Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Tuscany Chapter 1
Diary Sept. 21
I type because I can barely speak. My voice is like broken glass, shards of vowels and jagged consonants, only worsened by a wheezing, lingering cough and punctuated by eruptions of phlegm.
I can only pray that eight days in the Tuscan sun will rescue this situation. But I am bringing this shattered voice to the UCI World Road Championships, where I would announce for a week straight.
With more than 20 years experience announcing cycling events, I have developed a set of rules to protect a fragile voice. A voice for a professional speaker is like the arm of a professional pitcher; abused and then restored over and over and over. To protect the voice I have some rules I try to follow. Sadly I broke most of them in the days leading up to this important event.
RULE ONE: DO NOT SWAP SPIT
This chaos started in San Simeon, a lonely California beach town with a Twilight Zone fog that cloaks a hidden neon monster far worse than anything that lured Ulysses into danger. I write, of course, of the karaoke bar.
After working to produce another highly successful Best Buddies Challenge: Hearst Castle, I informed my two guest elite riders, Benny Swedberg and Tobin Ortenblad, that they would not be going up to the Hearst Castle for a dip in the Neptune pool as they hoped. Instead our two elite guest riders were asked to help load boxes from our registration tents. Deflated, they crinkled their pressed suits around the bags, tents, and boxes kindly.
"Grab that," I instructed, pointing to the massive team cup, a silver chalice presented to the highest fund raising team. "That will come in handy."
After a curious look, Tobin, got the cup. We loaded into my rental car and headed towards San Simeon, pulling into the San Simeon Inn, the only institution with a bar still open.
"Let's go," I said, trophy in hand. They were incredulous.
From outside we could see the patrons, most seated, arms folded, legs exhausted from work stretched out, faces flat in response to a dreadful attempt to sing a Roy Orbison song.
The patrons included about two dozen Latino men, most of our event staging crew, a handful of our charity riders who had pedaled 100 miles from Carmel to San Simeon. Despite the occasional attempts by an Elvis impersonator to de-fibrillate these flat-lined corpses, most were too exhausted to move... Or were they?
I strode into this neon blue haze triumphantly, hoisted the cup above my head as if I had just won Wimbledon, and planted it on the table. Swedberg and Ortenblad seemed stunned.
Then it started. Waves of my colleagues and friends and riders and clients entered by the car load. There was whiskey and beer involved, but I swear I kept steering towards ginger ale. I strode about the place giving folks photo ops with the trophy, and little by little this fostered an almost tribal cohesion. Inevitably, somebody filled the cup with beer. And with each song sung, rock 'n' roll, country, Mexican ballads, the cup went to the singer for congratulatory swigs...
After a day of announcing, I did my best "Get Off My Cloud," "Hey Ya," "Sweet Caroline," and even joined one of our ride teams we've nicknamed "The Mermaids" for a horrific rendition of "Girls Just Want to Have Fun."
The entire place veered out of control like a reckless bus of a party. Tired legs were renewed and dancing broke out, spilling into the sound equipment, the video monitors, and cocktail tables. The woman running the Karaoke with Elvis, an exhausted woman pushing 80 (and pushing it kinda hard), sat in a scowl as we smeared into her space. Upon learning my colleague Jon Brideau had turned 29 that day, Elvis crooned birthday wishes followed by shots of tequila.... which I wisely avoided.
Surprisingly no ankles were sprained. No glass was broken. No marriages were ruined. No cars crashed. And yes, unlike the 1924 Montreal Canadiens, I remembered to bring home the trophy from the party, which had become a Petri dish of bacteria and viruses shared by all.
That I did not contract smallpox is surprising. But the next morning, September 8, I could feel a monstrous infection growing in my respiratory system. As of this writing on September 25 the last cells of that bacterial terrorist organization remain active in my body.
RULE TWO: SLEEP
Sleep is the ultimate elixir for bodies, for minds, for souls .... and for voices. Screw that, right?
After the karaoke chaos, I collapsed into my room well after midnight. I have a problem in that regardless of when I go to bed or where I am on the planet my eyes flip open at roughly 5 to 7 a.m. EST.
Like .... any where.
This curse is so profound that I rarely turn on alarms. True to form, I bounce awake in San Simeon and go to work with a) getting everybody packed up, and b) getting my sorry ass to Northern California to visit with the Simpson family, my home away from home in California, and grab a redeye.
Mind you this would be the first of a redeye triathlon. I would do a redeye home from California and karaoke, work a week, ride my ass off, and then catch a morning flight to Las Vegas, a redeye home, and then another redeye to Europe.
By the time I arrived in Italy my sleep cycle had been so scrambled I could find myself nodding off or waking up at the most unusual times and places.
RULE THREE: HYDRATE
A key to anything involving your physical being - be it cycling, dancing, modeling, announcing, surviving, etc. - is to hydrate. Makes sense, right? But it is so easy to end up de-hydrated. I firmly believe that a lot of people's hunger is actually their thirst.
That does not mean I actually practice what I preach...
As I swirl towards the World Championship experience, I find myself drinking anything BUT the stuff I should be drinking.
To really enhance the dehydration process, I travel to the desert town of Las Vegas with about 3 percent humidity.
So I broke that rule, eh?
RULE FOUR: AVOID LOUD PLACES.
Crowded bars, night clubs, sports bars, and any environment that requires one to drive their voice to simply get over the din are brutal for announcers. I have an idea, let's go to the Interbike show in Vegas!
With that, let's just add I announced at 'Cross Vegas, watching Katerina Nash and Sven Nys provide a clinic on cyclo-cross.
That was followed by the next night announcing the USA Crits Final at Mandalay Bay, a phenomenal crit under the lights. I went from that event directly to the airport for a 1 a.m. flight.
Both events are promoted with a fanfare and production value rarely seen in American races, most of which are conducted as slaughterhouses with rider entries funding the entire enterprise. These evening events only showcase about four events on the card and then focus on fans. And there were 10,000-plus on Wednesday and 4,000-plus on Thursday. The bigger the crowd the harder you push. I push hard.
I pushed hard - really hard - both nights. I worked the first night with John Lefler and Larry Longo, two of the best in the business whom I fly in for Providence. The following night, I worked with Chad Andrews, whose enthusiasm for cycling drips off every word he utters.
As an aside I must say that seeing Dave Towle, who did the live webcast commentary, was a treat. He has a most infectious sense of humor that always results in me laughing hard enough to pass legumes through my sinuses.
So we broke that rule.
RULE FIVE: AVOID STRESS.
Have I mentioned I was serving as a production consultant for the inaugural Connecticut Cycling Festival held in Hartford while I was in Italy? My first pair of announcers backed out the week prior, and I had to scramble to fill their spots with two others. Fortunately I learned of the availability of Ian Sullivan, a new announcer I had yet to hear, and the legendary Joe Jefferson. I had to manage several details, write several checks, and leave several notes before I left for Vegas.
And yes, I'm heading up a great staff putting on the Providence Cyclo-cross Festival, which is like putting on an outdoor wedding for 5,000 to be held Oct. 4-6, about four days after I return from Europe.
So I fly to Paris, unable to sleep on that leg of the journey. I make the most confusing transfer in the world's most confusing airport, Charles Degaulle, to a small plane headed for Pisa.
Boom. I pass out. Like totally zonked to the point where I never even see Pisa for the landing and the staff have to wake me up so they can clean the plane.
Fogged over from the sleep, I stumble down the stairway to the glare of the Tuscan sun which strikes me as lot like Southern California but in miniature, and hop on a shuttle. I enter this modest airport's baggage area which is before we get to immigration, only to discover the bathroom is out of order. I really had to pee.
Although "AIR FRANCE" never appears on any monitor belts begin to whir about with luggage. Shuttle after shuttle empty. Belt after belt churns. I begin to realize half the folks here are American tourists, and most of those are over age 70. And most of those are really cranky about the bathroom the signage the luggage and generally the lack of a Denny's anywhere nearby.
My bags don't arrive.
I really have to pee.
But my beloved Firefly with S and S couplings making its European debut is lost. We manage to find my one suitcase but the bike is lost.
And framed by all those elements, I land in a country where I don't know the language, the geography, the customs, and a single human being, and prepare to announce the most prestigious single-day bike race in the world. In effect, I'm walking into a temple that will hold 300,000 people - of which 100,000 have an encyclopedic knowledge of cycling - and I'm expected to preach the sermon.
Avoid stress you say?
Check that one off.
Completely shattered with little sleep, no voice, a bladder full of urine, sinuses loaded with phlegm, and a cell phone loaded with text message and e-mails, I exit the baggage area without my beloved bike. The electric doors slide open and there stands an unshaven young man in a T-shirt with a piece of notebook paper scrawled with one word "FRIES."
Werner is Portuguese. I'm American. We're in Italy. We pile into a Skoda van, drop the windows, and head for Firenze (Florence). The Tuscan wind blows joy into my body. I'm revived.
And we're off. Welcome the 2013 UCI Road World Championships. Hang on.