Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Divine S Reports from Vegas: Part 1

Breaking news: For some unexplained reason, Blogger won't let me post pictures, so I am posting S's report without her lovely images for the moment. Working to fix this, because her pics tell at least 10,000 additional stories.

My dear friends, please join me in pondering the adventures of the Divine S, who attended the PBR World Finals in Las Vegas and who has submitted this immortal report. I must confess that I pretty much laughed my, er, fanny off, reading this. Hope you enjoy it, too!

Part 1

It’s always more fun when your team wins. Well, of course, as everyone probably knows, my favorite “team” going into the finals was Team Valdiron, but unlike last year, this year I knew that whatever the result, I would probably be quite satisfied. And it turns out that my expectations were exceeded.

Hotel Adventures

My Las Vegas experience started with Treasure Island, one of the three host hotels this year. One does have some questions about the how or why of there now being three host hotels, but they remained unanswered. I also found myself wondering how they figure out which cowboys stay at which hotel (and if they all pay the same for their rooms, even though I imagine the hotels must have different rates) as I was riding in an elevator with Skeeter Kingsolver and his giant arm brace. And unless Austin Meier favors walking around random places while covered in Saran Wrap and ice packs, I highly suspect he was staying at the hotel as well. Most of the hotel-related cowboy-sightings were on Friday, the evening the -after-party was at Treasure Island’s Gilley’s, so I have no idea if the cowboys were staying at the hotel or just avoiding the after-party (which I was also avoiding). I tried, because I understand that after-parties are going to be a thing of the past after this year, but it was loud and crowded long before any cowboys could realistically appear, and I just couldn’t do it.

Speaking of Gilley’s, what a weird place it is. TI is known for its silly Sirens show. Having seen this strange spectacle once, complete with pyro and click track of dialogue and music, my friends and I have decided that the show actually tells the epic gay love story of a ship’s captain who can’t bear being separated from his cabin boy and must pretend to love the head siren to get him back—this makes the ridiculous thing much more entertaining. Anyway, smack in the middle of the piratical theme of the hotel is this incongruous cowboy bar with a bucking bull machine and waitresses in various stages of undress, depending on the hour. Really. In the morning, they wear jeans and tank tops, in the afternoon, micro-shorts and tank tops, and by the evening, we have descended to bikinis and chaps. Yes, that’s what I said, bikinis and chaps. I hope the evening shift gets paid more, and while I don’t really want to see anyone dressed in bikinis and chaps, I found it rather unfair that the waitresses had to wear this get-up while the waiters and the male bucking machine operator were not dressed in similar style. [SQ: I would bet the evening shift might get paid more, but I also bet those girls get nagged constantly about their weight, just to make their jobs even more wonderful.]

As you can probably guess, I would become all too familiar with Gilley’s. Because of the expense factor, I only had tickets to the last day of the finals, and as the rooms did not get Versus and Gilley’s was showing the PBR on 3/4ths of their televisions as well as on a big screen, they reeled me in. How clever of them. Sadly, I was never able to watch the event on the big screen because three hours per night at Gilley’s was already pushing it, and showing up even earlier for a good seat might have been the end of me. Multiple meals of starchy sides (I am the token PBR vegetarian) and too many rum and Cokes, punctuated by occasional drunken mechanical bull riding (by others, I hasten to add) had a certain charm, but I was certainly more than ready to watch the final day live when we finally got there.

Gilley’s did provide one exciting moment when a man was nearly flung onto our table as he bucked off the machine, but sadly, he was too young and not what we were looking for, so we threw him back. The staff was appalled and perhaps afraid we were going to sue them, as we had not signed any sort of liability as those getting on the bucking machine had, but no harm, no foul. In addition to all its other charms, this fine establishment also apparently has “World Famous Bikini Bull Riding.” I did not stay on Sunday to observe this phenomenon, although the folks at the front desk, who called me every day to tell me about the viewing parties at Gilley’s, also helpfully told me about the bikini bull riding so I could easily avoid it.

Friday: Production 101 Fan Club Tour

At the unfortunate hour of nine in the morning (or more accurately, at least 8:45 to sign the liability release in case someone fell down the stairs or something), it was time for the behind-thescenes tour for fan club members. From some chatter I overheard outside the Thomas and Mack, it sounded like the PBR crew was a bit surprised and overwhelmed by the number of people who showed up for the production tour and the stock contractor tour the day before (and apparently there were some people who were not respectful of the stock contractors’ requests regarding their bulls, which is obnoxious, dangerous and, on a more personal level, really irritates me because it would suck if they stopped doing the stock contractor tours in the future because of one or two people).

After the check-in process, the “handlers” trickled us into the T&M, down to the lower section nearest the production area. Unlike the nosebleed section, these seats are padded and have cup-holders, and since the lower seats are almost always reserved for packages and promotions, that may be the only time I ever sit there. There we were greeted by Clayton Cullen, the production lead who comes from a rock tour background, and his production assistant, Jim. Along with tidbits such as where the replay judge sits, where the sound mixer sits, where the announcers sit, and the many, many sound and video feeds that Cullen has at his disposal, we also were treated to the view of the backstage team trying to velcro a bunch of kabuki screens without getting them in the dirt. (How many men does it take to velcro a sheet? At least 10!).

We also learned that the COO loves pyrotechnics and so was shown the buttons to press to unleash them, and earlier in the week in his excitement he accidentally hit one button over and nearly melted one of the screens. Oooops! We also learned that one of the feeds that Cullen has is to Dr. Tandy Freeman’s mic, but it is never piped live in the arena because sometimes things come out of befuddled cowboys that shouldn’t go live, whereas the TV crew can edit such things before they air. Of course, the potential problems with this “the TV crew will catch it” method were displayed when for some reason they decided it would be awesome to go direct to an infuriated Ben Jones, who was at the time banging his helmeted head repeatedly on the chute. Gosh, I wonder what he’s saying? Probably something wholesome and kind.

The floor was opened up for questions, and I was disappointed to see that some people took this as a forum to vent their displeasure about the sound being too loud, or too soft, or the lighting being too little or too much, or whatever their complaint might have been. I felt it was inconsiderate to take up the time of this very busy man who had volunteered to give us all a glimpse at the man behind the curtain with complaints of this kind, not to mention taking up the time of all the other fans on the tour. But, we did get some interesting information about Cody Lambert “yelling” at them to just jump the Ford truck off the center stand when he thought it was taking too long to get it out of there, and some insight into the number of people it takes and the general panic and triumph of running a show of this magnitude.

Following this, we were shepherded around the arena to the one staircase that goes from the upper arena to the dirt, and were able to pass right by the surprisingly small and narrow chutes, the infamous red replay button, and back down the hallway of champions (as seen on TV, amusingly traveling through time from the incredibly youthful Adriano through the less youthful Adriano to the older Adriano), through the back chute area, and back to where the satellite and TV trailers live. Along the way we found Super Duty, who was there by himself for some reason. I understand that he isn’t the most friendly of bulls, but he seemed to handle the flood of humanity fairly well. I was excited to see a bull up close, since the stock contractor tour had popped up on the schedule two hours before my plane was to land on Thursday.

After learning a bit about the editing trailers and the satellite uplink, one woman in my group unfortunately seized the opportunity to ask for a locker room cam, but thankfully other people kicked in with ideas that were more tasteful, so we finished on a better note. Well, better until we got outside again and realized it was pouring rain. Although I appreciate Ford as a sponsor, I will say that a Ford F-150 is not a terribly effective umbrella, as we learned as we huddled under the truck that was above the red carpet entrance as we waited in the miserable line of people wanting cabs.

Friday: Gilley’s Again, This Time with Cowboys

Upon returning to Treasure Island, we headed back into the depths of Gilley’s, as Jack Daniel’s cowboys Aaron Roy and Rocky McDonald were making an appearance. “There are cowboys here, they are very cute,” said one of the JD girls. I had no idea. The real shocker of the afternoon was that the Jack Daniels girls would seem tastefully dressed after the Gilley’s girls experience. It was also heartening to see Rocky McDonald offer one of them half of his plate of friend chicken, which she dug right into. Rocky McDonald is very approachable and very funny—at one point, I said that I would love to do a drawing of him, but I’d never been able to find any good reference photos, to which he replied, “You’d have to be quick, because I’m usually under the bull in two seconds!” Aaron Roy seems very . . . Canadian. Very quiet, very polite. There was some delay in setting up the table with balloons and JD’s promotional materials, so we actually ended up chatting with the guys before that happened, and it was pleasant to be in a more informal setting without strange balloons and JD girls and their creepy male hangers-on hovering around.

Saturday: Meet-and-Greet

Saturday morning was, of course, the meet-and-greet, which unfortunately had been relocated from the slightly inconvenient parking lot of Mandalay Bay to the near-impossible to find and totally inconvenient parking lot of the out-of-the-way Hard Rock. The issue was compounded by the fact that the event started at 8 am, but at 8 am, there were no signs anywhere indicating where one should go. Thankfully, the bright yellow shirt and box of Starbucks belonging to a nice lady from the Stanley booth were able to help us, because walking all the way through the hotel and going up an escalator, out a door and through the pool area wasn’t exactly intuitive. As we made our way through the maze, more and more confused people joined us in following the lady in the yellow shirt; she was the pied piper of the PBR meet-and-greet.

Upon getting in line, we were confronted with video cameras borne by people with crazy hair, and realized when the people in front of us were asked to sign a release indicating that they were from MTV’s Real World. I didn’t even realize that was still on the air. Anyway, they are apparently doing some sort of episode centered on the PBR. I can’t wait to see how classy that production will no doubt be.

Some of the cowboys were running late (and I’m pretty sure a few of them never showed up; some, like Austin Meier and J.B. Mauney, doctored out, I believe, but who knows about the others), but eventually the hordes were let in. We of course had Renato and Valdiron as priorities so that I could give them their drawings. Guessing correctly that Renato’s line would quickly get out of control, we made a dash for him first. And I have to say, as much as I enjoy indulging myself by spending time drawing (and as a human being, I definitely don’t mind compliments on my work), the giant, delighted grin that broke out on Renato’s face was about the hugest reward I could ever ask for, as an artist and just as a person who admires his grit and talent and wanted to give a little back. He picked the drawing up, asked, “You did this?” and yelled in Portuguese to Robson Palermo, who was at the other end of the table, to look at it.

After getting a picture (where we were both grinning like fools), I told Renato he did the right thing by pressing the button. He mumbled, “I don’t know,” but gave a thumbs-up. I was about to step aside so as to not monopolize him when the Cooper Tires photographer asked if I would like a photo. When I said I already had one, Renato got a big smile on his face and said, “Yes, another hug!” So now I have two dorky pictures with Renato, he has one drawing, and I have a great memory. As an aside, his adorable daughter was “helping” by signing a stack of papers for him.

We moved on to Robson, who was quite curious about the drawing. I told him I’d try to get to him soon, which, well, I’m trying to get to everyone, but we’ll see how that goes. (By the time I get good reference photos of everyone and crank through the drawings, some of these guys are bound to have retired!) I am not going to go through each interaction as that would take forever, but I did want to mention Robson because while I know and have always known that this is a dangerous sport, it really drives it home when someone you were talking with in the morning is violently thrown on his head and taken out of the arena on a backboard in the evening. I am so happy and amazed that he came back the next day with a huge ride, and I only wish he would wear a helmet.

After Renato and Robson, we were on a mission to find Valdiron. We discovered him in the far, far corner of the lot. They had placed Valdiron, Robson Aragao, and Wesley Lourenco off the parking pavement and in a mud pit, which I found quite bizarre. It didn’t much bother me or them, as we were all in cowboy boots, but for those in slighter footwear ,it was a problem. Wesley Lourenco, by the way, reminds me of a baby Valdiron—very cute young guy with braces and a lot of talent. Robson Aragao, we discovered, actually signs things as “Spiderman.” I wish his English was better (or that I knew any Portuguese) because I really want to know what the Spiderman thing is all about. He is also taller than I thought, which is funny because most of the cowboys startle me by being shorter than I thought. Anyway, I gave Valdiron the drawing and was rewarded by one of his thousand-watt smiles, and even got a little joking in, as he said, “It looks like me!” and I replied, “A little bit!” He seemed quite tickled and I didn’t have the heart to ask him at that moment why he no longer wears the helmet. I really wish he would go back to it, though.

I did find it very odd this year the way they grouped people. Obviously some were by sponsor, but they had the two Australians together sort of floating in the middle of nowhere, and not very many people seemed to be talking to them, and then the four Brazilians were in the mud. I felt that last year they distributed it a bit more evenly, so that no one ended up sitting around and twiddling his thumbs. It was sort of awkward this year.

A few colorful scenes for you: I had the pleasure of watching Cody Nance set a gaggle of tweens completely aflutter just by existing. I also was quite pleased to see and chat with Chad Berger in his bright pink shirt, complemented by a bright pink autographed guitar he was going to auction for the Rider Relief Fund and Breast Cancer Awareness. I really respect Chad for going out there and taking a stand on an issue that isn’t a natural cowboy tie-in, and seemingly not caring if anybody thinks it isn’t manly.

After running around to various tables, we decided to go for broke and get in the Stanley line. Unfortunately, we were four people away from Guilherme and Silvano when they got called away, but we did get to see them huddled together under a quilt, for all the world like little cold-nosed puppies under a blanket. Too cute. We also had the dubious pleasure of seeing the guys make all sorts of ridiculous gun poses with Stanley power drills for some promotional shots. I also have to add that Stanley was responsible for one of the tackiest new giveaways at the event, but more on that later.

I did have many lovely fan encounters as well throughout the morning, somehow kept getting corralled by PBR camera people wanting happy crowd shots, and finished off the meet-and-greet portion of the afternoon by happening to be by the bucking bull machine when little Renata got on in her pink zebra cowboy boots. She’s pretty darn good—watch out in a few years, boys. Overall, I’m almost always impressed by the graciousness of the cowboys when confronted with the teeming masses, and while I’m sure some of them dread the finals meet-and-greet, most of them have the grace not to show it. A nice experience again this year.


shannon said...

In spite of the fact that I hate crowds, that sounds like a lot of fun. Maybe one day, I'll get to indulge in a day or two at the finals myself.

Thanks for the smile-inducing write up. I'm looking forward to the next installment.

(btw: Think Renato would be amenable to a congratulatory hug when I go in January? The more I see and hear about that guy, the more I like him.)

shannon said...

In spite of the fact that I hate crowds, that sounds like a lot of fun. Maybe one day, I'll get to indulge in a day or two at the finals myself.

Thanks for the smile-inducing write up. I'm looking forward to the next installment.

(btw: Think Renato would be amenable to a congratulatory hug when I go in January? The more I see and hear about that guy, the more I like him.)

Shawk said...

It wasn't as crowded this year, I think partially because the fan zone was so spread out, and partially because Vegas is hurting in the current economy. It is a pretty fun time, though, and there's lots of stuff to do in Vegas -- I finally saw Love while I was there, which was quite good.

On Renato, I have no idea. He seemed to be pretty mellow, but I'm not much of a hugger. ;) I've always liked Renato and the stronger his English gets, the more it is easier to see what a charming, funny guy he is.

Black Boots said...

Don't know if you do Twitter, but Guilherme posted a pic of the view from his suite at THEHotel at Mandalay--so I guess a lot of the guys, especially ones with families, stay there. (He had a nice view of the wave pool.)

I agree with you--TI is one bizarre place. That story of the guy flung off the bull and onto your table is hilarious. I hope you got a round of free drinks out of that one!

Where DOES the replay judge sit?

Rocky McD is one purty man. His self-deprecating comment about spending too much time under the bull makes him even purtier, imho.

..."little cold-nosed puppies under a blanket.."
This is so cute. Thanks for that mental image, it makes me grin.

So happy that you got to give Renato and Valdiron your drawings! What a great feeling it must be to share your gift with someone whose determination and grit you respect.

Renato is a character. When he signed my day sheet last year after the Atlanta event I couldn't read his handwriting and I exclaimed "Renato, is that just a line?" and he grinned at me and said "come back next year, my spelling will be better." He's got a wicked grin and a great sense of humor.

Loved reading this, S. Gave me a much-needed lift. Thanks mucho!

Shawk said...

SQ -- Yes, the flags and fighter jets appeared to be gone, unless I am just in utter denial, which is always possible.

BB -- I don't do Twitter -- I'm sure it's very nice for some things, but there's so much inanity on there, I just can't take it.

Immediately following the man being flung on our table, one of my group exclaimed, "But they told me they were no longer serving!" (They cut off food service to the "bar side" at some point, apparently.) I don't think the alarmed waitress appreciated that, but too bad they didn't take requests. ;)

I'm not really sure why Rocky was there other than PR, because he didn't qualify for the finals this year, but I enjoyed seeing him. There was a really awkward (for me) part of the conversation where he was trying to figure out who my favorite rider was and why based on the order of the drawings I had done. He seemed to find my discomfort quite amusing.

It really wasn't that cold at the M&G, but I guess the Stanley guys were under a tent, so maybe they were more chilly than I was. And since it meant seeing Marchi and Alves huddled together under some grandma-like quilt, I was all right with it. ;)

One of my not-so-great fan experiences this year involved a woman who started randomly ranting at me that Renato signed his name "in Brazilian," and he should "write in English" so she could read it. Wow.

Good thing Renato seems to be taking this sort of thing in stride now, as much as I hate that he has to do so. I think his humor will serve him sell with the press. It certainly impresses me!

I love bull riding for many reasons, but it does give me a chance to indulge in college major and minor (art and writing, respectively), which makes it all the better. ;)

shannon said...

"One of my not-so-great fan experiences this year involved a woman who started randomly ranting at me that Renato signed his name "in Brazilian," and he should "write in English" so she could read it. Wow."

I may have had to explain to her that Brazilian isn't a language then tell her that since she can actually read the "English" autographs she could help me figure out the more than half on my jacket that I can't read.


Shawk said...

Shannon, no kidding! The most I could manage (or perhaps the LEAST I could manage) was to turn my back on her, effectively ending the "conversation." Ugh!

Shawk said...

Oh, and the replay judge sits in the area to one side of the in-arena commentators, and has a video feed to aid with the review.

If nothing else, I guess it's nice they are no longer dressed as if they are in a bad cowboy music video for Jailhouse Rock.