Becker Bus Tour: Meet the dream team

Becker Bus Tour: Meet the dream team

Our correspondent wraps up her time with Dr. Marty Becker's Big Bus Tour by catching up with the folks who make it all work
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Apr 28, 2011

Wednesday was mostly a travel day for Dr. Marty Becker and his tour crew. They spent Tuesday night in Tallahassee, Fla., and got up to drive to Tampa, Fla., to tape an episode of The Animal House, a weekly program on NPR. He also did a live radio Q&A with pet owners on the Allan Handelman Show on WZTK in North Carolina. During the show, he helped a pet owner deal with fighting dogs within a household, discussed the amazing stories of cancer-sniffing dogs, and much more. Callers were waiting for over an hour to get their questions in. But the official tour events—the VIP luncheon and meet-and-greet at Petco—won't happen until Thursday in Tampa. So Wednesday was a chance for the crew to catch their respective breaths and take stock of how things are going so far.

So just who is this crew?

Gina Spadafori, Dr. Becker's writing partner, is handling the tour's PR, including blogging and tweeting at almost every moment to keep Dr. Becker's many followers up to date on the goings-on. She has known Dr. Becker for two decades, and together they've written more than a dozen books, including Your Dog: The Owner’s Manual. She is also the author of the best-selling Dogs for Dummies and Cats for Dummies, among many others. She started her career as a reporter for The Sacramento Bee. Spadafori and Dr. Becker's working partnership is a match made in heaven. "We are the perfect combination of an expert on knowing people and communicating and a trained reporter and editor," said Spadafori. "Our skills just dovetail so wonderfully. The most important thing is that we're very adaptable and nimble. We have to stay on top of the curve." She equates this flexibility with how all veterinarians must adapt to the new reality of vets vs. the net, the theme of Dr. Becker's presentation to VIP veterinarians (see Becker Bus Tour: Everything's bigger in Texas).

Jimmy Searl, the tour manager, has arranged the tours of countless performers including Whitney Houston, Stevie Wonder, and many more. Searl is always ready to relate fabulous tales of his adventures on tour and off in his eloquent speaking style. Searl is usually found on his laptop or phone making sure all goes smoothly, from hotel bookings to the logistics of getting Dr. Becker where he needs to be every day—basically being responsible for everything. And anything may be thrown at him at any time. His unflappable and down-to-earth nature quickly smooths any wrinkles that come along. He's enjoying the Big Bus Tour and working with Dr. Becker. "Even though it's only been a short time, it's very easy to see why Dr. Becker is as noted as he is—as well-covered as he is in the media," said Searl. "More than anything, Dr. Becker's personality allows him to relay his expertise in a way that makes you want to listen. He's just a cool guy."

Chris Binnall (as in "Been all over the place," he says), the assistant tour manager, is the man to get things done. Whether chauffeuring Dr. Becker to media events while arguing with "Laura," the GPS voice that barks at him from the dashboard, or carrying out any other of a whole slew of essential tasks, Binnall uses his easy charm and gentlemanly manner to make everything come out just right. Dr. Becker brought Binnall on board himself after meeting him in his home town of Bonners Ferry, Idaho, where Binnall is a building contractor. And he's having a great time so far. "Lovin' it!" Binnall said enthusiastically. "These are all great people."

Phil Stewart, the tour bus driver, has driven tons of stars in his past 16 years as a driver, including David Copperfield, Eminem, Hootie and the Blowfish, Lady Gaga, the Rolling Stones—the list goes on and on. With his sly grin and quick laugh, he makes fast friends with all who enter his bus doors, resulting in repeat business (he has driven David Copperfield for 13 years). So how does the Big Bus Tour compare with previous tours? "It's like a vacation tour," said Stewart. "I don’t have to deal with groupies. It's a lot less stressful." Speaking of, Stewart has obtained a few groupies of his own. While driving Dog The Bounty Hunter around on a book-signing tour about six months ago, he ended up appearing frequently on the show, resulting in people recognizing him and asking for his autograph. But Stewart shuns such attention and takes it all in stride. In fact, Dog's wife, Beth, started calling him "Mr. Cool Breeze." Click here to see a clip of Mr. Cool Breeze in action.

Last, and most important, is McKenzie, the official tour dog. Convinced that the tour is truly all about her and not Dr. Becker, McKenzie is a flat-coated retriever that belongs to Spadafori. She steps for tooth-brushing and other demonstrations as needed for media events. Otherwise, she can be found napping on her tour bus, making sure to get enough beauty sleep. She must be ready for her closeup!

The Becker traveling team also has Christie Keith and David Greene, associate editors at petconnection.com—the online home of Dr. Becker—keeping them grounded. Keith and Greene have been helping with research not easily conducted while rolling around on four wheels as well as with posting online and arranging media events. They have been lifesavers more than once.

Be sure to check out the Becker Bus Tour home page to keep up with the rest of the tour.

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