Lee Groves

Travelin’ Man: Tucson – Part one

I couldn’t have chosen a more beautiful day to drive to Pittsburgh International Airport – a sun-soaked, cloudless day with temperatures in the low 80s, far above the usual mid-50s West Virginia experiences this time of year. Because traffic was light the trip lasted just over two hours and the good karma continued when I reached the security line. It was moving so quickly that I had to pick up my laptop case and travel bag three times to keep the line going while just trying to retrieve my boarding pass and driver’s license. Reaching the head of the security line took less than five minutes, astonishing because there were approximately 40 people ahead of me at the time I arrived.

You never know what the travel gods will serve up but one thing remains the same: Most of the time, whatever happens is usually a surprise – good or bad.

Just before I reached the head of the line I remarked to the gentleman behind me just how fast the line was moving. He said he could have gotten into one of the “preferred” lines but noticed that the general boarding queue seemed to be moving most quickly – an extremely rare occurrence given the numbers. He also mentioned he was a “chairman” traveler many times over – more than 100,000 miles and 150 segments per year.

“I bet you have enough frequent flier miles to go to the moon,” I said, quoting an old travelers’ cliche.

“Would you believe I’m from there?” he replied.

No, he wasn’t a refugee from the “Men in Black” movies.  Moon Township, Pa. is located 12 miles northwest of Pittsburgh but most people I’ve run into call it “Moon.” According to Wikipedia, the name’s origins are unknown but one theory is that it derived from a crescent-shaped bend in the nearby Ohio River. Another colorful hypothesis is a story that the sharp point of a crescent moon had carved rows in farmers’ fields as it descended but also killed any unlucky people who crossed its path.

Just before he bolted to another line because of a tight flight schedule, the man from Moon told me he recently ran into a fellow from Mars – Pennsylvania, that is. Regrettably, I didn’t have the chance to ask him whether he ever met anyone from Hell, Michigan.

Incidentally, further research revealed that Arizona had more places named for Hell than any other state – 60. My favorite of those was Hell Hole in Booger Canyon. I thought Friendly, West Virginia was an interesting place to be from, but those folks have me beat.

After clearing security I headed to Subway to grab a foot-long turkey sub with provolone cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, light mayonnaise, pickles and a smattering of hot peppers, eating half and saving the rest for the four-hour flight to Phoenix. Good thing I did, because just before boarding we were told there would be limited food availability for customers sitting in coach.

The flight departed at its advertised time of 5:20 and I kept myself occupied by reading Mark Ribowsky’s “Howard Cosell: The Man, The Myth and The Transformation of American Sports,” a book I purchased at a Pittsburgh airport book store after my last trip to Vegas.

For those of us who grew up in the 1970s, Cosell was a landmark figure not only in sports television but also in pop culture. One TV Guide poll named Cosell the most popular and least popular sportscaster because his brash “tell-it-like-it-is” style ignited instant and robust reactions from all sides.

Those of us who liked Cosell marveled at his polysyllabic proclamations, his ability to identify story lines at his events and weave them into his commentary, his willingness to laugh at himself from time to time and his gift for injecting a sense of importance into every event he covered, whether it was a heavyweight championship fight or an episode of “Battle of the Network Stars.” Those who reviled him pointed to his pompous delivery, his arrogant attitude, his occasional verbal cruelty and his disrespect for conventional tradition.

His opinions caused his critics to throw bricks through TV screens, create venomous banners that hung inside football stadiums and countless death threats. Cosell often clashed with power brokers in various sports and was one of the few who spoke on Muhammad Ali’s behalf during his three-and-a-half year exile prompted by his refusal to serve during the Vietnam War.

For better or worse, Cosell became a broadcasting icon by fearlessly pursuing the stories he felt were most important despite the potential consequences. His outspokenness helped usher in a new era of sports journalism that ferreted out numerous scandals as well as an opinionated brazenness that can be seen nightly on news and sports broadcasts.

Who would have ever thought that Cosell would create such a wide-ranging legacy in television given the following set of circumstances: First, he didn’t start his broadcasting career until his early 40s, giving up a lawyer’s salary. Second, he had a homely, hangdog face, a head topped by a toupee many saw as unflattering, a hunched posture and, in his later years, hands that involuntarily shook. Finally, anyone else with his nasal, grating Brooklyn-accented voice would have been shown the door within the first few syllables.

But like many success stories, Cosell managed to turn his surface weaknesses into strengths. His hard work – and the support of fellow pioneer and longtime ABC Sports president Roone Arledge – allowed him to access the forums he sought. Cosell’s unique voice developed into a powerful instrument capable of producing indelible calls (“Down Goes Frazier! Down Goes Frazier!”) as well as unforgettable scene sets at the top of broadcasts. He obliterated the odds that were stacked against him and emerged as the ultimate winner. As is the case in many elements of life, the greatest stories end up being told by the unlikeliest authors.

The flight to Phoenix was far less bumpy than was the case last month and we landed nearly 45 minutes earlier than the advertised arrival time. That gave me time to grab a quick snack at the Burger King located less than 100 feet from my connecting gate.

As I stepped up to order I was greeted with a robust “hola!” from a big-boned twenty-something woman whose charisma flowed as freely as the grease on the fryer. As I waited for my order to be assembled she peppered me with a wide spectrum of questions and observations, all delivered with a lively glint in her eyes. And I wasn’t the only one who received this treatment: As I ate my meal I overheard her telling one young man “you have great eyebrows” and asking another person what he did for a living and then adding further unsolicited, but well-received, comments.

Given her genuine interest in people and bubbly personality, one could say that working at an airport fast-food joint was a good job to have. But my feeling is that her current gig won’t end up being her final professional destination, for better times may lie ahead.

After landing in Tucson – a 49-minute puddle-jump from Phoenix – I received a text from punch-counting partner Andy Kasprzak to meet him at the car rental desk. With the help of his GPS – which took several minutes to lock in a route – we navigated a path that was largely made up of an isolated desert road before pulling into the resort’s self-parking garage.

It was past 10 p.m. local time – and 1 a.m. body clock time – by the time we checked in. Still, I needed a couple of hours to wind down. I worked out some Internet kinks in the laptop, after which I let the TV lull me into a place where I could finally turn out the lights on another long travel day.



Photo / iStockphoto

Lee Groves can be e-mailed at l.groves@frontier.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.

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