Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Birthday Weekend Road Trip to Buy a Car (with a stop at FireKeepers Casino)

I occasionally mention Mrs. lightning in my blog posts. So yes, please make any jokes/comments about how she must suffer being married to me now so that they are out of the way ...

... Okay! Anyway, one of the many great things about her is that she is relatively low maintenance and does not focus on material things. However, in a matter that was quite unusual for her, she became obsessed about getting a very specific car: a 2017 Volkswagon Beetle convertible in bright metallic fuschia. In fact, this uniquely colored car has its own hashtag: #PinkBeetle. Now for some background information ... We have not bought a new/nearly new vehicle for over 12 years. She has been driving a minivan for the past twenty years. I guess one could say it was about time she got something a tad flashier than another soccer mom vehicle! Unfortunately, this special addition was only made for one year, so finding one for sale is challenging.

We began the search in earnest in November/December. New Jersey - just didn't work out with the time and distance. Albuquerque - another timing and distance problem, especially since this period is one of my busiest at work. Washington D.C/Baltimore area -- this looked worth a shot, but weather and work again proved problematic. However, it felt like we were getting closer. North of Detroit -- bingo! The car had a few more miles on it than others we'd seen, but it was also at a significantly lower price. My wife exchanged phone calls and texts with a salesman at the dealership and I also communicated with him. I didn't want to wait since these cars have been sold relatively fast, so we made plans to drive up to Michigan ON MY BIRTHDAY WEEKEND to look at and possibly buy the car.

After canceling a dinner reservation at the St. Elmo Steak House in Indianapolis (one of the best in the country), we both worked all day Friday and headed to Michigan Friday evening. The trip would be over 400 miles and six hours, so we decided to stay overnight near Battle Creek. We stayed at a place that TBC has stayed at before -- Howard's Motel, a small family business near FireKeepers Casino -- and drive in the final two hours in the morning. When we got to the dealership and saw the car, I knew right away that we would buy it. Aside from a paperwork issue (the owner of the dealership required that a purchased car be insured before it left the lot, causing me to get on the phone with State Farm for a half hour), things went well. We bought the car, had lunch and drove back to Battle Creek. Since we were familiar with Howard's and want to support small businesses, we decided to stay there Saturday night. We went to our room, crashed for a few hours and had dinner.

After dinner, Mrs. lightning stayed at the motel to read the instruction booklet for her car while I ... you guessed it, headed to FireKeepers Casino to play poker. Imagine that!

A new table was opening just as I got to the poker room, so there was no wait. Score! The table had a couple of crusty old guys who were not very good. A man and a woman at my end (I was in seat 9 of 9) were regulars and appeared to be okay players. There were a few other players who appeared to be average.

I started out down a bit when I couldn't hit a flop, then climbed back up. I misplayed one hand badly and let one of the old guys stay in a hand and he got me runner runner. Later on I built my stack back up when I had an open ended straight draw and the second nut flush draw going to the river. Fortunately, the betting on the turn was small. I got the flush on the river and shoved all in over a raise, winning  a nice pot of chips.  I ended the session up $250 before I decided to call it a night, try out a NEW Willie Wonka slot machine and head to bed. Unfortunately, dummy me lost his motel key! Fortunately, the motel only charged me an extra $5 for it when I checked out.

The four-hour ride back Sunday morning/afternoon was made longer for frequent stops as my wife and I were both pretty tired. I watched a little football, but wasn't particularly interested in the games. Come Monday, it was back to work.

My wife's birthday is this coming weekend, so it looks we will actually celebrate both of ours. And then, one week afterward ... Las Vegas! Life is good!
Mrs. lightning with her new baby

Monday, January 15, 2018

Weekend/Future/Life Updates

Welcome from the winter wonderland in Illinois. It is past 1:00 a.m. and a balmy 18 degrees (feels like 2 degrees) outside. We had a strange week where the temperature was around 0, then went into the 40's, then back very cold again.

My youngest daughter's boyfriend was coming to visit from Pennsylvania Friday night. His flight to Chicago-O'Hare was fine, but his final leg downstate kept getting delayed because United could not find the flight crew! After delays of a few hours, the customers were told that the flight was canceled. So ... what to do ... After exploring some not-so-great options, we had the boyfriend take Uber about halfway to our house. My daughter and I hopped in our van at about 12:30 a.m. and headed north to meet him and bring him back. Nothing like a night run when the temperature is hovering around 0 degrees. Fortunately, everything worked out okay. Unfortunately, I have today (Monday) off and have to drive him to catch a bus at early this morning. Such is the life of a father!

I have been planning to take a trip to Las Vegas in February, but for some reason had not pulled the string on the visit. I have hotel reservations (some might change) and finally got my plane ticket Saturday night. I'll be heading to Las Vegas on Saturday, February 3 and staying for almost a week. The first two nights are still up in the air as I have reservations at two hotels, including the Lucky Dragon. If I decide to rent a car for the week, I might stay in Henderson for the first two nights. After that, I'll be staying at Bally's on The Strip during the week. I'm formulating some plans for the trip already, so if you want to potentially meet up, hit me up!

Long-time readers might recall that in May 2012, I took over as head of my department at work when a change of direction was badly needed. I finally stepped down at the end of last April after five years in the job. An interim director replaced me, but now two job searches have come and gone without finding suitable candidates to replace me. Search number three is now underway! Meanwhile, I have enjoyed not having so much responsibility hanging over my head, and am now about to start a countdown to my retirement -- 28 months to go! That might sound like a lot, but I have been working at my present place of employment for 23 1/2 years and have been working professionally for 35 1/2 years. It is strange even thinking about this since I have not been without at least a part-time job for over 40 years.

And what will happen after I retire? Right now, it appears that we will sell our house and move to ... Las Vegas! We want to get out of Illinois and move somewhere warmer. It looked like Phoenix/Scottsdale was going to be the place, but now it is looking more like Las Vegas. This all seems a tad unreal. I don't know if I am quite ready to begin the countdown. I do know that I am tired of working and welcome the opportunity to be doing something else, be that working some sort of part-time job that would be quite different from what I currently do or finding some volunteer work that would be fulfilling. That and having a bit more relaxed time for poker would be excellent!

Looks like I should get some sleep so that I won't be sliding through the snow when I drive in a few hours. Thanks for reading!

A note: After all the kidding I got for having my hair slicked back (I got called "Ditka" more than a few times at the poker tables!), my wife convinced me to go back to my regular hairstyle. Ditka no more!

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

New Orleans French Quarter Trip Mini Review

Although I am not a foodie and actually tend not to drink alcohol, I think the French Quarter is a great place to visit. I never visited New Orleans until recently, but have now gone to the French Quarter three times in the past 2 1/2 years. This most recent trip was December 26-29, 2017. Below is a mini review in the form of lists.

Southwest Airlines Chicago Midway/New Orleans
Took an early morning flight and slept the whole way. Sweet. Despite some rough weather, the return flight was only a little bit late. Southwest has always treated me well, which included a free companion pass for my wife

Ground Transportation
Transportation from MSY to our hotel and back was via Uber. The pickup wait was short both times and the rate was reasonable.

For the second consecutive trip, we stayed at the Wyndham Garden Barrone Plaza. It is located one block from Canal Street, so it technically is not in the French Quarter. It is quiet and inexpensive. The rooms are smallish, but who is spending time in their room when the French Quarter is a two minute walk away?

As I mentioned, I am certainly not a heavy drinker. However, when on a vacation and when playing recreational poker, I drink a bit more than usual. Drinks this trip included:
Bloody Mary
Long Island Ice Tea
Pimm's Cup
Vodka Gimlet
I still believe the best Hurricanes are found at Pat O'Brien's.

Cooking School
My wife took a hands-on cooking class at New Orleans School of Cooking. She absolutely loved it! In fact, she will be fixing most of the items she learned to make for dinner tonight: Yam-Crab Bisque, Beef Grillades and Grits and Bananas Foster.

Cafe du Monde -- our choice for beignets and coffee au lait
Cafe Beignet -- Mrs lightning wanted to try it. Coffee and beignets were just okay.
Daisy Duke's -- great friend green tomatoes and red beans and rice
Louisiana Bistro -- we had been referred here and tried the "Feed Me" chef's choice three course dinner. Small portions and a disappointment.
Napoleon House -- another place where we were referred - for its muffuletta, which was heated to melt the cheese. It was really good, as was the first Pimm's Cup I ever had.
K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen -- excellent dinner - drum and stuffed pork chop. 
Old NOLA Cookery -- good fried seafood platter, great desserts including bread pudding that my wife loved, causing us to go back a second time just for dessert
Hobnobber's Variety Bar and Restaurant -- good cajun lunch spot

I played five sessions of $1/3 NL in the time in town at Harrah's New Orleans. I lost a buy in at the first session and then won at the last four. There were some aggressive regulars, so I tightened up and played tight-aggressive after the first session. Management seemed pretty good. Drink service was uneven -- sometimes very quick, sometimes tough finding a cocktail waitress. Dealers were okay,sometimes being a tad loose with the rules, sometimes not, like when I got asked to take my cocktail napkin off the table! For some reason I can't quite put my finger on, there seems to be a bit of a negative vibe to the room. Some players and dealers seem to be a bit grouchy. The tables are nice, a restroom is nearby as well as a cashier cage. I liked playing there, but didn't feel quite at home.

The short period between Christmas and New Year is a good time to visit the Crescent City. We usually get out of town right about when the majority of the Sugar Bowl crowd starts appearing. Much of Bourbon Street is currently being torn up. If you liked the old uneven cobblestones, you might not like the changes.

Although I have only been to New Orleans three times it is quickly rising up my list of favorite U.S. cities. We basically stayed in the French Quarter this entire trip, and we strongly recommend it for a good time for eating, drinking and relaxing.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, January 01, 2018

One Hand at Harrah's New Orleans

Mrs. lightning and I recently returned from a short trip we took to New Orleans between Christmas and New Year's Eve. I was able to get in several sessions of $1/3 NL at Harrah's New Orleans in between general walking around, eating and drinking -- which, of course, is tourist life in the French Quarter.

The scene: I was felted in my first session when I took on the table aggro-donk. I came over the top on him with my top pair, top kicker. He called with a draw and hit it. In my second session, I got back some of what I lost previously. It was my third session. I was in seat #10 with about $700 in front of me. I was now in the black on the trip. I had been playing tight-aggressive. Seat #1 appeared to be a little older than me. He was playing about 75% of the hands and had lucksacked his way to a big stack. He then lost most of it and had about $500 in front. Seat #5 had won some big hands with good cards and had also bluffed his way to a few pots -- bluffs that he happily showed. He had about $1,000 in chips.

I was satisfied with my session win and was getting ready to cash out and head back to my hotel. I decided to play one more orbit. I had only two hands left before my big blind, which I didn't plan on playing. And of course, what happened? I was put to the test. I was dealt A-K sooted and raised to $16 or $18. Seat #1, as expected, called. Seat #5 raised to $70. He knew I had been playing tight and he knew that Seat #1 was calling just about everything. I was guessing that with A-K sooted I was in the lead, but both these guys had been hitting cards like crazy. I thought that calling would be weak. I needed to fold or raise. I also knew that with both players and the way they played previous hands that we would soon be playing  for stacks. I went in the tank and eventually folded. Among other things, I just didn't feel luck that day. As expected, Seat #1 called. As I began racking up my chips, the flop came: 10-A-10. Dang! I was pissed at myself for being a wuss. Surely any chips I had left, if any, would have gone in after the flop. How did the hand play out? The conclusion to the hand will be posted after pictures.
I didn't see the turn as I was racking up my chips. Seat #5 raised and Seat #1 pushed all in. Seat #5 called. I also missed the river. Seat #5 turned over his cards: Q-10 sooted! As I suspected, his initial raise was bullshit, but dang - he murdered the flop and would have taken all my chips. But ... as you might have guessed, the bigger lucksack in Seat #1 caught a straight and doubled up from Seat #5, who was extremely unhappy to have lost half his stack after flopping trips.

I picked up my racks and headed to the cashier cage. 

Thanks for reading!