This travel day started out unusually smoothly. First, I was granted excellent weather for the two-and-a-half hour drive to Pittsburgh International Airport: Partly sunny skies and temperatures nearing 50. Second, for the second consecutive week, I found an airport parking space that was relatively close to the terminal entrance. Third, the security line was nowhere near as long as was the case last week. What had taken 45 minutes to do last week took me a little more than 25 here.
The flight from Pittsburgh to Charlotte was bumpy at the start and end with clean air in-between. This leg of the trip ended on a humorous note when the pilot – doing his best impression of Ben Stein’s “Ferris Bueller” monotone – began with “Allow me to be the first to enthusiastically welcome you to Charlotte.”
Another good sign: My connecting gate to Las Vegas was in the same concourse as where I arrived. All I needed to do was walk about 400 feet and I was there. Given my track record I was more than happy to accept the benevolent circumstances, but I’ve been burned often enough to realize that with every succeeding favorable event the odds of a February Surprise grew.
The flight to Vegas seemed longer than the five hours it actually took. Maybe it was the 130 mph head winds that did it. Maybe it was the three major bursts of turbulence, the most serious of which took place over the Rocky Mountains. Maybe it was just the fact that I couldn’t wait to land. No matter: I had a nice thick book, a couple of chicken wraps and several cups of diet soda to keep me occupied.
Once I landed I had to catch a cab to the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino located on Paradise Road, one of the rare fight site hotels located away from The Strip. What I didn’t know was that in order to get said cab I first had to snake through six portioned-off lines, each of which required a nearly 300-foot walk. Midway through I thought that the trek toward the cab would end up being longer than the ride that followed – and I was almost right. When I reached the head of the line I was directed into slot number one, which for some reason made me feel better.
I also had the good fortune of drawing a loquacious cab driver. He asked me where I was from and, as most everyone does, marveled at the name (Friendly) and small size (population 130). After telling him the purpose of my trip it was my turn to assume the role of interviewer. When I asked him where he called home, he played a guessing game with me.
“Do you know any countries in east Africa?” he asked.
The first nation that popped to mind was Ethiopia, which turned out to be the right answer. Once I brought up the name of Abebe Bikila – the Floyd Patterson of track and field in that he was the first man to repeat as Olympic marathon champion while Patterson was the first to regain the heavyweight title – we launched into a conversation that easily lasted the five-minute ride to the hotel and probably would have gone far longer.
My hotel room was on the third floor of Paradise Towers. The dominant color of this spacious room was black and the décor included photos of Bruce Springsteen as he appeared in 1976 and reggae legend Bob Marley.
Though my body told me I had already been awake more than 15 hours, I still felt the need to do a little exploring. Part of the fun of staying at the Hard Rock – at least for those of us who don’t gamble or drink alcohol – is looking at the multitude of photos and exhibits of rare memorabilia.
Now I thought I had a vault; THIS was a vault – and on public display to boot. The number of irreplaceable, one-of-a-kind instruments, posters, clothing and photos were scattered throughout the perimeter of the casino. Some of the more unusual items included a piece of the plane that crashed and killed Otis Redding, a pair of smashed guitars (one in a music video and one at the second Woodstock) and a host of Beatles collectibles such as lunch boxes, films of their arrival in America and even a magnetic game in which one uses a special pencil to maneuver grains to fill in spaces where the Fab Four’s mop tops would be. One of my favorite groups, Fleetwood Mac (which ought to tell you how old I am), was represented by a black-and-white portrait of Stevie Nicks as well as a green guitar signed by Mick Fleetwood, John McVie and Nicks.
Following my “magical history tour,” I stopped by a gift shop near the elevator to grab a late-night snack and watched TV until the Sandman finally claimed me.
As usual, it was tough to get to that point. It must have been the excitement of the trip combined with the unfamiliar surroundings. Or maybe it was the fact that another night at the fights loomed less than 24 hours away.
Photo of Hard Rock Hotel by iStockphoto.com / tfoxfoto
Photo of Airport departure board by iStockphoto.com / TommyL
Photos of Nunez / Tom Casino-SHOWTIME
Lee Groves can be e-mailed at email@example.com. Groves is a boxing writer and historian based in Friendly, West Virginia. He is a full member of the BWAA, from which he has won five writing awards, and an elector for the International Boxing Hall of Fame. He is also a writer, researcher and punch-counter for CompuBox, Inc. and the author of “Tales from the Vault: A Celebration of 100 Boxing Closet Classics.” To order, please visit Amazon.com or e-mail the author to arrange for autographed copies.