Lee Groves

The Travelin’ Man goes to Indio – Part I

RingTV.com’s adventurous Travelin’ Man returned to the road following an 11-day break, this time trekking to Indio, Calif. to work the CompuBox keys at a card topped by Cornelius Bundrage’s second TKO victory over Cory Spinks.

Regular readers of the Travelin’ Man Chronicles know that unusual and unexpected plot twists are always in play, so to find out whether any happened here, read the first of what will be two installments.

Friday, June 29: Eleven days had passed since I returned from El Paso – a trip highlighted by an accidental crossing into Mexico that could have spawned an international incident – and all 11 days had been saturated with boxing-related tasks. The first two days were spent editing, burning and chronicling two weeks’ worth of boxing shows stored on my various hard drive recorders while the rest were consumed by pre-fight research for telecasts involving four of the networks CompuBox serves – HBO, Showtime, NBC Sports Network and EPIX. Being an ambitious sort, I set out to clean the slate for July, and I came darn close to doing just that – and just a little bit more.

The CompuBox workload was so voluminous and so time-sensitive that I felt I couldn’t fulfill my weekly column obligations for RingTV.com. I asked for, and received, a week off from RingTV.com editor Doug Fischer. But all that changed late Tuesday morning when former light heavyweight champion Eddie Mustafa Muhammad called me out of the blue and informed me he wanted to be part of the national boxing commission proposed by Senators John McCain and Harry Reid a few days earlier. Knowing a good story when I heard one, I immediately shifted into interviewer mode and began scribbling furiously on my notepad. After our 40-minute conversation, I e-mailed Doug and asked if I could submit the story for the site. Knowing a good story when he heard one, Dougie gave me the green light:

(http://ringtv.craveonline.com/blog/173557-muhammad-offers-help-in-establishing-national-commission)

Since my flight from Pittsburgh to Phoenix wouldn’t depart until 5:30 p.m., I had enough time to count the 2008 draw between Bronco McKart and Raul Marquez as part of my research for McKart’s upcoming fight with Anthony Mundine July 14 in Las Vegas (a fight I’ll be working by the way). I also managed to re-record last weekend’s Azteca America card off the living room DVR onto the basement hard drive as well as catalogue several recently-arrived DVDs onto the master list.

A historian’s work is never done – and I thank God every day for that.

The heat of meeting multiple deadlines was replaced by a most physical brand the moment I stepped outside and walked toward the driveway. Although it was a few minutes past noon, temperatures had already soared into the mid-90s and I wouldn’t have been surprised if the humidity index had been nearly that. Thankfully, my air conditioner was more than up to the task and by the time I reached the bottom of Friendly Hill – one mile into my 118-mile drive to Pittsburgh – my car’s interior had returned to spring-like breeziness.

The drive to the airport proceeded with welcomed monotony and I received a karmic bonus when I snagged a parking spot 75 steps from the terminal entrance (yes, I counted them. But what else would you expect from a professional punch counter?). This was particularly welcome given the Sunday forecast of 93 degrees and isolated thunderstorms. A check of weather.com revealed the mercury in the Steel City had reached a molten 97, making the climate-controlled environs inside the airport feel even better.

After settling into my 18throw aisle seat – five rows from the back – the pilot laid out the parameters of our journey to Phoenix over the loudspeaker: “Our flight time will be three hours thirty-nine minutes. The local temperature is ahundredandnine.” He zipped through it so quickly that we had to double-check ourselves.

Yes, he said it – 109 degrees. Of all the places in the country to go, I was fated to two U.S. cities that are infamous for their summer heat – first Phoenix, then Palm Springs. I silently chuckled at the coincidence.

As the plane sat in the runway I noticed the cooling steam rising from the blowers in each row, yet another reminder of the conditions.

The plane departed on time and I spent the next four hours reading my latest loaner from the Wood County Public Library – “The Scorecard Always Lies: A Year Behind the Scenes on the PGA Tour” by Chris Lewis. It detailed the comings, goings and in-betweens of the 2006 season with a healthy sprinkling of personality profiles and funny stories. One included the pact between longtime friends Tiger Woods and Mark Calcavecchia: Whoever saw the other first at a given event was obliged to tell his colleague to “do something unnatural to himself.” On the range before the final round of the 2005 Masters – where this ritual began – Calcavecchia found a rather novel way to fulfill their self-imposed obligation; from 50 yards away he flipped a practice ball at Woods that was inscribed with the pointed message.

The same message, by the way, a lot of folks wanted to yell at the weather fates.

Aside from some turbulence during the first hour and a few more moments of it midway through, the first flight proceeded without incident. It was, however, somewhat eventful:

  • During the height of the turbulence, the young woman two seats to my right not only worked on a crossword puzzle using a pen, but she also made no writing errors. Show off.
  • As complimentary drinks were being served music began to blare from one of the passenger’s phones. Right on cue Ophelia, a very attractive flight attendant with short curly brown hair, broke into some excellent dance moves, moves for which I later complemented her. She showed her appreciation during the second beverage service when she gave me the entire can of Coke Zero instead of the customary one serving in a miniature plastic cup.
  • In the row behind me sat a five-year-old Morgantown, W.Va. girl who was traveling with her grandparents. Before the flight she peppered her grandfather with wide-ranging questions that he tried his best to answer. The child’s inquisitiveness – and chatterbox tendencies – reminded me of myself at her age. When I commented that she could be a future writer he laughed in recognition, for he told me that even at her young age she is able to tell stories that have a logical beginning, middle and end. I filed that under the “it takes one to know one” file.

The flight to Palm Springs was delayed 45 minutes due to a plane switch, then mechanical issues regarding the passenger door. Our jovial flight attendant (who bore a likeness to longtime Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes, except that he smiled a lot more) also informed us that the thermometer in Palm Springs read 106 degrees, rather incredible given it was early evening local time.

It was almost as if I was living through my own version of Dante’s Inferno as I proceeded through the various circles of Hell. Good thing the flights stopped here, for had they not I could have sworn the next stops would have been the Sahara Desert, Venus, Mercury and the core of the sun.

The flight attendant also told us our pilot was being assisted by someone named “Ratboy,” which I later learned was a play on his surname Raboy. We were informed over the loudspeaker that the pilot would attempt to make up the lost time in the air but unless US Airways hired Superman to push us from the back an on-time landing wasn’t going to happen.

It didn’t but we did make up 15 minutes on the one-hour flight. Maybe it wasn’t Superman, but maybe it was a souped-up Clark Kent.

When I approached the rental car desk I was asked if a gray Dodge Charger would work for me.

“As long as it runs,” I replied.

The car worked fine, but that couldn’t be said of my Tom Tom GPS, which failed to lock on a valid signal for the second consecutive trip. Anticipating this, I also packed my back-up Magellan device, which “found” me within seconds and guided me to the Hyatt Regency Suites 10 minutes away.

Note to self: Once I get home, the Tom Tom folks are going to get a serious Talk Talk from me.

I settled into my room a little after 10 p.m. local time – or 1 a.m. body clock time. Since I only had a small can of Pringles and about two liters of soda since leaving Pittsburgh, I decided to forage for a late-night snack.

By now the mercury had dipped into the upper 80s and the dry heat made it feel somewhat cooler than that. Aside from bars and nightclubs, almost every diner was closed for the evening. Every one, that is, except for the Ignition Café and Lounge located next to the Hyatt. Besides the menu that was printed on a giant billboard near the entrance, the tipping point in terms of persuasion was a smaller sign located directly beneath. In large handwritten letters it read: “We have everything Starbucks has, only better. Support small family business, not big corps.”

For the record I’m in favor of supporting businesses of all sizes, especially in this economy, but at least during this moment the message struck the right tone. The staff was friendly and appreciative, plus I was able to order my BLT, nacho chips and 16-ounce diet soda to go.

When I told them I was from Friendly, West Virginia and that I was in town to work the next night’s boxing show at Fantasy Springs as a punch counter, the woman running the cash register told me that one of the job’s perks is meeting people from all walks of life. The most unusual, she said, was a customer who was a crime scene sketch artist – not exactly the first thing a child would say when asked what he wanted to do when he grew up.

“I mean, don’t they take pictures of crime scenes?” she asked rhetorically. “I’ve heard of court room artists but not crime scene sketchers. What, do they ask the person they’re drawing to ‘hold still?’”

With that I said my goodbyes and returned to my fifth floor room at the Hyatt, the kind of hotel where copies of the Wall Street Journal are left in front of the door each morning. The suites were spacious and featured a living room and bedroom, each with a large flat-screen and a generous workspace. After consuming my freshly procured sustenance and catching up on all the news and sports I missed, I spent the rest of the time using that workspace to catch up on my writing. After that, the lights on another day were turned out.

*

Lee Groves is a boxing writer and historian based in Friendly, W.Va. He is a full member of the BWAA, from which he has won seven writing awards, including four in the last two years. He has been an elector for the International Boxing Hall of Fame since 2001 and is also a writer, researcher and punch-counter for CompuBox, Inc. He is 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 at l.groves@frontier.comto arrange for autographed copies.

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