When you’re really young, it’s hard to top Christmas on the list of favorite holidays. Santa, Jesus, the presents, the magic…that’s going to be the apex for just about every five-year-old in America.
I was certainly in that group at that age, but it didn’t take me long to switch my favorite holiday to Independence Day. Relaxing, watching baseball, and grilling out are all part of my ideal day, and those are key ingredients to the 4th.
Franklin family July 4 tradition stretches back decades. Starting around the time I was 12 or 13, we’ve always gone out to the Yukon Freedom Fest at Chisholm Park. It’s a really cool setup with good food, good fireworks and good people. The thing that got us started going there was the Oklahoma City Philharmonic, which has performed there every year as far as I can remember. They start playing as twilight turns to dark, finishing as the fireworks start.
As always, the day started with me grilling out. This was the first time I can remember grilling something besides hot dogs and hamburgers as the main course. Missy and the kids had eaten those items a few times already over the previous few days and wanted something different. So we marinated some chicken and I grilled it up, and I must say it was delicious. For the second or third year in a row, I grilled up some zucchini and squash from our backyard garden. Brush some olive oil and balsamic vinegar on there and it’s the perfect complement to the chicken. Missy also made up some baked beans, pasta salad, peach salsa and cookie bars. We like to eat in the middle of the afternoon and then head out to Yukon.
I thought I was going to miss the end of the Cubs game, and I suppose technically I did, but they were winning about 12 to 3 when we left the house so I felt pretty comfortable with that. Those are the kind of games you don’t mind missing the end of because if they had somehow blown that lead I wouldn’t have wanted to see it anyway.
Missy always has the kids dressed up in special patriotic outfits, and while getting some groceries on July 3 at Wal Mart I decided to get into the spirit with a $4 patriotic tank top purchase. Missy enjoyed my participation.
Once we get to Yukon, we always stake out our turf near a specific pond in the southwest corner of the park. It’s close to the Philharmonic with a good view of the fireworks. The kids and Francine love to put their feet into the pond, where the turtles like to give their toes little nibbles. This year Francine also brought some cool mini rockets the kids could fire into the air (they use rubber bands, not actual rockets). They found a little pasture near our setup to play with those.
Of course it wouldn’t be July 4 without a hot dog eating contest, and they have one in Yukon. I lifted the kids up on my shoulders so they could watch a dude eat 14 in 10 minutes. It was the dude I predicted would win before the contest started. Personally we didn’t partake in any hot dogs, but I did down 20+ ounces of homemade root beer somebody was selling. It was probably even better than the State Fair root beer, which is a high standard. The kids got free ice cream and watermelon.
The Philharmonic was as good as it always is, and the fireworks were even better. They got rid of the ones that just make a really loud noise and do nothing else. I never did like those (crochety old man alert).
The long haul of lawn chairs, waters, blankets and snacks back to the car is always interesting, but we made it without incident. I was very happy that my mom was able to get around without much trouble barely one month after her hip replacement surgery. She’s really doing great.
Of course, by the time we get home and get the kids in bed, Missy and I have to unwind a little. Of course, that means eating leftovers. Feeling completely stuffed and exhausted is the sign of a good 4th, and we had another good one in 2019.
After my last blog, in which I credited my friend Britt for being generous, I received a complaint from Rychy Shamley.
It seems the ole Shamlerooski was feeling a bit green.
“How come you kept saying how generous Britt is,” he said. “I stayed in Vegas with you for a week and you didn’t say anything about me being generous. Didn’t even write a blog about it at all.”
He’s right. I did stay with Rychy for a week in Vegas and didn’t mention his generosity. Or write a blog. Half of that will change right now.
I don’t remember what year this was but it had to be around 2013. We stayed at the Rio during the World Series of Poker although I don’t think either of us played any tournaments at all.
I have a few strong memories from that trip. First off, the food at the Rio sucks. We tried just about everything and none of it was any good. Second, we couldn’t get the hotel room cooler than about 75 degrees. Made it hard to sleep good.
I also remember Rychy and the Rio conspiring to scam me out of $100. We had played poker all day and were ready to quit and find something good to eat. As I mentioned, this required leaving the Rio because all their food sucks. It must have been around midnight.
Rychy knew about a great sushi place that was open real late and offered half-price sushi and beer after 10 p.m. or something like that. Sounded like a great idea, so we took a cab over there. Indeed, it was a great idea. The sushi and beer was delicious. However, it’s possible that one of those items may have clouded my judgment for the hours ahead.
We took a taxi back to the Rio and decided to stop by one of the bars on the way back to the room for a beer. We ordered one beer each and the bartender said, “That’ll be $16.” This outrageous price seemed even more absurd considering we had probably paid $2.50 each for our beers at the sushi place.
That’s when Rychy came up with an ingenious idea. He said to the bartender, “They’re free if we are gambling, right?” Barkeep confirmed. So Rychy said, “Let’s just play a little video poker here. We’ll probably win enough to pay for the sushi and get our beers for free.”
For whatever reason — must have been the sushi — this seemed like a good idea to me as well. And for a minute it was working even better than we imagined. We put our money into the machine at the bar and won several hands right off the bat. We were heckling the bartender, as if it were his money we were winning. “I can’t believe they give you free beers and pay you money just for sitting here and pressing buttons!”
“We were just trying to bring a beer back to the room and they forced us to take all this money with us!!”
Shockingly, the cards started to break even. Which means the house got its money back and then some. I think we ended up losing about $100 each on that stupid machine. Not the cheapest beer I’ve ever had.
Speaking of surprisingly expensive Vegas experiences, my steak at Cut with Britt and Jeremy reminded me of another story.
This one is even older, maybe 2007. I was in Vegas with my friend Chad and his buddy Aaron. I was still working at the newspaper at this time, so the opportunity to play $1/$2 hold em for 30 hours over three days was rare and incredibly appealing to me. We were staying at The Mirage, and the three of us kind of did our own thing for most of the trip, although Chad also played a lot of poker. But before we even got to Vegas, we scheduled one fancy dinner at the steakhouse there at the Mirage. This would be our one “splurge” meal for three guys who were probably making less than $100k per year combined.
So we got dressed up and went to the place. Everything on the menu looked great, but the waiter mentioned that their special was a kobe steak. You know, the fancy stuff from the cows that drink beer. That’s about all I knew about it, but this waiter kept talking up how great it was and I figured it was a “When in Rome” situation so I ordered it. Without inquiring about the price. Literally every steak or entree on the menu was priced between $30 and $40, which was already a lot of money for me. I just assumed the Kobe would be about the same. But you know what happens when you assume.
I knew I was in trouble when the waiter came by to check on me three different times while I was eating the steak. Chad and Aaron both ordered off the regular menu and he did not give one crap about them. The first time he ran up right after I got the steak and yelled, “HOW YOU LIKING THAT KOBE!!!???” He then waltzed off without even checking on Chad or Aaron’s food.
This brought about some speculation on our part as to how much the steak would cost. I knew it would be way more than Chad or Aaron’s. I figured it probably cost twice as much, something in the $60 range. When the check came, Chad pounced on it, opened it up and exclaimed, “HOLY F***!!”
And that is the story about how a guy making $28,000 per year and trying to pay off $45,000 in student debt paid $150 for a steak (not counting side items, taxes or tip). I felt so guilty. I remember calling Missy — we had only been married a year or so — worrying that she would be quite mad at me. I can’t say she was thrilled but she handled it really well.
I also have to say that was the best steak I’ve ever had in my life. It’s the only one I’d put ahead of the one I had in Vegas last week. I didn’t even need a steak knife, it was so tender and the flavor just poured out of it. I’m glad I didn’t know how much it cost as I was eating it.
My final Vegas story comes from 2016, the last time we drove out to Vegas as a family, and the only time we did it with our full complement of four kids. We did some really fun stuff as a family on that trip. Vegas actually has a lot of fun stuff for kids and families. We went on the giant ferris wheel at the Linq (where the picture above came from), and to a Triple-A baseball game.
This “story” is really just an excuse to show off this cute picture of Hawk at the baseball game. Addie was seven years old at the time, and just as enthusiastic for life as she is now. They had a dancing contest between innings and one of the ushers said she liked Addie’s dancing so much that she gave Addie a ball. Addie then had that ball autographed, not by any of the players but by the Vegas mascot, which is an alien (the guy on my helmet in the picture). That ball was one of her most prized possessions for the next couple of years.
As I mentioned in a previous blog, I decided to spend only four days in Vegas this year for the World Series of Poker.
That trip was this past week, from Sunday to Thursday. If you want the Reader’s Digest version, the poker experience was at best “meh” but everything else was amazing. For more details, continue reading.
Sunday, June 16
So this was the setup. My buddy Britt was incredibly generous with me the entire trip. He had a free room at Caesar’s Palace and allowed me to stay with him. We flew on Allegiant Airlines, where we got roundtrip airfare for under $200. So even after paying for food and taxi/Uber fares, my non-poker expenses were less than $500. Which is pretty hard to do in Las Vegas. Our friend Jeremy came to town on the same days I was there and the three of us shared some pretty dadgum good meals.
The first of those came on our very first night in town. For years, Britt has been raving about Wolfgang Puck’s “Cut” steakhouse at the Palazzo. He insisted that he was treating us to this meal to start our trip. Again, incredibly generous on his part because this is definitely the type of restaurant I can’t afford to go to unless it’s an anniversary-type date with Missy.
Usually when someone hypes up a restaurant the way Britt did with this one, it’s hard to not be disappointed. But I was certainly not disappointed with Cut. They specialize in American Wagyu steak, and the three of us each got a different cut of American Wagyu. All three were amazing but I favored the New York Strip that I ordered. We washed those down with some really good craft cocktails and some great side items, the macaroni and cheese being the highlight in my opinion. I’ve had a lot of great steaks in my life, and I can only think of one that I’d put above this one.
There’s a really cool cigar lounge right down the hall from the restaurant called The Dorsey, which seemed like a perfect way to end the evening. They have a massive whiskey menu so I tried a rye I’d never had before and it was great. Went great with the cigar too. All of these fancy lounges serve their whiskeys with the one oversized ice cube, which I love. Makes me feel like James Bond I guess.
My younger cohorts went on to do some classic Vegas gambling well into the night, but this old man was already up past his usual bedtime so I walked back to Caesar’s (the weather was very pleasantly mild while we were there) and crashed.
Monday, June 17
The reason I picked these dates to go on the trip was to play the $1500 pot limit Omaha event at the World Series of Poker. This would be my fourth WSOP Omaha event and I had cashed in two of the previous three, so I was looking forward to trying something different than my usual cash games and hopefully making a deep run. I feel like I’m better at PLO than I ever have been and it’s fun to challenge your brain by having to think in terms of tournament strategy.
Yeah, um, that didn’t pan out. I’ve mentioned in the past my disdain for the typical douchebags that populate the Rio during the WSOP. For some reason they like playing tournaments more than cash games in general. Well, I had either eight or nine of them at my table at all times during this tourney, depending on whether the dealer seemed to be a douche or not.
The guy sitting directly across from me was the worst offender. He would not quit talking, and he talked about only two different things. The first was how great he was at poker. We heard about 85 stories of how he manipulated his opponents into giving him their money during past tournaments and cash games. Without fail he knew exactly what cards they held and exactly how to extract the maximum value out of his winning hands. Sometimes he would make massive bets (oh my!) to make it appear as if he were bluffing when he wanted a call all along. Sometimes he would make tiny bets to induce a raise (epic!). Sometimes he would check to bait his opponent into a bluff, just like Johnny effing Chan.
The other factor that was present in 100% of his poker stories was that he got incredibly unlucky at the end of every tournament. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride, this chap. Always had a 90% chance to win with one card left before his hopes were dashed on the final card. Such a shame.
The other thing he talked about nonstop was wrestling. Like, actual college wrestling. I almost preferred the poker talk. This dude’s breaking down the 198-pounder at Nebraska against his rival from Wisconsin. Supposedly, Nebraska thought they were going to run roughshod over the Big Ten but got a huge reality check when they saw how good those Badgers were (sick burn).
This dude didn’t stop flapping his gums for two straight hours, except for the rare occasion when he decided to play a hand of poker. Then, as soon as the dealer was about to put the flop out, this guy would quit talking mid-sentence, put on his sunglasses and stare straight ahead for the entirety of the hand. Didn’t matter if it was 30 seconds or 8 minutes. Then when the hand was over he’d take the glasses off and pick up right where he left off. I’m not making this up. I literally laughed out loud the second time he quit talking and put the glasses on.
One of the highlights of my poker life was baiting this cauliflower ear into bluffing off his entire stack as I laughed and lit up a cigar in the middle of the poker room. OK, that didn’t happen. At least it was a different player who put the cold deck on me to knock me out of the tournament around dinnertime.
I was a little unsure of what to do next, as I felt like I should be playing some kind of poker since that’s why I was in town but didn’t feel like I wanted to play Omaha or play all night since I was already a little tired from the tournament. I decided to go back to Caesar’s to rest a bit, and once there I decided I might as well just play there instead of going somewhere else.
I hadn’t played at Caesar’s in probably 9 years. Back then I did tie an all-time poker record by literally winning a pot with no money in it whatsoever. The dealer had dealt the cards but didn’t inform the small or big blinds to put their money in. I raised and everybody folded, including the players in the blinds. The dealer then tried to collect the blinds but they refused to put them in, saying they might have called my raise had they known they already owed money to the pot. This is patently ridiculous, those guys still owed their blinds. The dealer instead said she wasn’t going to make them pay but would reimburse me what they owed out of her tips. I said we could just call it even and thus was the proud winner of a $0 pot.
Perhaps incompetency like this is part of the reason Caesar’s doesn’t host very many poker games anymore. All they had were a handful of tables of $1/$2 hold em and two tables of $2/$5 hold em. These aren’t anything close to “high stakes,” yet because it’s the biggest game Caesar’s has to offer they were in a roped-off section in the back of the room. I never knew I was so big-time, but I dominated the biggest game in the room to the tune of about 1/8th of what I had lost in the tournament that day. But a win is a win, I suppose.
Tuesday, June 18
Now that I was out of the tournament, I knew I’d be playing cash games the rest of the trip. One of the benefits of playing cash games is that you can start and stop whenever you want as opposed to having to jump into a stupid tournament with stupid wrestling guy right when you wake up.
So Jeremy, Britt and I spent a couple of hours at the Caesar’s pool before getting cleaned up and grabbing lunch at Javier’s, a great Mexican place at the Aria. I had the spinach enchilada, which was superb. The chips, salsa and guacamole was top of the line as well.
Everything was set up for the three of us to crush the cash games at Aria, but that’s not how it played out. I got unlucky on a couple of hands early on and then felt myself trying to press a little bit and getting away from my game. As the sun started to go down I didn’t feel like I was playing my best and I certainly wasn’t getting lucky, so I decided to call it a day…at poker, anyway.
By this time Jeremy had also booked a losing session and retired to his quarters, and Britt had won but was ready to quit as well. I didn’t know what to have for dinner but after our steaks the first night I was definitely trusting whatever Britt would recommend. We ended up at Holstein’s, which touts itself as the best burger on the strip. And it actually was the best burger I’ve had in a really really long time. The onion rings and sweet potato fries were also on point.
Holstein’s is located at the Cosmopolitan, and after we were done eating Britt was in the mood to gamble. I was in the mood to watch Britt win a lot of money, and luckily the evening worked out for both of us. He won some quick money at the blackjack table and then we moved on to craps, where we both took our turns throwing the dice.
The last two times I played craps, the sessions ended abruptly. The first time I kept throwing the dice real high into the air and they kept bouncing off the table. I was doing pretty good but management did not care for my technique, or for having to chase down my dice on the reg. I figured they were just being sore losers and kept throwing the dice real high and off the table. I made some money but as soon as my turn ended I was pulled aside and told I was no longer welcome to play craps at the Venetian for the remainder of that evening. Boo hoo.
The next time I was staying at this little casino off the strip with my friend Tim, and the casino screwed him out of a bet he had clearly won because they said he didn’t specify the amount he was betting in time. This despite the fact that he was betting the exact same amount on every bet he was making at the table, and he had about a dozen other bets on the table at the same time. So Tim gave the pit boss an earful and we quit playing.
This Tueday at Cosmopolitan, everything was bouncing my way. I kept the dice for about half an hour. We guessed I hit around 10 points before crapping out. When my turn was finally over, the table gave me an ovation. I could have made some good money on myself had I not been making the minimum bet, but luckily Britt was betting more so he made some decent money out of it. And, again, he was incredibly generous with me and gave me something for my efforts even though all I did was throw some dice.
Wednesday, June 19
Jeremy was up and at ’em early since he had gone to bed at 6 p.m. the night before, so we decided to get some Lotus for lunch and hit the Wynn for the PLO games afterward. Lotus of Siam is a high-end Thai place off the strip. This was my second visit and I’ve yet to be disappointed.
The highlight of this meal was the crispy duck curry we split. Neither of us are generally a fan of duck but this place does it just right. I can still taste it, it went perfectly with the curry sauce they served over it. I also got a Thai tea, which I don’t think I’d had since my other visit to Lotus several years prior.
I had high hopes for this cash session as well. By that I mean I really hoped I’d get lucky and win enough to cover both the tournament and my Aria losses. Things got off to a good start when I doubled up very early. I thought I was going to double that stack again, which would have accomplished my goal of getting even, but the last card beat me in a big pot. Me and that wrestling guy, I tell ya we’re always just one card away from glory. After losing that pot I was back down to even, and after eight hours of play I counted my chips and found that I was down $3. I guess it just wasn’t meant to be on this trip.
Thursday, June 20
I was able to hit the pool for an hour and half before getting packed up and heading back to the airport. Obviously this wasn’t how I had planned the trip from a poker standpoint, but I also couldn’t have expected it to go so well from every other perspective.
I’m not sure I’ve had such consistently great food over the course of several days like this. Definitely put on a few pounds and I ain’t mad about it. Like I said, the weather was nice and the pool time was relaxing.
But the best thing was hanging out with my friends. I had never gone on a trip like this with Britt, so you never know how those things will work out. Turns out we have a lot in common and it was way more fun than I envisioned. We both like to walk a lot so instead of taking cabs we walked from Caesar’s to Palazzo for dinner, from Caesar’s to Aria for poker, from Aria to Cosmopolitan for burgers and gambling, and then back to Caesar’s. It saved us money and gave us a little exercise after sitting on our buns playing poker for most of the trip. I’ll say it again — he was incredibly generous with me the whole time and it was cool to see him win some money even if I couldn’t.
I’m not planning on going back to Vegas again this year, and who knows what 2020 will bring. I just hope the wrestling douche goes broke.
The other day I asked Addie to go look at the calendar and see if we had anything going on this Sunday.
“It just says, ‘Father’s Day.'”
“Oh reallllllly?” I said in my way-over-the-top voice. “Well isn’t that exciting? Aren’t you excited???”
She just rolled her eyes at me and walked away.
This week my sister and her family are in town so we’re spending a lot of potential blogging time with them. And on Sunday I leave for my short World Series of Poker trip to Las Vegas. But since it’s Father’s Day week I thought I’d provide a little glimpse of where I’m at with all four of my ornery kiddos.
Father’s Day always comes with a tinge of unworthiness for me. The kids always make cool cards and posters for me and I just keep thinking about my shortcomings as a parent. I try my best but often wish I had more grace and patience with them. Part of that unworthiness comes from trying to measure up to my own dad, whose grace and patience far exceeded my own.
Going into everything my dad meant to me and all the ways he shaped who I am today would be a significantly longer blog. At this very moment the two things that stand out were his optimism and his presence.
He was always looking for the best in people and spinning every situation into its most positive potential outcome. And he was always present in my life, even if he wasn’t the most vocal father. He loved to play card games or golf with me, and those things really made me feel loved. Sometimes those two positive traits would come together in an annoying way when we would be playing golf and I would hit a terrible shot (not an infrequent occurrence.) He would always yell at the ball to hit a tree and bounce back into the fairway, or skip over the water. I would be irritated with myself for hitting a bad shot and didn’t want everyone on the course to look over because he’s yelling at a golf ball that has no chance to end up anywhere besides the creek or the woods. And of course the one time in 100 when the ball actually would bounce miraculously back into the fairway, he was hooting and hollering like I’d made a hole in one. I look back on those things fondly now but that wasn’t quite how I saw it back then.
I also want to acknowledge my father-in-law Richard Hockett. For one thing, he was never anything but completely accepting of me when I began dating Missy. There was no intimidation thing going on. But the main thing I learned from him was service. I’ll never forget the first Thanksgiving dinner I went to with Missy’s family. We were at her grandpa’s house and there were probably about 15 people eating there. Richard stayed on top of the dishes the entire weekend without ever having to be asked to do so or chiding anyone else for not helping. I’ve tried to emulate that in my house on a daily basis and especially during the holidays when there is extra cleaning to be done.
As for my kids, they’re all still young enough to like me most of the time. Our favorite special routine is the head rides I give them to their beds at night. They sit on my shoulders and get a circuitous route to the beds, with occasional earthquakes or spins involved. Sadly they’re starting to get too big, but so far I haven’t had to quit on them yet, even Addie. And thankfully Hawk is old enough not to drool most of the time now. The top of my head used to be sopping wet every time I gave him a head ride.
With Addie right now, I really appreciate how helpful she is with the other kids most of the time. There are exceptions but she is generally very loving and inclusive with them, which means a lot to me. She is learning a lot right now, so my favorite conversations with her involve her telling me whatever factoid she has just discovered and asking follow-up questions on that subject. I love the enthusiasm she has for learning, and she’s told me several things recently that I didn’t know or had forgotten so I’m learning from her too.
Myra is my cuddle bear, I love getting hugs from her every day. She’s starting to say some funny things too. Today she said, “You know, when I see a yellow car it makes me want to eat some mustard.” Like Addie, Myra is great about playing well with the boys, and they really look up to her. She knows a lot of sight words and has memorized some books, so my favorite thing is when the boys gather around her and she reads books to them.
Maddux has been into playing catch with the football with me, and he’s gotten to where he can sling it pretty good. We’re still working on catching it without closing his eyes or hands, but he’s getting better at that too. My favorite thing to do with Maddux, though, has always been reading books. He’s always just been completely mesmerized by books and I love seeing his eyes wide open with amazement and full attention while we read books. You can’t ever read too many books for his taste.
Hawk has been really into competition lately. The only way to get him to help clean up is to give him a five second countdown to put up a toy. But if you do that he’ll go as fast as he can to get the job done. Tonight he wanted to race Maddux to see who could put on pajamas faster, and you would have thought it was the seventh game of the World Series. I find it interesting that while Maddux has always been overly sensitive about losing and goes into a huge fit any time he loses anything, Hawk is the opposite. Even though he loves to race and play games, he doesn’t get bothered if he doesn’t win. He’ll just say, “Maddux won that one,” or “I couldn’t be the fastest this time.” And then he goes on about his business.
So anyway, that’s a little snapshot of my favorite things about my kiddos in the summer of 2019. I know I’ll get some cool drawings and something with Reese’s peanut butter in it, but they can’t give me anything better than just being themselves every day and letting me be a part of their lives.
It’s June, which means Vegas is being overrun by douchey poker players and the World Series of Poker.
There is one big positive and one big negative about being in Vegas for the WSOP. The positive is that you can find a poker game any hour of the day, any day of the week.
The negative is everything else. Vegas sucks because it costs $15 for a smoothie, the traffic is terrible and its 110 degrees. Poker tournaments suck because the skill factor illogically decreases as the monetary stakes become higher. Poker players suck because they’re all douche-robots who take 20 minutes to fold, never talk and look like this guy.
Over the past 10 years I’ve tried just about everything when it comes to Vegas and the WSOP. Three times I’ve loaded up the whole family, rented a house for the month and made an extended vacation out of it. Some years (like last year) I didn’t bother going at all. Other years I do what I’m doing this year, flying out for just a few days.
Seems like a good time to tell a few of my favorite Vegas poker stories, as well as the reason I quit playing hold em tournaments pretty much immediately after actually doing good in a hold em tournament.
The first time Missy and I ever went to Vegas, when I still worked at the paper and before we had any kids, we stayed at the Mirage. My “Welcome to Vegas” moment happened on about our second night there, when I couldn’t sleep and went downstairs around midnight to play poker. I played until 3 a.m. and then as I was heading back to the room I was stopped by two ladies of the evening who asked if I would like them to “tuck me into bed” (That’s exactly what they said lol). I told them my wife was already in the bed and she probably would not appreciate the disruption. They said “we can be really quiet,” so I said, “Um, I guess you don’t understand, I’m just saying no.”
There was a time many years ago when the Mirage had the premier poker room in Vegas. But that was when limit poker was king, so by the time I arrived the Mirage was somewhat fading into obscurity as a poker room. That means there weren’t very many poker games there, but the ones they had were pretty good.
One summer when I brought the whole family out, Eric Wolf stayed with us and we played quite a bit at the Mirage. One night we were playing and a middle aged guy sat down on my right and started bragging about how good he was and how he had mastered the game by recently attending a World Poker Tour boot camp. Back in those days a good way to make money off of me was to get on my nerves, because I would go out of my way to try to beat players like that.
So this guy was being annoying and also seemed to be playing too cautiously. On one hand he made a raise and I figured I’d just take his money real quick so I re-raised. I don’t even remember what I had but it wasn’t very good. But he didn’t fold like I expected him to and I could tell he actually had a good hand. The flop came KQ4. No flush draw or anything. I didn’t have anything at all. This guy tenses up and thinks for a long time and then checks. I thought he probably had a hand like AK and wasn’t going to fold so I didn’t want to blow any more money on this hand so I checked. The turn was a 7 or something like it, a completely inconsequential card. This guy pauses for awhile and then checks again. Back in those days a good way to make money off of me was to check it to me twice. I couldn’t help myself, I’d take a stab at the pot. So I made a normal-sized bet. This guy thinks for a minute and then starts his speech.
He says, “I used to go broke on hands like this all the time. But not anymore. Not after the WPT boot camp. But I don’t know if I can fold this hand.” I thought he might have AQ or a pair of jacks or something. He stopped to think for a long time.
Then he turns up his hand. He has pocket queens — a set of queens! — the second-best possible hand at that moment. This guy didn’t even have that much money left, there’s no way he should ever even consider folding that hand. I was getting annoyed again. First at him for wasting so much time when he was clearly going to go all in. Then at myself for betting after already deciding I wasn’t going to bluff on the flop. I was basically just lighting money on fire. I figured since he had already shown me and the whole table his hand, he might just call instead of going all in. I decided I was going to just muck my hand as soon as he called so I wouldn’t be tempted to bluff again on the river. I was drawing completely dead, there was no card I could win with.
Then he says, “Nope, I’m not giving you my money. I know you have the set of kings. You wouldn’t have bet if you didn’t have it. I’m the only one in here who’s good enough to fold this hand.” And then he folded. I glanced over at Eric, who was incredibly and understandably annoyed that I had gotten away with this terrible play. I couldn’t look at him without bursting out laughing. That was probably seven years ago and Eric is still mad about it.
Another time we were playing at the Mirage when some typical cocky frat boy sat down. He started bragging about how much money he had and how much he could bench press and how many women he picked up in a typical week. I’m sure he and Eric shared a wink and a frat brother fist-pound. Back in those days a good way to make money off of me was to get on my nerves, because I would go out of my way to try to beat players like that.
I don’t remember how the hand started but I know I had 23, which is technically the worst starting hand in hold em. He had pocket aces, which is the best starting hand in poker. And I either raised or called his raise or called his re-raise with that hand. I also don’t remember exactly what happened on the flop but it was something like 962. All I know is that I was betting the whole hand, whether I raised him or he was just calling me I don’t remember. The turn didn’t change anything, I still just had a pair of deuces. I bet again and he called. Then the river was another 2, which gave me the best hand. I went all in and he called and was not happy to see my hand.
But remember he’s the cool frat boy with all the money and all the girls so he had to act like it was no big deal to him. He wasn’t going to rebuy so he got up from the table, walked over to me, said “Nice hand bro” and slapped me on the back as hard as I’ve ever been slapped on the back. I think it left his handprint there. I was worried that he was trying to fight me but he ambled off into the night to do some more pushups and meet some more girls.
About seven years ago we went to Vegas and I was in the middle of the worst poker slump of my life. I’ve never liked hold em tournaments but I decided to play one just to try something different. Today just about every casino runs a tournament series concurrent to the World Series, but at this time the Venetian was the only competition to the WSOP. This was also before the WSOP started having $500 buy-in tournaments. Because of those things, the fields at the Venetian were way bigger than they are now. I entered a $300 tournament and there were more than 900 people in it.
I think we played 14 hours of poker on the first day, until the field was down to the last 10% who would make the money. I wasn’t getting very many good hands but when I did get a good hand I won every pot it seemed like. So I didn’t have a big chip stack but I was never in danger of missing the money either. I believe the field was 915 players so the top 92 would make the money. When it was down to 93 they did hand-for-hand play so players with short stacks couldn’t take an excessive amount of time just to try to sneak into the money.
By this time it was like 3 a.m. and I was exhausted. A guy at my table got all in with Ace-Ten and he was up against pocket tens. It was down to the last card and unless he hit an ace he would be eliminated and we could all go home for the night. Sure enough, the ace came on the river. A few minutes later someone else got busted.
The next day I think we started at noon, so I didn’t get much sleep at all (especially since it took about 30 minutes to drive to and from the house we had rented that summer). Day 2 was about like Day 1 for me. I wasn’t getting a lot of good hands but I won enough to keep my head above water while other people got eliminated. When we got down to the final table I couldn’t believe who had the biggest chip stack — it was the guy who had caught the ace on the last card the night before! (They re-draw for table assignments to start Day 2 and I hadn’t played with this guy the whole day. He was a terrible player and I never dreamed he would make the final table, much less have a huge chip lead).
At the final table I was one of the shortest chip stacks, but I was never short enough to have to panic or go all in with a bad hand. At one point I flopped a set and one of the bigger stacks kept bluffing and eventually went all in with no pair and no draw, so that was good for me.
The final table was being played on a portable table just outside the main Venetian poker room, in the middle of the slot machines basically. They had the table roped off but the slots were all around it. My friends Travis Brassfield and Jason Garder were staying at our house that summer and they were trying to watch and root for me at the final table. They were sitting on slot machine chairs but had the chairs facing away from the slots and toward the poker table. Casino security came over and told them they had to be actively playing the slots to sit in the chairs. So Travis put $20 in the machine just so it would be “active” but never played it. While he was watching poker somebody walked by and cashed out his $20 lol.
The tournament was supposed to last three days but the guy with all the chips was from Portugal and had a flight out the next morning. The supervisor decided we would just play the tournament out that night.
Eventually it got down to three of us. The other two guys had $5 million each in tournament chips and I had only $1 million. First place in the tournament paid $42,000, second place was $35k and third was $30k. So logic would dictate that the other two would wait for me to get eliminated before they locked horns in a big pot. Instead, they got all in against each other, and each only had one pair. The Portuguese dude who had caught the ace the night before was behind but he caught a second pair to eliminate the other player. This made me an extra $5k just for sitting there but also meant I was at a 10:1 chip disadvantage going into heads-up play.
I got back to nearly even with him at one point but he had about twice as many chips as me on the final hand, when I missed a straight flush draw and his buddies draped him in a Portuguese flag and sang the anthem about 20 times in a row while we waited to get paid. This was maybe 3 or 4 a.m., and I was so tired that I literally forgot I was in Las Vegas. I thought I was at Riverwind.
The $35k was by far my biggest score ever, although oddly that year still ended up being my worst overall year so far. It definitely came at a good time, yet I’ve hardly played any tournaments since then. I really did not like how delusionally tired I was at the end of it, and it also seemed stupid that after two whole days of play that one lucky or unlucky card could change your net worth that significantly. If this had been a more expensive tournament like the main event of the WSOP, one jump in the pay scale could be worth tens of thousands of dollars.
I did play one or two more tournaments that summer, but I haven’t played a hold em tournament in about five years. I usually end up playing one Omaha tournament per year, like the $1500 WSOP tournament I’m planning to play in about 10 days when I’m out there. Hopefully I can get heads up against the same Portuguese guy. Surely he can’t beat me twice in a row 😉
Thursday was a weird evening for me in several ways.
First, I was staying the night at my mom’s house. Thanks to everyone who prayed for her hip replacement surgery Tuesday. After a rough first night she rebounded fantastically on Wednesday and was able to go home Thursday. She’s already getting around as well as she was before the procedure and I’m very hopeful that this will greatly increase her quality of life. But I didn’t want her staying home alone on that first night.
Which leads to Weird Thing #2. Mom went to bed early as usual and I had a kid-free evening of relaxation, but with no DVR on the TV. I don’t watch anything live on TV. Even sports, which is the one thing everyone watches live. I still DVR it, wait until the kids go to bed and then fire it up in peace and zip through the games quickly. I can watch a Cubs or Thunder game in about 45 minutes and a football game quicker than that. If it means I have to stay off my phone for a few hours in the evening to avoid spoilers then I consider that an added bonus. So I’m just chilling on her couch, flipping between the NBA Finals and the Women’s College World Series.
Which leads to Weird Thing #3. I watched a lot more of the softball game than I expected to. I’d still say the TV was on the basketball game more than 50% of the time, but it was close.
It was a great back-and-forth game, with OU beating Alabama 3-2. The next night while playing poker I watched the winner’s bracket game between OU and OSU. It’s pretty cool that both schools made it and the atmosphere at Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City seemed really electric. The top-ranked Sooners pulled away late for a 6-1 victory.
Why is it that I enjoyed watching softball two nights in a row when I never watch women’s basketball? Why did I watch more softball the past two nights than I’ve watched college baseball over the past two years? I think it comes down to the product. Women’s basketball is (in my opinion) an inferior product to men’s college basketball, which itself has become barely watchable ever since we got an NBA team. But they are essentially the same game. College baseball is an inferior product to minor league baseball, which is an inferior product to Major League Baseball. But they are essentially the same game. Softball is a different sport entirely, and the differences are what make it fun.
Start with the underhanded pitching motion. For one thing, it allows pitchers to throw multiple games in a row, as opposed to major league games where starters get pulled after four innings and it takes 6 guys to complete a game. It also allows for some different spin and manipulation of the ball. It doesn’t take long to figure out how hard it is to make solid contact off of these elite softball pitchers.
Softball games are full of chants and songs that don’t really make sense to an outsider like myself but they make for a festive environment. The whole field and base paths are smaller and shorter than a traditional baseball diamond, which makes the whole game move quicker. The shortstop doesn’t have time to play patty cake with the ball before throwing to first; any hesitation will cost her the out. My great friend and former OU softball beat reporter Josh Ward compares it to Arena League football, and it’s a perfect comparison. The quirks are what make it fun to watch. Yet it’s still very similar to baseball, and the players can easily display their athleticism in the field and on the basepaths.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt when your alma mater has the best program in the country. In 1995, OU hired the coach at Long Beach City College. All Patty Gasso has done since then is win 78% of her games and four national titles. And this year’s squad may be her best yet. OU is 54-4 and didn’t lose a game in Big 12 Conference play. Statistically, this would be their best team ever if they can win three more games and capture another title.
I came to OU three years after Gasso did, and in 2000 I was the sports editor of the school paper. The aforementioned Josh Ward covered the softball team, which looked like it might be a special one.
If you know Josh, you know he can be a tough critic (especially the Y2k version of Dub). But he never had a negative word to say about Gasso or the way she ran her program. He said she was great to work with and always “had her shit together.” Not that anyone could have predicted this level of success, but Josh says he never had a doubt that OU would be a big winner under Gasso.
One of the coolest experiences I ever had at OU came on the softball field while I was sports editor. Gasso let me, Josh, and our sports photographer Paul Dryden take batting practice against OU’s pitchers that spring. It was really a testament to both Josh and Coach Gasso. Most reporters wouldn’t have developed the kind of relationship with the team to make that a possibility, and most coaches wouldn’t be cool enough to go along with it.
I remember going to the old (and now defunct) Perfect Swing off Highway 9 to get some practice cuts in. I didn’t plan on hitting a home run but I was darn sure going to get the bat on the ball. OU’s pitchers that year were Jennifer Stewart and Lana Moran. Stewart was the ace and she had a changeup that made Josh and Paul look silly. Like any good pitcher she threw it with the same motion as her fastball and you only had about half a millisecond to react to that if you wanted to hit it, so when she threw the change you looked like Bugs Bunny swinging three times at the same pitch and striking out. I don’t know how anyone hits that pitch unless they just guess right that it’s coming.
Gasso only allowed us 5 or 10 pitches each. Neither Josh nor Paul made contact with any of Stewart’s pitches and the entire team was sitting on the outfield grass laughing up a storm and talking trash. So the pressure was on yours truly. Luckily I didn’t have to face Stewart. Moran was also a good pitcher but she didn’t have that nasty changeup and I was able to send her first pitch over the fence and into the parking lot, where it shattered Gasso’s car window. OK maybe that’s not quite how it happened. Actually, I just fouled it straight back, which was already a pretty big win for me. I also managed to hit one fair, although it would have been a routine ground out.
But it was a blast, and it made me appreciate how hard the sport is. As the sports editor of the paper, it stinks that the school year ends before the Women’s College World Series. Josh had some great coverage of the team during the season but by the time the WCWS rolled around it was summer and I had a regular job.
I’ll never forget the day OU won the national championship that year. It was Memorial Day and our family tradition at that time was to split into two groups. Mom took Andrew and Allison to her hometown of Enid to decorate the graves there, and I went with dad to the small town of Jones where his family was from. In the world before smartphones, I had no idea what was going on in the game against UCLA. As soon as we got home I turned on ESPN and the first batter I saw was the last batter of the game. It was really exciting to see this team we had been covering all year celebrating a national championship. The football championship wouldn’t come for another 7 months so this was the first time OU won anything during my tenure there.
Josh covered the WCWS and says he remembers some kind of special edition of the paper after it was over. It just stinks that the majority of the students wouldn’t have been on campus to read his great work and that I didn’t get to be part of the coverage or design of that paper. He said he gathered his notes and mementos from that WCWS and later gave them to Gasso, although he doesn’t know if she kept them or what she did with them. She’s won three championships since then (with a fourth hopefully on the way in the next week), but that first one is always special.
I was never the beat reporter for the softball team; I covered the baseball team. I covered several high school state tournament games at the Constitution but only one OU game. It was a Bedlam game in Norman, and I wasn’t actually sent to write about the game itself.
I was there to do a feature on Courtney Totte, who was a catcher for Oklahoma State. She was a great player and as far as I can remember she was the only Lawton kid during my time there to go on to play for OU or OSU. The stadium was packed and the crowd was really into it. I remember the weather being absolutely perfect that night, the game moved along at a good pace and OU won (sorry Courtney). Afterward I got a good interview which turned into a pretty good story, if I do say so myself. I remember it being one of those nights that make sportswriting the best job in the world. (The nights when the game takes four hours, the coaches are grumpy and the computer quits working, not so much).
This summer my daughter Addison is playing softball for the first time. We watched some of OSU’s win over Florida the other night together. We’ve gone to the park a few times to practice, just her and I, and it’s those kind of moments that you live for as a parent. She’s got some natural talent but she’s also good at volleyball, basketball, and a lot of non-sports stuff like music, acting, cooking and science so it will be interesting to see what piques her interest the most in the upcoming years.
I’m not pushing her toward softball by any means, but I’ll enjoy whatever time we end up getting on the diamond. And I’ll be watching the Women’s College World Series, at least as long as Gasso and the Sooners are in it.
Probably a fair number of people who normally read my blog won’t even click on this because the title elicits strong negative memories or assumptions. Many others will have the exact opposite reaction, people who can’t imagine a life outside of the faith or whose lives were drastically changed for the better after finding Jesus. Some of those people will be mad about some of the things I’m about to say.
Church has been a part of my life since I was born. It’s been an overwhelmingly positive part of it the majority of the time, with some bumps along the way. Many times those bumps were self-inflicted and occasionally they were caused by the human beings that make up “The Church”. But I can’t write my life story without talking about it, so even though it’s not a popular topic I’m going to put my experiences and beliefs out there.
I was raised in the church. Some of my earliest church memories involve Vacation Bible Study and church camp at Camp Sooner. We went to Draper Park Christian Church, which is still located at 8500 S Walker in Oklahoma City.
We weren’t just a Christmas and Easter family, or even just a Sunday church family for that matter. Mom and Dad were both fully committed to Jesus Christ, not just on church days but every day. We prayed before every meal and at bedtime and I saw my parents living their faith in everything they did. I saw them reading their Bibles and Bible study books every day and they lived a life of serving God and others in everything they did.
Biblical Christian values were part of our family rules and expectations. Lying, cheating and stealing were things that never even entered my mind. I remember cursing under my breath once while playing basketball my freshman year and being so overcome with guilt, I probably prayed 100 times for forgiveness from that singular dirty word.
I started reading the Bible on my own when I was in second grade. I would read two chapters every day. Even at such a young age I remember being mesmerized by Jesus’ teachings and the Old Testament prophecies about him that would be fulfilled centuries after they were written.
At summer church camp in about third grade, they showed us a movie where four teenagers died in a car crash and went to hell because they hadn’t accepted Jesus. Of course, one of them was the regular church attendee who just hadn’t gotten around to “being saved.” This movie shows these kids burning in hell, in pain and emotional agony forever. And this movie is being shown to a couple hundred third graders who are in the middle of nowhere, away from their families and now scared out of their minds. I know it scared the crap out of me. Dozens if not hundreds of kids accepted the “altar call” at the end of this movie and got baptized right there at the camp. I have no idea if there was any pushback or negative consequences from the camp for showing that movie to a bunch of 9-year-olds, but there should have been. It was a ridiculous and terrible thing to do. (Told you I’m not sugarcoating anything in this blog. The church is made up of human beings, and human beings make mistakes all the time, regardless of their intentions. I’m sure there are people who wouldn’t have a problem with showing this movie to kids that age — whatever it takes to “save them.” I strongly disagree.)
I had been wanting to get baptized for a couple of years already but mom and dad thought I needed to learn a little more before I could truly make that decision. I don’t remember talking to them specifically about this movie but in any event it would be another year before I got baptized, at Draper Park by my dad on the same day as my sister Allison.
It was at Draper Park where I became friends with Kevin Ash, and through Kevin and Camp Sooner I became friends with Chad Anderson. Those have been two of my best friends ever since then. From that fact alone, church would have been a huge net positive on my life. I’ve always been a people-pleaser so if I had had different friends in high school it could have gotten me into some real trouble.
Draper Park Christian Church is a part of the Independent Christian church denomination, which is on the conservative end of the spectrum. But we had instruments playing during worship and didn’t preach that dancing sent you straight to hell so I guess it wasn’t that bad. Jim Avery was the head preacher at that time, and his messages were always practical and filled with lots of scripture. He didn’t yell about hell and he didn’t tell you you could do whatever you wanted and be fine. And that mindset is what defined DPCC to me. I was surrounded by great people and great role models.
Our youth group was very close. I still keep up with several families from the DPCC days (don’t want to start naming them or I’ll accidentally leave some out) and it’s cool to see what everyone is up to.
A very high percentage of our youth group committed to going into ministry full-time, and a very high percentage of those people did exactly that (including my brother and sister). For whatever reason, I never thought that was in my future. I’ll always be grateful to Jim for the message he delivered to us on graduation Sunday my senior year. There were about 7 of us graduating and I may have been the only one not heading to bible college and planning on entering the ministry. Without calling me out by name, Jim spent a few minutes talking about how important it was to have Christians living good lives in every job and that they were just as important as those entering the ministry.
During college I kept attending DPCC and occasionally floated in and out of the Christ on Campus house at OU (the collegiate ministry of the Independent Christian Church). I wasn’t really involved much by my junior year but through that ministry and my brother I met Missy. So that was a pretty big win for me.
After moving to Lawton I quickly found Carriage Hills Christian Church, another Independent Christian Church. I made a lot of great friends, including another one of my best friends to this day, Mike Carroll. That church wasn’t big but there were a lot of really neat people there. I volunteered with the youth group and played guitar on Sunday mornings.
Meanwhile, back in Oklahoma City, DPCC and other churches of that ilk began seeing a decline in attendance. For some reason they responded by being legalistic and divisive. They tried to make my parents sign a paper saying, among other things, that they believed baptism was essential for salvation. This would essentially send all the Catholics to hell permanently and put quite a dent into the general concept of salvation by faith alone. My parents refused to sign it and switched churches. This made me sad but was the right thing to do.
Around 2007 or 2008, Carriage Hills adopted the same rule. I couldn’t believe it, and it really hurt my heart. One of the most Christ-like families in the whole church, who treated me personally like a son, hadn’t all been baptized and were naturally offended. Missy and I left the church.
In 2009 we moved back to Oklahoma City and we jumped right back to DPCC for several reasons. One, we wanted to be part of a church family again and we still had many friends at DPCC. Two, my brother was going there and we wanted more opportunities to connect with him. Three, I really missed working with the youth group at Carriage Hills and Draper’s youth minister was Clay Atchley, who I had gone to high school with and is a great guy. They didn’t make me sign a “dunk or burn” letter so we hopped back in, and things were great for awhile.
I helped with the youth group on Wednesday nights and led the worship when the full-time music minister was gone. After a couple of years, somebody nominated me to be a deacon, which had no particular significance to me but sure, whatever. Then they told me I had to go to an elder’s meeting to discuss it.
I show up at the meeting and was pretty surprised to find out that the topic was my profession. Evidently this room full of older men I had known for literally almost my entire life was split 50/50 on whether I could be a deacon because I play poker. Never mind the fact that this new title added zero new duties to what I was already doing, and they didn’t mind me playing guitar or working with the youth group while having this job. And they certainly had no qualms about accepting my financial donations which came from this nefarious practice.
To be fair, several people in that room were strongly behind me, although 10 minutes into it I was sure I didn’t want the position anyway. It didn’t matter because the top elder was convinced I was living a life of sin and he got his way. (Trust me, I struggle with about a million sins but playing poker isn’t one of them. Jesus must’ve told this dude directly how bad it is since it’s not mentioned in the Bible).
The whole thing hurt me a lot more than I expected it to. Ultimately, we decided to leave because I felt attitudes like that kept the church from growing and adding new members.
We went from Draper to Journey Church in Norman, where we quickly found some great friends that we still have to this day. But after two or three years there, the church got into financial trouble and sold out to a different denomination with vastly different beliefs.
So now we go to Life Church. Let me tell you what I love about Life Church. It’s very welcoming to newcomers. People dress casually and there’s honestly not a hint of judgment on anyone from what I’ve seen. The kids programs are great.
I really gain a lot from the messages. What I like about Pastor Craig Groeschel’s style is that he blends plenty of scriptural background in with spiritual lessons that also contain simple, practical things that improve your life. If you didn’t believe in God at all and listened to a message it could still help you with your diet, money management, relationship with your spouse, etc. If any of you are interested in attending or have any questions about it, don’t hesitate to reach out.
It’s not a perfect church. No church is. Because churches are made up of people and people make mistakes. My experiences have made me quite cynical when it comes to church politics and church finances. But this is nothing new, it’s not much different at all from what Jesus called out in the church of His day. Pharisees gonna Pharisee.
I’ve probably read the Bible front to back about 10 times in my life. In some ways, the more I learn, the less I feel like I know. But now I feel like the things I’m uncertain about are the things that don’t matter, so I don’t waste my time worrying about them.
I really try to follow the golden rule, to treat others with love, respect and honesty. Much of the other stuff actually gets in the way of the overarching theme of the Bible, that God is love. We don’t need to argue about legalistic things or unknown aspects of what exactly happens when you die. Following Jesus and his teachings will give us and those in our circle better lives right here and right now. And that’s something we can control.
I’ve written some negative things about the church, so let me just fill out a scorecard regarding it. Actually, I’ll let an atheist fill it out. Taking away everything spiritual about it, the church in my life has been a huge positive.
I already mentioned the relationships I’ve gained through it. The church has also been an avenue through which I’ve been able to serve less fortunate people. I’m not much help on a construction crew but I helped build a couple of houses through Habitat for Humanity. I’ve stocked shelves at the Regional Food Bank. I’ve scooped potatoes onto plates at City Rescue Mission. Those last two things I’ve taken my daughter to do with me, hopefully passing on the value of service. I’m not saying these things to brag about myself. I’m better than you at poker but I’m not a better person. I mess up all the time.
I want to tie up the loose ends about Draper Park Christian Church. I have nothing but love for that place. Clay is now the lead preaching minister there and I’m still good friends with him. I listen to every single one of his sermons via podcast and definitely support the vision he has for a place that played such a huge role in my life. I visited there a few months back and it was great to see all of the familiar faces.
Nowadays, I hate even talking about “spiritual” things like baptism. I’m trying to focus on tangible things that clearly benefit people living in the world right now. That’s where I’m at with my faith in 2019, trying to be less selfish and be a net positive on the world.