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.

Anniversary Surprise :/

August 12, 2006 is a day I’ll never forget for the best of reasons. Eventually I’ll write a whole post on that singular day but for now I’ll just mention that it was my wedding day.

August 12, 2019 is a day I’ll probably never forget, for less impressive reasons. I was getting my car window replaced after someone smashed into it and stole our stuff on our anniversary date.

When it comes to our anniversary, Missy and I have a strict routine. We get a hotel here in Oklahoma City, eat at the same restaurant and go to the same bar every year. (A big thank you to Missy’s family for coming down to watch the kids to make this happen).

We start our date the same way every year. We check into the hotel and Missy takes a nap while I go to the hotel pool and alternate between actual swimming (5%) and sitting by the pool reading a book and drinking beer (95%). We have stayed at a few different hotels over the years but the only requirements are a pool and a bar, for the aforementioned reasons. This year we stayed at the Holiday Inn right off I-35 near downtown. Part 1 of our date was a success.

Before our fancy dinner, we decided to run to Wal Mart so Missy could buy a few back-to-school clothes and a couple of presents for the kids. I dropped Missy off at the door, then went across the street and treated myself to a cherry vanilla coke from Sonic. She was only in there for about 15 minutes and then I picked her up at the front door and we headed back to the hotel to get ready for our dinner.

When we were engaged, Missy went to a bridal fair and entered some drawings. She won a $100 gift card to Boulevard Steakhouse in Edmond. That restaurant has made quite an impressive return on that investment despite the fact that we only eat there once a year. We used the gift card on our first anniversary and have gone back every year since for that specific date. If you’ve eaten at Boulevard before (or just glance at the menu in the picture below) you know this means they’ve gotten a couple thousand dollars from us over the years.

Boulevard Steakhouse gave us a coupon and some fresh rose petals
Missy is just as beautiful as she was the day I married her!

Our dinner was great, like it always is. Missy always gets the same thing, filet tips with wild mushrooms. I get a different steak every year but this time settled on some tenderloin medallions with mashed potatoes and asparagus. Part 2 of our date was a success.

After dinner we always go to Junior’s on Northwest Expressway. It’s a throwback to another era. The average customer is about 75 years old, almost everybody in there is smoking, and there’s a live band playing the classics. It has a “Cheers” feel to it; everybody seems to know everybody. Missy discovered it before we were married and like Boulevard we only make it there once a year. The same two main bartenders are still there and they remember us despite our infrequent appearances. We have a couple drinks and do a lot of people watching while I smoke an anniversary cigar. Part 3 of our date was a success.

Part 4 of our date was a success.

Part 5 of our date simply involved driving home the next day, and that was less of a success. We woke up to find our car had been broken into at the hotel parking lot. They smashed in the rear door window on the driver’s side and took our Wal Mart sacks, as well as everything in the center console. Like I said, the Wal Mart sacks contained kids’ clothes and presents (a Nerf gun being the highlight, nothing technological). Missy remembers the total cost being $143 but probably roughly $0 in value to the looters. In the center console they took two pairs of Missy’s prescription sunglasses. Cost us about $350 total but again, roughly $0 in value to the looters. They did get a few pens and a tire pressure gauge. Treat them well, bastards.

It appears that the robber or robbers got a couple other cars in the same lot. We filed a police report and they had some surveillance footage from the parking lot so hopefully justice is served but of course that’s unlikely.

How our car looked in the parking lot of the Holiday Inn off I-35 near downtown OKC.
Glass all over the car seat. Got a few knicks cleaning it up that afternoon.

Ultimately, the whole thing was just an inconvenience. Jim Gray Auto Glass came out the next day and replaced the window at our house for a great price (less than half of what Safelite was going to charge us). I would highly recommend him. We had to replace the Wal Mart purchases and will have to replace Missy’s sunglasses but at least nothing of real value (sentimental or monetary) was taken. And while it might not have been the best anniversary date we’ve ever had, it was probably the most memorable.

Favorite Westbrook story

After last weekend’s tragedies, I was planning to write about guns and my opinions on gun rights this week.

But I tell ya what, it’s a hard time to try to share an opinion in America. I understand that none of you care what I think on that topic, but it’s really sad that you can’t even have a discussion on anything semi-political without the immediate butwhatabouts or youdrankthekoolaids. Why can’t we have a conversation (or even a disagreement) without it immediately turning into name calling or ridiculous statements that end the dialogue? Yes, there is more to the issue than just the guns. Obviously, but does that mean we can’t also talk about the guns? Yes, Trump does some stupid stuff. Obviously, but does that mean every single issue is 100% his fault? It’s incredibly frustrating, especially for someone who doesn’t identify with either major party.

Eventually I might decide to weigh in on this topic anyway, since it’s my blog and you are under a court order to read it every week. But for now I thought it a good time to revisit my favorite Russell Westbrook poker story, since it’s highly possible I will never play with him again. Even though this happened more than four years ago, it still gets referenced every once in awhile. In fact, just last week Chad mentioned being worried about making the same mistake I did that night.

I’m also going to include the cracked windshield story that appeared in my original blog post about it, because I had completely forgotten about that part of the story and it still made me laugh today.

——

Once upon a time I had a cracked windshield.

To fix that problem, I called Safelite, which has a catchy commercial jingle that is obviously way more important than actual competence. They were nice on the phone and I scheduled the windshield replacement for Thursday, July 9, at 1 p.m.
However, on July 3 Missy’s sister Terri went into labor a tish early, and Missy already had planned to fly up to New Jersey to spend some time with her. So Missy moved her flight up to spend the week with Terri, leaving me home alone with the kid and needing to reschedule the windshield appointment. No problem, I call Safelite and they give me several other times, including 1 p.m. on July 16, exactly a week after the original appointment. That seemed pretty convenient so I booked it.
Everything went great with Missy gone. The kids had McDonald’s and Mountain Dew every day and went to bed at midnight. On Wednesday I’m waking up to get the kids around when my phone rings. It’s Safelite calling to confirm my appointment for the next day, July 9. I tell the guy that I have already rescheduled that appointment for July 16. He doesn’t say a word, just lets out the most exasperated deep and audible sigh that I have ever heard in my life. I hear some computer keys clicking and another one of these sighs, which are similar to the ones I have when I look across the room and see Maddux dumping a cup of milk all over the couch but know it’s too late to do anything to stop it.
I’m just sitting there listening to these click-sighs for about 30 seconds before he says, “We don’t have an opening on July 16.” I tell him I already talked to someone several days ago and it should be booked. He starts in on another round of clicking and sighing, sounding just like I sound when I look across the room and see Myra coloring directly on the kitchen table but know it’s too late to do anything about it. Finally he says, “Nope, we’re all booked up on the 16th, and your name’s not on here.”
Then he mumbles something about, “Let me check here…” and starts the clicking and typing. After about a minute of that I finally say, “It’s fine, we can do it another day. It doesn’t have to be the 16th. But I can’t do it tomorrow so just tell me what you do have open and we will reschedule this.”
Now he takes it up a notch, with the loudest sigh in the history of the universe, even louder than the time I walked into Addie’s play room and saw that she had taken the real maple syrup from our pantry and dumped the whole thing all over her play kitchen. He keeps clicking and sighing and doesn’t say anything at all, so finally I say, “Look dude I’m sorry but I have to get my kids up and around. Just call me back later and we can reschedule the thing, I’m pretty flexible.”
After a few more clicks and sighs, he says, “We can do July 20 at 4 p.m.” I have no idea what day of the week July 20 is or what we might have going on but I say, “That’s perfect,” and get off the phone.
The next day I wake up to see I have a missed call from Safelite. (Who calls people at 7 a.m.?) and a voicemail that says they have a question for me. So I call back and talk to a young lady who says, “We were just calling to let you know we have an opening next week if you want to bring you car in.” I ask when it is and she says…(drumroll please)….July 16th, at 1 p.m. I inform her that I briefly held that exact appointment time but was booted out of it by a guy who was sighing like I do every time my kids fight over a free Happy Meal toy when they have hundreds of dollars worth of better toys in their rooms. She didn’t seem too interested in my story and got off the phone with me as fast as I did with the Sigh Guy.

P.S. my windshield did in fact get fixed that day, and since then I now have one additional child. Hawk makes me sigh like the Safelite guy when he sneaks into the pantry and I find 12 empty candy wrappers and a huge smile on his face.

——

What does that story have to do with Russell Westbrook? Well, the reason I need a new windshield is because I was texting and driving in a parking lot and ran right over him. Smacked his head right on my windshield and broke it. He’ll probably never play basketball again. Gotcha! That didn’t really happen.

But I really did get the Russell Westbrook stink face and live to tell about it. While Missy was gone, my mom agreed to come watch the kids one day so I could play poker. It just so happened that Russell Westbrook was in the mood to play poker that day and it just so happened that I ended up playing at his table. I’ve gotten to play with RWB maybe 10 or 12 times over the years, and he’s a cool enough guy to be around. He’ll answer questions about where his favorite places to travel are or what his opinion is of infamous referee Joey Crawford. About the only thing he won’t do is take a picture with you, and I can respect that. He makes it pretty clear that he doesn’t want his picture taken in the casino. Westbrook is my mom’s favorite player, so since she was watching my kids I texted her and told her that I was playing poker with her favorite basketball player. The first thing she says is, “take a picture and send it to me.” I said no, he doesn’t like his picture taken. She says, “Just tell him it’s for your dear old mother and he is her favorite player in the world.”

I didn’t want to get into a back-and-forth with her about it so I figured I’d just sneak a quick picture when he wasn’t looking and send it to her. He was only two seats away from me so I had to be in stealth mode but at the same time it wouldn’t look totally awkward like it would if I was on the other end of the table and trying to lean around to point my phone at him. I made sure my phone was on silent so it wouldn’t make a loud clicking sound and then I snapped the thing. What I didn’t realize was that for the first time in 5 years of owning this phone I somehow had the flash on and it was pretty daggone bright and directly in his eyes.

As soon as I saw the flash I jerked the phone down and pretended to type on the phone as if I was texting someone and the flash just accidentally went off and/or had nothing to do with me taking a picture of Russell Westbrook. I saw his head snap over in my direction and he was giving me pretty much the exact same look he is giving in this gif.

I felt like the biggest idiot in the world and just kept my head down pretending to type. I may have soiled myself.┬áLuckily, I’ve played with RWB enough that he knows me and likes me. Regardless, he didn’t say anything (and I’ve heard him call out other people for picture snapping at the table) and we interacted normally the rest of the night. I never mentioned my mom or admitted to anything. I just wanted it to go away. I went ahead and sent the picture to my mom. Ironically, the picture is quite blurry because I jerked the phone down as soon as the flash started going off. She texted back and said the pic was too blurry and I needed to take another one. I said there’s no way I’m pointing my phone in his direction the rest of the night. And I didn’t.

P.S. I played with Russ several times after this and he obviously didn’t care about it. In fact, he liked when I had the mohawk haircut, especially when I told him I did it in honor of naming my youngest son Hawk. We got to talking about our kids and he would always ask me how they were doing as soon as he sat down at the poker table. I’ll be rooting for him in Houston.

Pee and Poop

In the last blog, I discussed my personal policy on panhandlers.

What I didn’t include in that post was my dealings with poker players who ask to borrow money. They are the casino cousins of the street version, with the difference being that the street people who have never played in their lives are probably better at poker.

Because you generally play with the same people all the time, you develop a familiarity and in many cases a friendship with these players. Thus it’s not uncommon to see people passing money back and forth like it’s the guac at a football party.

When I first started playing recreationally, I’d hear stories from the 70s about poker loans that reached five or six figures, and they were told with a level of nonchalance that was shocking to a guy whose net worth was less than the smallest of these loans. Personally I witnessed loans of a couple thousand dollars going to and from people whose net worth was probably not much greater than mine.

Pretty much anyone who has ever played poker has been burned on a poker loan at least once. I never loaned out more than a few hundred dollars, and can only remember being stiffed twice. But those two happened more or less simultaneously, and they more or less ended my participation in the money-swapping business. Missy was probably more mad about it than I was, and she told me to use her as the bad guy anytime anyone asked me for a loan. So I just told people my wife wouldn’t let me do it.

It was pretty stupid for me to ever do it anyway, since I was never on the receiving end of one of these loans. A couple of times I have gone to the casino and forgotten my poker money, which seems like something nobody would be stupid enough to do. Only once or twice have I ever borrowed money to play, and those were from some of my closest friends. Usually I would realize it when I was halfway to the casino and make a slight detour to my bank to withdraw my own money. Once I’m at the casino and playing, if I ever run out of money, that’s the end of my day at the poker table. I always felt awkward about losing someone else’s money, and I can’t even imagine losing money I had no means of repaying. To me, the choice between paying a $5 ATM fee to access my own money or borrowing from someone else is a no-brainer.

But obviously gambling can take a serious hold on some people and cause them to do things they wouldn’t do in their normal lives. And some people are just shitheads. (Poop reference #1! I bet you were wondering what any of this has to do with the title of this blog.)

In 1975 it made a lot more sense to need to borrow money from a friend. Many poker games were held in underground spots that were frequently robbed or busted by the cops, so there was reason to not carry around a lot of cash even if the game you were playing in was pretty big. And it’s not like there was an ATM on every corner like there is now. In 2019, I figure if you don’t have a way to get your own money into a poker game, it’s probably best to just not play that day. There are only a handful of people I’d loan money to and they are my closest friends.

Of course, those people never ask me for a loan because they don’t need one. When I do get asked, there’s a 95% chance the phrase, “You know I’m good for it” will be invoked. Generally when I decline it’s not a big deal, the guy just says he understands and moves on. Maybe he’s pissed at me but I don’t really know or care.

One guy who asked me and my friends for loans several times was named Jack. He was a quirky dude but he was nice enough. Made some crazy plays at the poker table which occasionally led to him really cleaning up but more frequently led to him needing a loan.

One night a few years back he asked me for a loan. I declined. He then went and played at a smaller-stakes game than the one I was in. A few hours later, probably around 1 a.m., I cashed out and was about to head home. Jack cornered me, said he’d just lost in his game and asked me again for a loan. I again declined. He said he didn’t want more money for poker, he needed $50 to get a cab or an Uber ride home from the casino because the guy he rode with had left earlier.

Much like my policy on the panhandlers, I didn’t want to give Jack cash that probably wouldn’t be used to get him a ride home and probably wouldn’t ever be repaid to me. I also wanted him to get home safely. I was heading home and I had a perfectly good car and nowhere else I had to be at 1 a.m. so I offered to give him a ride.

(Several people who know this story think I was stupid to offer him a ride because of the risk of getting robbed by Jack. Obviously I suppose it was in play but he was probably 20 years older than I and not in good health. I didn’t see that as a risk or I wouldn’t have done it.)

We were at Riverwind, which is about 15 miles south of Oklahoma City. I live in South OKC. Jack lived way up in Northwest OKC near Edmond. Basically it added an hour onto what would have been a 30-minute trip home.

On the drive I asked him about his kids. He gushed about his daughter, who was about 9 years old at the time. After talking about her for 10 minutes, he said, “I also have a son who is grown up. He’s a piece of shit.” (Poop reference #2!) Kind of an awkward silence after that because I didn’t know what to say. Jack filled in the void by telling me exactly why he was a POS for the next 30 minutes.

Finally we get within a couple of miles of Jack’s house. We’re off the highway but not into the neighborhood yet. Out of nowhere Jack yells, “Pull over right now. I’ve got to take a piss.”

I ask if he knows if there’s a convenience store nearby. He says, “I ain’t got time for that. I’m about to piss all over myself and your car. You need to pull over now.”

I’m not really sure what to do because we are on a 40-mph street with no open businesses in sight. Jack points to a house on the corner of the street and yells, “Right here! Now!!”

I slam on the brakes and pull off the main road onto the side street. Jack is mumbling under his breath and fumbling with the car door. I unlock it and he sprints out of the car but only takes about three steps. He whips it out and lets it fly. I mean, he’s square in the middle of someone’s front lawn at 2 a.m. taking a whiz. My first thought was hoping that the owners didn’t happen to be gun owners who also happened to look out their window and see this. I thought about moving the car so I wasn’t in the line of fire but Jack’s door was still open. I was also sweating a police officer driving by. I wondered if I could be charged with accessory to public urination. I damn sure didn’t want to have to go down to the police station or bail him out of jail.

When he got done, Jack calmly got back in the car and told me how to get to his house. I still have no idea why he went from 0 to 60 on the need-to-piss scale so quickly. He hadn’t been drinking (in fact his liver was failing, and it would claim his life a year or so later). He never said anything about it, just thanked me for the ride when I dropped him off. It definitely ranks near the top of the list of bizarre incidents in my life.

Slightly less bizarre, but also involving bodily waste, is an incident that happened to me just a few days ago. For some reason I couldn’t get to sleep that night. I wasn’t overly depressed or anything but while I was laying there I was thinking about how I needed to do a better job of keeping my patience with the kids.

We were watching our friend’s puppy while she was out of town working, and she is a typically rambunctious puppy. She knocked over Hawk a few times which concerned me. Then she jumped up and snagged a piece of chicken off my plate while I was eating. Then Addison spilled milk at the table and made no effort to clean it up. All of this happened in a short span and I could have done a better job handling it with patience and grace. So that night while I couldn’t sleep I prayed for an extra measure of patience at home and with the kids.

I got about four hours of sleep when Hawk came into my room and woke me up to tell me he had a poopy diaper. So I’m still half asleep when I take him back to his room to change it. I woke all the way up pretty quickly when I stepped into a warm, squishy substance in Hawk’s room that got right in between all my toes. Yessir, I started my day by stepping in dog poop. After praying for patience the night before. It must have been the timing of that prayer because I somehow managed to hold my shit together, making me the only member of the dog-Hawk-me triumvirate to do so. I had to hop into the bathroom on my other foot so I could clean up the dirty one, then clean up the poop on the floor of Hawk’s room, then clean up Hawk and his dirty diaper.

I took the kids to the gym where I worked out for an hour or so. On the way home, Myra said, “You know Sadie pooped in our room too, right?” I did not know this, or else I would have cleaned that up immediately instead of letting that smell marinate in the girls’ room for a couple of additional and unnecessary hours.

Addison with Sadie, who is a good dog and hasn’t pooped any more since that first day.

Growing up in the church, I’d always heard the phrase, “Be careful when you ask God for patience, He might give you something to be patient about.”

Now I’ve lived it.

Panhandlers

The other day I was getting gas at OnCue when a man walked up to me.

“Hey man, you think you could help me out? I need some dinner.”

“Absolutely man. What do you want?”

“Can you just meet me around the corner with the cash? They don’t like me panhandling here in the parking lot. I’ll get kicked out.”

“I don’t have any cash on me. But I’ll use my credit card and buy you whatever you want to eat. So just let me know what you want and I’ll run in and get it for you.”

This took him by surprise. He hemmed and hawed for a minute before saying, “Just a Snickers is fine.”

I got him the Snickers, shook his hand and went on my way.

That moment reminded me of two similar tales from my Lawton days, the first of which shaped how I handle these situations. The second one was just funny.

Like most people fresh out of college, I was more or less broke when I first moved to Lawton in 2002 to start working for the Constitution. I didn’t have any student loan debt but I also didn’t have anything in my bank account, and my salary at the paper wasn’t going to change that. On the plus side, I was a single guy without any expensive habits so it wasn’t hard to survive.

One night I was on dinner break at the paper and went to a fast-food place. Seems like it might have been Quiznos but I can’t say for sure. Anyway, it was your standard fast food joint and it was probably 7 p.m. so it was fairly busy. I was sitting at a table by myself eating when a man came up and asked if I could help him out. We talked for a minute and I said, “Why don’t you go get your food and then come eat with me until I have to go back to work?”

He said that sounded great. I don’t remember how much money I gave him but I doubt it was more than $10. Big bills (aka $20) weren’t really part of my life back then. I actually think I may have given him $7 or pretty much the exact cost of the meal. While I may not remember exactly which restaurant I was at or how much money I gave him, I’ll never forget what happened next.

There were probably four people in line ahead of him. At first he just waited in line normally. Then after he moved up a spot he started to kind of shuffle his feet in place nervously. Then he was staring down at the money and moving it around in his hands (this is why I think I gave him multiple bills). He glanced back at me a couple of times and then back to the money, then to the front of the line. All of a sudden when it was his turn to order he bolted out the door, never to be seen again (by me anyway).

Obviously it sucks to get ripped off, even if it’s only for a few dollars. But I could tell from his body language and how nervous he got in the line that it was really a struggle for him of what to do with that money. He probably felt crappy about himself afterward, which is why I decided personally that I wasn’t going to give money out in those situations anymore. Everybody needs food and water, so from then on I would meet those needs directly and not put someone in a situation where they have to make a hard decision about how to spend the cash.

When I’m going to play poker, I usually have a few snacks in my backpack. When I’m stopped at a light I’ll offer a granola bar or a pack of peanut butter crackers. Those get accepted about 50 percent of the time. A couple of times when they’ve been declined it’s because the person doesn’t have any teeth. A few years back, Missy and Addie put together some basic survival packs that included socks, toothbrush/paste, bottled water and snacks. I thought that was pretty neat.

A few years after that first incident, when I had moved up in the world to the point of having a wife and owning a house, I was at Whataburger with my buddy Spike. We had just finished playing poker so it was probably 2 a.m. (I long for the days I could eat Whataburger on the reg at 2 a.m. and not gain weight).

This guy comes up to us and asks for food money. I told him to order whatever he wanted, it was on me. So he orders a triple cheeseburger value meal, supersized, with a strawberry shake. Gotta tip my hat on that order, it’s impressive. He thanks me and then sits down and eats the meal. There’s not really anyone inside the restaurant at this time besides us.

Spike and I finish our food about the same time as this gentlemen, and as we’re leaving he corners us again and asks for $20 for a cab ride across town. I tell him I can’t do that but I hope he enjoyed his meal. He starts yelling at me that I’m a racist. Meanwhile Spike reaches into his pocket and gives the dude whatever change is in there, about 50 cents. He says, “Thank you so much. God bless you. You’re not PREJUDICED like your friend here. He’s a RACIST!!”

I said, “Dude I just bought you $10 worth of food.”

“No you’re PREJUDGING me!!! PREJUDGING! PREJUDGING!” We slithered out of there while he kept yelling at me.

P.S. After I posted this, Spike remembered that the guy was wearing a Michael Irvin Dallas Cowboys jersey. So I had already overlooked that sin when I bought his dinner in the first place.

More Vegas stories

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.

View of Las Vegas from the giant ferris wheel at the Linq. Our family went on it in 2016.

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.

Vegas 2019

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.

White asparagus, spinach, mac and cheese and the American Wagyu strip steak at Cut.

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.

Javier’s at Aria

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.

Jeremy and I at Lotus of Siam. We each got noodles and then we split that crispy duck curry in the middle.

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.