Lee Groves

Travelin’ Man: The Stretch Drive Ends – Part I

Friday, Dec. 13: Every so often in life, one gets the chance to experience a do-over of sorts. Such was the case with me, for a little more than five days after returning home from Atlantic City I got to do it again under eerily similar circumstances.

I may be staying at a different hotel (Sheraton Atlantic City last week, Resorts Hotel & Casino this week) but the weather outlook is much the same. Last weekend a snow/ice storm wreaked havoc for travelers throughout the Northeast and for me the result was a near-wreck caused by ice, two cancelled flights and a 3:20 a.m. arrival time at home. This weekend, snowstorm Electra (they name these things now) is expected to dump massive amounts of snow in many of the same areas last week’s system affected.

From my perspective, the good news is two-fold: First, most of the damage is expected to occur on Saturday and not on either of my travel days. Second, the system is anticipated to produce all rain in Atlantic City while Philadelphia is slated to receive one to three inches of snowfall, far less than the 12-18 inches slated for more northern locales. But, as we all know, meteorology is not an exact science and I’ve been through enough situations on the road to expect the unexpected.

With all of my CompuBox research done for 2013, I spent most of this past week concentrating on the video work that was left undone. I edited and burned discs for two weeks’ worth of fights, clearing out nearly 40 hours of space from my Pioneer hard-drive DVD recorder. Of course, some of that is intended overage to account for longer-than-expected live events but most of it consists of fight footage. Considering that this weekend is a monstrously busy one in terms of televised boxing I needed to get this done to avoid creating a giant-sized logjam.

I also received some good news regarding the new desktop computer for the Home Office: It will be arriving sometime next week. With Christmas on the horizon, the timing couldn’t be much better. The unit will replace one whose mother board died more than a month ago and while it’s been rough sledding I found ways to adjust and finish all of the time-sensitive work.

I began this trip at 11:10 a.m., 10 minutes later than I wanted because my final tasks took slightly longer than expected to finish. The weather was beautiful compared to last week – sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-30s – and the drive to Pittsburgh International Airport proceeded without incident. I was surprised to see plenty of empty parking spaces in the extended lot – there usually aren’t more than one or two in a given section – and after rejecting half-a-dozen slots I settled on one located three spots away from the 13C sign, necessitating a three-minute walk to the terminal.

I stopped at the Subway outlet in Terminal B to grab a late-afternoon lunch and by the time I finished I had less than an hour before the scheduled boarding time. As I approached my gate I heard perhaps the most bizarre announcement yet in my eight years of air travel: “Would the woman who left her trousers inside the restroom please claim them at the information desk at Terminal A?”

First of all, what woman wears trousers? Pants for sure, but I’ve never heard the word “trousers” associated with the fairer sex. Second, what circumstances would prompt her to leave them in the bathroom? Finally, if I were walking around without pants I’d be very hesitant to report to any information desk, much less one inside an international airport. At least she’d be easy to spot.

Because of the relatively short wait time I eschewed the writing in favor of talking with the woman seated to my immediate left (yes, she was wearing pants). She told me, among other things, she was traveling to Madrid through Philadelphia and she’d be staying in Spain for just 27 hours. She makes this trip about a half-dozen times per year in order to see family but I had to wonder just how much visiting one can do in such a short time. In her case, it’s apparently enough.

I was assigned 19A, a window seat approximately six rows from the back, and I spent the time reading my latest library acquisition, “Perfect: The Inside Story of Baseball’s 16 Perfect Games” by James Buckley Jr., which was written in 2002. Since then seven more gems were spun by Mark Buehrle, Dallas Braden, Philip Humber, Felix Hernandez, Randy Johnson, Roy Halladay and Matt Cain but that fact didn’t take away from the tales I read here.

The flight was scheduled to leave at 3:36 p.m. but it wasn’t to be. First, the plane that was to take us to Philadelphia couldn’t leave Philly on time because of the usual congestion. Then, once we boarded and rolled onto the runway, the pilot informed us the FAA denied us clearance to take off. Because of the late arrival in Pittsburgh the timing was thrown off in terms of securing the necessary airspace in relation to all the other planes heading there. At 4:03 – 27 minutes after boarding – the pilot told us we wouldn’t be taking off for at least another 40 minutes but that he’d be lobbying with the FAA to wrangle an earlier departure. His efforts apparently fell on unsympathetic ears.

One important difference between last week and now was that NBC arranged for runners to drive us from Philadelphia to Atlantic City and back, and the production memo provided us contact information for our assigned drivers. Thus, I was able to keep my driver apprised of the situation via text, which, I’m sure, made his life a bit easier. One of my pet peeves is waiting around for a late bird that doesn’t even bother to let me know why he’s late, so thank goodness I had the means to avoid being what I hate.

Once the plane got rolling at 4:42 it took just 45 minutes to land in Philadelphia. As soon as I reached the ground transportation area I called my ride, who told me he was in the white Ford Bronco parked 50 feet outside the door. He made excellent time thanks to relatively light traffic and by 7:10 I was in my second-floor room at Resorts.

While I had an excellent view of the Atlantic Ocean (something I didn’t know until the next morning), there were some minuses about the room. First, it didn’t have a work station so I set up shop on the second bed. Second, the TV’s remote was slow to react. Finally, no wireless Internet was available. However, the production memo said a connection could be achieved with the Ethernet cord located behind the TV.

I plugged in the cord and fired up the laptop. Nothing.

“Oh,” I thought. “I have a static IP address at home and I probably forgot to reset it to receive all IP addresses.” Once I did that I tried again. Nothing.

Over the next 20 minutes I tried every trick I’ve picked up over the years and the best I could do was to get to the hotel’s home page. The part where I normally would accept the terms and pay the charge was blanked out and I was unable to scroll down. I had reached an electronic dead end.

Thoroughly stumped, I called the front desk and asked them to connect me with their tech person. After being on hold for five minutes the connection suddenly cut off. I called the front desk a second time and was once again put on hold. Five minutes later, I was cut off again. On my third try I told the operator what happened and this time I was connected with a supervisor, who told me she would have the hotel’s computer specialist come to my room. He arrived 10 minutes later.

He confirmed that all the proper lights were lit and every connection involved was in order. I told him the laptop had worked perfectly when I used the Internet in Pittsburgh, which eliminated the possibility that something was amiss with my device. He then tried many of the same tricks I employed earlier and, like me, he came up empty. He told me the ancient hotel was in the process of transitioning to wireless but that system wouldn’t be up and running until at least Christmas.

After going through his repertoire of options he tried others he rarely employed. It didn’t matter though; nothing he did could secure a connection.

“In all my years using this system – and I’ve been here from the beginning – I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said. He gave me the number of the national help line in the hopes that their experts could figure out this mystery. Before departing he gave me a list of suggested questions intended to speed up the process.

To my delight, the phone actually worked. However, the national techs couldn’t make any headway either. We went through everything the local tech and I had tried previously and attempted one or two other options that got similarly negative results. He then put me on hold for several minutes to confer with his colleagues.

“We all put our heads together and we agreed that we’ve had never had a case like yours,” he said. “I don’t know what to tell you.”

“Thanks for trying at least,” I replied. As I hung up I couldn’t believe that my problems not only stumped the local specialist but also a battery of national experts. I guess when things go wrong with me, they go wrong big-time.

I called the front desk and asked if changing rooms would help my Internet situation. She told me that their system is hotel-wide, so one person’s problem is everyone’s problem.

Joy to the world.

With Internet access out of the question for the duration, I ordered room service and spent the rest of the evening watching the finish of the Philadelphia 76ers’ 108-100 loss to Toronto and a college football playoff game between Towson State and Eastern Illinois on a snow-covered field. Before I knew it I had drifted off, so at 12:30 a.m. I decided to shut off the lights for good.

Saturday, Dec. 14: Though I awakened at 7:30 a.m., I decided to doze until 8. Once I finished the morning routines I opened up the window and saw the weather was calm if a bit windy. I had a clear view of the boardwalk and the Atlantic Ocean and that prompted memories of my first CompuBox-associated trip to Atlantic City in August 2002, with the main event being David Tua’s 30-second destruction of Michael Moorer. Needless to say, much has transpired since that training session 11 years ago.

I spent much of the morning catching up on the writing I neglected to do last night because of the Internet issues and when I got to a good stopping point I went down to the business office to see if they had an electronic link to the outside world. They did, but for a price – $3.00 to start and more for additional time. Being the frugal type I did only what I needed to do and got out before the extra charges kicked in.

I then swung by the Superstar Theater to check out the set-up. Usually venues are accessible long before the event but here the doors were locked. I knew I was in the right area when I saw the ring through the cracks, so I returned to the front desk to see how I could get access. The clerk arranged for one of the security people to meet me and unlock the door. Once he did, all seemed in place. However, I learned that due to union rules the arena would not be opened until noon – and not a second sooner.

I got directions to the production truck and secured credentials for me and punch-counting colleague Aris Pina, who arrived by bus shortly after 11. I talked about my Internet issues with production manager Don Krone, who looked at me quizzically.

“I had no problems getting on the Internet,” he replied. Apparently this system works best with Windows XP and my laptop didn’t have that program. The moral: If you think you know something, you might find out you know nothing at all.

With the laminated VIP passes provided by NBC, Aris and I gained access to the employee lunch room and ate a small meal to tide us over. Getting there was a bit of a problem, for the route challenged the explanation skills of even the most veteran workers. However, as we hit the first hallway we found an employee who helped us navigate the maze. By the time we returned for a more comprehensive dinner a couple of hours later we were near experts.

As we waited for the fights to begin Aris and I talked with the timekeeper, alternate referees and one of the judges, all of whom sat nearby and made for excellent conversation. Other ringsiders who stopped by included ring announcer Joe Antonacci, Jack Obermayer (the Original Travelin’ Man) and Hall of Fame promoter J. Russell Peltz. Joe Quiambao of DiBella Entertainment spoke with us during the walk-out bout.

Our placement at ringside was somewhat unusual. We customarily are positioned near the center of a given row, whether at ringside or a row or two back, but here we were located beside the ring steps of the blue corner. Throughout the night we could hear every instruction and one occasion a corner man’s rush to get into the ring caused his foot to kick my laptop out of position. After I issued my displeasure, the offender apologized and peace was restored. From that point forward Aris and I kept close watch on the computer and no more incidents occurred.

The hoard of people at ringside also challenged my mobility. Between most rounds I write a statistical note to give to the blow-by-blow man (in this case Kenny Rice). Sometimes I hand it to a production assistant but since I was at ringside I needed to personally hand the note to Rice. He was sitting about 20 feet to my right and as the night went on more people positioned themselves in the path I employed. It got to the point where it became an obstacle course – I weaved to my left to get around the legs of a fighter’s team member, then around one of the network’s crew before finally giving the note to Rice. I then had to reverse course to make it back to my seat, usually by the 10-second whistle that notified us that the next round was about to begin. After a few rounds of this I got pretty good at it and it proved to be an unanticipated workout.

Despite those issues it was a good show and was pleased with the final results in terms of getting stats in. The night itself featured several interesting plot twists, all of which will be covered in detail in the next installment.

*

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 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.com to arrange for autographed copies.

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