Lee Groves

Travelin’ Man goes to Cincinnati – Part I

For the fourth consecutive week – and for the fifth time in the last six weeks – RingTV.com’s resident Travelin’ Man Lee Groves left the confines of his Home Office to work the CompuBox keys at ringside, this time for Adrien Broner’s bittersweet knockout victory over Vicente Escobedo and Keith Thurman’s destruction of iron-tough Orlando Lora. But besides the fight-day drama that enveloped the main event, this week’s journey featured another unusual twist – no airplanes were involved. Did that development change the Travelin’ Man’s fortunes as far as unsuccessfully avoiding life’s strange turns? Read on to find out.

Friday, July 20: With most of July’s prep work for CompuBox already completed, this week was one devoted to catching up on other aspects of my boxing-saturated existence. Monday was largely spent on editing, burning and cataloging this past weekend’s boxing shows (all six of them) while Tuesday through Thursday saw me crank out a ton of videos for friends and networks alike while also partially proofreading the manuscript of an upcoming boxing book. No wonder I treasure my sleep as much as I do.

For the first time in more than three years, my CompuBox punch-counting assignment didn’t involve driving to Pittsburgh International Airport, hopping on planes and using rental cars and taxis to navigate the local streets. That’s because this week’s show was being staged at the U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati, Ohio. To me, it didn’t make any sense to drive two-and-a-half hours in the opposite direction to Pittsburgh when a direct four-and-a-half hour drive westward would have sufficed. So, for the first time since I drove to Youngstown to count Kelly Pavlik’s ninth-round TKO of Marco Antonio Rubio for a Top Rank pay-per-view in February 2009, my well-seasoned Subaru was my primary source of transportation and shortly after 2:30 p.m. I began my trip to the Queen City.

It was nice not to be bound by someone else’s departure schedules, mechanical problems or in-flight food options. I could come and go when I want, eat what I want at a time of my choice and enjoy the solitude and scenery that only comes from driving. But was I able to avoid my never-ending battles with the Travel Gods?

Of course not.

Last week I resolved my issues with the often malfunctioning Tom-Tom device, which I knew were fixed after taking it out for several test drives. The device quickly “found” me and it perfectly guided me to my chosen destinations. When I fired it up for this trip, it functioned as it should have – until the battery ran out of juice shortly after the halfway point.

Drat.

Despite being a Boy Scout for less than two weeks (my local chapter shut down, presumably, due to lack of attendance), I was prepared. I pulled off to the side of Ohio 32 West, broke out the fully-charged Magellan and used it to help me navigate the rest of the way.

A few minutes later I pulled into a Burger King in Jackson, Ohio to fuel up for the remainder of the drive – a little more than two hours it turned out. I had intended to stop at a local diner in honor of Jack Obermayer – the Original Travelin’ Man – but I chose to go corporate this time.

I experienced the gamut in terms of weather – partly sunny skies turned to ominous storm clouds, which then produced drizzle, then spewed sheets of rain so heavy I could barely see 200 feet in front of me. Once that stopped the partly sunny skies returned and stayed that way by the time I crossed the bridge from Kentucky into the heart of Cincinnati.

The biggest problem I experienced was finding hotel parking. The hotel was surrounded by a slew of tightly-packed one-way streets (ugh) and during my multiple treks around the block I realized I had three options. The first, valet parking, was too cost-prohibitive. The second, self-parking, was viable but at one of the entry points I saw a sign that said that particular lot was full. The option I chose first was to drive down the lone open lane in the self-parking garage – which ended up yielding no parking spaces and took me back to the open street.

Double drat.

“What to do?” I asked myself. On my fourth lap around the block I followed a car into the self-parking entry point that indicated it was full and I discovered the sign was a lie. I punched the button to secure a parking ticket then squeezed my car into a space that cleared the vertical partition by only two inches. I wrote down the location of my spot on the ticket (one of the first travel tricks I picked up), retrieved my luggage and took the elevator up four floors to the hotel lobby in order to check in.

It was here that I received another surprise – and this time it was a pleasant one.

“Did you use valet parking?” the female hotel clerk asked me after informing her I was with the HBO crew.

“No, I self-parked,” I replied. “It was cheaper.”

“Not exactly,” she said, “because HBO is picking up the bill for your valet parking.”

How about that? I was only one of two people on the crew that was driving in for the show and the network decided to take care of us by paying for the best and safest parking option. For that, I say thank you.

“As soon as you get settled in, you can just go back downstairs and pay for your self-parking – it shouldn’t be any more than $1 – and have one of our people take care of you,” I was told. That was exactly what happened, and with that I began to settle in for the evening.

As I entered the elevator, I noticed something unusual – this hotel actually had a 13th floor. The myth of triskaidekaphobia – the fear of the number 13 – is widespread for a number of reasons. Some say it was because Judas, the man who betrayed Jesus, was the 13th disciple. According to one article on the ehow.com web site, the Norse God Loki (who organized the murder of the God Balder) was the 13th member of the pantheon. The Norse also believed that if 13 people convened, one of them would die in the following year. The article didn’t mention how many times, if any, this belief actually produced the feared result.

Superstitions have a way of growing over the years so most hotels, in order to assuage the fears of its weaker-minded patrons, simply chose to skip the number. The tactic has proved successful despite the logical reality that the stated 14th floor is, in reality, the physical 13th floor.

As you can probably tell, I’ve never bought into the hype surrounding the number 13. All I needed to do was look around me to realize the fallacy of it all. Alexis Arguello was one of my favorite fighters growing up and he captured two of his three world titles with 13th round knockouts over Ruben Olivares and Alfredo Escalera. Wilt Chamberlain – still the standard by which all NBA big men should be judged in terms of sheer dominance – wore the number 13, as did Dan Marino, the greatest pure passer the NFL has ever known. Other great athletes who wore the scarlet number included future Hall of Famer Kurt Warner, Hall of Fame wide receiver Don Maynard, current Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez and shortstop Dave Concepcion of the fabled Big Red Machine of the 1970s.

Which, of course, brings me back to Cincinnati.

Just a few blocks away the Reds were beating the Milwaukee Brewers 3-1 to maintain their half-game lead over my Pittsburgh Pirates in the National League Central. Meanwhile, across the street at Fountain Square, hundreds gathered around a stage to hear a free concert given by a band whose lyrics were garbled by the extreme noise it generated.

As for me, I chose to spend the evening indulging in my favorite sport. I had arrived just in time to watch Friday Night Fights on ESPN2, which saw top-10 junior lightweight Juan Carlos Burgos stop previously undefeated fellow Mexican Cesar Vazquez in an action-packed main event. Then I turned to Showtime, which saw Roman Morales decision Alexis Santiago in the co-feature and Art Hovhannisyan score a split decision over onetime WBA lightweight titlist Miguel Acosta in the main event. Of course, I couldn’t watch boxing without having something to eat so I ordered a grilled chicken sandwich and a Diet Coke from room service.

Despite the long drive, it still took quite a while for me to unwind enough to shut out the lights, which I did shortly after 2 a.m. If I only knew the chaos that was about to strike…

*

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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