As I stood watching the celebrities parade down the carpet, I thought it might be fun to pretend I was one of them, and after repeated rejections, I finally found a willing accomplice to escort through all the flashing bulbs and microphone pokes of the paparazzi.
“Do you want to walk the carpet?” I asked.
“Oh, I’m not a celebrity, I’m here because I have multiple sclerosis (MS),” replied my brand new friend Caroline.
“Me too! And that’s why we deserve to walk too. Grab my arm, let’s do this.”
I will never be a Hollywood celebrity, but by being invited to attend the 24th Annual Race to Erase MS Gala at The Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, I sure felt like one. The decision to head out to the West Coast for this event was not an easy one for me. Eight days away from home and 6500 miles on the road was going to be expensive, especially considering this was not an event I was paid to speak at. After leaving my steady employment in October of last year, requests for me to speak have unexpectedly slowed down, and I have struggled with finding new opportunities to cover my expenses. Without a fiscal sponsor, my quest to chase the cure for MS has been tough on the pocketbook.
I decided to take the chance, however, draining my savings further with the hope of meeting people who could help propel my story and mission to cure MS with additional exposure. I also wanted to meet fellow MS advocate Nancy Davis to discuss the possibilities of working together on fundraising in the near future. Davis has raised over 36 million dollars for her Center Without Walls, a collaborative of top MS centers across the country. This year brought out Hollywood’s A-list and raised 1.6 million dollars!
I made the decision to attend just two days before I would need to leave New England for the three-day long trip to the West Coast. One of the biggest problems I never thought I would ever have was finding something to wear to a celebrity gala. One look in my closet and I realized I had no clue. Thanks to FaceTime and my daughter Ayla, who pays attention to fashion and entertainment, I was able to get some threads that would be acceptable in Beverly Hills. I carefully rolled my formal wear and packed it gingerly into the Yamaha’s left saddlebag.
I prayed it would unroll after 3000 miles and 45 hours with limited creases!
I replaced my tires with new ones, changed the oil and left for my first star-studded event two hours before daybreak. I was excited! I rode from New Hampshire to Joliet, Illinois where I stayed purposefully at a place called the Hollywood Casino Hotel so I could tease my Facebook fans that I had arrived in California in one day. No one fell for it! Another early morning departure and a long day’s ride lie ahead to Vail, Colorado. As exhausted as I was, I should have tried to go further, because it was below freezing when I awoke six hours later and headed through the mountains to complete the third day and final leg to Los Angeles.
I spent a night with my good friend, Kevin Nixon, the motorcycle marketing genius, who lives in Long Beach. Having spoken to hundreds of groups of people living with MS, bikers and corporate executives, it was odd that I was actually nervous about attending a party where my only job was to mingle and not get salad dressing on my new tie.
I arrived early, watched a crew set up the red carpet, actually orange for MS, checked in and quickly went to my room to check on the contents of my bag I had bought on clearance at Macy’s. The suit did survive, the shirt was ruffled more than I had thought possible, but I figured if I got the front to look decent and never took off my jacket, no one would ever know—well, nobody until now.
I really had no clue how these fancy shindigs worked. I ventured out to the lobby about an hour before the silent auction started. I shot a couple of selfies with the big-ticket item, a DB11 Coupe donated by Aston Martin of Beverly Hills. The car was later auctioned live during dinner and fetched $290,000!
The stars began to arrive as a mariachi band played by the water fountain outside the foyer. The 50 or 60 people from the national and international media were already signed in and had staked claims along the edge of the carpet, apparently lined up according to their Nielsen ratings.
I got my invisible wrist stamp and headed over to where everyone else was watching the carpet parade. A group of fans had been gathering and ropes were being tightened to keep the spectators away from the guests.
It was a special night at The Beverly Hilton, hundreds of celebrities were joining forces and emptying their wallets to fund research to find a cure. They all waited patiently in line to get their pictures taken and be interviewed. The pictures would be circulated with half-truths and gossip for a week or so, bringing attention to the celebrity but also the fundraiser. Some of them loved the fuss, and some of them did not. I suppose that’s show business!
I felt special knowing these famous people cared about others and myself and took time out of their busy lives to help find a way to stop our disease from progressing. I shared my story with David Osmond, who along with his father Alan Osmond, had been diagnosed with MS. David is an advocate with an amazing positive attitude as well as a gifted voice, carrying forward the great Osmond legacy. He seemed interested in my million mile journey and promised to check out my website.
Later, in the same ballroom where the Golden Globes are held each year, we watched a moving tribute to this year’s honored guest, actress Jamie-Lynn Sigler, who brought her fight with MS into the public eye last year. Grammy award-winner Siedah Garrett sang, Man in The Mirror, the song she wrote for Michael Jackson, and a new single, Carry On, which was written for this event. Siedah Garett also announced for the first time that she, too, had been diagnosed with MS, a disease that strikes regardless of age, race or economic class.
The iconic band Chicago delivered an amazing set, and in a Copperfield flash, it was all over. The stars were whisked away in their Bentleys and Rolls, probably to some after party way above the authority of my hand stamp.
It was amazing and exciting, and an honor to be invited. I hope next year I will be able to participate more as an advocate and join forces with the Race to Erase MS organization that is clearly on the same path as I am, Chasing the Cure.
Although meeting Quincy Jones, David Osmond, Robert Herjavec, Randy Jackson, Paris Hilton and Cathy Griffin were quite memorable, it was the Access Hollywood interview on that magic carpet ride that had me smiling the entire 3,000-mile ride home.
“Forgive me, what are your names?”
“This is Caroline and my name is Paul.”
“And what was it that you were in again?…”
“You may have seen us in that show, Before They Were Stars.”
“Sure, sure, and what else?”
(Dropped the Mic)