The young girl had a lot of restraint and patience with the old lady.

And when the blue-haired ladies ran out of questions for Rogers, a few burly waiters and I secreted her to the service elevator for a grand exit. I pushed Ginger Rogers, in her wheelchair, of course, out of the service elevator onto her floor and shortly got lost again. I'm pushing Ginger Rogers around in the largest hotel in the free world, in a part of that hotel where I have only been once, and that was to get her in the first place, and a part of the hotel where my kind could never afford a room on my own.

She successfully pointed out how incompetent I was and told me to be back promptly in time to get her to her waiting limo in time for her flight leaving Las Vegas. Remarkably, my thirty-something brain was able to find her a second time and bring her heavily-powdered body, wheelchair, and all, to her waiting limo.

Nowadays, whenever I see one of her old movies, I fondly recall the four-letter words she used to tell me I was lost when I pushed Ginger Rogers around in Las Vegas.


Originally published as I Pushed Ginger Rogers Around Las Vegas on October 3, 1996, in Worrall Community Newspapers.

Adapted from RAMBLING ROUND Inside and Outside at the Same Time


Travels With Tonoose

ANTHONY'S WORLD

Anthony Buccino


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New Jersey author Anthony Buccino's stories of the 1960s, transit coverage and other writings earned four Society of Professional Journalists Excellence in Journalism awards. The Pushcart Prize-nominated writer has been called ' “New Jersey’s ‘Garrison Keillor” or something to that effect.’

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