Lee Groves

The Travelin’ Man goes to Cleveland – Part I

Thursday, Feb. 20: Of all the shows I’ve worked the last seven years this one ranks as among the most nomadic.

Originally, this Don King-promoted card was to have taken place Feb. 7 in Biloxi, Miss., with the main event being Angelo Santana-Mark Davis and the co-feature being Amir Imam-Jared Robinson. But the deck was shuffled several times over the next few days. First the date and place was changed to Feb. 14 in Cincinnati. Then Mark Davis dropped out and was replaced by “Hammerin’” Hank Lundy, a rare late-sub upgrade in terms of name recognition, versatility and experience. Finally, the date settled on Feb. 21 and the location landed in Cleveland, with the Wolstein Center on Cleveland State’s campus serving as the venue.

The logistical bobbing-and-weaving also affected the good folks at Showtime, who had to book and re-book flights, rental cars and hotel reservations for dozens of people. Our crew hotel, the Hyatt Regency Cleveland at the Cleveland Arcade, was the fourth site reserved and the second in Cleveland alone.

Ironically, the final outcome greatly simplified my own travel plans. As originally constituted, I was to drive to Pittsburgh, take planes to Charlotte and Gulfport, Miss., and drive to the crew hotel. All that would have eaten up a majority of my waking hours. The back side of the trip looked even worse because the only Saturday flight to Charlotte out of Gulfport was to be at 6 a.m., which, given the late hour most ShoBox shows end, would have probably required me to pull an all-nighter.

The move to Cleveland took all of that away. Because I live in neighboring West Virginia, the multiple drives and plane rides were replaced by a single three-and-a-half hour car trip. No boarding passes. No security screenings. No flight delays. No unannounced gate changes. Even better: I could start my trips on my own schedule instead of having to heed an airline’s mandates. It was a wonderful change of pace.

The only foreseeable danger was the weather. Lake-effect snowstorms can strike Cleveland at any time, especially in February and especially during this particularly savage winter, but an improbable thaw removed that obstacle – at least for the time being.

With my trusty Magellan GPS resting on my lap, I pulled out of the driveway at 12:15 p.m. with the hopes of arriving in time for the scheduled 5 p.m. weigh-in. The route to the city limits was fairly simple: Take West Virginia Route 2 South to St. Marys, cross the bridge into Ohio, follow Route 7 South to Marietta and take I-77 North the rest of the way. Aside from having to weave around several cavernous potholes, this part of the trip went perfectly.

Unfortunately, that perfection wouldn’t last.

It had been a while since I experienced a “Travelin’ Man Adventure,” which occurs when I get so lost that I have to tap deeper resources in order to reach my final destination. These episodes were common in the years before I purchased my Magellan and while my troubles caused a lot of angst at the time it made for some entertaining stories. Who knew I was about to experience a flashback to the “good old days”?

All appeared well as I made the next-to-last turn toward where I thought the hotel would be. As I waited at the stop light I looked around for some tell-tale indication that the Hyatt was nearby – a large identifying sign, a parking garage – but I didn’t see any. After the light turned green and I drove a few yards further my Magellan announced “you have arrived.” But as I scanned my surroundings I knew that was far from true.

Because I was in the midst of big-city traffic I had no choice but to keep moving, all the while desperately looking for anything that would tell me the hotel was near. I couldn’t use my Magellan because it stopped tracking my route the moment I had “arrived” and to reset it I had to re-enter the entire address. We all know how distracting texting and driving are, so just imagine how impossible it would be to reset a GPS while on the move. I didn’t even try. Therefore, I was forced to navigate unfamiliar city streets on my own – and that’s never a good thing.

The maze of one-way streets only made my situation more complicated. With more than a few police cars patrolling the streets, U-turns were out of the question. So I had to shift to Plan B: Use a series of legal turns to loop around the area and hope that a few more drive-bys would show me where I needed to go.

My first attempt got me back onto the correct street – Superior Avenue East. I scanned for numbers on the various buildings to give me a clue as to how close I was to the building bearing the figure “420,” which, according to my printed directions, was the address of the Hyatt. I must have looked like a bobble-head with all the neck-swiveling I did, but my efforts still turned up empty. During my second pass through the area my eyes briefly captured the word “Hyatt” on a gray marbled surface to my right but because traffic was moving I couldn’t stop and make sure I saw what I thought I saw. So I was forced to make a third pass. Strike three. I ended up being more lost than I was the second time through.

Since Plan B wasn’t going to work, I shifted to Plan C: Take advantage of local knowledge.

As I tried to get back onto Superior Avenue East I spotted an open parking space to my right and pulled in. When I got out of the car I saw a Federal Express driver carrying a package toward one of the buildings across the street. “Who better than a Fed Ex driver to ask directions?,” I thought, so I decided to wait and try to catch him as he came out. I gave up on that idea after a few minutes and opted to try another gambit: Go inside another building across the street and hope that someone there had a good sense of direction.

The first person I spoke with, a young lady manning the entrance, couldn’t help me. But I was in luck because as we spoke an off-duty UPS driver was passing by. She called out to him to catch his attention and after explaining the situation he agreed to help me.

Speaking with a “Da Bears” Chicago accent, the driver pointed out the first series of turns I needed to make in order to get to the right area. After thanking him, I proceeded to make those turns. This time, I saw a parking garage to my left and, on a whim, I decided to pull in. I glanced to my left and saw a button that would connect me with a garage attendant.

“Excuse me, but is this the parking garage for the Hyatt Regency?” I asked. My question prompted the attendant to come out and meet me face to face. He confirmed that it was the correct garage but since Showtime was paying for valet parking he advised me to pull up in front of the hotel, which was located about 50 feet ahead.

I breathed a sigh of relief. This time I had arrived.

I hurriedly packed my belongings as the valet gave me a card bearing the numbered spot where my car would be parked. Knowing that the production memo didn’t pinpoint a location for the weigh-in, I asked the clerk at the registration desk whether she knew if it was being held at the hotel. She didn’t, and neither did another employee I asked as I neared my fourth-floor room.

As for my troubles spotting the hotel, I later learned I wasn’t the only one. When I asked the clerk why more prominent signage wasn’t used she replied that the hotel’s hands were tied. The reason: It was situated within a historic property, which limited their remodeling options.

To solve this mystery regarding the weigh-in location I called the ultimate source: Executive Producer (and friend) Gordon Hall. He told me the weigh-in would be staged at the Marriott Residence Inn, which ended up being a five-minute walk from the Hyatt. As I sought the location I overheard someone say “they’re weighing the fighters up there right now.” At that I stopped and asked the man to repeat himself, which he did. By following a series of printed signs I arrived at the proper location, the Smith Room, around 4:45.

Several dozen people had already gathered in anticipation of the scheduled 5:00 p.m. weigh-in and before finding my seat I talked with a couple of friendly faces – photographer Tom Casino and the lovely and talented graphics specialist Mary Swinson. A few minutes later I heard someone say, “here he comes.”

Lundy-Santana-weighin_Casin

“He” was promoter Don King, who, at age 82, still has the capacity to light up a room. The Hall of Fame promoter was accompanied by a sizeable group which included another Hall of Famer in Larry Holmes. Wearing a light-blue denim sequined jacket and carrying several small flags in each hand, one couldn’t help but hear his booming voice and his trademark cackle as he went from person to person.

When I first walked into the room I noticed a giant screen hanging on one of the side walls and King’s arrival made it clear why it was there: The promoter was scheduled to participate in a “Google Hangout” session in which the centerpiece was an interview that was to be beamed worldwide. The image on the screen was choppy and was three seconds behind real time but if one looked closely one could see the back of my head, which, thankfully, still has no bald spot.

The interview lasted a half-hour and if one counts the pre-event festivities the weigh-in didn’t start until 5:45. The group I felt most sorry for was the fighters, who were forced to delay replenishment for an extra 45 minutes. One fighter I especially sympathized with was Lundy, who was returning to 135 after two fights at junior welterweight. Thankfully for Lundy, he and Santana were the first to weigh in.

While Santana scaled 134, Lundy, who originally weighed 135½, had to shed his underwear in order to make the contracted 135. They then moved a few feet to their left to engage in the customary stare-down and to pose for pictures with King and Holmes. However, those plans went awry when a scuffle broke out between the fighters and their camps. The melee ended seconds after it begun and in the end no harm was done.

Because several fighters weren’t present at the weigh-in, the rules meeting was rescheduled for the following day. After saying hello to several other friends I returned to the hotel, ordered room service and spent the rest of the evening channel surfing.

I don’t know if it was the unusually comfortable mattress or whether the strains of the day had caught up with me, but I ended up turning out the lights shortly before 11 p.m. – far earlier than the customary 2:30 a.m.

Friday, Feb. 21: For once, I slept like a stone. I began this day eight-and-a-half hours after the last ended and I spent most of the morning catching up on the writing I didn’t feel like doing the night before. When I got to a good stopping point I strolled around the hotel property to find a place to get lunch that struck my fancy. I ended up stopping at Presto Sandwiches, a big-city diner with small town charm.

The first thing I noticed was the enormous chalk board used to detail the menu. The second thing I noticed were the unique names employed for the various dishes:

  • The “Yo! Adrian” (pepperoni, ham, salami, roasted peppers and onions, fresh mozzarella and basil mayo)
  • The Warrior (smoked turkey, black forest ham, roast beef, bacon, gouda cheese, tomato, onion and pepper mayo)
  • Chicken Black and Blue (spicy chicken, hot sauce, blue cheese, roasted peppers and onions)
  • Ham I Am (black forest ham, Swiss cheese, tomato, red onion, grain mustard mayo)
  • The Big Mensch (beef pastrami, spicy coleslaw, Swiss cheese and chipotle mayo).
  • The Manly Man (roast beef, bacon, roasted peppers and onions, Pepper Jack cheese and grain mustard mayo)
  • The Veg Head (artichoke hearts, avocado, tomato, roasted red peppers and onions, goat cheese and basil mayo)
  • Elvis the Pelvis (crunchy peanut butter, bananas and honey)
  • The Kiss the Chef Salad (mixed greens, turkey, roast beef, ham, bacon, tomato, red onions, crumbled blue cheese and creamy garlic dressing)

How could I resist with a menu like that? As I read through it I thought about “The Original Travelin’ Man” Jack Obermayer, who often included diner reviews in his columns. Since he wasn’t there, I figured I’d give it a shot.

Though I was tempted to get the “Yo! Adrian,” I went with the eight-inch Warrior, a bag of sour cream and onion chips and a Styrofoam cup of Diet Coke. I found a table just outside the shop and engaged in people watching. The sandwich and soda were terrific but I didn’t care much for the chips, which didn’t have much of the flavor I expected. That’s no bad reflection on the diner because they weren’t the ones who made the chips. What they made was quite tasty.

A few moments after finishing my meal I spotted Showtime analyst Steve Farhood at the bottom of the stairs. Through him (and production coordinator Nikki Ferry, who he called on his cell), I found out where to park and to get credentials for myself and punch counting partner Aris Pina.

I texted Aris to let him know I was waiting in the lobby and he arrived shortly after 2 p.m. Twenty minutes later we pulled into the parking garage across from the venue, found our ringside spot and prepared for a potentially long and late night at the fights.

*

Photo / Tom Casino-SHOWTIME

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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