BIG adventure never far away for Bob

When his Christmas visit to Rhode Island troops stationed in Hungary was likened to those of a USO entertainment legend, the temptation proved too much for someone in the recreation hall. “Bob Hope, or no hope?” was the glib, but good-natured, response.
Bob Venturini, host of cable TV's Bob's Big Adventures, may very well have single-handedly changed the face of Europe. What remains to be seen is how profoundly the experience has changed Bob. But even Bob concedes he is changed.
Members of the media were invited to accompany Major General Reginald Centracchio's Christmas visit to his troops stationed in the Balkans. Members of the 119th Military Police Company, Rhode Island National Guard, were deployed in August to join Operation Joint Forge in a peacekeeping mission. They are stationed in Taszár, Hungary, a base occupied by the USSR only 11 years ago.
Bob seems physically attached to his video camera. If he lives it, he films it. Editing the countless hours of tape he collected while accompanying the command visit seems an impossible task, but those videotaped open-mouthed while catnapping on the C130, or joining the troops in lifting a beer or two (for the purpose of improving soldier morale, only) would like to have a hand in scrapping some of the footage.
As Bob joined the crew in the cockpit of the C130, walked through quaint villages in the Azores, and met with soldiers and officers at the recreation center on the Hungarian base, his message was virtually the same. Bob coached individuals and groups wherever he went to say into the camera, “When I'm not [piloting airplanes, shopping in Praia Da Vitória, commanding the troops], I watch Bob's Big Adventures. Without fail, people happily obliged, often through several retakes.
It doesn't matter to Bob that most of those responding couldn't tune into one of his programs if they wanted to, since the shows air on the local cable access channel. Neither was a strong command of English a prerequisite.
It was not long before the television host, who handed out Bob stickers by the hundreds, was recognized on village streets and pubs. “BOB!” was the greeting whenever he arrived. It was impossible not to be reminded of Norm from the Cheers sitcom.
Unlike the Norm character, however, Bob doesn't drink. In spite of assumptions to the contrary from those who commented on Bob's boisterous manner, he never touches the stuff.
The stickers bearing his caricature began to appear in the most unlikely places. Villagers wore them. Children at the orphanage wore them. A dog at the orphanage wore one. (Bob vehemently denies placing the sticker on a defenseless animal, and was later cleared of the charge when the real culprit stepped forward.) Beacon publisher John Howell sported one on his laptop.
The stickers were seen in two different C130s, surrounded by other stickers representing paratroopers and military groups who'd been there before him. They were on the bumpers of taxicabs in Hungary, and affixed to a humvee or two. Nary a soldier in Taszár could be found who did not display a Bob sticker on his uniform. New recruits will doubtless assume them to be standard issue.
Reports that a Bob sticker was found on the nose of the Russian MiG displayed on the base in Taszár were unconfirmed at press time.
Major Michael McNamara, Public Affairs Officer for the Rhode Island National Guard, could often be seen shaking his head in mock disapproval at Bob's endless antics. In a required briefing attended by both military and media the week before the Quonset departure, the group was warned not to display conduct associated with the “Ugly American.” Loud, flamboyant behavior, which would inevitably draw unwanted attention was to be avoided at all costs. Mike couldn't resist reminding Bob of the warning. In response, Venturini shot the major a delighted grin. The ribbing served only to fuel Bob.
Tom Kelly, also a Rhode Island cable host, provided Bob with a video alter ego during the Christmas junket. Kelly, an army veteran, treated the experience with somewhat greater reverence. On occasion, however, the two engaged in a form of “dueling videos,” and turned their ever-running cameras on one another.
Only one event in the weeklong journey seemed to knock the wind out of the sails of the ever-jovial Bob Venturini. While all-smiles at the orphanages the group visited on Christmas Day, on the bus ride home the usually very visible videographer seemed to disappear.
The father of a six-year-old he missed desperately, Bob struggled to make sense of the sheer numbers of children without parents, and failed to find an adequate answer.
Bob did, eventually, return to his buoyant manner. It was clear, though, that the experience left him changed.
The rest of the group, in the meantime, looks forward to the next chapter of Bob's Big Adventures, while privately hoping that they themselves do not appear.


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