I sat with a man named Bill on the flight out of Pittsburgh, it was his first time flying on an airplane. He is 68 years old. Bill works in the oil fields and was sent out of Oklahoma to Fayetteville PA to check out some work going on there. What do you call a funeral in Oklahoma? Karaoke. Frightened by his fathers bout with Alzheimer's, he finds comfort in the fact that he has a great memory, especially for some things, like jokes. He can remember any joke with detail, where he heard it, who told it to him, so well even that a few times he has told a friend a joke that he heard from them and they will laugh like they never heard it and ask where he learned that one. His brother told him the Karaoke joke. His oldest son died in a car accident in '91, his wife died of cancer in '99, his youngest hung himself in March. He still has 6 surviving sons and a daughter. He had lots more jokes. I wish I had the memory for them that he does.
Dallas to Vegas. I sat next to the reason so many people hate America. She was the incarnation of what I imagine maybe your typical European would think about when you say American housewife. Overweight with a pink frilly blouse on, a handbag that was probably a top of the line knock off bought by her also overweight husband, who looked like he was terrible at golf even though he plays a lot. I really am not a judgemental person usually, but I hated these people after seeing them for 4 seconds. She ordered a bottle of Aquafina soon after sitting down, not just water, but Aquafina, but she supposed it would be allright if they brought her another kind. Even after proving their imminent mundaneity, I put the bait out for a conversation by making a comment about the circular crops that she seemed so interested in and kept leaning over to see. She broke into a conversation about her facebook farmland and my brian turned off. I have no idea what happened for the next half hour or so, but I am fairly certain she kept talking about facebook. The rest of the trip was full of insightful comments like "there is another plane down there", "oh we are in the dessert now", "oh I can see cars ("honey you cant see cars from up here") oh, no those arent cars", and as we descend in altitude and are obviously flying over houses in the Vegas suburbs "those must be houses!" "I can see cars now!". It only made landing in Vegas that much sweeter.
On the trip in, my friend Chris asked if I would back him, giving 10% of his $1000 tournament buy in in exchange for 10% of the winnings. The kid is the best tournament poker player I know, so I went for it. He was playing in the tournament when we landed and Zack and I went to see him, which left me in the poker room with Zack and we both sat at a $1-3 table. The poker room in Ceaser's is possibly the toughest in the strip, maybe with the exception of the Rio, which is full of spillover from the WSOP main event, and I was sitting down at a real poker table for the first time in a lonnnnng time. I lost $500 my first 5 hours in Vegas. And then Chris tanked his well earned above average stack of 400,000 on an epic bluff, the same way I lost most of my money, so I certainly cannot get mad, he played well. So 4 hours at a poker table and I did not see a single hand better than 2 pair. I was not playing my best poker ever, but my aggressive style requires that I actually make a hand every now and then. If I make a big bluff and get caught in it, I can make that pay off later when a player makes a loose call thinking that I am bluffing. Well I can't capitalize on those loose calls if I dont have a hand that can beat anyone. To give you an idea of the crap for cards I was getting, I lost $400 in two hands, the two times I got 2 pair all day, the first I looked at K 10, both spades, the best hand I had seen all day, and it checks around the table so I check in late position hoping for big things on the flop. flop comes A K 10 rainbow and I am loving it. nobody raised preflop so I cant be facing any pocket pairs hitting trips or AK, maybe I should be scared of A 10. I raise, he reraises, I go all in, he shows AK. Whatever. And I lost a couple other big bluffs, and like I said I never got a chance to get paid from them. Well after that disaster I wasnt sure what I was going to do for the rest of the trip if gambling was going to treat me like that. Luckily I found my calling in a little game called War. What is it good for? Making lots of money.
We saw the table in the Paris hotel where we were staying, a big bright sign saying Casino War, and we had to figure out if they were actually playing the ol' classic for money. Turns out they are serious. I sat with $20 or so, a $5 minimum bet, the dealer doles out a card face up to each player, and, perhaps with a little dramatic flourish, he flips his own card. His is higher he takes your money, yours is higher you double up. For serious. And if you go to war, you match your bet and each gets another card, if you win, you win your original bet, if you tie again, you get double! And that is how I turned my luck around. for the first 2 days we sat at the war table for a bit every time we went through the casino and I didnt lose a single time for 2 days. It made no sense. I finally lost when I ventured out of the Paris and played at O'sheas, I lost $100, put up another $100 and lost 90 of it, I must have been off my game. I recalculated my strategies and turned my $10 back into 150, and when i stood up with that 150 I saw the roulette table had a streak of 7 reds in a row, surely it would hit black next time right? Apparently I was not the only one thinking this, because as I go to put down 50, there is a rush to the table, people putting everything they have on black. The little 8x3 inch black square was packed full of $5 $25 $100 dollar chips, and spirits were high as everyone was confident that black was sure to hit. She flicks the ball and gives the wheel a spin... a bit too hard... the ball was bouncing around on the wheel for something like 17 years and finally it tinkers to a hault. On red. The dejected gamblers sulk away, having put everything on the table. I however, am determined to get my $50 back. $100 more on black. Again she spins that wheel just a little too fast and just after my 60th birthday, the ball rests. On red. The rest of the tenacious who were smart enough to keep some of their bankroll in their pocket slink into the forest of slot machines. I am not losing my money. $200 on black. Red has now hit 9 times in a row. It can't hit 10 can it? Is that even possible? After the pit boss tells her to slow down the wheel, she flicks the ball into motion, and as it orbits the wheel, I realize it is possible, that ball does not know where it landed last time, I just put $200 on a 49% chance of winning. Again the ball rests. Of the original ambitious group, I alone remain, and along with a few newcomers, we watch as the wheel spins around, bringing that ivory little ball into view, resting in a bed of black. With a smile I took my 400 and walked.
A friend who was watching the roulette game play out told me I have great affects. That might be the best compliment I have ever received, she is a psychologist. I do not want to talk too much about gambling, but it is kind of the main reason for going to Vegas, the main reason Vegas exists really, so I have just a little more to say. I tried my luck at the poker table a few more times, probably spending another 4 hours or so playing, and in my entire time at the table i still saw nothing better than 2 pair. I was able to bluff my way into a profit once and I walked away even after about an hour of play another time, and I dropped 100 one night when everyone else was dancing at a club, though I don't consider that a loss really, I think it is worth $100 to get out of dancing. After such terrible luck, I swore off poker for a couple days and it wasnt until the last day that I sat back down at the table. I saw off Chris and Zack to their plane at 1 pm and had 12 hours till mine left, so I thought I would take another crack at the poker table. I sat at the Flamingo and play was going pretty well, I even hit better than two pair! Twice! It was great! until one hand... I was up about $50 to $250 and had A 10 to give me top pair, top kicker on a 10 7 4 flop. This old guy who had been trying to bully me around all night raised the flop 15, I doubled his raise, and he went all in on top of me, he had me covered so it put me in for around $230. After little deliberation I called, the guy showed his bluff, flipping KQ, and I was comfortable with my 10s. Flop came a K, I am now beat. River blanked and there goes my money. And just to add insult to the gross display of luck, the dealer pushed all the chips my way, thinking somehow that I had a pair of aces, so I got a good look at what was rightfully mine before her evil mistake was pointed out by everyone at the table. I was playing some good poker, and I was not ready to call it quits, so I put another 200 down at the table. I immediately started rakeing in the pots. There was an obnoxious lady at the table who would not stop giving me her money. It was all little 30, 40 dollar pots, but it was adding up, and her hatred for me culminated in one hand where her pocket Qs met my pocket Ks and I took her for all she was worth. It wasnt luck, she was just a bad poker player and I was on my game, the board was all low- 73427, she could have easily gotten away from pocket queens there, and I garnered a call there with the loose play I had been displaying. I sat for about an hour and a half with my second $200 and turned it into $700 before standing up, finally a triumph at the poker table, and 2 hours before I had to go to the airport. I needed that.
So all in all my vegas gambling experience went quite well, and my Vegas experience otherwise was even better. The Paris hotel we stayed in was wonderful and thanks to a little schmoozing, which Chris picked up while living in Vegas for a month, we got a nice room with a great view, overlooking the pool and the Bellagio fountain. It was a great place to crash after a long day at the tables or in the sun, and to wake up in the morning and head down to the huge pool we were overlooking. I would reccommend the Paris, but of course the only comparison I have is the Imperial Palace, which is well known to be one of the lowest quality hotels on the strip. We of course had our voyage downtown with a couple we met at the pool, that was a good time. Downtown seems like the most Vegasy part of Vegas to me, it is the epitome of the bright lights and over the top everything that makes Vegas what it is. And on my last day I headed over to the Rio to check out the WSOP main event, maybe that is what gave me inspiration for my successful run at the poker table later that day. It was cool to watch the best in the business do their thing, but I only recognized a single face in the crowd, though one of those people will soon be the recipient of the most prestigious title in the poker world.
And now I am back in the burgh, staying at Jon's for the next couple days and then flying back out to Philly just in time to start moving stuff from Jersey over to PA northeast of Philly. It will feel good to live in PA again. Even if it is Philadelphia.