The Fast and the Curious: Part Two

The Daily Beast likes my persistence hunting story in the May issue of Outside. That’s cool, because the hunt is continuing this summer. A crew has been assembled to produce a documentary film on the guys’ second attempt at making antelope-human history on the plains of eastern New Mexico. Stay tuned. This August, it’s gonna get hot.

Good Dog Dept.

Last weekend, I visited Pitfall Kennels, a 25-acre dog breeding preserve in Fairburn, Georgia, run by the little brother of Outkast’s Antwan “Big Boi” Patton. James Patton—who raps under the moniker ‘Lil Brotha’—does the daily work (40 pounds of digested dog food makes a lot of poop) required to raise the two or three dozen blue pits that the brothers sell to people like Jermaine Dupri and Young Jeezy, for $2-3K each. James, pictured below with Crown Royal, is extremely friendly and knowledgeable about the sweet, misunderstood breed. (I grew up with a pit; I speak from experience.) His dogs have names like Space Ghost and Angelina Jolie.

This Just In: James Beard Award Finalist

Atlanta magazine’s July 2010 barbecue cover package, edited by Bill Addison, was nominated for a James Beard award in the Food Culture/Travel category. It included two pieces by me, one of which is below. I recommend reading it outside, beside a flame and a hunk of seasoned meat, as soon as possible.

Winners will be announced in New York on May 6.

Dept. of Sisyphean Tasks

Last August, I traveled to Mosquero (“swarm of flies”), New Mexico, to watch nine elite distance runners—two with marathon personal bests six minutes behind the world record—attempt to run down the second fastest animal on earth. This pursuit of pronghorn antelope, called persistence hunting, is chronicled in the May issue of Outside magazine, and available here.

Below is an outtake from the hunt, by photographer Ryan Heffernan. Shortly before this picture was taken, a local rancher, watching the proceedings, asked if the person who came up with the plan was “smoking dope.” Nope. Perfect lungs all around.

John Rocker’s House

John Rocker, now 36, lives in the suburbs of Atlanta.

I’m profiling him, eleven years after his Sports Illustrated meltdown, in the May issue of Atlanta Magazine. For the profile, I talked to Jeff Pearlman, author of the infamous SI piece; Otis Nixon, former coke addict, Braves outfielder, and Rocker’s unlikely best friend; as well as a number of other bit players in the pitcher-turned-real-estate-developer’s rocky life.

Below, the vitals on Rocker’s pad, from the man himself:

House is in Dunwoody
3 stories hard coat stucco
Pool and hot tub are actually elevated above the basement. (how they did that I have no idea)
3 car garage.
25 foot ceilings in foyer and main living area
4 bedrooms
4 full baths
2 half baths
Mainly hardwood and marble floors
Approximately 7,000 square feet

Nothing obnoxious, but nice enough. It’s a perfect house for a single guy. I never really got into buying a lot of elaborate stuff.

Dept. of Pleasant Surprises

Just learned that my story about the death of John Celmer (“Final Exit“)—which appeared in the March 2010 issue of Atlanta magazine—has been named a finalist in the “Reporting” category of the 2011 City and Regional Magazine Association (CRMA) Awards.

Atlanta magazine, where I’m a contributing editor, picked up six finalist nominations. Winners will be announced in Chicago, at the annual CRMA conference, on April 30th. More info on finalists here.

The Krispy Kreme Challenge, Regurgitated

A year ago this Saturday, I ran a race called the Krispy Kreme Challenge. I think the name conveys its unique “challenge” satisfactorily, but I wrote about it for Runner’s World magazine if you’d like the nauseating details. The article appeared this month, and has received a lot of, ahem, feedback. Some harrowing pics by Jeff Zimmerman below. Warning: not all of the doughnuts stayed down.

Holyfield’s Latest—and Perhaps Last—Fight

This past Saturday, forty-eight-year-old Evander Holyfield fought his fifty-sixth professional boxing fight. In his twenty-seven-year career, he’s fought an average of twice a year, though that frequency has slowed considerably over the past decade, as many have called for the retirement of the former four-time heavyweight world champion. He’s lately landed in the headlines most often for money owed to ex-wives and the drama of keeping his palatial home in south Atlanta, on Evander Holyfield Highway, out of foreclosure.

For his second fight against Mike Tyson, which took place at the MGM Grand in 1997, Holyfield made $35 million. (It lasted just nine minutes, and Holyfield was declared the winner by forfeit when a small chunk of his ear was forcibly removed by Tyson’s canine teeth.) This was a personal high point, both in terms of payoff and the pugilist’s demonstrated skill. This past weekend, against journeyman Sherman “The Tank” Williams—a short, well-spoken 38-year-old Bahamanian who looks more like a porter than a boxer—Holyfield made a small fraction of that: an estimated $500,000.

The fight took place at a 230-year-old, 6,500-acre mountain resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virgina. The Greenbrier has hosted twenty-six presidents through the years, but never a boxing match.

This event, curiously, was given the name “Redemption in America: The Journey Back Begins Now.” It wasn’t entirely clear who was being redeemed, or coming back: The hotel? The little, no-name boxer from the Bahamas? The old, big-name boxer from Atlanta? Holyfield had lost two of his last three fights, though his single win did earn him the lightly regarded World Boxing Federation’s heavyweight belt, which has historically been the pride of journeymen just like Sherman Williams.

How did one of the greatest heavyweights of all time get here, defending a belt no one cared about against a boxer no one had heard of? Read my profile of Evander Holyfield, “The Believer,” in the February issue of Atlanta magazine to find out. Below is a diary of my impressions of Holyfield’s latest—and perhaps last—fight, which took place after the profile of the boxer went to press.

10:45 p.m. Ringside. Michael Jordan is said to be here, somewhere. I can see overweight former world champion Larry Holmes thirty yards to my left, and hall of famer Lennox Lewis, whose trademark dreadlocks have receded in retirement, just across the ring to my right. Evander, who years ago fought both Holmes (winning) and Lewis (twice: drawing and then losing), is in a back room praying. He’s older than many of the extravagantly arrayed people—in derby hats and tuxedos—who’ve shelled out as little as $500 and as much as $20,000 to see what could be Holyfield’s last, protracted dance here in this makeshift Appalachian MGM. A man nearby downs a highball and calls for blood. Any blood.

11:19 If a 7’1’’ 300-pound boxer falls in a ring in White Sulphur Springs, WV, does he make a sound? Yes. The penultimate fight of the night has come to a gory close, as Travis Kauffman fells long, tall Julius Long, soon after the giant’s nose opened up. The canvas has now been seasoned red for the main event.

11:22 A fog machine is spraying a fine mist into the ballroom in order, one presumes, to approximate the smoky atmosphere of the hallowed Vegas rings 2,243 miles away. But the lights are still bright enough to make out the faint cellulite on the exposed posteriors of the “Real Deal Dancers” shaking around the room.

11:24 The Edwin Starr classic, “War” (What is it Good For? Absolutely Nothing!), rings out from the mouth of former Springsteen band member, Clarence Clemons. It’s at least an hour past Holyfield’s normal bedtime.

11:39 Finally, the challenger enters. Sherman Williams looks nearly a half-foot shorter than Holyfield, but he’s 34 pounds heavier. Built like a fire plug. Reggae music blares for the fighter and his entourage draped in the aquamarine, gold and black colors of the Bahamas flag. He is not an impressive sight, but he doesn’t look scared.

11:40 Holyfield enters to the song, “I’m still standing after all this time.” He’s wearing a red cloak, and he’s in a sweaty lather. He doesn’t smile, or look anywhere but straight ahead, in a seeming trance. Perhaps he’s praying, as he often does in the ring. His four-man entourage includes nephew and confidante Mike Weaver, who has been with him throughout training. None of them looks especially confident.

11:43 Singer/actress Tasha Taylor performs the national anthem in the middle of the ring, standing between Holyfield and Williams. Holyfield claps with gloved hands when it’s over but continues to scowl.

11:48 The ring announcer reads through Holyfield’s storied resume (the wins over Buster Douglas, George Foreman, Larry Holmes, Riddick Bowe, John Ruiz, and Mike Tyson twice), his voice nearly breaking as he says “a record four-time heavyweight champion of the world!” Holyfield stands silently. He wants a fifth, then, as he’s said many times, he’ll retire. All he can think about is the fifth: a better number than four, and one which will put him out of reach in boxing history.

11:49 The first round begins. Holyfield bounces around, looking spry. Certainly not 48-years-old. He misses with a few punches, but they look pretty good. Williams stands back, watching his dancing foe, trying to feel out which version of Holyfield he’s fighting.

11:50 Williams takes a punch after the referee has tried to split the clinched boxers, and the blow nearly hits the stunned ref, Dave Johnson. The first round is a toss-up as far as points go. Holyfield may have had it by a slight margin. In any case, it appears this will be a well-contested bout.

11:53 The second round begins. By the sound of it, there are plenty of Williams fans in the crowd: they erupt when the Bahamanian begins making contact with some punches. Holyfield lands a good chin shot, but Williams closes the round with a decisive flurry of blows to the ex-champs’s body—which is bouncing a little less confidently now—and perhaps one to the head, taking the round in points.

11:57 The third round begins. Holyfield is slow to get off his stool and return to action. Finally, he’s up and facing Williams. Holyfield’s reactions seem a split-second late now, but he manages to dodge a few huge swipes from Williams’ right hand. Then one connects over Holyfield’s left eye, which is visibly bleeding. Williams seems to have turned a switch, and goes after Holyfield with rapid-fire right hand shots to the body and head. Holyfield returns a few, but Williams is in control. Just before the bell, Williams lands a hard overhand right, which sends Holyfield onto his back-foot. He remains upright, but it’s unclear how firmly he’s standing, or what he’s thinking, as the bell sounds.

12:01 a.m. Mayhem in the ring. Holyfield isn’t returning for the fourth round. The cut over his left eye, his team seems to have communicated to the ref, is interfering too much with his vision. Was it caused by a punch, though, or a head-butt? This makes a difference in the outcome. It’s been judged the latter, and the man who fought through a bitten ear back in 1997 is done for the day. Some of the Williams camp, still thinking it’s a technical knockout (TKO), declares victory. When they realize it’s been judged a “no contest,” they jump up and down in anger and disgust. If a fight ends this way before the fourth round—with an accidental blow that causes a fight-altering injury—there is no winner. Such are the rules of boxing, which Holyfield has, perhaps, used to his advantage to escape a fight he was losing. It’s the first “no contest” of his career, and he quickly departs with his nephew amid a chorus of boos from the crowd, wearing his blood red cloak, after saying this:

“I’m cut. He head-butted me. He came down on me with his head. I don’t know about my next fight [March 5 vs. Brian Nielson in Denmark]. I’m cut, I’m cut. I’ll give Sherman a rematch. Stuff like this happens and I’ll shake it off. Hopefully, I’ll get this stitched up and it won’t be a problem. Life goes on, it’s part of boxing.”

12:03 A new day has dawned, just a few minutes old, and an old fighter disappears once more.

12:30 Sherman Williams, who calls the fight a circus, steps up to the microphone: “I was fighting a legend and I can’t take anything away from him. I feel like I should have won by TKO. I cut him with an overhand right, but I respect him. I root for him. He’s almost 50 and still training and performing. I admire what he’s done, but it’s time to let younger guys fight and older guys do television commentary … Mr. Holyfield shouldn’t be taking punches from younger guys. That’s how I feel. It’s time for him to move on but, if he wants, we can do it again.”

12:35 Minutes later, away from the mic, Williams says to a much smaller group of listeners: “By the fifth round, I woulda put the old man flat on his face. But it was all about him. I’m a big boy and I ain’t gonna waste money protesting something they won’t turn around. He got whooped. He don’t wanna see me no more.”

Jump Ship: Ranch for Sale in Mosquero, NM

The essential details: “920 acres with two houses, lots of water & wildlife for $339,000. We would also consider selling 2,886 acres at $359.00 per acre. This is well below appraisal, & we will retain mineral & wind rights.”

I reported a story there last September for Outside magazine, and can vouch for the property’s stark beauty and utter remoteness. Also: the prevalence of tarantulas and rattlesnakes. Would be a great place to ride out Y3K, if humankind makes it that far.

Contact cowboy owner Ernest Trujillo: springtrujillo@yahoo.com

(Mosquero, by the way, means swarm of flies.)

Colt in Haiti, the Longer Version

Last October, I went to Haiti with Johnny Colt, the founding bassist of the Black Crowes. Colt is now an “all platform journalist,” and he was in Haiti doing what he calls journalism. (It was his second trip, and he’s since been back, iReporting for CNN.) Here’s a slightly longer version of the little story about Colt, and that trip, that’s appearing in Rolling Stone next week. This one talks more about Haiti—though still not enough—which the magazine apparently wished to minimize.

***

An aging rock star walks into a cemetery in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where the living now sleep among the dead. He has no entourage, or agenda. He looks around. Funeral mausoleums are being used, like everything else, for shelter, and their residents eye us as we pass, some calling out “Argent.”

It’s half plea, half fact: we’re the likeliest source of money many have seen in months—that ballyhooed $10 billion in promised aid included. The rock star, Johnny Colt, founding bassist of the Black Crowes, is standing over what we’re told is the resting place of former Haitian president Francois Duvalier. An old man extracts the coffin from the rubble, opening it. He rummages around and removes a skull, a piece of which falls to the ground. Colt, dressed in all black, with a scarf around his neck, photographs the alleged remains of a president among what’s left of a country.

“This is it,” he says back in the car, dripping sweat, baring gold teeth. “This is rock ’n roll, man.”

Moments later, a fourteen-year-old “mystic” named Mambu is swaying and moaning before a Haitian crowd. The heat is oppressive. Human decay hangs in the air. Colt puts some money in Mambu’s pocket. She takes his hands, rubbing them with wine. Then she hands him the bottle, and he puts fourteen years of sobriety to his lips. (“I didn’t swallow,” he says.) Colt looks over at me—I have the camera now—to make sure it’s capturing the Voodoo ritual into which he’s stumbled. As in Kyrgyzstan, where he was pursued by armed militants, and the Gulf of Mexico, where he evaded the Coast Guard, Johnny Colt is in over his head chasing a story, and thrilled.

“Fear isn’t going anywhere,” he tells me back at the hotel. “One school of thought says turn into the fear. I try to do that.” For Colt, music was good, but this—‘rock star journalism’ you could call it—is better. “Keith Richards used to be my god. Now it’s [war photographer] James Nachtwey.”

In this otherwise unremarkable 37th week since a 7.0 Earthquake struck Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, on January 12th, killing at least 200,000 and leaving some 1.5 million homeless, there are few American journalists around, and fewer still in the rubble. They were here at the six-month mark and will return, presumably, at the one-year anniversary. Though he chafes at the term journalist—both because of its limitations, and his own—Colt, 44, has earned it by repeatedly reporting from places like Haiti and the Gulf, where all this began on a whim seven months ago.

Taking a break from music—he was most recently in Train (lead singer Pat Monahan called him ‘The Wolf:’ “Give Johnny a problem and he’ll clean up the mess”)—Colt has already spent at least $30,000 of his own money traveling the world for stories: flooding in Pakistan, female circumcision in Niger, bounty hunting in Vegas. He broadcasts them on his web site, and, increasingly, through CNN’s iReport system. He takes stills and talks, while his old buddy and foil Harold Sellers (“I’m the guy who says, ‘Don’t go there,’ as we’re going in”) shoots video. Colt solicits advice from various bureau chiefs and state department contacts, but ultimately follows his gut.

Take Gaston, our Haitian driver and “translator,” who speaks almost no English: Colt “just felt a connection” with him at the airport. Gaston smiles and nods often, contemplating the obscure motives of his Caucasian cargo. In this way, he’s like us, left wondering: What’s Johnny Colt up to? Could the man with “Truth” tattooed on his neck, who coaches his daughter’s soccer team, teaches yoga, practices martial arts, and sells real estate when he isn’t rocking out be the future of news? Gaston doesn’t know, or care: he’s just trying to dissuade Colt from visiting more graveyards.

Colt keeps seeing people he met the last time he was in Haiti, three months ago: Yves, the scowling gangster, beside a tent camp; Jean, the smiling grave guide, outside the cemetery; Peter, the grief-crazed man covered in debris, looking for his long-dead family. He shakes their hands, speaks the little French he knows, flashes his gilded grin. The camera pans.

This is the most important work he says he’s ever done.

“If I keep it up I’ll figure out how to host,” Colt laughs. He’s watching film in the Kinam Hotel with Sellers, jacked up on Ragaman, the local Red Bull. “This is our version of the fucking news!”

“I guess I should go downstairs and try to send some of this shit,” Sellers responds.

CNN doesn’t know what to expect. But it’s free. “We must be retarded,” Colt says. “This business model doesn’t work.” They laugh, not caring. Maybe a Travel Channel show is in their future. To hear Sellers tell it, though, they’re motivated by curiosity: “How spoiled we are and how little we know about the world.” Pause. “I have a system, but then there’s the Johnny factor.”

The last night, Johnny is restless, checking his Blackberry. He wants to sleep in one of the 1,300 tent camps where mostly middle class Haitians are surviving: teachers, government employees, doctors. When it rains, which happens often, they bail out their shanties, which fill with contaminated water. Colt will capture this on film. It will be his scoop.

Suddenly it starts to pour, and Colt is on his feet. We rush to a small camp called Seville, in the shadow of the U.S. Embassy, with two of his fixer friends in Haiti. Minutes later, Colt steps inside a scrap metal shanty filling with water. He’s says to the man inside, a teacher: “So you’re telling me that when it rains here, most of the people sleep standing up?” Yes, the man smiles, despite it all.

Merci beaucoup,” Colt says, when we finally leave. It’s the only French he knows, but it gets the message across.