Monday, May 24th, 2004, 12:02 pm
When Hunter S. Thompson went to Las Vegas on the trip (both literal and pharmacological) that became Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas he actually had an event to cover–the Mint 500 motorcycle race. Thompson (or, to be more (or less) accurate, Thompson’s alter-ego Raoul Duke) went out to the desert with other members of the sporting press, watched the first group take off, rooster-tails of dust kicked up 50 feet in the air, and then watched the second, the third…and by then the dust was so thick you couldn’t see 10 feet in front of your face.
Add the fact that the race was conducted over a huge, barren stretch of desert and it didn’t take Duke long to realize that covering the race as a typical sports event was ludicrous. In the movie we see Johny Depp careening around the course in a dune buggy with his enthusiastic photographer, Lacerda, who joyously snaps photos of the dun-colored murk surrounding them. When Duke shouts to turn back, Lacerda screams, “No! We need TOTAL COVERAGE!”. And Duke comes to what he says is an important decision. He says, “You’re fired”. He jumps out of the buggy muttering, “Stupid jackass”, and as the buggy speeds away Duke discovers, to his great dismay, that the mug of beer he has been so carefully protecting with his hand has, despite his best efforts, been changed to a thick, grey sludge.
Covering an event of such sprawl and chaos is a nightmare for a journalist, and its the sort of horror that Andy Glazer is going through right now at the World Series of Poker. If you’ve been reading Glazer’s reports you know that, at times, he’s been unable to report as accurately or as thoroughly as he’d like because the number of folks playing in them has gotten totally out of hand. Throw in the fact that ESPN tapes the final table of each event, preventing Glazer from getting a really good look at the table or what’s going on, adds to the problem.
But the troubles he’s had so far pale in comparison to the madness that is the Main Event, the $10,000 buy-in Championship. Over 2,500 players entered this year, more than three times as many as last year’s massive tournament. How a journalist could hope to report on 250 different tables and keep track of the rapidly-changing chip counts of thousands of players is beyond me. And, apparently, beyond Glazer–he admits several times in his most recent posts that he doesn’t have all the info he needs, nor can he be exactly sure that what he has is accurate.
Add to this insanity the fact that Glazer actually played in the World Series, and you can perhaps appreciate why the Day One report was a little sketchy in places. Fortunately for his loyal readers, Glazer got knocked out on that first day, which I guess isn’t so fortunate for him.
I can empathize a bit with Glazer, because I too was once in the position of covering an event that was way, way, WAY too big for one person to cover. When I was at Penn State I was a sports writer for the Daily Collegian (if you want to read any of my old articles just put my name in their search engine, tho, let’s be honest, why would you?) and during the summer after my sophmore year I stayed there to edit the sports page for the summer edition and, hopefully, take my spot as an editor in the fall. It ended up being one of the transformational experiences of my life, in a totally negative way.
First of all, my co-sports editor as a total Grade-A asshole who was both grossly incompetent and also possessed a Napoleon complex. I’d find notes in my office mailbox saying things like, “Sports meeting at 6PM, attendance is MANDATORY”, even though the sports staff was me, him, and the guy I was rooming with that summer who had more experience than both of us combined. He and the asshole locked horns from the getgo, and pretty soon my buddy quit and left me to deal with this jerk on my own. I, being a decent guy who never thinks ill of anyone, did not count on the politicking and talking behind my back that was to follow.
I did my job, wrote some good stories, learned how to layout pages and size photos and whatnot, and ended up spending many nights at the office to 3AM fixing the idiots mistakes. The one I remember most distinctly, the one that really infuriated me, was one time when he ran a photo of Frank Viola standing on the mound, but spread the photo across four columns, meaning Frankie V’s face would have been distended like Phyllis Diller’s. The shop called me to fix the problem, knowing the idiot wasn’t capable of such quick action, and after I did it they called up again. Unfortunately the idiot picked up the phone, and announced to the whole newsroom, “Gene, it’s Rich again calling about the picture you messed up. Again”. I should have killed him on the spot.
The event that broke my spirit was the Special Olympics, which were held at Penn State. Perhaps the only sporting event that hasn’t debased itself to money, drugs, or win-at-all-costs competitiveness, I went to a planning meeting figuring we’d write some nice story about the event as a whole, maybe a column by yours truly extoling the virtues of these athletes, that sorta thing.
No. The idiot said that we’d be covering the SO as a sporting event. He wanted us to run like 5 stories a day for 3 days, game stories, features, columns. The other editors bought it. I pointed out the fact that the sports staff consisted of me, an idiot, and a freshman intern who didn’t know how to turn on the computer. No matter, we were going to provide, you guessed it, total coverage.
I still have nightmares about that day. I mean, technicolor and surround-sound horror dreams, the kind you wake up from screaming and they stay with you for three days. The events were spread out all over campus. You had swimming at the Natatorium, basketball at Rec Hall, soccer at the intramural fields, softball at the softball fields…these facilities are miles apart from each other. I was only one kid. Without a car.
The idiot picked the Natatorium for his reporting, leaving me with about 9 other venues to cover. Either he didn’t realize that this was a bit unfair or didn’t care. Neither option helped me much. Nor did the fact that the events I went to weren’t run like your typical sporting event. Like, I had a hell of a time finding out who was keeping score. There was no centralized record-keeping of winners, results, participants. If I wanted to know who won the race I just saw I had to track down a different person every time and try to get the information out of them. 90% of the time they didn’t know either. Add to this the fact that I didn’t have a press pass or anything and that many of the organizers didn’t want me anywhere near the athletes and you can begin to understand my problems.
And my problems were legion. I ran around University Park for nearly 10 hours in a broiling hot sun, scribbling notes hither and yon, never getting enough info about a single event to come up with a coherent or accurate account of what happened. I was expected to come up with a half-dozen articles from this thing, and I didn’t have enough info to put on a postcard.
That day I think ended my ambitions to be a reporter. I just don’t really enjoy going up to total strangers and asking them questions. And I had to do that about 3000 times that day. It’s difficult interviewing a 12-year-old girl, especially when she has Down’s Syndrome, even moreso when she’s obviously overjoyed because she just ran a race and did well and everyone around her is happy for her. Except for the doofus with the notepad trying to write down what she’s saying to her mother. I felt like the biggest idiot in the world, trying to find out who won a race when who wins and loses isn’t the point–it’s the act of participating that counts.
The straw that broke this particular camel’s back came when I was near the softball fields and saw the people giving kids pony rides. There were thousands of volunteers wearing light blue T-shirts, and I saw three of the other editors leading beaming children on little gray ponies around the field. Those bastards were having a spiritually uplifting experience and I was having a nervous breakdown.
I was never the same again. Really. I explained the next day why I had nothing to write about, and dared them to criticize me. If they had I would’ve gone batshit and probably gotten arrested. The idiot wrote a sleep-inducing 15-inch story about the swimming and nothing else. I survived the rest of the summer by avoiding the idiot and then, once school began, ended up in a power struggle with him for control of my little section of the sports page. I soon discovered that the powers-that-be weren’t willing to take him on, for a number of reasons, and I quit and walked out.
So I will cut Andy Glazer a lot of slack as he struggles to come to grips with the World Series. As I hope you will cut me some slack for recounting a nightmarish experience from my past that has absolutely zilch to do with poker. I’ll write some more about the WSOP and WPT in the coming days, thought not about my own play. That’s because I transferred my money out of Pacific Poker (stupid site kept disconnecting me, like when I flopped top set) and they haven’t gotten around to putting it in my Neteller account yet. So I’m in limbo for another few days. I’ll try not to have another nervous breakdown on these pages until then. But, uh, can I have a hug? Please?
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