Lee Groves

Travelin’ Man returns to Indio – Part I

It’s been a while since the Travel Gods have really messed with me. Sure, there’s been the occasional delayed flight, the spurious unannounced gate change or turbulence that felt like a screaming meemie roller coaster, but, thank goodness, I recently hadn’t faced the worst of the worst – cancelled flights, missed connections, broken-down rental cars, four-hour waits on the runway due to lightning with no food or water services or travel directions that took me to unpaved, unlit dead-end roads or morning rush traffic on New York City bridges. By the way, all of these things – and more – actually happened to me over the years.

Well folks, it happened again.

It’s been written that all good things must come to an end but one addition to that saying should read “and when those good things end, they usually end with dramatic flair.” Such was the case during last week’s trip to Indio, Calif., where the final objective was achieved – working the CompuBox keys for a triple-header topped by Deontay Wilder’s scary one-round, one-punch knockout over onetime WBO titlist Sergei Liakhovich – but the route getting there was adventurous to say the least.

So without further delay, let the carnage begin.

Thursday, Aug. 8: The conveyor belt never stops running. The four-plus days that elapsed between the end of last week’s trip to the Mohegan Sun and the beginning of this week’s adventure whizzed by at Mach speed because there were more tasks to tackle than seconds to complete them. For those who don’t know, my professional world is divided into three equal parts – RingTV.com writer, CompuBox researcher/punch counter and sports video archivist – and tending to each with equal devotion and effectiveness is a challenge in time management, prioritization and self-motivation.

Most of Sunday night was spent recovering from the trip home. The majority of Monday was split between writing and polishing the Travelin’ Man articles and editing/burning the contents of two of the three hard-drive DVD recorders while Tuesday was divided between finishing Part II and compiling CompuBox research that needed to be done ASAP. On Wednesday I ran errands, did more editing and readied myself for the trip while the majority of Thursday morning and afternoon saw me catch up on the video work that had been pushed back by everything else. Before I knew it, it was time to leave for Pittsburgh International Airport.

My itinerary was fairly straightforward: Fly on United from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles and from Los Angeles to Palm Springs, which is located a little more than 25 miles away from the fight venue, the Fantasy Springs Hotel and Casino in Indio. After working the card, the dots forming my trip home would be Palm Springs to Dallas-Fort Worth to Pittsburgh on American. If all went well, I’d be home in time to supervise the multiple Saturday fight-night recordings.

This itinerary wasn’t my first choice in terms of flights or times of departure but if all the dominoes fell as designed I’d be just fine. To do that, however, I had to clear some logistical hurdles that screamed “danger” to me.

First, there was a narrow 39-minute connection window between my arrival in Los Angeles and my departure to Palm Springs, far less than the 90-minute gap I prefer to account for the myriad of air travel snafus that can – and have – occurred. Since the boarding process begins 30 minutes before departure – and the doors close with 10 minutes remaining – I hoped my arriving and connecting gates were fairly close together, especially since it usually takes 10 minutes just to deplane. Second, the 10:21 p.m. flight to Palm Springs represented my one and only chance to fly out of Los Angeles that night. If I missed my connection – a definite possibility given the tiny window I had – disaster loomed.

If my morning was any indicator, rough times were ahead.

As I raced up and down the stairs to edit and burn DVDs from one of the recorders, I stubbed my toe on the top step not once, not twice, but three times. I repeatedly bumped my elbows on doorways and more than once my headsets rattled to the floor when I swiveled the chair in my home office a little too quickly. While unconsciously hitching up my jeans, I grabbed the empty belt loop and ripped off the bottom half – twice. Everything was a half-step off, for I’m not normally this klutzy.

Mother Nature added her two cents, for once I drove out of the driveway she struck with uncommon fury – at least for a while.

The cumulus clouds that had dotted the sunny skyline suddenly turned nimbus. Blinding sheets of liquid pounded my windshield and at points I strongly considered pulling off the highway, which, by this point, was a gray blur. The prohibitively thin berms and the line of cars following too closely behind me – they were probably using me as their guide – prevented me from doing so safely.

Mercifully the rough weather relented after 10 miles, never to return. More trouble was ahead, though.

Once I hit the interstate another set of problems emerged: My fellow motorists. To me there are three kinds of drivers: Idiots, Sensibles and Maniacs. “Idiots” are those who choose to drive 10 mph or more under the posted speed limit, even under perfect conditions, while “Maniacs” are those who, if left to their own devices, only would be satisfied by challenging the world land speed record. “Sensibles” are those who obey the rules, pass only when necessary and remain defensive without being too defensive.

All of us, of course, would consider ourselves to be Sensibles while everyone else who drives differently will be shunted into one of the other two categories. So here’s a test that requires unvarnished honesty: What percentage of the drivers you encounter do you label as Idiots and what percentage do you consider Maniacs? If the perceived split is relatively even on both ends, you should be fine. If it’s not, there are issues.

At least six times I was confronted by tailgating Maniacs who couldn’t bear to wait the five seconds I needed to finish passing one of the Idiots. One even beeped his horn as he quickly closed on my bumper and as I result I had to speed up to nearly 80 to give myself enough room to dart back into the slow lane. Another Maniac showed himself on the three-lane highway a few miles away from the airport, where, at the time, I occupied the middle lane. This one was so impatient that he passed me on my right, weaved in front of me, positioned himself between me and another car and finally passed that car on the left – all within 15 seconds. On a NASCAR track that would’ve been an impressive series of moves but on an interstate highway it reeked of recklessness. I would’ve reported this person except for the fact that using cell phones while driving is against the law in a growing number of states. How ironic: If a person chooses to report a lawbreaker on the road by using a cell phone, that person becomes a lawbreaker himself. How times have changed.

Despite all my issues, I arrived at the airport at 3:25 p.m., several minutes ahead of schedule. Thanks to my trip to Buenos Aires on United I had accumulated enough miles to earn “Premier Access” status and a spot in the far shorter check-in line. The disassembling/reassembling routine through security went well and I had enough time to eat a leisurely dinner at Terminal B’s Subway. But once I settled into my gate the drama kicked up again.

Because the plane headed toward Pittsburgh experienced delays leaving Los Angeles, the departure time was moved back from 7:32 to 8:15, shrinking my connection window to virtually nothing. When I approached the gate agent to inquire about whether the delay would kill my connection hopes, she told me three things: First, the pilot intended to make up time en route so that we’d land just nine minutes later than originally scheduled. Second, the arrival gate (60) and the anticipated connecting gate (89) were quite a distance apart. Finally, if I missed my flight, the next available bird out of LAX wouldn’t be until 2:35 p.m. – far too late for my purposes.

In other words, everything had to go perfectly or else all was logistically lost.

I left messages with CompuBox president Bob Canobbio and Showtime’s production coordinator Nikki Ferry to let them know what was going on. Knowing the odds were against me, I asked Ferry to arrange for a one-way car rental in Los Angeles so I could at least arrive in Palm Springs during the wee hours of the morning.

Because I knew this scenario was possible the moment I received my replacement itinerary, I packed my trusty Magellan GPS. Experience is indeed the best teacher.

A few minutes later Nikki called me back to say the car was reserved while also giving me the number I needed to give the rental agent. While the charges initially would be placed on my credit card at the time of purchase, they would be reversed to Showtime’s account the next morning as long as I texted her the reservation number.

But before I would need to do all that, another issue emerged – I might not even get out of Pittsburgh. The storm clouds that pummeled me on the way to the airport now were approaching the Steel City and we were told over the loudspeaker that if we didn’t leave the area quickly lightning strikes would force the airport to shut down, perhaps for hours.

The bad weather stayed away long enough for the plane to escape but several minutes after the pilot said we would experience a largely smooth ride, the rocking and rolling began. It wasn’t anything major but it was enough to make one devote his entire attention to it. The majority of the five-hour flight alternated between calm and chaos and I spent the calmer time tapping away on my laptop, eating a BLT snack wrap and a can of Pringles or reading John Feinstein’s book “One on One: Behind the Scenes with the Greats in the Game,” which acted as a post-script for several of his best-selling sports books.

Knowing I needed to get off the plane quickly I asked the flight attendant for help keeping the aisles clear so that we who had close connections could make our mad dashes to our gates. She assured me she’d make an announcement over the loudspeaker and shortly before the wheels touched down she followed through on her promise.

The plane touched down at 10:08 p.m., just 13 minutes before my Palm Springs plane was to leave, but didn’t pull into the gate until 10:15. The flight attendant’s entreaty did little good as I was able to advance 12 rows before the aisles clogged up. I thought all was lost.

But once I deplaned, the flight monitor indicated good news: Not only had the plane not left, the doors hadn’t closed yet and the gate had been changed from 89 to 86. With the improbable suddenly within reach, I broke into my fastest power walk, which, especially for someone nearing 49, is pretty darn fast. I zoomed past my fellow travelers, my hopes increasing with every stride.

But once I got within six gates of my destination I managed to peek at the final available monitor. Directly across from the words “Palm Springs” was one that stopped me cold – “closed.”

My fate was sealed. A two-and-a-half hour drive to Palm Springs’ airport awaited me.

With considerably less pep in my step I made my way outside and waited for an Avis rental car bus to arrive. I spotted one zipping past on the other side of the place I call “Pedestrian Island,” then a second one. I spent the next 15 minutes walking down the Island in the hopes of finding a place where a bus would stop because it was clear I hadn’t found it as of yet. When a third Avis bus came within my vision I made sure to let the driver know I wanted him to stop and pick me up. Despite not being in the normal loading zone – the location of which still remains a mystery to me – the driver must have taken pity on me because he pulled over and let me on.

Once I arrived at the Avis facility I realized dozens of people were experiencing the same issues I was, for the winding line extended through the doorway. To pass the time I chatted with the two women directly behind me in the queue, one of which was the wife of a pastor and a huge Walt Disney fan. She wore a weathered red jacket that honored the 1971 opening of one of the Disney parks. In her past life she was a telemarketer and the woman with her also had plenty of experience dealing with the public over the phone lines. When I worked at the Parkersburg News and Sentinel, one of my unofficial – and very much unwanted – duties was to field after-hours phone calls for the circulation department from people who didn’t get their newspapers that day. When I told them, accurately, that I wasn’t the person to resolve their situation, I learned that even 97-year-old great-grandmothers could cuss with the best of them.

We amused ourselves by estimating when we’d reach the head of the queue and my guess of 11:35 p.m. was just four minutes off on the late side. When I told the agent my circumstances and that I worked with CompuBox, his face lit up in recognition because he was a big boxing fan. As he prepared the paperwork he peppered me with questions about the upcoming Floyd Mayweather-Saul Alvarez megafight while also offering his thoughts about the match. I told him about the fights that would air the next night and he promised to do his best to catch them.

I asked him to give me the address of the Palm Springs airport (which I loaded into my GPS) and the reservation number (which I texted to Nikki). By midnight I was ready to begin another long road trip.

Even though it was 3 a.m. body clock time I was still quite alert. When one has to rise to the occasion, he usually finds a way to do so. I was a bit concerned about the Magellan running out of battery power midstream and I was prepared to shut it down if the next turn was 30 or more miles down the road. That never came, but happily the power stayed on until I arrived at the car rental drop-off point at Palm Springs International Airport.

The good news was that I was able to drop off my vehicle. The bad news was that there were no taxis to take me to the hotel. After all, it was 2 in the morning.

This deserted airport in the desert was still open but only ostensibly. The automatic doors allowed me inside but nobody was at the rental car desks. I spotted two parked police cars but neither of them was occupied. As I prepared to call the Hyatt Regency to arrange for transportation, I looked to my right and saw a hotel shuttle bus driver. I hoped to catch a ride to the hotel with him but he had other problems of his own.

A businesswoman who was in Palm Springs for an early-morning meeting had missed her connection in LAX and wanted the hotel shuttle driver to take her to the Motel 6. He refused, saying that his only obligation was to drive her from LAX to PSP and nothing more. She was seated in the van, determined not to move.

“I’m not going to stand out here by myself at 2 in the morning, certainly not as a woman,” she said. “I need to get to my hotel and I’m not moving!”

After calling the hotel, which summoned a taxi for me, I offered to share the cab with her so at least she could get to a well-lit area where other people were around. Perhaps the Hyatt people could help her get a taxi as they had for me. She refused. When my taxi pulled up I couldn’t help but hope her situation would be positively resolved.

Within five minutes I was inside the Hyatt. Famished, I bought a soda and two Snickers bars and retired to my room. It was now 2:45 a.m. – 5:45 a.m. body clock time – and only now was I starting to feel the effects of being on the go for nearly 22 straight hours.

The final hindrance to a hindrance-filled day was the fact that the soda’s cap was tighter than a miser’s wallet. I shrugged my shoulders, ate my candy bars and switched off the lights at 3 a.m. Man, was I glad this day was done.

*

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 10 writing awards, including seven in the last three 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.com to arrange for autographed copies

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