Lee Groves

The Travelin’ Man goes to Montreal-part I

 

Bell Centre-635

 

Just six days after returning from Foxwoods, the Travelin’ Man was back on the road, this time to work the CompuBox keys for the two-channel quintuple-header topped by Adonis Stevenson’s stirring decision victory over Andrzej Fonfara in Montreal. The first of this two-part installment will address changing plans, sleeplessness, the “Redhead’s Computer Curse” and other assorted subjects as seen through one punch-counter's eyes.

Friday, May 23: As of a few weeks ago, this day was to ignite an “All hands on deck” weekend for us at CompuBox. I was scheduled to travel to Corpus Christi to work the HBO-televised Bryant Jennings-Mike Perez/Daniel Geale-Matthew Macklin doubleheader with Andy Kasprzak while CompuBox President Bob Canobbio and punch-counting colleague Aris Pina were slated to be in Montreal for Showtime’s Stevenson-Fonfara telecast. All that changed when Perez withdrew because of a shoulder injury suffered during sparring, a development that canceled the entire card – and apparently a Travelin’ Man adventure. Just a few hours after that door closed, another swung open when Bob asked me via email if I wanted to work the Montreal card in his stead. Of course, I said yes. After all, what self-respecting Travelin’ Man would turn down a trip?

The details of the outbound journey were as follows:

Pittsburgh to Philadelphia: Departure 9:25 a.m., Arrival 10:45 a.m.

Philadelphia to Montreal: Departure 1:38 p.m., Arrival 3:12 p.m.

These were chosen because I needed to be at the arena sometime after 4 p.m. Because of the two-and-a-half hour drive from home to Pittsburgh, the personal math was rather sobering. In order to make the 9:25 a.m. flight, I needed to be awake by 4 a.m., out of the house by five and at the airport by 7:30 to give myself the proper time cushion in case something goes wrong, either on the road (construction projects, wreckage cleanup, rush-hour traffic, etc.) or at the airport (longer-than-usual security lines, flight scheduling complications and so on). My degree of difficulty was heightened by the fact that, when left to my own devices, I seldom go to bed before 2 a.m. In other words, this confirmed night owl needed to morph into an early bird – and to do so literally overnight.

In my mind, I had two options: follow my normal schedule and stay awake for the duration or find a way to go to sleep earlier. I opted for the latter because I wanted to be alert enough to make the long drive to the airport. Luckily for me, in recent years, the urge to take mid-evening naps has developed, so I decided to let that habit work for me. If the Sandman struck a bit later in the evening, say around 10 p.m., I'd just go to bed at that time and hope I could get enough rest to make getting up at 4 a.m. much more workable.

The plan worked to perfection. My eyes began growing heavy around 9 p.m. and at that point, I amplified the illusion by doing some light reading in bed – a usual pre-sleep routine – before switching off the lights shortly before 10. Though I stirred awake at 1:30 and 3:30, I felt pretty decent when I finally got out of bed at 3:55.

With a bright, last-quarter moon rising in the sky, I left the house at five and because of lighter-than-usual traffic, I arrived at the airport 20 minutes ahead of schedule. I found a good spot two spaces beyond the 13C sign in the extended parking lot and reached my gate by 7:40.

Thanks to my “silver preferred” status on US Airways, I vastly improved my seating situation (from 20C to 4D on flight one and from 13C to 2A on flight two) when I checked into my flight yesterday online. The turns of good fortune had multiple layers on flight one; first, since row four was situated directly behind the first-class cabin, we enjoyed enormous leg room and second, my seatmate was a pretty, petite, bespectacled lawyer from Pittsburgh who regaled me with stories that included going on African safaris.

“The neat thing is that as long as you stay in the truck, the animals will get very close to you and you won’t be in any danger,” she said, “but if you step off the truck, they will eat you alive because they see that as an attack.” Good to know.

Although a Philly-ordered ground stop in Pittsburgh delayed our departure 15 minutes, the plane landed on time. My lawyer friend had an extremely tight connection window and since both of our gates were in Terminal F, we had to board a bus to avoid a second security screening. We groaned when we saw a line numbering in the hundreds waiting to board the bus but thankfully, looks ended up being deceiving. Since a pair of buses was waiting us at the bottom of the stairs, the line moved quickly and we were aboard within 10 minutes. While she hurried away to make her connection, I had approximately 90 minutes to burn. I stopped at the food court for a leisurely lunch and spent the rest of the time surfing the web and tapping away on the laptop.

For those who don’t travel internationally, one has to present the gate agent a boarding pass and passport long before the boarding process begins and to avoid being in the back of a very long line, I always keep my ears peeled for the announcement that starts that process. The plan worked as intended as I ended up being the fourth person in a queue that eventually reached dozens. At that time, passengers also pick up a customs form that must be filled out and presented to the agents in Montreal before being allowed to proceed. I always fill out the form immediately after getting it so I don’t have to bother with it later.

Here’s another helpful tip I use to ease the customs process: wear a boxing-related shirt to further validate the stated reason for being in the country. If one has a shirt bearing a fight recently staged in that country, all the better. For this trip, I sported the Jean Pascal-Lucian Bute shirt I bought in January and since I drew a male agent, it had the desired effect – a “nice shirt” comment and a complication-free stamp on my passport.

I did run into a brief problem when turning over my customs form to another agent, who was female and absolutely gorgeous (an aside: I’ve visited Montreal more than two dozen times over the years and I have yet to encounter an unattractive or even below-average looking woman, even when walking up and down the streets). I had the customs card in the same hand as my clothes bag and I tried to be overly efficient by handing her the form with my right thumb and index finger while holding the bag with the other three fingers. The result was a palsy-like shaking that drew her attention.

“Are you taking any medication?” she asked.

“No,” I said brightly. “Why do you ask?”

“Because your hand is shaking,” she said. “Are you all right?”

“Oh, I see what you mean,” I said. “The bag I’m carrying is a bit heavy for what I’m trying to do. I’m perfectly fine.” I thought about holding out my right hand to prove its steadiness but before I could do that, she let me proceed into the terminal.

The taxi line was unusually short and the cab driver, spotting heavy traffic along the usual route, informed me he was going to take an alternate path. Within 20 minutes, I was in front of the crew hotel, the Marriott Chateau Champlain. As I checked into my room, an old problem arose: a computer in my presence somehow froze up and quit working.

I wish I had a dollar for every time this happens because then I’d have enough cash to buy at least a couple of tanks of gas. I don’t know if it’s my aura or if maybe computers have an allergic reaction to red-headed males but this phenomenon happens far too often to chalk it up to chance. Thankfully, a second clerk – and a second computer – was able to complete the check-in process.

I stayed in my room just long enough to put my clothes bag down because I still needed to get to the Bell Centre, which I learned was just a three-minute walk away.

Once inside the arena – I had to access the media entrance in order to gain a green admitting wristband – I went to the production truck and completed the pre-fight checks within five minutes. No fuss, no muss and no drama. Did the equipment mistake me for Joe Carnicelli?

For those who don’t know, Joe, who served as the Executive Sports Editor for United Press International from 1966-1984, is the dean of traveling punch-counters with more than 18 years of experience. In all of my trips with him, I have yet to see him experience any electronic complications. His good computer Karma is far more powerful than my unintentionally bad vibes and his fantastic luck with machines is such that I coined a phrase for it – “The Carnicelli Effect.”

A few hours after walking back to the hotel, I stopped by a nearby food mart and picked up dinner – an Italian Supreme from the Tim Horton’s portion and chips, Diet Coke and a Snickers bar from the store portion. The Dinner of Champions. Then again, if that was the Dinner of Champions, what the heck was I doing eating it?

The remainder of the evening was enjoyable and uneventful. I watched the “Boxcino” finals on ESPN 2, did some more surfing on the web and switched the lights off shortly after 1 a.m.

Saturday, May 24: Given the 21-hour day I experienced yesterday, I was dead to the world for the next six-and-a-half hours. The overcast sky eventually gave way to a delightfully sunny day that brightened a morning I largely spent catching up on my writing. As soon as my 24-hour flight check-in window opened, I headed downstairs to print my boarding passes at the bellman's station.

Wouldn’t you know it? The computer/printer combination froze. The bellman was baffled by this but all I could do was shake my head with a wry smile. He allowed me to use his computer to check in a second time and once I was ready to print, he went back to his office to retrieve the forms. I noticed that the woman who used the machine after I did got her passes without any trouble. Hmmmm.

Earlier in the day, I messaged Aris to pass on information on how to get to the arena. I had thought his plane wouldn’t be in Montreal until after noon but it turned out I had misread the flight list – he was already in the hotel. So I sent him a message via Facebook to meet me in the lobby at 12:45 and walk over to the arena.

While waiting for Aris, I ran into Sports Media’s Rob Stuchbury, who was waiting for his colleague to meet him. While his co-worker showed up five minutes later, Aris was nowhere to be seen. Five more minutes passed, then 10, then 15. Finally, at 1:05 – five minutes past our call time at the arena – I approached the registration desk and asked them to call his room. No answer.

Because my cell phone doesn’t work outside the United States, I couldn’t call Aris’ cell directly. So I asked the one of the hotel clerks for Aris’ room number so I could knock on his door.

“I’m sorry, sir, we can’t do that,” she said. “It’s against hotel policy.”

I ended up calling the hotel operator, who then sent someone to knock on Aris’ door. Ten minutes later, I was told over the phone at the bellman's station that Aris wasn’t in the room.

“You are the only one on the island,” she said cleverly.

“OK,” I said to myself. “Aris must have thought I asked him to meet me inside the arena at 12:45.” So I went on my merry, if somewhat confused, way.

The Bell Centre’s media entrance is located near an active construction site and as I made my way down the second of two sets of stairs, a foreman told me to stop. Apparently the workers were in a middle of a procedure that would have endangered my safety had I proceeded.

So there I was, in a hurry to get where I needed to go but prevented by circumstance from moving ahead. I thought about finding an alternate route but to my mind’s eye, it appeared to be too long a walk to even bother.

A few minutes later, I was joined by a father and his young son.

“Could you ask the foreman (who spoke only French) if we could proceed anytime soon?” I said.

“I can’t but maybe my son can,” he replied.

But before he could try, another person joined us – Aris.

“Where were you?” I asked. “Didn’t you get my message about meeting me in the lobby at 12:45?”

“I never got it,” he said. “I went to the Tim Horton’s place near the hotel and got some lunch, then I walked here.”

“Well, at least you’re here now, so everything’s good,” I said, “except that this fellow is keeping us from moving on. Looks like there’s something dangerous going on above us.”

Not long after Aris arrived, the foreman allowed us to proceed on the condition that we stay close to the wall to our right. We happily complied.

Aris and I got our wristband credentials and arrived on the arena floor shortly before 1:30. Once our work station got a power strip, we got the green light that indicated all was well electronically.

Everyone on the crew was in for a long day because in reality, this was two shows emanating from one venue. The first show was a two-fight card to be aired on Showtime Extreme that featured light heavyweights Eleider Alvarez and Alexander Johnson in the co-feature and junior middleweights Julian Williams and Michael Medina in the main event. The second was a tripleheader aired on Showtime consisting of Jermell Charlo-Charlie Ota, David Lemieux-Fernando Guerrero and Adonis Stevenson-Andrzej Fonfara. If all the bouts went the scheduled distance, Aris would end up counting 54 rounds of action but my gut told me the final total would be much less.

It was less but not by much. Part two will address those events in greater detail.

*

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 12 writing awards, including nine in the last four years and two first-place awards since 2011. 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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