|CAULIFLOWER ALLEY 2005 - MY MEMORIES|
Allow me to warn you ahead of time, I may begin to ramble here. Please bear with me. So many people and events were packed into the three and a half days that I spent in Las Vegas, that I really don't know where to start, or at one point to end my recollections. I just have to say that this year's 40th Cauliflower Alley Reunion was no less than fantastic for me. Pictures from the event that were taken with my personal camera are available in my PHOTO GALLERY. You can plainly see that I am so glad that I attended this year. See... I'm rambling already, and we're just in the first paragraph. Let's get going!
Considering that I have been off the road for several months, I anxiously anticipated my trip to Las Vegas for the 40th Annual Cauliflower Alley Reunion. I packed my bags on Wednesday night, and arrived at the Mobile Airport Thursday morning, an hour and a half prior to my Delta flight. Many familiar airport staff members inflated my ego with their compliments about my weight loss. They all expressed their sincere concern for me, and wondered where I have been hiding.
As a “people watcher,” I’ve never had a problem waiting around the gates for my airplanes. While passing the time, I thought about how much I really missed traveling with World Wrestling Entertainment, even though it was no doubt one of hardest parts of my job. Being an experienced traveler, I usually notice things that other passengers miss. This day was not an exception. After the plane arrived at the gate, I noted one of the flight attendants whispering to one of the ground personnel. All I could make out were the words “hydraulic problem.” Immediately I began having flashbacks to past scenarios of airport horrors, and my missing traveling quickly started to wane.
They finally made the announcement that I knew was coming. My flight to Atlanta was cancelled due to mechanical difficulties. The ticket agent asked that everyone make their way to another gate where Delta officials would rebook them on a later flight. Using my experience as a guide, I calmly stayed in my seat as 118 bodies headed for the same gate. When the parade ended, I headed for the main terminal and the check-in desk. Fortunately, a familiar agent assisted me, and asked if I cared to detour through Cincinnati. I didn’t have a problem, as I would arrive in Vegas about an hour and a half later than originally planned.
My flights were rather unremarkable. I had several visits with my friend Jack Daniels, and enjoyed the in-flight movie “National Treasure.” My checked bag arrived without a hitch, and I jumped right into a waiting Taxi directly to The Riviera Hotel/Casino. After checking in and getting to my room, I called “Plowboy” Kurt Nielsen and asked if he had seen the white smoke, and heard the bells announcing my arrival. I had planned to shower and change clothes, but Kurt said they were just wrapping up the final wrestling seminar of the day. I thought that I should pop in and pay my respects.
After visiting with Les Thatcher, Harley Race, “Killer” Tim Brooks, and many of the young ring seminarians, we decided to hit an outside bar overlooking the pool for a cocktail and to catch up on the news. Well… that’s where I stayed for the next 4-hours. We had a good seat, because anybody going in and out of the building where The CAC was being held had to pass right in front of us. It was great seeing so many old friends, and making new ones as well.
The highlight of my first evening was seeing Gary Hart again. “Uncle” Gary joined our celebration, and it was just like old times. It was mind boggling for me to believe that Gary and I had not seen each other in almost 14-years. We shared countless memories of Texas, and thoughts of many of our departed brothers. Thank goodness I had Kurt to look after my welfare, but I learned later it was virtually the blind leading the blind because he had just as much Jack Daniels as I consumed. Around midnight we walked down the strip and had breakfast, finally getting back to my room about 2am, remember that’s 4am home time. Mercy… was I ever out of practice! How in the world was I going to make the next 3-days?
I promised that I would make the Wrestling Classic breakfast at 8:30 am Friday morning, and that I did. However, since my weight loss surgery I certainly cannot get my money’s worth at a buffet anymore, especially in Las Vegas. The breakfast was a “who’s who” of professional wrestling. Mark Nulty and I decided that it had been at least 15 or 16 years since we had seen each other. It was a fine way to begin my first full day at The CAC.
Believe me, I never got tired of hearing about my weight loss. It was certainly a heartwarming experience. Many folks couldn’t believe that I was the same man. Believe me… I am not the same man. There have been so many changes in my life during the past two years. Try to imagine, laying down 225 pounds. I’ve actually lost many if you readers here, probably in more ways than one. Be that as it may, I cannot find the words to explain how I felt being back around the business and people that I have dedicated my life to. All I can say is that it was good… damn good.
The rest of the day was filled with the continuing ring seminars. What an excellent job by Les Thatcher, Harley Race, Scott Casey, and company. The young talents had a plethora of walking wrestling encyclopedias to draw from. If I had only been afforded the same opportunities back in my day. But you must understand that I was just as much a fan there as anyone else. In my book, once you are a wrestling fan, you are always a fan.
From the seminars I moved into the vendors area. Where you could buy anything from a bobble head to a golden belt. Many wrestling books were for sale, and I picked up a couple that have not been available at my home bookstores. It was here that I received my second biggest compliment of the reunion from Terry Funk. As he signed my book, “TO MY BUDDY PERCY, THE WORLD’S GREATEST BULL SHITTER. NO FOOLING. TERRY FUNK 2005,” he told me that I had one of the best promos in the business. Terry please, who is bullshitting who here? Flattery will get you everywhere with me. He insisted that he wasn’t working me. He also paid me the best compliment I could ever receive at the banquet the following night. I’ll tell you about it later when I get to that part of my story.
Before I knew it, it was mid-afternoon and time to sneak back to my room for a well needed nap. I slept about 2-hours, showered and dressed for the annual Friday night Baloney Blowout. It seemed that folks kept coming in all the time, as I visited with more of them that I haven’t seen in years.
Of course there were my “homies,” Cowboy Bob Kelly and his wife Chris. Bill & Anne Bowman, Don Fargo, Adrian & Linda Street, Tom & Chris Drake, and Karl Roach, all from our Gulf Coast Wresters Reunion. There’s no way I can remember everybody, but I’ll give it a shot. I got to talk with Paul “Butcher”Vachon, for the first time in at least 25-years. Ox Baker, Bill Anderson, Ernie Ladd, Dr. Mike Lano, Nick Bockwinkel, Red Bastien, Larry Hennig, Killer Kowalski, Don Leo Jonathan, The Destroyer, Pepper Martin, Paul & Bunny Christy, Penny Banner, Father Jason Sanderson, I think you may be getting the picture as I could go on and on. The list seems endless, notwithstanding the many fans that made the journey. Alex Cools came all the way from Belgium.
Kurt and I hit the strip again, walking to The Frontier where we planned on some drinks and country music at Gilley’s. That changed, as the place was wall to wall with drugstore cowboys. So we hit the slot machines. I put $4 in one, and walked away with $100. I think Kurt deposited $20 on the one next to me, and walked away teary-eyed, bless his heart.
So… back to The Riviera and the bar where many ring legends kept the stools toasty. Needless to say, it was another late night, or morning, whichever way you want to look at it. My report sounds like we’ve turned into nothing but drunks, doesn’t it? Maybe we have. I have been calling Kurt, “Otis Campbell.” Bless his heart. I really don’t want to smell a mixed drink for a long-long time.
Saturday saw a return to the vendor’s room, where I caught up with Mil Mascaras. I was honored that Mil remembered me from our Texas days. The wrestling event began at 1pm. The hard work that the trainers, and trainees put in really showed. They all worked their butts off, and I enjoyed each and every match. I wished that I could remember all of their names, but I can’t. I feel that it would be extremely rude and unfair, to mention some of them, and not all. The room was full, and I’m sure that everyone that attended agrees with my review here.
I caught another mid-afternoon power nap, showered, and changed for the banquet. A moment that we will never forget was the wedding between Adrian Street and Miss Linda. Adrian and Linda are dear friends of mine that live on The Gulf Coast near Pensacola. They have been together for 35-years. Many shed tears of joy as Father Jason Sanderson performed the nuptials. It was certainly a moving experience.
The award ceremony saw “The Future Legend Award” go to Frankie Kazarian. Last year’s winner, Melissa Anderson, presented him. Chief Paul Farber presented a Posthumous Award to Fred Beell. Wrestler’s Awards went to Ernie Ladd, presented by Red Bastien; Kenny Jay, presented by Dick Beyer; Paul Christy, presented by Juan Hernandez, and Bunny Love, presented by Penny Banner &Tom Drake.
I was proud to be accompanied by Al Friend, in presenting Sir Oliver Humperdink with The 2005 CAC Managerial Award. Don Leo Jonathan honored Jack Brisco with The Lou Thez Memorial Award. Les Thatcher won the Art Abrams Lifetime Achievement Award, presented by Harley Race. Les is celebrating 45-years in the industry this summer.
The top award, The Iron Mike Mazurki Award went to none other than Terry Funk, who was presented by Nick Bockwinkel & Karl Lauer. The word “Legend” gets tossed around often in our business these days, but Terry is truly a Living Legend in every sense of the word. Terry’s acceptance speech was classic, there’s no way I can do it justice. He said… “Paul Bearer, where are ‘ya? Stand up. Why do you people applaud him? He is supposed to be booed. Now let’s boo him!” I couldn’t believe it. Here’s Terry Funk receiving the highest award given by The CAC, and he makes me a part of it. You don’t know how it makes me feel, it was just the icing on the cake for a truly fantastic evening.
I told you at the beginning I was going to ramble. Did I lie to you? I appreciate those of you that read my entire diary here. I’m sure many didn’t make it this far.
I was so proud of myself. I didn’t have one drop of alcohol during or after the banquet Saturday night. Kurt and I met for breakfast Sunday morning, and he walked me to my taxi, as I headed for the airport. Father Jason was having a communion service at 9am, I wanted to attend, but I had to catch my flight.
My trip home was unremarkable. Everything was right on schedule. I just want to say that I’ll never regret this year’s Reunion; it was one of a kind. I thank you all.