Day 20: Linc Vegas
Greenville, RI (Population: 9,411)/Providence County (2020 Election Results: +23 Biden)
Miles Driven: 4,477.98 total/Cups of Coffee: 2 (57 total)/Lowest Gas Price: $4.59/Number of States Visited: 18
Lincoln, Rhode Island is a rural town with a pastoral feel, lots of big yards and churches. Around a rotary and down a quiet two-lane road, it empties you into Rhode Island's version of Las Vegas--BALLY'S TWIN RIVERS CASINO! HOTEL AND SPA! VALET PARKING!
You follow signs to the Event Center and find the South entrance, marked with a big red "No Smoking Marijuana Inside" sign. A who's who of casino acts--the Pointer Sisters, Martin Short--decorate the hallway walls, and at the end, perched on her throne, is New England hospitality personified.
Walkie-talkie holstered, she has long hair pulled back and a glare that would melt steel. Her name tag reads "Tracey."
"Is this the Event Center?" you ask.
Her eyes flick from you to your backpack to the notebook in your hand and back to your face, an animated audit in less than a heartbeat.
"What are you here for?" she asks.
You explain that you're here to interview someone affiliated with the boxing event happening tonight.
She seems really interested in your backpack.
"This is the South entrance. The Event Center is at the West entrance. Backpacks aren't allowed in here, but I'll put a tag on it. You just need to open it up to show me what's inside."
She doesn't flinch at the sight of your Iron Sheik action figure.
As you head towards the elevators, she can't help herself--New Englanders like to know everything--she calls out "who are you here to interview?"
"A guy by the name of Nelson Sweglar," you respond.
Standing in front of the chairs in the Event Center, a ballroom dressed up as a boxing hall, is an older, stooped man in a black suit with a displeased look on his face. His grey hair is fuller on the sides but not insubstantial on top, and he peers over the top of his glasses.
"Do you know Nelson Sweglar?" you ask.
He pauses to consider the question.
"I do," he replies in a rich bass voice made for radio. You begin to get a very Obi-Wan Kenobi A New Hope vibe from this wizened TV veteran.
"Wait, are you Nelson Sweglar?" you follow up.
You take a seat at the commentators' table at ringside, draped in a black tablecloth, and he says he doesn't seem to remember owning a droid.
Nelson is here as the executive producer for tonight's televised fight, but the team promoting the event is separate from the TV crew, and the results have proven disastrous: "This is, what we call in the industry, a clusterfuck," Nelson says with deliberate precision, the expletive sticking in his mouth.
The ring has been set up diagonal to, rather than straight under, the overhead lights, which will make the production difficult.
Before Nelson was shooting fights, he was the head of TV production for the WWF, recruited by Vince McMahon to help build his empire just as he started expanding nationwide in 1983. Nelson hired and groomed longtime TV head Kevin Dunn, who to this day helps create the illusion on every Raw and Smackdown.
Nelson was there when the WWF was just a mom and pop, Linda and Vince, out of one floor in Greenwich, CT.
"There's the charming, Irishman Vince," he tells you "and there's the sonofabitch Vince. And when you showed up at the office, you didn't know who you were going to get."
Brad Balukjian is on a nine-week road trip, driving 16,000 miles around the country for his next book, The Six Pack, to be published by Hachette in 2024, about myth vs. reality in pro wrestling and the true identities of 1980s WWF wrestlers.