Sunday, January 03, 2021

New Year, New Everything


Good Morning, Viet Nam! It has been over three months since I last posted - the most ever since this blog's inception. I can't say there was a specific reason for it. Perhaps it was just weariness with COVID-19, nasty political discourse or frustration/depression with the lack of activity on my house while it was for sale.

Midway through October, I sent my realtor the  required 30 days notice that I was ending my listing agreement with him. Coincidentally (or not), viewings of the house increased. Of course (u see), it might have also been due to the most recent reduction in price I made. As Thanksgiving was coming near, it certainly appeared that I would be spending another cold winter in Illinois and would likely have to postpone Arizona dreams until spring. However, a couple who had seen the house twice requested to see it a third time. Then it finally happened: THE OFFER! Although we would have preferred to have sold our house when its worth was higher, we accepted the bid and quickly began preparing for our next steps.

My wife, who had just come back from spending two weeks in Arizona visiting her best friend, was home a week before flying back out to find us a house to rent. Meanwhile, we had to start preparing for a move that would be taking place before Christmas. Packing up after being in town for 26 years was quite an ordeal. We were selling things, giving things away, and throwing out what we could bear to live without. We had our belongings loaded on a semi truck and driven to Arizona for us, prepared our house for sale, rented an SUV, and began the 1,600+ mile trip with our cat and our dog. 

We decided to take three days for the trip. The first night, we stayed overnight in Tulsa in a hotel overlooking the Hard Rock Casino. Of course I had to play some slots there. I came out a winner, which was a great sign. The second night we stayed in Albuquerque and had dinner and a delightful evening with a friend for the early 1990's and his wife. On the third day, we made it to our new location in the Phoenix area.

We have now been here more than two weeks. It really feels like much longer. One of the first things I did was buy myself a new car as I had sold our junky old van to an auto salvage shop as one of the last acts before we left Illinois. My family in Arizona paid for people to unload our truck (a fantastic gift!). We still have boxes in the house and garage, but we are working on things. Adapting to 60 degree weather in December has not been a problem. Ice and snow are coming down in central Illinois, but that is no longer our issue.

As we have been very busy with setting up our house and the holidays, I have only been to the Arena Poker Room at Talking Stick Resort four times so far. However, that has resulted in three winning sessions and one in which I came out even. There are some sweet promos at The Stick, and playing there has so far been really fun.

The next few weeks should provide more of the same: furnishing/setting up the house, taking care of boxes and playing poker. I have a birthday coming up in a few weeks, and am likely going to take a weekend trip to Las Vegas before the month is over and hit up some poker rooms with ZetusLarry.

I have been somewhat away from social media with the move and all, but am still alive and kicking -- and enjoying my  new version of retired life in Arizona.

A belated Merry Christmas/Happy Hanukkah/Happy New Year to everyone! Let's hope COVID-19 can begin to disappear sooner rather than later and that we can begin living whatever our new normal lives  will be.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, September 28, 2020

Weekend Trip to St Louis September 25-27, 2010: Poker, Friends, Food and Jesus

This past weekend seemed like the perfect time to get out of town for a few days. My wife and I have been getting frustrated by the lack of activity on our house that is up for sale. The trip had actually been planned for over a week, but Wednesday night brought a little more reason to want to get away. Mrs. lightning was returning home from an activity after sunset and ran her car - her precious baby - into a deer! Thankfully neither she nor her passenger were injured, but the deer did do some pretty decent damage to her car. She was able to drive it home, but then the fun started as we had to begin online  paperwork on an insurance claim. That actually went pretty well. We were able to get her car in to an auto body shop Thursday for an estimate, then was able to get an appointment to take it in for repairs on Friday at 8:00am. Sometimes you can run good even when things are bad!

Friday afternoon we loaded our stuff into our (t)rusty old 2005 Grand Caravan and headed toward greater St. Louis.

It was a beautiful day. The sun beat down. I had the radio on. I was driving. Trees flew by. Me and Del were singing Little Runaway. I was flying. Hmmm ... those could be lyrics for a song!

We checked into our hotel and decided to do one of the things on my "to do" list for the weekend: Get Imo's pizza, a St. Louis favorite. The thing that makes Imo's different is that instead of loading the top with mozzarella cheese, the pizza has Provel cheese, which is a combination of cheddar, Swiss and provolone cheeses. Also, the sauce on the very thin crust pizza has a different kind of taste to it with a bit of a zing. It is a different kind of pizza, but really quite good.

Imo's pepperoni and green pepper pizza

After the pizza, we then began the next item on my list: frozen custard at Ted Drewes, another St. Louis staple. There was a long line, but employees had it moving fairly quickly. We each had concrete mixers. The verdict: pretty good and reasonably priced. We both wished that we had tried sundaes instead so that all the flavors wouldn't have been mixed together. Maybe next time.

We went back to the hotel where my wife assembled her things that she enjoyed that would keep her busy: books, phone and movies. Meanwhile, I headed out to play poker. I decided to go to Hollywood Casino as opposed to Ameristar largely because Hollywood was using plexiglass on the poker tables and had been extremely diligent in observing COVID-19 safety protocols.

The $1/$2 NL session at Hollywood started out being very frustrating. I was actually catching cards: KK, AK, KK, ... Unfortunately, the table play was mostly tight unless two guys decided to go psycho on one another. I was making little headway until some new players came to the table and play opened up. You can guess what happened: I was card dead. One guy who came to the table had been on a dinner break and sat at the table with about $600. It looked to me like he was just using the chips to successful bluff/bully some players at our table. I looked down at pocket 8's and was hoping to make a go of it. There was maybe one limper, and the player with $600 made it $24 to go. I decided to put my trust in the snowmen since I thought his bet was bogus. I was rewarded with an 8 on the flop. I slow played it on the flop and turn, merely calling his bets. The key was on the river, which was a King. I was hoping that it helped him, and I was hoping that maybe he had A-K. However, he checked. I put out a bet of $50, hoping he would call with the amount of money in the pot, which was around $300. I was really hoping he would actually shove. I didn't have much more behind - maybe $50. He tanked for a bit and called, showing K-J! After he had a few minutes to settle down, he gave me the tap on the table, meaning "nice play." He also said that he wouldn't have called if that King had not showed up. Of course, then he would have only had K high! This hand helped me to make a profit at the table. Remembering that the weekend had just begun, I left at a reasonable time and made a quick late night food run at Jack in the Box. It included two of their terrible tacos. I was given two small containers of ranch dressing for the tacos. wtf?? Will I never learn?

Saturday morning we slept in late and headed to historic Main Street in St. Charles, MO. It had been a few years since we strolled the streets and checked out the many antique, craft and other stores. After  brief lunch, my wife decided we REALLY needed to get some rolled ice cream. We stopped at Craving the Curls Rolled Ice Cream. Half the fun was watching the young worker pour the liquid mix on the frozen board and watching her work it into a frozen state, then "scoop" it up in rolls. It was delicious!

We headed back to our hotel to relax, shower, and change clothes for dinner. I had arranged for my wife and I to meet up with Twitter friend Vegasfan1970, who would be bringing along his girlfriend, HuckleberryGirl, who I also knew from Twitter. Vegasfan had suggested that we meet at a place that has great smoked chicken wings, the Brass Rail in O'Fallon, MO. We all met for dinner and as what usually happens when meeting Twitter friends in person for the first time, we had an absolute blast! I already knew that my wife and Huckleberry had a lot in common, and I knew that both Vegas and Huckleberry were great people to talk with on Twitter. Easy call to meet up. It is always fun to talk about some mutual acquaintances from Twitter, so if your ears were ringing early Saturday evening, you now know why! And oh yeah - the smoked wings were pretty good!

Mrs. lightning36, blog hero, HuckleberryGirl & Vegasfan1970

Vegas and Huckleberry were going to a concert after dinner, so after saying our goodbyes, my wife and I were ready to head back to our hotel. Except ... Mrs. lightning had been discussing Ted Drews with both Vegas and Huckleberry and noticed that there was a frozen custard place in O'Fallon that had great reviews. So ... after filling up the van with $181.9 unleaded gasoline, we tried out this other custard place -- Fritz's. One word: Outstanding! We both had sundaes and I believe mine was the best turtle sundae I have ever had. Good call, wifey!

After filling what little room was left in our bellies, we headed back to the hotel. Mrs. lightning was just planning to stay in the rest of the night. As for me ... after a brief nap, it was back to Hollywood for more $1/$2 NL! I was card dead for quite some time and never got more than $75 up or $75 down. I decided to call it a night slightly after midnight, settling for a meager profit. But hey - I had fun, and it WAS still a profit!

We were in no great hurry to get up Sunday. After spending the morning sleeping and lazing around, we checked out of the hotel and headed for lunch at a BBQ place with a reputation: Sugarfire Smoke House. I had a burnt ends sandwich with creamed jalapeno corn and Mrs. lightning had a pulled pork sandwich with green beans. We shared an order of hushpuppies. The verdict: Meh. My burnt ends were a tad fatty and were missing the flavor you expect from burnt ends. The jalapeno in the corn was minimal and I felt little heat. It tasted like corn drowning in butter. The pulled pork lacked flavor, and the green beans and the hushpuppies were just okay. It was a very disappointing meal, especially for what we paid for it. Maybe it was just a bad day for the restaurant - I dunno.

Burnt ends sammich and that buttery corn

As we headed east on I-70, we stopped in Effingham (yes - that is the town's real name!), IL to visit close up the Cross at the Crossroads. We actually lived in Effingham for three years, but that was before the cross was built. At 198 feet, it was once the tallest cross in the United States, but is now the second tallest. It is really quite a sight for the drivers on Interstates 70 and 57.

To give you a little perspective, Mrs. lightning is standing at the base of the cross!

Since we were in Effingham, I decided to surprise my wife by stopping at - what else - our old favorite ice cream stand, the Homewood Grill. Mrs. lightning had a turtle sundae and I had the best Chocolate Peanut Butter ice cream in the world!

If this trip sounds like it was an overindulgence in sugar, you are correct. However, this was our weekend to just do whatever. It was not our plan to overindulge in sweets, but it felt like we were kicking COVID-19 in the teeth! And as long as we were being sugar degenerates, we made one final stop: Flesor's Candy Kitchen in Tuscola, IL. One of my retirement gifts from a work colleague was a gift certificate to this place. We stopped in before it closed for the weekend to get me some huge malted milk balls that I had tried before. At least we took them home instead of eating more ice cream at the store!

So ... what a weekend! We did get in our 10,000 steps on Saturday, so at least that will help a bit with all the sugar we ate. But it sure was good!

And a special thanks to Vegasfan1970 and HuckleberryGirl for meeting up with us. People who know me know that I am always trying to arrange meetings with people I am friends with online. I am proud to say that many of my online buddies are also among my very best friends. Although I certainly worked my butt off in a serious occupation prior to my retirement, I also set a goal for myself to try to have fun in whatever I do. In doing so, I sometimes piss off family and friends when I make jokes about serious situations, but that is the only way I know to live. As I get older, I have become intensely aware that most of my life has already passed. You can bet that for the rest of the years that I will be granted, I will be trying to squeeze the most fun out of it that I can. This vehicle accepts passengers, so join me for the ride!

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Reminders to Live Every Moment

The local boys singing Live Every Moment in concert

It's interesting that many people believe in the old superstition that bad things happen in threes. I know that it is easy to shape the world around us to find things that fit into this model, but I was struck today at how this really played out this weekend. The first two instances of bad news deal with deaths. On a national level, the country is mourning the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. For those of us with poker as a profession or hobby, we mourn the passing of Darvin Moon, who made an amazing run to finish runner up to Joe Cada in the 2009 WSOP Main Event. The third event, however, was much more personal and local.

Less than two weeks ago, my wife and I "celebrated" the ninth anniversary of my September 2011 heart attack. After spending a night in the hospital after feeling some pain in my breastbone and the back of my head, I woke up very early the next morning expecting to do a stress test. A cardiologist came in to speak with me first. After talking with me about what happened the day before, he said "Based on what you told me, I am convinced that you had a mild heart attack. We're not going to do a stress test. I'm going in."

What? Holy crap! They were going to be doing stuff with my heart and I barely had any time to even prepare myself psychologically for it. For the first time in my life, outside of doing a few rather foolish things when I was younger, I was facing the fact that I might die that day. The cardiologist assured me that I was in great hands and that everything would be okay. He asked if I had anyone with me at the hospital. I told him that my wife was getting ready to come to be with me for my stress test. He told me that I shouldn't have her hurry since they will be done with my angiogram anyway by the time she got there. I called my wife to let her know right before they wheeled me away to do an angiogram. I was friggin' petrified!

I went home later that day knowing that my life had just changed forever. I was very, very thankful for that cardiologist. I then became dedicated to healthy eating and doing cardiac rehab since I knew that I had another artery with some blockage, but not enough for surgical intervention. However, about 16 months later, I noticed some trouble breathing when working out at my local fitness center. I had slacked off a little over the Christmas and New Year holidays and attributed it to that. I gave it some time and then decided I should see my cardiologist. I went late in the afternoon. After he examined me, he said "I need to go back in. How about tomorrow? I decided to have it done first thing in the morning. What a choice: have less time to prepare my mind or wait longer, thinking that I would be the dumbest guy in the world if I had problems that morning when I had passed up the early morning time. I went home filled with anxiety.

The next day, my cardiologist went in again and fixed things in my heart. I'm still around today thanks to this great doctor.

I continued to see my cardiologist for annual exams over the years. Earlier this year, I needed to see him for medical clearance for some other surgery and was told that he was taking some time off. When I went for my annual visit this summer, I saw his associate and was told that my cardiologist was on medical leave. Everyone at his clinic was tight lipped about what was going on with him. I just found out today.

I was shocked to see the news article briefing sent to my cell phone this morning: my cardiologist had gone public about having ALS. Although he appeared to me to be much older than me, in reality he is only six years older. In the news article, he referred to himself as a "retired cardiologist." He discussed dealing with the idea of having ALS and having professional knowledge of how his future life will be in his remaining time. He has chosen to face life with courage and dignity by using his final years to be an advocate for ALS.

So for me, this was bad thing number three. The man who helped me to live a great life these past nine years is now facing an incurable, debilitating illness for the remaining years of his life. It doesn't seem quite fair that this doctor who has dedicated his life to helping people like me who have had heart issues should be given such a terrible path for the end of his life. But we all know that life is not fair.

I hope my readers and poker friends have not had their "third" this weekend as I have had. It is certainly a reminder that nothing in this world is guaranteed and that our life can completely change unexpectedly at any instant.

Live every moment. I will try to keep this in mind as I begin this new phase in my life.

My interventional cardiologist's tips for me:
1) You can't control the past. Your problems are now fixed. But you can control the future.
2) Try to eat one meatless meal each day.
3) Walk. Every day. Anytime you are going somewhere: walk.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, September 11, 2020

Las Vegas Trip Report: August 30 - September 4, 2020

With more than a little trepidation, I scheduled a weekday trip to Las Vegas at about the same time I did very year - right around Labor Day and right around the birthday of thundering36, my brother. The way the calendar worked out this year, I actually went the week before Labor Day instead of beginning the trip on Labor Day weekend. Being newly retired, I now have more flexibility in terms of when I can travel at the end of August.

I was playing poker pretty regularly until the COVID-19 crisis hit. Since then, however, I had only played online until I took a trip to the St. Louis area to play poker a few weeks ago. I felt the rustiness in St. Louis and also felt it in Las Vegas. Despite some COVID concerns, I decided to make the trip.

I had already been warned by my wife as to what I would find when I got to Chicago Midway Airport on a great Sunday morning: the ever-popular food court was closed.
Things seemed really slow for a Sunday morning, which I expected. Not knowing what food options would be available, I had stuffed away a large bag of Gardetto's and a Coke in my carry on. That was a wise choice as I always had a ready snack if I got back late from playing poker.

I am claustrophobic, so I had initially been concerned about wearing a mask for the entire flight. However, the St. Louis experience helped train me to keep on a mask for an extended period of time. I also stayed up late the night before my trip so that I would hopefully sleep most of the flight, which I did. My Southwest flight had empty middle seats and still had some availability.

Upon picking up my luggage at McCarran Airport, I took the shuttle to get my used car. Rates finally went down as my trip neared. I didn't make the reservation until the day before. I rented a full size vehicle from Thrifty. The wait was not too long and my customer service rep was fast. Apparently, Thrifty is using some cars that belong to Hertz. I was given a GMC Terrain which I liked. The only problem was that it reeked of smoke! I thought that perhaps whoever cleaned out the car was smoking when doing so, but the smell was indicative of a lot of smoking inside the vehicle. Had I known it would smell that much, I would have asked for a different vehicle. At least it was relatively cheap.

I was spending four nights at the Flamingo. Perhaps one good thing is that with all the sanitizing for COVID, I couldn't smell the familiar piped-in custom smell for Flamingo, which I do not like. That was a big plus. Most of the checking in was done via machines set up in the lobby. The process seemed relatively efficient.

My Fab room:
It was okay. The room was decently nice, but the carpeting was old and stained. One time thundering36 got us a sweet comped room/mini-suite at Flamingo, but the few other times that I have stayed there, the rooms have tended to be underwhelming.

How Safe Did I Feel?
One of my major concerns with making the trip was the level of safety I would feel. This would include airplanes, restaurants, poker rooms, inside casinos and The Strip. The answer: very safe in all places. Everywhere I went, people were wearing masks. Social distancing was not always around six feet, but I believe that people were respectful about being too close. When in the South Point buffet I forgot to put my mask back on as I went to get some more food, I was tracked down by a friendly employee who brought me a fresh mask that was in a sealed plastic container. The poker rooms had plexiglass up to separate players. After a player left, the seat, plexiglass and entire area was wiped down. The poker rooms felt especially safe to me.

How Was It Playing with plexiglass?
I was glad that I had gone to St Louis for a trial run to see how play was with plexiglass separators. Once you get used to them, they are not so bad. However, they certainly cut down the chatting and friendliness at the tables. I guess that is the price you must pay to play poker in a COVID-19 world.

Poker Horror Stories
To put it bluntly, my first evening of poker sucked. I decided to play at Venetian,  which was eight-handed $1/3 NL. One kind of scruffy looking guy was raising $20-25 many hands, only to later showdown with crappy hands that were the initial raise. I was in the small blind and made a call with a one gapper. It didn't cost much, and several people were in the hand. I had a gutshot straight, which I hit on the river, in a hand where everyone was checking. When it came to me, I threw out a bet of $10, practically begging for some callers. To my surprise, the big blind raised to $40. I was guessing the maybe he had the same hand as me or hit a lesser hand like two pair. I announced "raise," took my  initial $10 raise back, and pushed out a stack of $100 in redbirds. At that point the scruffy guy started got agitated and yelled out "you can't do that!" Huh? I clearly announced my intention to raise, took back the chips I originally raised with, and put out $100, then said "$100." Scruffy guy claimed that since I did not announce the amount of my raise before placing my chips out that I was restricted to only putting out  minimum raise. Everyone at the table was wondering where this came from, and the dealer waited a bit and then called for the floor as scruffy guy wouldn't let it go. The floor came, heard the situation from the dealer, and said the raise to $100 was okay. Scruffy guy then said that one of the room bosses had made a decision the other day that since the plexiglass was up and it appeared that some people could not hear things properly and other players were using the listening issue to angle shoot, that an unannounced re-raise could only be two times the initial raise. The floor said that he would inquire about this, taking more time. After what seemed like an eternity, the floor said to scruffy guy "You are correct. The raise can only be to $80." We had been waiting for a long time and I was certainly tired of listening to scruffy guy as well as thinking that this unannounced rule was not fair to everyone playing. I then made a big mistake, which I own. The big blind announced "all in." Instead of taking my time to re-examine the board, I insta-called. It turns out that I had missed that a bigger straight than I had was possible. The big blind tabled his hand and indeed I was beaten. I know that it is my own fault for not carefully re-examining the board, but I felt like I was so frustrated at listening to scruffy guy's unending yapping that I was pissed and just made the call. I left very unhappy.

I next went to Caesars Palace even though the game would be short handed. It was $1/2 and I bought in for $200. I was seated quickly, apparently at a table that kept losing players. One guy who had been away from the table then returned. He apparently was a regular because he seemed to know the female dealer quite well. She was announcing everything in a loud, shrill voice due to the plexiglass, and the guy started telling stories that I, and I imagine others, didn't really care to hear. He started by saying that he had connected with a young woman  on Tinder or some other dating or social media platform and was ready for a first date with her when COVID-19 put a hold on things. In the meantime, he had lost 40 pounds. He claimed that he was 6'6." Remarkably, in that same amount of time, the young woman had gained 40 pounds. Well, of course now he was not going to take her out. Huh? Was this guy really bragging about this - it was okay for him to have an extra 40 pounds, but now that this young lady put on the same amount (very common for many to put on weight due to COVID restrictions) he wouldn't take her out? And sometimes people actually wonder why poker is seen as a haven for d-bag males.

Along with hearing this shit show, I ran an overpair into a higher overpair and then two pair into a flopped set. In my mind, it was time to call it a night in poker and unwind with some slot action. Very crappy start to the trip.

Who Did I See in Las Vegas?
People who know me know that I am a social guy and always like to connect with old friends and meet new friends and online people I haven't met in person. I like to think of these meeting as some of the real highlights of my trip. I went to see ManInBlack. I stopped by his place to see how his apartment was coming along, then headed out for some lunch at The Egg and I. I had never been there before and apparently was a failure at lunch (according to RobVegasPoker) for not actually eating eggs there! It was lunchtime, however, so I opted for a buffalo chicken wrap while MIB wisely opted for the greatest looking cheeseburger. Next time I go for LUNCH, I'll give that a try. Sorry for disturbing your egg equilibrium, Rob! I have known MIB for many years and admire his tenacity to keep going when times get rough.

I headed to the Sahara poker room Thursday evening for some mixed poker games. Luke Johnston was sending out invitations and got Chris Abramski and Shady Steve to show. It was good to see Luke, whom I've met a few times, Chris, who I have known for several years, and Steve, who I had messaged with many times but never met in person. I was disappointed that Steve did not bring his attractive girlfriend for fear that I might steal her away.

Unfortunately, the mixed games were not mostly of the HORSE variety, but other games which I do not really know. As I told them, they might win my money, but I am not just giving it way playing games I know little about. Unfortunately, I didn't get much time to talk with Luke or Steve before Chris and I heading to another table to play some $1/2 NL. I didn't particularly like the other people at the table and it was my last night in Las Vegas, so I left after a short time to go bonus hunting at Venetian.

Opinion of Poker Rooms for This Trip
Caesars - I have never felt comfortable playing at Caesars. It is the only room where I have been warned due to getting into it with someone. And with what I mentioned earlier, I did not have a good experience again. However, the desk people were very friendly to me as I waited to be seated, so props to them.

Orleans
I only played one session at Orleans. It is another room where I feel slightly uncomfortable, maybe because it is such a locals place. Nothing negative happened there, so maybe it is more me.

Venetian
I spent a lot of time at the V because of the high hand promotion that started at the beginning of September. I wasn't able to snag one there, however. I took an overall loss there. I find that the players there tend to have an edge to themselves there, but I also recognize that the level of play there is, in my opinion, above average.

Red Rock
Played one evening session there. It's nice just to take the drive out there sometimes. Play at my table was wild. One guy should have been felted early on when he ran his KK into AA. He was saved by a King on the flop or turn. He then went on an unreal heater and cashed out a short time later with around $1,300. Nice ROI!

South Point
I was pleasantly surprised at South Point. I had only played there once before since I recently have not rented a car. I found the daytime regulars to be pretty tight and good players. Play was a little looser in the evenings. I found the players to be friendly and mostly polite.

I tried the the morning tournament there and had some aggro people at my table. I got bounced out of the tourney with AA when two aggro guys called my preflop all in and I had a terrible runout. I lost to a crappy hand like J-9os. Meh.

Food and Miscellaneous
Some restaurants were closed or had abridged hours. I pretty much took the low road this trip when eating. I did, however, enjoy the buffet at South Point twice. They did an excellent job with serving the food.
I am surprised that more places haven't opened theirs. And I had a graveyard special at the Coronado Cafe inside South Point one night.
Overall Trip Evaluation
I did have some excellent sessions during the trip, but not enough to overcome some errors I made along the way. I really felt like I was at a disadvantage from only playing b&m poker for two days in the past 7+ months before the trip. Poker friend Bill Tait told me that I am too hard on myself, but I worked for years doing a job where part of it required an anal attention to detail. I am used to having everything be 100%. I struggle inside when I do stupid stuff in poker. I'm getting better at letting things go.

I am glad that I took this trip and got away from my house for several days. It is amazing how for some of us our homes have almost become prisons due to COVID-19. Even so, I considered canceling the trip the morning of, which I have only done before due to medical reasons. I'm glad I decided not to wuss out. I am looking forward to another trip to Las Vegas in the next few months. It may or may not happen depending on if and when my house sells. Once that happens, Phoenix and "The Stick" will be source of my poker successes and frustrations for at least a year.

Note: I did not see any of the fighting or terrible behavior that has recently been posted on Twitter. The weekdays I was there were just typical Las Vegas days -- except for the number of healthy looking younger people who were tearing around the Las Vegas Strip in scooters! And I did get tested for COVID four days after I got home from my trip. The results were negative.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, September 07, 2020

R.I.P David " Memphis MOJO" Smith: Poker Player, Bridge Master, Blogger and Friend

Mugging with Dave outside Corky's Bar-B-Q in Memphis

In a sense, I guess it was fitting that I learned of the passing of poker blogger David "Memphis MOJO" Smith while playing poker - sitting at a game of $1/3 NL at the Venetian. I was quite surprised to received a text message from friend Rob from Rob's Vegas and Poker Blog, asking me if I had seen the tweet from Memphis MOJO's Twitter account that Dave passed away. I had not heard anything from Dave for a few months.

Dave and I had been friends via the online poker world and our blogs beginning around the poker explosion after Chris Moneymaker's historic WSOP victory. We met in person in June 2009 when we both played in the WSOP Seniors Event. We made a last-longer bet, which I won.

My wife and I had a weekend trip to Memphis planned at the end of July that summer, and we met with Dave at one of my favorite places, Corky's Bar-B-Q. Dave paid off our last longer bet by buying dinner for my wife and me. My wife was happy to see that one of my online poker buddies was just a really nice guy and not some type of poker zombie!

Dave and I played together in a ton of private online poker tournaments. We always tried to keep up a lively conversation. And as we both frequently posted in our blogs, we made sure to read each other's and comment frequently to help support the blogs.

If you were friends with Dave, you knew that his passions, aside from poker, were bridge and photography. An interesting connection we had was that one of his bridge friends was the wife of the guy who painted both my current and my old house! Small world, huh? Dave had strong central/southern Illinois roots, so maybe the world isn't really quite so small. And unfortunately, no matter how hard I tried, I could not get him to spurn his beloved St. Louis Cardinals for the Chicago Cubs!

Black Friday in poker (April 15, 2011) changed the world for online poker players in the United States. With limited options for online poker, it was easy to lose some of the close relationships that many of us had formed. I still saw Dave occasionally in Las Vegas or on trips to Memphis. One summer we both played in the same tournament at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas. Although I outlasted him again, I had been seeing from his results in Tunica, MS tournaments that Dave was getting better and better in tournaments. We met up at Harrah's Horseshoe in Tunica in March 2014 when my wife and I took a weekend trip to Memphis. I remember telling Dave that although he had been final tabling tournaments but falling just short of a win, I really felt like that breakthrough was coming. I didn't know at the time how right I was.

Three months later, Dave helped provide probably the most exciting poker experience I had ever had as he was making a deep run in the WSOP Senior's tournament. I was listening to the action on a half-hour delay and relaying his progress to my family. As more and more players were knocked out and his payday kept increasing, I was yelling the latest info to my wife. "He's got $48,000 locked up ... now it's $60,000 ... on and on until he got to the final table. Dave finished in third place for a whopping cash of $279,412. Yowsa! And if that wasn't enough, he took some of his winnings and entered the 2014 WSOP Main Event, making another deep run. My wife and I arrived in Las Vegas that day and zoomed over to the Rio to rail him. Unfortunately, he busted out while I was parking my rental car at the Rio. He finished in 477th place for a $ 25, 756 payday. My wife and I waited in line with him while he was awaiting his payment, then went to dinner with him at All American Burger. Since he had two nice paydays in that WSOP, I didn't argue when he offered to pay for dinner!
Me, Dave and Mrs. lightning36

Looking at the Hendon Mob database, it appears that Dave's last notable cashes were in January and February of this year. 

The last I heard from Dave was in mid-June after I tweeted the following:
"Found this while cleaning out stuff at home. I made a fortune selling autographed copies. I can ship you a personally signed copy for $100. PM me if interested. Sorry - maximum of ten per person. While quantities last."

Dave's response: "Since I'm a friend, can I get more than 10?"

Dave was a great friend and I greatly enjoyed the time we spent together both in person and in poker tournament chats. I will really miss him.

Note: Dave's sister has noted that a nice obituary will be printed on Friday, September 11 at obituaries.effinghamdailynews.com . An obituary and a guestbook are currently available at https://www.legacy.com/obituaries/name/david-smith-obituary?pid=196733190.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Two Perspectives on Suicide

I was saddened to hear that a relative of a poker friend committed suicide. I began reflecting on some posts I had written over the years regarding suicide. I am reposting two of them below.

If you are ever thinking about harming yourself, please talk to someone -- a relative, a friend, anyone.

They Were Peeing in the Creek
November 22, 2015

Saturday was an interesting day as I was helping out with a program two people on my staff were hosting for the local community -- International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day. Both organizers had lost a brother to suicide.

As we got through the program on  a snowy central Illinois November morning, I thought about how fortunate I have been to have never had a close relative or close friend kill her/himself. There have been some times when some family members were suicidal and even a few times when attempts were made -- with one attempt being quite close to being successful. But despite those attempts, I still never had the unfortunate experience that was shared among the session participants today.

It was incredibly moving to hear stories from the people who experienced the aftermath of suicide first hand. In the final exercise of the day, we went around the tables while eating lunch and shared stories about our loved ones who had been lost. When it was my time to speak, I said that I just preferred to listen and not speak. I really didn't know how to say that I didn't share the commonality that everyone else there shared. Also, being a gambler, I am at least a little superstitious and hate to have even written the last sentence for fear that I might have jinxed myself!

I did think, however, about the family friend who took her life just over three years ago. Cindy was one of my wife's closest friends. When Cindy and her husband still lived in town, we occasionally socialized with them as part of a larger group activity. One time, however, the four of us decided to head out to Turkey Run State Park in western Indiana for a day of tubing down Sugar Creek. The title of this post came from the part of day when both Cindy and Mrs. lightning had to go to the bathroom while in an area that had no public restrooms. Their solution: jump in the creek and just pee there. The look on their faces in the picture at the beginning of this post is classic. They were such bad girls!

Shortly after Cindy's suicide, I wrote a post about it. At the time we didn't know or understand why she did it. We are still not 100% certain, but it seems likely that some mysterious physical and psychological issues that she was having at the time motivated her to take her own life. Unfortunately, as much as Cindy tried to help heal the pain in others' lives, she kept her own pain hidden from most of those closest to her.

Although I couldn't feel the same extent of pain that the other people at the conference felt, I could identify with the shock of hearing devastatingly bad news and of searching for meaning despite it. The day Mrs. lightning and I found out that our son had cancer is a day that is forever seared in my memory. However, we were gifted the equivalent of a poker "one time" as our son had the cancer removed, did not even have to go through chemotherapy or radiation treatments, and now, over five and a half years later, remains cancer free. The difference, however, is that suicide doesn't offer the opportunity for that "one time."

So yes, I cried a little tonight when I thought about the pain that some of the people at the program suffered -- and how fortunate my life has been. I have been gifted some awesome run-good in life and try to remember that everyone isn't so lucky. I hope I never forget it.

Cindy Wall


Dealing With The Suicide of a Friend
September 30, 2012
It was difficult when my father passed away eight years ago. My best friend at work lost a health battle and passed away shortly thereafter. I remember thinking that I had been pretty lucky, living as long as I did without having to feel the agony of one of these “firsts” that many people had experienced so much earlier in life. Today, however, was a shocker. It is the first time that one of my friends has committed suicide. I am just numb.

I had actually first met Cindy’s daughter and husband when I assisted them in planning out academic schedules in their college years. Cindy and her husband, Keith, became part of my family’s circle of friends through the Italian dinner club – a group of locals who had taken a cooking class offered by a local Italian chef. The group meets once a month to share dinner -- always great food – drinks, and friendship. Keith played in a couple of my home poker games and was an easy guy to get along with. He was in a motorcycle accident that resulted in having one of his legs amputated, but he seemed to weather it pretty well.

Cindy was funny – almost always caustic, which is why I liked her. She intimated that I was, shall we say, shorted in the manhood department, so we had a good natured love/hate relationship. Cindy was a very caring woman, however, and quickly became one of my wife’s best friends. She and Keith moved away to North Carolina a couple of years ago to chase a dream of owning and operating an Original Pancake House franchise. Unfortunately, that never panned out. Both Keith and Cindy were working in the real estate field.

My wife visited Cindy a year ago and had a great time. Cindy made a trip back to the Chicago area and of course my wife drove up for the weekend to spend some time with her. In fact, Mrs. Lightning was planning to visit Cindy later in October but Cindy had not been feeling well and asked that the visit be postponed for a time when she would be able to fully enjoy the visit.

My wife has a lead role in a local production of Steel Magnolias and had posted on facebook Friday night that the cast had received a standing ovation at the conclusion of the play. Cindy responded on Saturday afternoon, “Way to go! So many talents … so little time! : ) .” Sometime shortly thereafter, Cindy walked outside her house into a field and shot herself.

Of course, my wife is totally devastated. We have heard that Cindy left a note, but we don’t know much more right now. Her daughter said that no one saw this coming. We knew that there had been some things that Cindy had been unhappy about. However, those of us who knew Cindy knew that she was a fighter. She helped her husband through his medical predicament and his rehab. She fought for several years against a work situation that she felt had been unfair. She was not the type to give up.

So tonight many of Cindy’s friends in central Illinois are mourning the death of a friend and wondering why. Tonight will be a long night.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Some people are just A-holes

My "baby" - the "crap car"

The latest video going around (the lady in New York who doesn't leash her dog) reminded me of something that happened to me over 13 years ago. It was just so way off kooky that I remember it today like it was yesterday. I posted about it in a blog post back in November 2006.

Just Another Tricky Day in the Life of the Lightning Man

My Saturday began with dealing with an idiot, and ended with dealing with an idiot.

(I will skip a boring poker story that comprised the first half of the blog post)

My evening situation was much worse. I had bought some ear buds for my daughter, and the buds somehow got lost between Best Buy, Meijer, and home. I thought that I might have dropped them outside Meijer, so I made a quick trip back. Couldn't find them. Then I stopped at Best Buy to see if I dropped them going out the door. Nope.

I opened my car door, and a gust of wind caught it and hit it into the car next to mine. Now ... my red Mustang convertible, while now mature, is still my baby. I hate to see it get hit, so of course I felt bad about what happened. It turned out that a guy and a girl were inside the car, and the guy was upset -- rightfully so. However, he started ragging on me about how some people just don't care about other's property, how I have a crap car (grrrr), ... you get the vibe. I had told him that I was sorry, but the wind caught it. It left a little smudge that a little spit and a wipe took care of. But no, this guy had to go on and on about the situation. I certainly do not take any shit from someone less than half my age, and I told him to grow up. He kept on and on and his girlfriend was trying to put her hand over his mouth, and I finally said, "Just grow the f*** up. Shut up." The girlfriend thought that I was talking to her and said "No one talks to me like that. Do you want me to call the police?" I said "Call the police - see what I care."

At that point, I figured it best to just leave before the situation got worse. I saw the moron whip out his cell phone and look at my license number. He apparently called 911 and told the operator that there was a hit and run at Best Buy. Do you believe the wuss?

I was driving home and got pulled over by the police! I gave my version of what happened to the officer. She checked on her radio and found out that -- oops, looks like it was not a hit and run and no damage was done to the other guy's car. She told me that since there was no damage there is no incident and this is over.

Uh ... nice use of 911. My only hope is that the responding officers gave the other guy crap about calling 911 for a stupid parking lot mishap.

So ... how was your day?????

Epilogue
I live in a university town, work in higher education, and have dealt with traditional age college students almost my entire adult life. How many that I have dealt with have been real jerks? The answer: very, very few. I deal with students straight up. I am nice and polite, but I am also direct and make sure unruly ones understand that I am not there to take their crap. I guess this is what burned me so much about this situation. As I mentioned in the post, I understood the kid getting upset. It was pretty easy to see that he likely came from a privileged family, thus thinking he could just go on and on giving me crap to impress his girlfriend. And, of course, mommy and daddy obviously paid for his nice car. As the blog title states, some people are just A-holes. 'nough said.

Thanks for reading.