Sure, the Miss USA contenders have been doing plenty of sightseeing around Maryland these days, as they get closer to the big contest at Baltimore's 1st Mariner Arena Friday. But they had nothing on the sightseeing that a couple hundred Marylanders were doing at one of the Miss USA events, "Red, White & Beautiful," which benefited the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
First, there was the scene of the party -- a gorgeous, 60-acre Severn River estate, where developer Ed St. John and his lady, Sharon Akers, happily welcomed their guests. Marble floors and columns gleamed inside. Manicured grounds and lighted fountains shimmered outside.
Next, there were the 51 beautiful contestants mingling with the guests, each dressed in a cocktail dress adorned with her state sash. Diminutive guest Lisa Barnhill gazed up in awe at Miss Mississippi, Kendra King, towering above her.
"I'm in ecstasy," raved guest and retired dentist Stan Brown. "They all have beautiful teeth."
"Last year, I [correctly] picked Miss North Carolina to win. But this year, I'm pulling for Miss Maryland," Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development Secretary Aris Melissaratos told chums John Paterakis and Lou Grasmick.
Then there was the silent auction including items that each Miss USA contender had brought from her home state, such as a ski vacation, courtesy of Miss Vermont, Amanda Gilman, and the Omaha steaks brought by Miss Nebraska, Emily Poeschl. Miss New Mexico, Onawa Lacy, had stuffed a huge basket with Native American crafts.
Why the satin pillows in Miss Idaho's "Tranquility Package"?
"The Idaho company that makes them did a study that found that sleeping on satin pillows keeps your face less wrinkled," Allyson Swan explained.
"I'm going for the stuff Miss Alaska brought," said guest Nancy Heretic. "It's got the best chocolate in the United States." (Note to chocoholics: That would be the Alaska Wild Berry brand.)
Guest Chuck Nabit was in a hot contest himself for the Herschel Walker- signed football offered by Miss Georgia, Lisa Marie Wilson.
"It's the auction item of the night," he announced.
A DRINK WITH BILL BUPPERT
King of chocolate all around town
Bill Buppert, 27, is president of Ruxton Chocolates, which owns Mary Sue Candies, Naron Chocolates and Glauber's Fine Chocolates. Because he grew up in Ruxton, he was familiar with the products of all three Baltimore companies. At the age of 23, he bought the first two companies at auction, after a merger had pushed them into bankruptcy. A few months later, he acquired the third, determined to keep alive some of Baltimore's most loved and delicious traditions.
Do you like chocolate?
I do like chocolate. And I have to say I now like it even more. Growing up, it was Snickers and Kit Kat, those kinds of name brand [candy bars]. Not the fine chocolates. Obviously, I did eat Mary Sue Easter Eggs at Easter time. But this chocolate is so good. The almond bark. If I have a box in my house, it's gone very quickly.
Being in the business, do you get cravings for chocolate like the rest of us?
One thing about being in the business -- I can't smell chocolate [in the air] at the factory anymore. ... But, I definitely have my cravings. I wake up in the morning, and I have to have a piece of chocolate.
Which kind of chocolate?
The pecan snapper, usually. It hits the spot. Even after I've eaten 2,000 of them.
Do you ever get sick of chocolate?
No. I've got the best job.
You're single. Do women you date expect you to bring them candy?
It's a definite perk. On Valentine's Day, my girlfriend got a heart [box] filled with 7 pounds of chocolate. And it's big.
With this being Mary Sue Easter Egg time of year, you've got to be busy.
These days, it's very hectic. We have all these last-minute orders.
And then there's the huge inflatable bunny we all see on your building as we drive down the JFX.
I love it. I love dealing with that bunny. We bought a second bunny this year. The same size, 130 pounds. And I'm the one [who's been] taking the bunny around and setting it up in various locations to remind everybody they should go out and buy their Mary Sue. ... It's cool. You see these kids see this giant pink bunny and their eyes light up.
What will you be having on Easter?
Several Mary Sue Pecan Nougat Easter Eggs.
GRAND NATIONAL STEEPLECHASE LUNCHEON PARTY
Benefits Cystic Fibrosis Foundation Maryland Chapter
Drinks, buffet, live music, children's activities, steeplechase
Butler (exact address given with ticket purchase)
Tickets: $60 adults, $10 children under 12
A FUNKY FORMAL AFFAIR
Benefits Towson University College of Fine Arts and Communication
Host: actor John Glover
Open bar, dinner and dessert buffets, entertainment, dancing
TU Center for the Arts
Osler and Cross Campus drives
GALA 2006: AN ISLAND PARADISE
Benefits St. Joseph Medical Center Neonatal Intensive Care Unit
Open bar, hors d'oeuvres, dinner, live music, dancing
Hyatt Regency Baltimore
300 Light St.
FIRE AND ICE: MEMORY BALL 2006
Benefits Alzheimer's Association Greater Maryland Chapter
Open bar, hors d'oeuvres, seated dinner, live music, dancing
Marriott Waterfront Hotel
700 Aliceanna Street