The Microtel in Ardmore Sucks

I recently had occasion to spend a night in Ardmore. Over the years, I’ve stayed several times at the Microtel there. I generally like it because it’s cheap and plenty nice enough for my meager needs. The room is tiny, which is why it’s called “Micro”tel, but all I do there is sleep and maybe read a book for 30 minutes. I don’t need a minibar. It’s far too small for my family of 6 but when it’s just me crashing for a few hours between poker stops, it’s fine.

Except the other night. That was not fine.

It started as soon as I walked in, when they couldn’t get me checked in properly. I use hotels.com so it’s not unusual for something to go wrong. Normally it wouldn’t even annoy me but on this particular night it was already after midnight when I was checking in and there were only about five cars in the parking lot. That, combined with the fact that the rate was the lowest I’ve ever paid there, led me to believe they had lots of open rooms. The lady could see that I had a reservation but for whatever reason couldn’t click on whatever she needed to in order to get from there to handing me a room key. I was dead tired after an 11-hour day of poker and driving so I just wanted to crash. The only good news was that she easily agreed to my request for a noon checkout.

Finally she gives me a key and a room number. I take the stairs to the room. Normally, this would be the part where I tell you that my key doesn’t work and I have to walk back down the stairs. This has happened to me before at this very establishment, but on this night the key worked fine and I entered the room. Notice I didn’t say “my” room, because it was somebody else’s. Thankfully there was nobody in the room or else I would probably either be dead or in therapy right now. I can report that the occupant in this room had done a very poor job of consuming popcorn in bed. There was popcorn everywhere. Like, an impossible amount of uneaten popcorn.

If it weren’t for the popcorn, I might have just gone to bed and rolled the dice on who might be joining me in a few hours. But no. The lady gave me a new key to a new room. It worked and the room was popcorn free.

Notice I didn’t say “smoke free.” Actually, at the time I entered the room was smoke free. I tossed the “do not disturb” sign on my door, tossed my bag on the floor and was asleep in a matter of minutes. But it didn’t stay smoke free for long. I was awakened by a massive fire, had to throw a chair through my second-story window and leap to the ground in my skivvies.

OK, that didn’t happen. But it’s possible I was dreaming about something like that when I actually was awakened by the smell of smoke. This, however, was not the kind of smoke you smell when your building is on fire. Unless your building was lit on fire with 150 pounds of marijuana.

My neighbor apparently liked to smoke at 4:20 a.m. as well as 4:20 p.m. I didn’t know that was a thing, but it didn’t bother me too much. I went back to sleep.

A couple of hours later, I was again awakened, this time by the Microtel manager banging on my neighbor’s door. They got into a bit of a shouting match about the smoke, which ended with the manager saying, “I’m charging you for a smoking room!!” That kind of made me chuckle but I still wasn’t thrilled about being awake at 6 a.m.

I managed to go back to sleep until 10:30, when housekeeping knocked on my door. They paid no heed to my “do not disturb” sign. I yelled that I was still in there and tried to go back to sleep.

This proved to be unsatisfactory to the housekeeping crew at the Microtel. They knocked on my door again 10 minutes later. I yelled that I had a noon checkout. Five minutes after that, the phone in my room rang. The lady asked if I would like to purchase an additional evening of elegance at the Microtel. It wasn’t even 11 a.m. yet, the standard checkout time.

Since I prefer snarkiness to pure confrontation, I calmly informed her that while I appreciated the free secondhand pot and the multiple interruptions to my sleep, I could not afford a second night of such luxurious bliss. I told her I had been granted a Noon checkout and promised I would vacate their hallowed premises by such time.

If I had had 150 pounds of pot in my car, I would have spread it around that piece of crap and set it on fire.

Charity

In the month of December, our household gets eight pieces of mail per day. Four are Christmas presents Missy ordered on Amazon, and four are letters from nonprofits soliciting donations.

Some of these places we’ve never even donated to. But it’s the end of the year, which means not only Christmas but also end-of-year tax deduction season.

Seems like an appropriate time to share our family’s thoughts and actions on charitable giving.

I grew up in a family that always stressed giving back to God. Every Sunday, I watched my parents put a check into the offering plate. A mailman and a schoolteacher with three kids, we were the definition of a middle class family in the 1980s and 1990s. We had everything we could ever need but not much more, so I understood the sacrifice my parents made by giving up 10% of their income every week. They didn’t view it as a sacrifice, however. They just saw it as being obedient to God.

So when I got my first jobs as a 16-year-old, writing for the local newspaper and bagging groceries at the old Buchanan’s, I immediately got in the habit of tithing that 10% from every paycheck.

I’m proud to say that I’ve maintained that habit for the past 25 years, although my reasons for doing so and the places that the money goes to have changed quite a bit over that time.

For years, I just gave the 10% to my local church, be it in Oklahoma City or Lawton once I moved there. It’s a habit that the church writ large does a relentless job in helping form.

I don’t want to make this post into a theological debate, and I don’t want to dump onto an institution that on the whole has done great things and helped countless people both in a spiritual and physical sense.

To put it simply, many churches (including the one we currently attend) believe that the Bible instructs its followers to give 10% to their local church. I used to share this but no longer do. You have to jump through some Biblical hoops to come to this belief, and I’d be happy to discuss it with anyone who wants to but don’t want to get into it here.

In a recent sermon at Draper Park Christian Church, my friend Clay Atchley did a great job of showing how Jesus and his disciples embodied the spirit of giving in a more extreme but less formulaic manner. The early church essentially gave everything to everyone. Instead of setting aside 10% of your pre-tax carpenter’s paycheck, you literally opened your home up to anyone who needed a place to stay or a meal to eat, even if it left you with nothing.

I also believe in helping others from a social/political standpoint. I want less government in my life. Less taxes. But we as a society have to take care of the less fortunate people who can’t take care of themselves. That means everyone who can needs to chip in so we can keep the government out of it. And yeah, we take the tax deductions when we donate.

Over time, I have been moved to give less and less money to the actual church and more and more to a variety of people and organizations. I should point out that thankfully Missy and I are in lockstep on this so it hasn’t been a source of friction.

Despite my changing views, the amount we give is essentially the same. But where I used to view 10% as a Biblical amount needed to be obedient to God, I now just view it as a good number that allows us to make a difference.

Because of poker, our monthly income fluctuates quite a bit. At the end of the month, we sit down and decide what to do with that 10%. Usually one or both of us has something on our heart so that’s what we’ll do.

About once per year, that 10% does go back to our church. I believe our church does a lot of great things for people.

Sometimes, our support goes to charities that we’ve personally volunteered with. The Regional Food Bank, Special Olympics, City Rescue Mission, Cookson Hills and Habitat For Humanity all fall under that, and I know I’m leaving some great ones out. Some of those have a religious element to them and others don’t, but Missy and I believe in what all of them are doing and love being able to help a little.

Many times, our 10% doesn’t involve an official organization. If some of our family or friends is in a time of need, we will help. It’s this kind of thing that I believe embodies what Jesus and his disciples were trying to communicate.

I don’t write any of this to make us seem like great people. Missy is great. I hate myself a pretty high percentage of the time — doing our monthly donations is one of the times I don’t.

I’d also love to learn about new places or causes to donate to. What moves your heart to action? Put them in the comments so we can learn more.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and Happy Tax Deduction Season to you all.

40 Year Old Pillows

I didn’t think I’d ever make it to 40. Not specifically because I thought I’d die young, just because it seemed like a faraway number that only a different species of life could attain.

My family and friends made my 40th a special event. It was basically a full week’s worth of festivities. It kicked off on Nov. 9 when Chad was in town and took me to Bricktown Brewery for burgers and beer. On the 11th mom took me to my favorite restaurant, Charleston’s. On the 12th, my actual birthday, the kids made me custom birthday cards, while Missy made me a homemade pizza and a turtle cake (yum!). The next night I was treated to dinner, cigars and bar games by my friends. On the 15th I had lunch with my brother, and on the 16th I got a really nice card from my sister and her family in North Carolina.

Even considering that I snuck this picture without telling anyone, these guys look awful bored.

And that brings us to the pillow.

I’ve never bought one in my life. I went from using the one my mom got for me growing up to using the one my wife got for me a few years back. One of the many ways in which I am weird is my sleeping pattern. I fall asleep on my stomach and then switch to my side about halfway through the night. For the last several years, I’ve used the flat pillow I grew up with to fall asleep, then switch to the big tempurpedic one when I go to my side.

Thrilling blog so far.

A few weeks back Andrew asked me what I wanted for my birthday and I thought it might be nice to try to find one pillow that could work the whole night for me. Yes, I am aware that children are starving in Africa and I want an upgraded third pillow. Andrew and Allison were nice enough to go in together to get me that upgraded third pillow.

And so on Friday, after our lunch, Andrew and I went to Bed, Bath and Beyond to pick out a pillow. I hadn’t given any thought to this process beforehand. And I couldn’t tell you if my experience was a normal one, because it’s the only pillow-buying experience I’ve ever had. But it was kind of weird.

First off, I had assumed that the pillows would be included in the “Bed” portion of Bed, Bath and Beyond. But evidently it’s “Beyond.” Literally two sections beyond the beds. Not that I’m trying to get a 30-minute test drive/nap on these pillows, but how am I supposed to tell if I like the way my head feels on the pillow if I can’t lay my head on the pillow? I grabbed three or four pillows and took them over to the “bed” section, but that felt weird too.

For one thing, there were only three beds over there. If “Bed” comprises 33% of your store’s name, you need more than three damn beds in the place. If I were named CEO of Bed, Bath and Beyond — a very distinct possibility after their board of directors reads this piece — I would demand that one of two changes take place. They should either put in a crappy, unmade bed in the pillow section explicitly for pillow testing, or just change the name of the whole operation to “Beyond” and end the façade of selling beds and baths. Now that I think about it, I’m not even sure they sell baths there.

Like I said, I carried my pillows over to the fancy beds and tried to test them out, but I didn’t want to lay all the way down on a $1200 bed I had no interest in buying just to test a $30 pillow. They had the beds propped up kind of high, so I tried to just stand next to the bed, lean over onto the bed without laying down and try it that way. My 40-year-old back did not like that, plus I felt like an alcoholic trying to sneak a flask out of my pocket and take a swig before anyone saw because I knew it looked ridiculous.

So I took the walk of shame back to the pillow section, holding four pillows, zero shreds of dignity and zero firsthand knowledge about which of these pillows I might like to purchase.

Let me tell you something else about these sample pillows. They’re all nasty. I wouldn’t expect them to actually be clean, but I can’t really think of a reason why every single one of them has a stain. A couple of them had red stains, which means that either blood or ketchup was involved. I started to think of some scenarios by which different-colored stains would arrive upon the pillows, then figured it best to leave the subject alone. But trust me, they be nasty.

Around this time, a BB&B employee came up and asked us if we needed any help. I told her my pillow preference and asked if she had anything that would fit the bill. She gave a couple of recommendations, after which her presence was no longer required. Yet it persisted. I know she was just trying to be helpful, but it’s been a couple of decades since I squeezed a pillow and then looked directly into the eyes of a complete stranger. She started talking about her daughter’s pillow preferences, which did not help make things less weird.

Averting my eyes did not help matters, as it usually ended with me looking at this guy hugging his own pillow. So many questions here.

The My Pillow guy holding his pillow

“My pillow” is 100% a mafia thing, right? Seems like the only way that name could get to market. When 15 marketing executives tell you to give it a real name and Al Capone stands up and says, “It’s my pillow. That’s what we’re calling it,” you name it My Pillow.

Also seems like the only way they’d plaster this dude’s picture on everything. Those same marketing execs probably went to him and said, “Look boss, we’re not saying you look completely creepy, but we gave Bob Saget a couple grand and a free pillow to be the face of this thing.” To which Al Capone said, “We got a problem here?” To which the execs said, “You going to keep the necklace on or…yep, great. Necklace looks classy.”

I tested the My Pillow, and at the risk of getting whacked I’m going on the record and saying it sucked. Also, crème colored stain. Next I tried a Claritin pillow. Have to admit, did not know that was a thing. Somehow supposed to fix your allergies while you sleep. I was born 40 years ago, not last night. So I passed on that, as well as the pillows infused with charcoal and the pillows infused with CBD oil. Somehow, those are real products that people buy.

This epic business battle for my siblings’ pillow money came down to two pillows. One was called the 5 degree pillow and claims to be 5 degrees cooler than the rest of the room. The other was easily the best pillow in the room. I think it was made from clouds or something. The only problem is that it cost more than twice as much as the next most expensive pillow in the place.

I was skeptical about the 5 degree cooler thing, but I liked the firmness of the pillow. Seemed like it was right in the happy zone between too flat and too big. Our helpful sales lady said it really was 5 degrees cooler and I could take it out of the bag and test it. Son of a bitch really is cooler than everything else in the room. This might be the greatest worthless invention of our generation.

All things being equal, I would have bought the pillow made from slaughtered whale blubber but I couldn’t bear the idea of spending $200 on a pillow, even if it was my brother and sister’s money. So I’ve got this five degree thing. If you’d like to buy one without being stared at by a single mother working in the pillow section at Bed, Bath and Beyond, here’s a link.

So far, the pillow seems to be working out. I have woken up with frostbite on my ears the last two days, so that’s a plus. They didn’t sell me a crock of crap.

Thanks to my siblings for the pillow. Thanks to my wife, kids, mom and friends for the birthday gifts. Thanks to everyone who texted, emailed or Facebooked to pass along wishes. Thanks to the My Pillow guy for keeping it real. And thanks to all of you for reading a blog about pillows.

Spies and Thieves

Last Saturday, Missy and I had a date night.

Per usual, we waited until the last minute to decide what we were going to do. Finally, Missy said she didn’t want anything to do with the planning, she just wanted me to figure it out for us.

So I made a plan. I was kind of in the doghouse, so I tried to plan the evening to be exactly how Missy would want it. One of her favorite restaurants is Benvenuti’s in Norman. It’s a great Italian place on Main Street. I figured we’d eat there and then go to a late movie, another of Missy’s favorite activities.

So I called Benvenuti’s to get a reservation.

The lady put me on hold for a minute, then came back and said they only had two time slots available — 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. I looked at the clock. It was 4:58 p.m. So, um, I guess we’ll take the 8. I was hoping for a little earlier than that but our movie didn’t start until 10 p.m. so I figured we still had plenty of time. (Kids, that right there is what you call “foreshadowing.” We would not, in fact, have plenty of time).

Since we had a little time to kill before our dinner, we decided to go to The Winston, a trendy little bar directly across the street from Benvenuti’s. It was a perfect night outside, so we sat out front.

A short while later I received this picture.

Evidently, my friend Brant had also elected to have a date night at Benvenuti’s. But instead of walking across the street and saying hi like a normal human being he took a picture of us and put it in a group text. Somehow it looks like I’m staring right at him even though I have no idea he is there and can’t see anything. Funny thing is, he ended up having a 5 p.m. reservation, so we would have seen them if we had chosen that time slot and then made it from Oklahoma City to Norman in two minutes.

Side note: Congrats to Brant and Abby on the beautiful baby girl they had just a few days ago!

Since we were directly across the street, it was quite easy for us to be at Benvenuti’s on time for our 8 p.m. reservation. I think we got there five minutes early. We checked in and stood right next to the podium while we waited for our table, which they said would be ready soon.

A few minutes later, possibly right at 8 p.m., another couple walks in and says they have an 8 p.m. reservation. Then they ask to speak to the manager.

Immediately, Missy turns to me and says, “I don’t know what’s happening but I feel like we are about to get screwed.” (Kids, that right there is what you call “foreshadowing”. We did, in fact, get screwed.)

We were paying close attention when when the manager comes up to them. They point toward the bar area and say they’d like a table in there, because they are Oklahoma State University fans and OSU is playing Texas and they want to watch the game while they eat. We definitely did not hear every word of the conversation but that was the gist of it.

Fifteen minutes go by. Nobody has gotten a table. Now I’m getting a little bit worried about our movie plans. Then one of the hostesses (not the manager) goes up to them, and they are whisked off to a table right in front of us, in the bar area close to the TV.

Immediately I look over at the podium, where two hostesses are talking about the situation. Before I can open my mouth, one of the hostesses — the one who checked us in — says, “You’re Mr. Franklin, right?” I say yes. The other hostess says, “I asked them if they were Mr. and Mrs. Franklin and they said yes so I took them to their table.”

Then the first hostess says, “You should have gotten the first table. You both had 8 p.m. reservations but you checked in first. Let me talk to the manager.”

The manager comes over and says, “I’m sorry about that. Let me get you a glass of wine on the house.”

I tell her that normally we wouldn’t care but we are trying to make this movie. She says there should be another table available soon, and in the meantime we can drink for free.

I opt for a beer instead of the wine, and unfortunately another table does not come open soon. Nobody is leaving this restaurant. By the time I finish the beer, I have sat in the lobby long enough to be considered a camper, but I’m definitely not a happy one. The manager brings me another beer and says they will rush our food so we can make the movie. That’s a nice gesture but this isn’t the kind of restaurant you want to be rushing in and out of. It’s a great place with a great atmosphere and great food. They are certainly factoring the experience into their pricing, so I’m not pleased with having to choose between rushing our time there or missing the movie.

While we wait, Missy and I are debating how complicit this couple is in the whole affair. It was pretty annoying having to stand eight feet away from them while they got their food and watched the game. Did the hostess ask them if they were the Franklins, and they knowingly lied because they could see where the table was and it was where they wanted it? Did the manager instruct the hostess to give them the next available table when they talked to her?

We saw the whole thing go down. It was somewhat noisy in there, and Missy thought they never heard the hostess ask if they were the Franklins. She thinks there’s a good chance they never were asked if they were the Franklins, that the staff made that whole part up after they could tell I was unhappy. She thinks the manager figured it would be no big deal and gave them that table ahead of us since it was in their desired location.

Normally I would agree with that, and it’s certainly possible. But after the couple was seated and I went over to the podium, the two hostesses were already in the middle of a discussion about the whole thing. And the manager was not directly involved in any of the seating process, nor was she even up front during the time in question. To me, the hostesses seemed to be genuinely sorry that they seated the wrong couple, and I don’t think they are good enough actors to pull off that scene deliberately.

So, then, the real question is whether the other couple knew they were stealing our table. We didn’t get our table until a few minutes before 9 p.m. So the restaurant screwed that up pretty bad either way. Had we gotten the first table, the other couple would have had to wait an hour past their 8 p.m. reservation.

Apparently Benvenuti’s is about as good at holding reservations as this fictional car rental company from “Seinfeld.”

Ironically, the table that came open almost an hour late was directly next to this other couple. I was determined to use my poker skills to determine whether they knew they stole our table.

I stared them down. The dude pretended he didn’t see me, that he was too locked into the football game on the screen. That’s some BS. Men know when another man is staring them down. He’s just a coward.

The chick wore it all over her face. She was staring at me before I could stare at her, and she was trying to figure out if we knew that she knew that they had stolen our table. She might as well have admitted it out loud.

It seems fair to point out two mitigating factors, although these don’t in any way change the fact that these Gatsbys 100% knowingly stole our table. One, I was one old fashioned and two beers deep by this point. Second, it’s entirely feasible that this couple could have knowingly stolen someone’s table without knowing it was ours, since we had checked in before them and we didn’t cause a scene at the front when they got our table. We had no interaction with them whatsoever. So maybe the chick was just getting freaked out by a stranger giving her husband the stink eye, but probably she was having a hard time enjoying herself because she knew she was eating fruit from the poisonous tree, having sold her soul for a seat at the table where she could watch OSU lose to Texas.

We decided to just order pizzas, which could be made pretty quickly. They did indeed come quickly and were great. This kept the tab much lower than usual and also allowed us to make the movie on time (technically we were a few minutes late but we got there during the previews). I have to say, the pizza was delicious. Everything I’ve ever eaten there has been good.

The movie sucked. The plot to the dinner mystery was more entertaining.

Got some yummy leftovers from my prosciutto pizza at Benvenuto’s. Bet they tasted better than that loss to Texas, you thieving jerks.

Poker Innocence

“How’d you end up the other day?”

This was Thursday. Someone was asking me whether or not I had won in Tuesday’s poker game.

I thought for quite a while and came up with a complete blank. No idea. Less than 48 hours later and it was completely vanished from my mind.

Likewise, I was recently similarly flummoxed by someone who asked what cards I held on a particular hand. He described the cards on the board, the previous action, how much I bet…and I could not give him an answer because I didn’t remember any of that.

Sometimes, when I’m entering my results on my computer, I’ll look up and see a big number and it will come as a surprise. “Oh yeah, that day was brutal. I couldn’t win a single pot.” Or “Oh yeah, the deck just smashed my head in that day. I couldn’t lose a pot no matter what I had.”

I realize that some of this has to do with getting old, but I’m hoping that’s not most of it. The thing is, I have clear and precise memories of specific hands I played 15 years ago. And I even remember the exact amounts of a couple of my earliest big wins.

After I couldn’t answer my friend’s question about how my session went two days prior, I figured this was as good a time as any to document my poker origin story and recall some of those fond memories. Gotta do it now before I completely lose my mind.

As I wrote in this earlier post, I grew up playing all kinds of card games. I inherited a great card sense and general game strategy from my dad. It really didn’t matter what game we were playing, I regularly beat my family and friends at all of them. And I was in no way generally smarter than any of these people. I’ve just always enjoyed games and strategies and been pretty successful at them.

My first exposure to poker came with the movie “Rounders.” It came out the year I graduated high school and I still remember watching it then for the first time with my high school girlfriend. I was more enamored with the acting and the movie itself than I was with the game of poker, however. Back then there were no casinos with poker rooms in the state of Oklahoma, and I didn’t know anyone who played. Also, I was broke. That tends to hamper one’s poker career (although I know several people today who don’t let it stop them!)

Matt Damon and John Malkovich in “Rounders”

In college, I remember having a poker night once or maybe twice with my roommate Keith and a few of our friends. But we were so broke that we played with small change. It was literally a penny-ante poker game. You knew it was a big pot if there were quarters in it; most of the pots were just pennies, nickles and dimes. I don’t think any of us won or lost more than $5. We were much more into dominoes and PlayStation football back then, and we didn’t give poker any serious thought.

In 2003, ESPN aired Chris Moneymaker’s fairy tale run from Nashville accountant to World Series of Poker main event champion. I wasn’t watching from the start, but as people began talking about it I joined in. Missy and I were dating at the time and she liked watching it with me.

So yeah, I got into poker thanks to “Rounders” and Chris Moneymaker. Real unique poker story.

By 2003, I had graduated from OU with my journalism degree and was working in Lawton at the newspaper. In other words, I was STILL COMPLETELY BROKE. But, since I had no wife, no kids, and no expensive bad habits, I was able to scrape together enough to play some micro-stakes poker with my friends.

Mike Carroll organized the first actual poker games I ever played in. We’d usually do a $10 tournament and there would be cash games afterwards. You know, the silly dealer’s choice games like between the sheets and 727. I would just lose my $10 in the tournament and then either serve as the dealer or just leave, because I couldn’t even afford to play in cash games where I’d have to risk another $20 on top of my $10.

I was starting to develop quite an affinity for the game. I read several poker books and watched the dumb poker strategy shows that used to come on cable at 1 a.m. Even when I wasn’t any good, I was confident that it was something I would get good at fairly quickly because of my natural card sense. I had started playing competitive bridge when I moved to Lawton in 2002, and I was already pretty good at that despite it being a more difficult game than poker. So I stuck with poker even while going through the normal growing pains. I never thought it would be a career for me but I knew I could make some extra money doing it.

Before long I was posting some wins in our small stakes tournaments. I remember being elated one night when I won the tournament for $50 and then used that money to jump into the cash game where I won another $100. That night alone erased all of my previous $10 losses and put me into the black. I saved my profits and built my first tiny poker bankroll.

It didn’t take long for me to start preferring the cash games to the tournaments, although I never did care for those crazy dealer’s choice games because my fragile bankroll couldn’t withstand losing $80 on one bad card in between the sheets. So I still played way more tournaments than cash games, and began getting some regular wins.

Around this time is when Oklahoma changed its gambling laws and poker rooms started popping up around the state. At first there was no poker room in Lawton, but there was one in Randlett at the Texas border on I-44. It was about a 40-minute drive from Lawton.

I remember being extremely nervous the first time Mike and I went down there to play. I bought in for $100 in a $1-$2 no-limit hold em game and essentially blinded out. I didn’t get any good hands and didn’t have any more money to add on. I lost the $100 and went home sad, completely unaware of the fact that you shouldn’t even play in that game if you only have $100.

Another Red River Casino trip with Mike provided one of my favorite poker memories. We went down for a small stakes tournament. I don’t remember the exact buy-in but it was around $60 to $80. This was in the middle of the poker boom so there was lots of participation in tournaments like this. Long before the money bubble, I was down to just a few chips and had to go all in with a bad hand. I was dominated but got lucky and won the pot. A hand or two later I did the same thing, getting lucky again. Then I started getting hands that were actually good and before I knew it I had way more chips than anyone else. Mike was also doing well and eventually there were just three people left — the two of us and a random guy. I probably had 90% of the chips and they had the rest. They agreed to give me the first place money and split second and third evenly between them. My payout was $1560, which seemed like all the money in the world to me at the time. I don’t remember how much Mike got but I do remember having a celebratory beer at the casino bar and being on Cloud 9.

Soon they opened the casino in Lawton, and I went a couple nights per week after work. I didn’t get off until midnight so I’d only get to play from then until 3 a.m. when the poker room closed. Man, those games were crazy. You’d see some wild stuff every single day.

I shudder to think about how much money I could have won if I had actually been good at poker at this time. I wasn’t bad by any means but I just played extremely conservatively. It wasn’t a bad strategy considering how little money I had but I definitely left a lot on the table by sticking to my strict guidelines for which hands to play and how to play them.

In contrast to that, my poker bankroll management was extremely reckless, although I was completely oblivious to that fact. All I knew is that I was winning pretty regularly, so why wouldn’t I just keep playing higher and higher stakes? The only smart thing I did was keep my poker money completely separate from my real-life money.

After I had won a couple thousand dollars in the $1-$2 game, my friend John McGavic said I should play in Buddy Williams’ private $2-$5 game. I asked him how much money I needed for that and he said $200. Well, I had $200! What I didn’t know until I arrived was that $200 was the minimum buy-in. So I brought exactly $200 to that game, and that was probably about 10% of my entire poker bankroll.

Less than an hour into that session I was all in for my whole $200. That single $400 pot changed my life. I had already realized how short my money was in that game since several of the other players started off with $500 or $1000 and presumably had more in their pocket if they needed it. I had nothing else. Had I lost it I would have left and never come back again, at least for a long time. But I won that pot and won $900 that night, which was easily my biggest cash game win ever.

More important than the money was the fact that I met Buddy that night. He ended up being my poker mentor and teaching me so much. I tried to give him a proper tribute in this blog.

I became a regular in Buddy’s game and soon was so passionate about poker that I was playing all the time. Spike Seals became my poker partner in crime, and we would close down the room in Lawton and then occasionally even drive up to Riverwind where we could play until the sun came up. Breakfast at IHOP in Norman at 9 a.m. and then back home in time for a little sleep until I had to work again at 4 p.m. that afternoon. Wish I had that kind of energy these days.

A short night back then was simply quitting at 3 a.m. when the Lawton room closed. Of course we’d almost always end up at either Whataburger or, on a super successful night, The Junction for some amazing late-night Korean BBQ. We would always discuss strategy and helped make each other better at poker. Or sometimes just make fun of the crazy people.

Considering how often I was playing and how reckless I was with my bankroll, it didn’t take long to get to the point where 30 seconds in a poker game could have a much more serious impact on my net worth than 40 hours at my job. One year, I had to drive to Tulsa to cover a playoff football game. Buddy had been telling me about the $5-10 game at Newcastle Casino that ran every Friday. He thought I should play in it. In fact, I still shouldn’t have even been playing $2-5 with my bankroll at that time. But because I didn’t know that, I decided to stop at Newcastle and play for a few hours on my way to Tulsa. I bought in for $500 (the minimum in that game), lost it, rebought for another $500 and lost that too.

I was completely distraught on my drive to Tulsa. I had just lost probably half or a third of my entire poker bankroll in two hands. Furthermore, my job still paid only about $28k per year, which meant my bi-monthly paycheck after taxes and deductions was about $650. I had lost almost two full paychecks in a couple of hours.

I had started playing those $10 tournaments with Mike in late 2004. By the end of 2005 I had about $4k in my poker bankroll. I wanted to marry Missy but with my low-paying job I couldn’t afford a ring with my paycheck, which was going towards food and rent. So I blew the entire poker bankroll on her ring, which I gave her when I proposed on Christmas in 2005. I didn’t know what would happen with poker, but I knew that Missy was more important. I figured I could run it back up in the $10 tournaments, but if it didn’t work out I was prepared to give up poker. I wasn’t sure how much I’d get to play once I was married anyway.

That same year, my grandpa gave me a $500 check for my Christmas present. He usually gave us $100 but that year he gave us more. He had terminal cancer and would only live about six more months. He would never know how much he truly gave me with that check. I cashed that $500 and used it to start over with a poker bankroll. I remember being nervous those first couple of sessions playing $1-2 at the casino, knowing that if I was unlucky on that $500 and lost it that it would take me a long time to be able to play anything other than the $10 tournaments.

Fortunately I was able to run it up and soon was back playing $2-5 (far sooner than I should have been I’m sure). Missy and I were married in the fall of 2006, and she was very supportive of my frequent after-work trips to the casino. I’m sure there are a couple of women out there who wouldn’t care for their new husbands going to the casino and not getting home until 3 a.m.

We bought a house across the street from Spike, on the West side of town. This was the opposite side of town from the casino, about a 20 minute drive. The move ended up beginning a new and short-lived phase of my poker career, online poker.

Pretty much everyone in the United States was already playing online poker by 2007, so we were late to the game. You couldn’t beat the games at the Lawton casino, but you also couldn’t beat the convenience of online poker. Spike and I put $200 ($100 each) onto Doyle’s Room and created the rising star known as jmcenroe (a nod to Spike’s favorite tennis player. And yes, we often said “You cannot be serious!” after getting an unlucky card on the river.)

A couple of nights per week, instead of going across town to the casino, we’d just play online at Spike’s place. Jmcenroe ran his $200 into about $4k playing mostly cash games, but then he got into a bad run of cards and maybe just a little bit of tilt and lost half of it. We decided to just cash out the $2k for a tidy profit of about $1k each. Naturally, in keeping with online poker site tradition, it took several months for our check to arrive in the mail.

I decided to put $200 of my own onto Poker Stars, and the cycle repeated itself. I ran it up to over $5k in a pretty short amount of time, then lost more than half of it in one night.

In hindsight, that night was pretty funny. At the time it was shocking. I started out playing $0.50/$1 but lost a couple of buyins there. Soon I went to $1-2, then $2-4, then $3-6, then $5-10. Every time I lost I just jumped into a higher stakes game figuring I’d get even there. Obviously I was playing terrible by the end. I didn’t even realize how much I had lost until it was over. At that time I would have been upset over a $500 loss at the casino and I had just lost six times that amount in a couple of hours.

I immediately cashed out my remaining $2k and woke Missy up crying with my confession and guilt. I think she was more upset that I had woken her up than she was with the monetary loss. Anyway, that was the end of my online poker hobby.

I stuck to casino play after that, jumping into the weekly $5-10 game that had just begun at the Apache Casino. It felt like I couldn’t lose in those games, and being unknowingly reckless with my poker bankroll was paying off big time.

From 2007 to 2009, I made more money playing poker than I did at the newspaper (a low bar, I know). Finally I made the jump and did poker full time while doing sports writing on a part time basis.

I was extremely fortunate with both my luck (playing games I wasn’t bankrolled to play) and my timing (coming up in an era where there were crazy games 7 days a week and tons of money to be made without being great at poker).

I never thought I’d do this poker thing for more than 10 years, and I don’t know how long I’ll stay in it. I still enjoy it, but part of me wishes I was still as passionate about it as I was when it was just a hobby.

Books

Congratulations.

If you clicked on this link and have not moved on by this point, it’s safe to say you’ll read anything I write. I mean, “Books”??? How boring is that?

The inspiration for this post actually came from the biggest sports news of the week. Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck abruptly retired from the NFL. I was reading a story about Luck, and it quoted an NFL executive who said that during the pre-draft process before Luck was chosen as the #1 overall pick, teams interviewing him asked for his favorite hobby. His answer was reading books, and the executive in the story said that was the first and last time in his three decades in the business that a player had given that as his answer.

Books certainly wouldn’t be at the very top of my list of hobbies, but it would be pretty darn close. I’d probably list pickup basketball number one, followed by bridge. The bronze medal would go to watching baseball but books would be a top-five finisher for sure.

Mom says I was constantly wanting books read to me as a child. I seem to have passed that trait onto my own kids, particularly Maddux. As far as reading them myself, the first type I latched onto was the kids’ mystery novels. Like Nancy Drew and such.

By the time I got into junior high, my sports fandom was starting to seep into my book choices. I would go to Southern Oaks library off Walker in South Oklahoma City and head straight for the nonfiction sports section. Once there, I almost exclusively read baseball autobiographies. I still remember factoids from Rickey Henderson’s, Kirby Puckett’s (hasn’t aged as well), Dave Dravecky’s, Orel Hershiser’s and of course Ryne Sandberg’s. In 2019 I now find these to be the lowest form of sports nonfiction, since the athletes themselves do none of the writing and the stories are all whitewashed to make them look infallible. But 13-year-old me didn’t know that and found these books very informative and entertaining. I also have to say that, based on Spike Seals’ recommendation, I read Andre Agassi’s autobiography a few years back and was very impressed. It’s probably the best sports autobiography I’ve ever read despite the fact that he pretends he only did meth three times. Nobody does meth three times. The only three options are never, once, or too many to count. But despite that flaw it’s a great book and one I would definitely recommend.

In college, most of my reading was forced upon me by professors. I still got my Sports Illustrated and went through that every week but that was the extent of my leisure reading. Perhaps because of being flooded with non-fiction books during the school year, I went through a phase during summers in college where I read almost exclusively fiction. This was back when John Grisham was on top of the world, and I gobbled up several of his books until figuring out that they’re all essentially the same. I also read many James Patterson thrillers until figuring out that they’re all essentially the same. In hindsight, that’s probably the reason I’ve mostly stayed away from fiction in the 16 years since then.

Once I moved to Lawton, I got back into the nonfiction universe, but still stuck mostly to sports. My favorite book of that era by far was Moneyball, by Michael Lewis. In Lawton, these were the types of books I gravitated toward. Still in the realm of sports but not autobiographies. I reviewed a few books for the Constitution and enjoyed doing that. I also picked up my poker habit down there and read several poker strategy books, most of which I would now laugh at. I definitely learned a lot from Doyle Brunson’s Super System 2, which somebody bought me. I believe it was my lovely bride-to-be Missy.

In general, I’m opposed to owning books. I can’t explain it any better than Jerry Seinfeld, so I’ll let his bit stand for me on this topic. In the case of Super System it actually helped to have the copy around so I could review the sections each time I tried a new form of poker (like Omaha hi/low). Every form of poker not named Texas hold em was new to me at that time it so actually made sense to keep that one handy.

But other than that, I prefer to just check them out at the library and return them when I’m finished. It’s free and I don’t have a worthless object on my hands that I’ll never read again once I’m finished. I’ve tried reading a few books on Kindle or on my phone but it doesn’t take long before my eyes start hurting. I also just like the feel of a book in my hands better than an electronic device.

Now that we are back in Oklahoma City, I usually go to the very same library I grew up in, Southern Oaks. Sometimes I’ll go to the Pioneer Library, which is equidistant to that from our house but has a smaller selection. My tastes have evolved somewhat over the last several years. Sports books only make up about one-third of my catalog now. The two best ones I’ve recently read in that category are Jane Leavy’s biography of Sandy Koufax and Jay Jaffe’s breakdown of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Usually, however, I gravitate toward history books. Missy makes fun of just about every book I bring home. I’ve recently read about the War of the Roses (in England several centuries ago), the Osage murders in the Tulsa area about 100 years ago, and the United States’ miscommunication with and mishandling of both Native Americans and Mexicans when we were expanding westward.

Occasionally I’ll grab something theological. I really love Francis Chan, and Rob Bell’s book on the Bible was great.

A new (to me) genre that I’ve been more and more into lately is the memoir. I try to find memoirs not of famous people but of seemingly normal folks. In a sense that’s what I’ve tried to write with this blog, a memoir written in one chapter per week, bouncing all over the place. I’m too intimidated by the thought of putting it all together into one huge thing that actually makes sense, so this is my compromise.

Currently I’m reading a book that combines three things I enjoy: memoirs, history and journalism.

The book I’m currently reading. Shout out to Ryan Chittum for being on my bookmark from the 100th anniversary celebration of the OU newspaper.

My next book will also be a memoir, and from my all-time favorite author.

Back when I first subscribed to Sports Illustrated as a teenager, Rick Reilly was the king of the sportswriting universe. He got the back page of the magazine every week to write whatever he wanted, and he was brilliant. I loved him (and have read a couple of his fiction books) but I was especially impressed by the wordplay of Steve Rushin. He’s a genius when it comes to puns, plays on words, alliteration, palindromes, and all that jazz.

He’s written several books since leaving the magazine and they are all amazing. After a great fiction book and a couple of nonfiction books he dove into the memoir game with Sting Ray Afternoons. I loved it despite the fact that it covers the 1970s, of which I lived a through a mere 50 days. His follow up to that covers the 80s, which I most definitely lived through. Nights in White Castle just came out and I’m very much looking forward to it.

If you made it to the end of this post, I love you. I’d also love to hear any book recommendations you might have, either through the comments section here or on Facebook. Thanks in advance!

Chicago 2019

Four years is too long to stay away from your favorite place on earth, and 30 hours isn’t nearly enough time to spend there. But I had a great time and packed about as much as possible into my quick trip to Chicago this week.

I had been talking to my friend Randy, an equally avid Cubs fan, about going for years, but with seven kids between us it’s hard to find the time. About a month ago, we were playing poker and Randy says, “We just need to make this happen. Talk to Missy, figure out what dates work and we’ll go.”

If I were to go, it needed to be before September when Missy’s teaching gig at OU starts back up, and the Cubs were on the road for 10 straight games in mid-August, so we didn’t have a lot of options. I suggested going Wednesday, attending the game that night and the game the next afternoon, then coming home Friday. But Randy needed to be back Thursday night so we settled on the super quick trip.

Wednesday was a long day. It started at 5 a.m. when we headed to the airport for our 6 a.m. flight. I usually don’t wake up quite that early. But it allowed us to be in Chicago before noon, so we had time for a quick nap before the game. Randy’s daughter lives in Chicago and found a perfect hotel for us in an area of the city I hadn’t stayed in before. One of my favorite things about Chicago is walking through the neighborhoods, so after resting for a couple of hours that’s what we did. We were near the Lincoln Zoo which was a cool neighborhood only about 10 minutes from Wrigleyville.

We ate a late lunch at a sports pub in the neighborhood. Can’t say it was one of the better meals I’ve ever had but the White Sox were playing a day game and we got to see the end of that, so it was a good way to get integrated into the city and the baseball vibe. Then we headed to Wrigleyville, arriving about two-and-a-half hours before the 7 p.m. start.

Randy and I in front of the famous Wrigley Field marquee.

The last time I had been to Chicago was in 2015, which was a year before the greatest World Series ever played. The Cubs were in the middle of their Wrigley Field renovations then, so I got to see the new giant scoreboards but not the completely redone area around the ballfield. It was bizarre, seeing a stadium I’ve been to about 10 times surrounded by strangely new buildings and attractions, with several of the old merchandise shops and bars like Murphy’s Bleachers sprinkled in and still looking exactly the same as they always have.

We hit a home run on the weather, if you’ll pardon the pun. It was about 80 degrees with a cool breeze coming in off the lake. It actually rained for about 15 minutes before the start of Wednesday’s game while we were sampling a couple of Chicago’s finest beers at the Big Star next to the stadium. The perfect weather continued a streak for me on my short baseball trips the last few years. Chad and I had magnificent weather in Minneapolis, Denver and Phoenix the last three years, and this was just as good. It felt amazing to get out of the sweltering Oklahoma heat.

We were planning on buying tickets from the scalpers in front of the stadium but there weren’t many of those to be found. The scalpers were all yelling at people trying to buy tickets, so we figured we’d have better luck online. At Rizzo’s Bar and Inn, while drinking a Next Coast IPA from Chicago’s own Goose Island brewery, we found the seats we wanted to buy. Randy ordered them on his phone, then received a text from his bank to check whether this was a fraudulent purchase. The text said to reply “YES” if this was a legitimate purchase or “NO” if it was not. Despite being one of the smartest people I know, Randy managed to fail this 50/50 test. (And we had only had a couple beers, I promise!) So he had to deal with that headache before getting it sorted out and getting our tickets.

Our seats were great, on the lower level down the first base line. And it was quite a game we got to see. The only other MLB game I’ve been to this season was the first weekend of the year, when James and I went to Arlington to watch the Cubs against the Texas Rangers. Texas won that game 11-10, and for awhile it looked like the Giants were going to beat the Cubs 11-10 on Wednesday night too. That was the score in the bottom of the eighth inning when Kris Bryant played the hero to give the Cubs the lead. Craig Kimbrel closed it out in the ninth and the Cubs won 12-11.

Our view for Wednesday night’s 12-11 victory over the Giants.

After the game, which lasted about three and a half hours, I was pretty well exhausted. But getting to bed wasn’t quite the emergency our taxi driver seemed to think it was. This guy put New York City cabbies to shame. Randy thinks he might have hit 100 mph on Clark Street at one point. By the time he slammed on the brakes directly in front of our hotel, I was about ready to throw up.

On Thursday, the Cubs had a 1:20 p.m. game and our flight was scheduled to leave Midway at 5:30 p.m. We decided to go back to Wrigleyville and watch from one of the bars there until we needed to leave for the airport. We asked multiple people how long it would take to get from there to Midway and everyone said an hour. So we figured we could hang out until 3:30 p.m. and still make it an hour before our flight.

Despite the perfect weather and the fact that the Cubs had just moved back into first place the night before, the old-school scalpers were out in force on Thursday hawking tickets. We weren’t planning on attending the game, especially since we’d have to leave early, but figured it couldn’t hurt to see if the scalpers would give us a good deal. Although the negotiating process was predictably annoying, we did manage to score tickets for less than face value.

Our view for Thursday’s game. The Cubs won 1-0 behind a gem from my favorite Cubs pitcher, Kyle Hendricks (below).

We sat in right field, under the second deck, which was perfect because we would have gotten sunburned in the bleachers. Again, the weather was perfect. I have to confess that Chicago style pizza isn’t my favorite thing, but I felt like I had to get a mini Giordano’s and a beer while I watched this one. It was blissful.

Giordano’s + pale ale + baseball = magic.

If the game progressed at normal pace, we would get to watch about six innings before needing to leave for the airport. But this game went very quickly as both pitchers threw gems. The Cubs scored a run in the fourth thanks to a routine fly ball that was lost in the sun. With both teams putting zeroes onto the scoreboard, our 3:30 p.m. deadline didn’t arrive until the bottom of the eighth inning, with the Cubs clinging to that 1-0 lead.

The Cubs closed out the 1-0 victory as Randy and I were on our way to the airport. That routine fly ball which fell for a hit and the subsequent Anthony Rizzo RBI single were the Cubs’ only hits the entire game, making it just the fifth game since 1990 that the Cubs have won with two hits or less. And it was quite the departure from Wednesday night’s game, when the Cubs needed every one of 14 hits to eek out a victory. Things like that are what make baseball so fun.

Our Uber driver on Thursday was the polar opposite of the insane guy we had Wednesday night. He was very safe and in no hurry, which turned out to be a bit unfortunate since we mistimed our trip to the airport. With traffic, it took a full 90 minutes, which meant we arrived at Midway at 5 p.m. for a 5:30 p.m. flight. We were getting a little stressed but got lucky that there was virtually no line at security. We walked up to the gate as our boarding group was getting on the plane.

It was great to see my family again when we got back. The whole trip kind of felt like a dream since it was so quick. And I did a lot of dreaming last night, when I passed out and slept like a baby to make up for a little of the deprivation I had accrued over the previous two days.

See you soon, Chicago. Hopefully in less than four years.