The Long Goodbye

Monday, December 19th, 2005, 12:40 pm

Before I end my Vegas trip report. let me say that one of my least favorite things in the world is moving. I mean like furniture and stuff, not from point to point. And moving in Pittsburgh in December sucks to the nth degree. ‘Nuff said.

OK, by now you’ve read 40 or 50 stories, so I’ll try to keep this shortish and sweetish. Well, I’ll try and fail. On Saturday I woke up around 7:30AM feeling pretty good. I enjoy lying in bed, all bundled up, cozy as a bug in a rug. But I couldn’t fall back asleep, and it seemed a sacriledge to lallygag in bed in Las Vegas. So I hopped up, took another deeply satisfying shower, and told my brother I was headed downstairs to rustle up breakfast.

I also had to place a bet on the Penn State-Pitt hoops game for my friend Mark. We both went to PSU undergrad and Pitt for grad school, and whenever the two schools meet we root like crazy for the Nittany Lions. So I wound my way down, across, and up to the sports book to place the bet, only to find they didn’t have the line yet. Fifteen minutes, the guy behind the counter said, so I moseyed over to the poker room.

Only one table was in use, a 2-4 game with ten exhausted looking guys sluggishly slinging chips. I watched a hand, and there was one guy with an accent I couldn’t place (Armenian? Papua New Guinean?) who looked to be running over the table. The game looked tender and tasty as a rack of baby-back ribs, but there were at least two other guys waiting for a seat (one dude gave me a dirty look when I sauntered up) and, anyway, I was on a breakfast run.

I went back to the sports book, took Penn State plus 15, and went to Burger Palace to get victuals. Then I had to go down, across, and up to the room. I’m glad to see everyone else found IP as labarynthine as I did. My sense of direction is pfft, but I’m not a total dolt. It was pretty messed up.

We ate good greasy food then headed down to the ballroom for the tournament. I had a chance to talk to Michael Craig, who’d sent me a copy of his book after I wrote how I was reading it every time I went to Borders. I saw Otis and Bill Rini laying out a huge selection of T-shirts and hats–actually, let me pause right now to thank those two gentlemen, as well as PokerStars and Full Tilt, who did a fantastic job for all of us. A lot of work and planning and thought went into the tournament and at least a half-dozen times I found myself shaking my head and thinking, “Damn, this is pretty flippin’ amazing”.

Like when Barry Greenstein gave his talk. Here’s one of the best poker players on the planet complimenting our little community for what we bring to the game. I liked one thing Barry said, that “each of us has a book to write”, and that’s what we do with our blogs. Everyone feels the need to express ourselves in some way, and that’s why so many people start blogs and crank out thousands of words that only a handful of people may every read.

One thing Michael Craig said during his talk also stuck with me, “Don’t take no for an answer”. That’s something I have trouble with, not sticking to a course of action when confronted with resistance. You don’t find many successful writers who aren’t persistent. Something to work on.

But it was time for the tournament, and I was ready to play. Well, no I wasn’t. We took our seats and I found that I was seated two to the right of Wil Wheaton, who I’d read for a long time but never met. My table looked smart and tough and confident and as the chips were handed out I was dismayed to see that my hands were shaking. I regretted skipping the open bar before I sat down.

I looked over the room, at the 100 or so people ready to play. The IP did a great job setting everything up and running the show. They had the big screens showing the blinds and how much time we had each level, and I was amazed at how far the WPBT has come in just two years. Our first tournament was held at Choice Poker, with maybe 40 participants. Now were were playing LIVE, in a Vegas casino, with 100 people from all over the country (and beyond). Two major poker sites were sponsoring the event, and professional players and authors were coming to speak to us. Amazing.

And then I remembered that the first WPBT event had been won by ME. I won that first tournament! I’d made five blogger final tables. I was a professional bad-ass. Look at these pretenders who DARED to sit down with me! With MEAN GENE. I heard the voice of Moe Green in my head, in the scene where he shouts down Michael Corleone. “I’m MEAN GENE! I was winning blogger tournaments when you were entering PLAY MONEY tournaments on MOTHER-FUCKING YAHOO!!!!”

And of course I got knocked out in 87th place. A combination of sketchy cards and horrible play doomed me. Only two hands are worthy of discussion. With the blinds 50-100 one of the AlCantHang crew (he wore a Jevon Kearse jersey, I can’t recall his cursed name) min-raised to 200. In the big blind I found the Hammer and raised 500. My foe grabbed all his chips and splashed them in the pot. Shit. As we all know the Hammer is a raising hand, not a calling hand. I actually had this thought process go through my head:

“Well, what hands could he have? What can I beat?”

“Well, asshole, you can’t beat ANYTHING. You’ve got the worst starting hand in poker”. I folded and he flipped over Q-3. Of course I showed and everyone had a good laugh and, thankfully, said I would’ve been crazy to call. Raise, good. Call, bad.

I ended up shortstacked after my one attempt to make a play at a pot was swiftly ended by Lori (if I misspelled your name forgive me), the flame-tressed Full Tilter who re-raised about 2/3 my stack. I was forced to push with A-8 suited, and it took Wil about 3 picoseconds to grab his chips and push them forward. He flipped over A-J, the worst hand I could’ve been up against. I say this because he flopped a jack. It was over before the river, and he graciously shook my hand and I graciously didn’t burst into tears.

In the end going out early was a good thing, because I got to hang out with Al and his crew. One of my goals was to do a shot o’ SoCo, and I was able to cross this off my list. Twice. We sat around and yakked it up with Al and Big Mike and Otis and I drank many beers and enjoyed myself immensely. Snuck over to Pauly’s table to make sure he wasn’t abusing my brother too much, and then headed outside to talk football with Al and JoeSpeaker.

At one point, I don’t know when, Al pointed out Kenna, the wife of one of the gang, and said that she has “incredible breasts”. To illustrate this point, Kenna graciously lifted her shirt, and, yes, they were rather nice. Rather. There was talk of Al and Eva and Kenna and her husband going out to renew their wedding vows, which to my mind sounded like the craziest thing I’d ever heard. Of course, at that point I hadn’t met Eva. After I did I could understand why Al would want to hammer those marital stakes as deep into the ground as possible.

By now I was running on three cylinders and with my face sore from grinning I went to the poker room and sat down with my brother and Maudie at a 2-4 table. One of the dealers at MGM said Imperial Palace has the biggest poker tables around, and that was certainly the case. I was sitting on the end and I had a hell of a time seeing the board, especially in my soused state. One hand I had 9-10 and thought the board had come 9-9-K. After standing and squinting I saw the nines were eights and I mucked, knowing I’d given away a bit of a tell.

I dropped $50, much of that coming on one hand when Maudie proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that a flopped set beats top pair every time. At one point my brother came over to say that the coffee in the poker room was the best he’d ever had in his life, and I had three excellent cups hoping it would wake me up.

It didn’t. I watched as the tournament came to an end, with Glyph beating Gracie for the title. I’d wanted to meet Glyph while I was out there and here he was getting his picture taken as the champ. By this point I was drunk and jittery and hungry and a mess. Everyone was headed their separate ways and I grabbed a burger and fries and went up to the room. I ate, drank a quart of water, and lay down for a nice little nap.

I woke up around 10PM, and I felt bloody awful. Not hungover, exactly, though my tongue felt like I’d eaten a bucket of sand. Too much beer, too much fried food, not enough sleep. The thought of turning in for the night made me feel worse. I was NOT going to get a good night’s sleep in Vegas.

My brother couldn’t or wouldn’t wake up, so I threw on a T-shirt, grabbed some cash, and headed for the IP poker room. Figured I’d play a few hours, maybe make back some money, and save my dignity. But on the casino floor I ran into Maudie, who was about to head out and meet with with the gang. After a few phone calls she leaned the Castle had been stormed, and that’s where we headed.

I was a zombie by now. I couldn’t wake up, couldn’t get my second wind. It took forever to meader through MGM after the monorail ride, and I found myself feeling horribly underdressed in my long-sleeve T-shirt and jeans. When we got to Excalibur Maudie quickly got seated but I wasn’t in a right mind to play. I seriously thought about wandering around a bit and then heading home, but after meeting and chatting with the kind and lovely Mrs. Speaker I learned that a group was headed over to New York, New York for a beer. I was caught up in the tide and obediently followed.

We went to an Irish pub, and try as I might my body would not agree to accepting a beer. “You think you can handle a Guinness?” a little voice in my mind said. “Let’s see how you like…this!”. And a great green wave of nausea rolled through me and the little voice said, “Hang ten, asshole!”

Mrs. Speaker asked if I wanted anything to drink, and I said, yes, a Diet Coke. “A…what?” she said, as if I was speaking Bulgarian. I managed to convince her that, yes, I didn’t want anything harder than NutraSweet, and she looked at me with a sort of benign pity. After I guzzled it down Mrs. Hdouble asked what I was drinking, and when I told her I got that same look, further tucking my tail between my legs.

But fortunately I didn’t need beer to enjoy that evening. I got to sit and talk to Hank a good bit, which made the night totally worth the discomfort. I talked to Chad about blogging, and Spaceman about Modest Mouse and Michael Chabon. Glyph and his wife were there, and I was amazed that he was still going strong after all the nervous energy he must’ve burned off in the tournament.

It was decided that playing craps at Casino Royale was the way to go, but I was beyond exhaustion. All I could think about was getting some sleep. It was about 2AM, meaning for me it was 5AM and almost time to get up for work. I shared a cab with Chad and Jason and Lori, wishing that I wasn’t such a wuss. But I had one day left and I didn’t want to spend it like the Living Dead.

When I got to the room Ryan was up watching “Saturday Night Live” reruns. He’d gone down to play some video poker and then came back up. Incredibly, the rerun was the one Damon Wayans hosted, which wouldn’t be a big deal except that’s the episode where Jay Mohr did his “Christopher Walken for Skittles” routine. My friend Matt and I do that bit back and forth all the time, but we’ve actually only seen it once, when it originally aired. “Skittes…wonderful…fruit flavors…orange…grape? Lemon…lime…they come in a bag…” I watched it, laughed a bit, and went right to sleep.

Woke up, took another great shower and we were off to Mandalay Bay. Too late, alas, for me to put a bet down on my Steelers, which would’ve paid off. When we got there the place was packed, and a blogger contingent had taken over a row of seats. There wasn’t anywhere for us really to sit, so Ryan and I went to a bar to watch a bit of the game, which wasn’t much fun except for the Bears fan stalking off after Lovie Smith lost his mind and gave the Steelers another chance to make a first down after a penalty. We wandered back to the sports book, where more bloggers had congregated, and after a bit Ryan said I could hang if I wanted, but he was going to walk around. I felt bad, but I figured he could take care of himself.

We got a little alcove of our own and soon I was chatting away with Al and Iggy and Pauly and Derek and Bill and a dozen other folks. The poker room is right next to the sports book, and I noticed there was a 2-4 table with seats open and waiting. I thought about grabbing a seat…for about a second. What would I rather do, play doofus poker, or hang out watching football and talking with the gang? How often do I get to talk football with Iggy? How often to I get to hear Bill Rini talk about blogging without having to pay $300 an hour? I put all thoughts of poker away and decided to enjoy myself instead.

You’ve no doubt read about Al nailing his dismount on the cold marble floor. Nadia Comenici would’ve been impressed. At one point I went to the bathroom to find a frantic dude telling the custodial guy in there that the dude in the one stall was slumped over and hadn’t moved in ten minutes. Security was called in case he’d snuffed it mid-movement, and I decided I could wait a bit before answering Nature’s call. I told everyone what happened and Iggy and Pauly and Al went running to the men’s room to see what was up. Dead guy in the can, I walk away. Dead guy in the can, those guys come runnin’. Turned out he was merely obliterated, “sleepin’ and leakin'” is how the security guys described him.

My phone buzzed and I heard my brother’s breathless voice. “We’ve been wasting our time on poker,” he said. “I think I’ve figured out a way to beat…roulette.”

“Really? That’s great, that’s just great!” I said in the tone of voice I’d use to talk someone in off a ledge. Ryan told me that he was up $300 over at Luxor and thought he’d come up with a “system”. “Wow, terrific!” I said. “But how about you put $200 away and just play with the last $100. I mean, that should be enough to keep you going, right?” He agreed and I relaxed, knowing our flight was already paid for and we wouldn’t be hitchhiking home.

And home was, sadly, coming up quick on our itinerary. It was getting on 5PM, our flight was at 11, and we had to get back to IP and pack and eat and get to the airport. I hated leaving, especially as other folks were talking about hanging in Vegas for another day or so. And it sounded like there was going to be a titanic blowout in Al’s suite and I would’ve given my left kidney to stick around. We actually called the airline to see if we could get our tickets bumped back for a later flight, but no luck. So when Ryan returned I said a few farewells, promised Al and Eva and Big Mike that the next Boathouse Bash would be marked on my calendar in permanent ink, and we headed back to the hotel.

But to get there we had to go thru the MGM to the monorail station, and who should we see there but…everyone? Just about the whole crew was there playing in the tournament or hanging in the sports book, so we decided to eat there, hang out a wee bit longer, and get a little last minute Vegas fun in. JoeSpeaker took 4th in that tournament, which of course was won by CJ–I wonder what he feeds the leprauchaun he has chained up in his attic. My belly filled with brisket and pickles, it was time to finally, finally say farewell, for real this time.

We packed and headed downstairs to checkout. I remember when I was little, we’d go to Kennywood (a big amusement park here in Pittsburgh) and have fun all day long, but when it was time to go it was the biggest disappointment in the world. The park would be all lit up, the rides were still going, calliope music and people shrieking with delight filling the air. But it was time to leave. That’s how I felt leaving the hotel. I had so much fun, but there was so much MORE fun to be had. And I wasn’t going to be there.

Checking out took some doing. I asked if I could use my comp dollars for the room, and the guy said yes, but he had to check with the manager. I figured they’d just swipe the card, find out how much I’d earned and that’d be that. Instead he walked to the far end of the counter and stood there for good 10 minutes, why I don’t know. My girth aside, I’m no Vegas whale–I’m not asking for a limo here. Just let me get outta here. Still don’t know what the deal was.

A quiet cab ride to the airport. We got our boarding passes, got through security, and looked for a bar. In the security line we saw an INCREDIBLY hot chick, she was tall and blonde and had the pillowly lips and the belly shirt and all the trimmings. “No way she’s going to Pittsburgh,” Ryan said. I had to agree, Paris or Milan seemed a more logical destination.

We started drinking, and the bartender asked where we were from and when we told him it turned out he was from Pittsburgh too. And he went to Penn State. A small world indeed. Made smaller when a woman he knew came in and opened her suitcase and pulled out a Terrible Towel for him. Turns out she flew to Pittsburgh that morning, sat through the smow and the cold, then flew home that night. She even got there early enough to tailgate. Now THAT’S a full day.

We drank. The hot blonde came in and had something. I hoped I could knock myself out for the flight home, but when we paid our exhorbitant bar tab I was still wired. I wish I could’ve traded Sunday for Saturday night, I would’ve had a lot more fun.

I know know what Purgatory is like–it’s an endless redeye flight filled to capacity. If I could’ve leaned my seat back another 3 inches I might’ve slept the whole way, but I couldn’t so I didn’t. I sat in the aisle and the guy in the window seat kept bitching that his ass was asleep. We were chased home by a strong tailwind that gave us some really fun turbulence, making sleep pretty much impossible. Though I must’ve faded out a few times, because it didn’t seem to take THAT long. As we landed I tried to peek out a window to see if I could spot the complex I used to work at, but it was, like, dark, and I couldn’t see squat. Touchdown went without incident, and I did feel a sense of relief that I’d actually survived the flights.

We walked off the plane to find that the hot blonde had indeed flown to Pittsburgh and was in line at McDonalds. Ryan made a crude remark involving sausage and we headed toward the car. Which had been parked in subfreezing temps for 3 days. Now, it’s usually parked outside, and I have no problem starting it. But I did Monday morning. It just wouldn’t turn over. You could tell that it wanted to, I had power and the starter was cranking, but it wouldn’t start. Ryan called the maintance folks and they came over and spent about 30 minutes fiddling and spraying until the Engine Gods decided we’d suffered enough (we were both freezing to death) and the damn thing started. Dawn was breaking as I gratefully got the car in gear and headed homeward.

It’s hard going from Vegas-mode to ‘Burgh-mode, so we stopped at Eat-N-Park for their all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet, where we chowed down on eggs and bacon and sausage and corned beef hash. Yummy yum yum. The car started no problem after that, I dropped Ryan off, and drove home through a beautiful, crystal-clear morning.

At home I petted the cats and checked my email and read a few reports from those still partying in Vegas. The time change threw me a bit, I didn’t know how many hours I’d been awake but I didn’t feel tired at all. Until I closed my eyes for just a minute. And then I was plenty tired indeed.

So I had a blast. I met so many great people I can’t list them all–and if I met you and didn’t include you in the 5,000 or so meandering words I’ve written, the fault is with my memory. I know offhand at least 10 things I meant to mention but didn’t, but I gotta post this and get on with my life.

Next time in Vegas, I’m gonna play more poker. I’m not gonna oversleep and miss placing a few sports bets. I’m gonna play $2 craps at 5AM. I didn’t get a chance to eat at a fancy place with BG–mistake. I didn’t go to a strip club with DonkeyPuncher–the hell was I thinking? Next time I’ll take a little more time to do the stuff I know I want to do instead of running around like a maniac. I bit off way, way, WAY more than I could chew on this trip. But I’m definitely hungry for more.

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3 Responses to “The Long Goodbye”

  1. Daddy Says:

    “I heard the voice of Moe Green in my head, in the scene where he shouts down Michael Corleone. “I’m MEAN GENE! I was winning blogger tournaments when you were entering PLAY MONEY tournaments on MOTHER-FUCKING YAHOO!!!!””


  2. Donkeypuncher Says:

    “… I’ll try to keep this shortish and sweetish. Well, I’ll try and fail.”

    I had to page down five times to finish reading this!

    We’ll hit the strip club next time, my man. Or maybe we can have them delivered to one of our rooms…

  3. Mark Morrow Says:

    Mean Gene, I really enjoyed your post. I too am from Pittsburgh, was born and raised there but now live in San Diego. I especially enjoyed the part about Kennywood. I remember those days.

    Even though it was a long post, very interesting none the less.

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