Red, White, and Blues

Election night, Nov. 3, 1992 - George H.W. Bush vs. William Jefferson Clinton vs. Ross Perot. I was the director of meetings and conferences for the Automotive Service Industry Association.

Red white and blues in ConveneOur annual citywide convention and trade show had taken place that week in Las Vegas and was culminating in our annual awards gala for 1,500 that evening.

We made the most of the election as our theme for the event. Red, white, and blue was everywhere – flags in the centerpieces, matching linens, and patriotic floral. A fiber-optic curtain wall with programmable colored chaser lights served as the stage backdrop for the awards and entertainment. We ran a live feed to broadcast CNN on large GE video-projector screens so that everyone could see the election results coming in.

The night was carefully orchestrated: 6 to 7 p.m., cocktails; 7 to 8:15 p.m., salad, intermezzo, and entrée. At 8:30 p.m., the first award was to be presented, followed by dessert and then the recognitions. After the program, the renowned political-satire choral group The Capitol Steps was set to perform. The group was known for the care they took in being fair and balanced before “fair and balanced” was an accepted news-media phrase. It would be a great night of celebrating everything American – and what was known by the 90-percent conservative Republican crowd to be a close but clear victory for President Bush.

It didn’t happen. One by one, the state results came in. By 11 p.m. (EST) – 8 p.m. in Las Vegas – CNN called the election for Clinton with 370 electoral votes to Bush’s 168. It all played out, larger than life, on the jumbo screens. The first award had not yet been presented! The crowd of 1,500 was silent. Truthfully, grown men and women were in the bathrooms crying. And all my devastated boss, our production company, and I could do was to just plow through the evening as planned. The show must go on.

And it did. The award winners were celebrated and congratulated. Then it was time for The Capitol Steps – who, for whatever reason, were not so fair and balanced that night. Three quarters of the performance was pro-Democrat, satirizing and parodying the Republicans. The audience started to shrink and slink back to their rooms or the gaming tables. The crying in the bathrooms seemed to grow louder.

And I, a 15-year veteran meeting professional, stood at the back bar throwing back a few shots of vodka. That night it did not feel so great to be a Democrat.

William R. Host, CMP

William R. Host, CMP, is associate professor at Manfred Steinhold School of Hospitality.