Road Trip

Are you old enough to remember Easy Rider? Do you think about Animal House? Or do you think of National Lampoon’s Vacation. The road trip is the quintessential American experience. When baby boomers were young, the road trip was something that had to be endured and we wondered why we just couldn’t fly to our destination. But by the time we hit midlife, such trips have been romanticized into an activity that we can’t wait to recreate. I think about my college days. Every trip was made by car and it was a rolling party.

The road trip is a staple of the poker lifestyle. Your mind should be jumping to the movie Rounders. If you haven’t seen Rounders, I don’t want you as a reader. If you think you can go down to the local card room and play every day and you don’t need to go on the road. I will just insult you now and save you some time and money. Come back and read my stories when you want to know about poker. The grass is greener and the games are better on the other side of the street.

The term Rounder comes from the poker lifestyle and the fact that a professional poker player is on one big life long road trip. He travels from game to game playing in all the local games. Doyle Brunson, Sailor Roberts, Puggy Pearson and Amarillo Slim were all famous Texas road gamblers. They were Rounders.

My poker road trips are a cross between those in Rounders and those in Animal House. We certainly were on a mission to go get the money and play poker in the best games. We also found time to live a life that seems so much easier when you are on the road and nobody knows who you are. Think along the lines of booze, drugs, women, sleepless nights, hot tubs, police, fast cars and piles of money.

Many times a road trip is a planned event where we all plan to go to a tournament and we are going to carpool and room together to save on expenses. These trips are common in the poker world and take place several times a year amongst the hometown heroes. The annual pilgrimage to the world series of poker has been documented by many and done by thousands.

The road trips that stick in my memory, the same way the bad Mexican food from the taco truck in Huron sticks with me, are the trips that were spontaneous and ill-advised. They were adventurous and they created memories. They are also many other things, such as, less than believable when I write about them. There were some great ones. The four of us headed to Reno. Three of us headed to a place called Spirit Mountain. Yerrington, Nevada with Hippy Rich. All of these after an all night game has broken at seven or eight in the morning. Nobody takes any luggage. We jump in a car and drive for eight hours or more to a game. Those are some sick people. The common thread in all those stories…I was in on every one of them.

Every one of those trips would make a great story and someday I will retell them. Like wine they get better with age. The trip that I will write about in this story is a good one and I remember it fondly. Perhaps it is because of the character Stuart. Stuart was not a poker player. Stuart played poker with us from time to time. He never learned to play poker. He was an action junkie and the game of poker has to be played a certain way to keep his interest. Balls to the wall. There were only three of us on the trip. Pilipino Gene who had not yet transitioned to Prison Guard Gene, myself and Stuart. Stuart was like Madonna or Sting he needed just one name and never had a nickname.

The Elk Valley $3-$6 game had gone all night on Friday night. Gene and I were the anchors and had played about a fourteen hour session. The game broke around eight in the morning and there would be no game until noon. “Oh hell, we should just go to Spirit Mountain”, Gene says with a chuckle. I take it like it is a dare and I am not one to back down. Let’s go. We are convincing ourselves to make a road trip. Done. We are going. We will take Gene’s Acura.

Stuart has been at the casino since about bar time. He is strung out on whatever and has been very active all night. He has played poker four different times. He was tearing up blackjack. They have closed the blackjack game and the poker game is closed for the night. Stuart can’t find the stimulation he needs.

Gene and I are on our way to his car to head to Spirit Mountain. Stuart catches us and asks us to join him for breakfast in the coffee shop. We tell him we are on our way out and need to get going. Stuart hears we are headed for Spirit Mountain. He asks to come along. Neither of us really knows the guy and he is definitely spun. We use the excuse that we are in a two-seater and have no room for him. Stuart offers to drive his van. I ask if it is reliable and of course it is brand new. Let’s do it.

We head across the parking lot and jump in with Stuart. I have done things that were stupider, just not very many of them. The van is a custom conversion van that he paid over $30,000 for a couple weeks earlier. Gene remembers Stuart used to have a vette. Sadly, the corvette is gone.

Stuart tells his first good story of the trip. He was in San Jose and got pulled over for drunk driving, his fifth, and he doesn’t have a drivers license. Hell of a time to mention that little fact, he should have told me before we left. They impounded his vehicle and he lost it. When he got out of jail he bought this van. He wrote a hot check for it. He had to call his mom and tell her to avoid going back to jail. Mom took care of the check. Thirty grand. Nice!

Stuart has a really bad habit of turning around and looking into the back seat while he is talking. This is unnerving at 70 or 80 miles per hour. We tell stories. Each of us trying to outdo the previous story. As the trip wears on the stories have less and less truth to them. We are all tired and fading fast. Stuart thinks we need to stop at the next rest area. He wants to run in and wash his face. He gets back to the car and he has snorted quite a bit of something and is going a million miles per hour sitting still. He isn’t up for a change of drivers. Of course he has no insurance. He has no license.

The good part of this train wreck is that he is now driving faster. The faster he drives the more he looks at the road ahead. Gene takes the back and falls asleep. I am too scared to sleep. I stay awake and keep an eye on our chauffer. I provide a little navigation and we are arriving at Spirit Mountain around four PM after only one more gas stop. Stuart didn’t gain any speed at the gas stop.

Stuart tells me he was on a good run last night and is up $6000 from blackjack. He tells me that he tipped the security guards a hundred each to leave him alone in the parking lot. Apparently he is snorting crank to get up and smoking weed to mellow out. This added to a few shots of good whiskey has gotten him through the night. He wants to smoke some before we go in the casino. Where do I find these guys?

Gene and I are headed to the poker room and Stuart stays behind to take care of whatever he needs to do. There is a good $15-$30 going and we are right in the middle of it. Around 8 PM, the three of us head to the buffet for dinner. Our seats are locked up for an hour while we eat. I am up a thousand and Gene is up seven hundred. I say we should cash out and head back. We would never make it. Between us we have been up about ten days; Gene and I for two days each. After dinner we get back to business.

Around one in the morning Stuart is at the poker table needing to borrow a hundred bucks from me. So what, he lied about his blackjack exploits. We all lie. Every story all day long has been full of lies. Gene and I banter about it across the table. If he is broke we better get back home. Gene is now stuck a little and doesn’t want to cash out.

Over the next hour Gene goes on a bad run of cards and has lost all his money, $1550. He is playing on a $500 loan from me. Stuart is back. This trip is rapidly going down hill. Do I want to loan out more money and prolong the agony? Maybe I should just get a room and get some sleep. As a matter of fact, getting a room seems like a good idea. If we wait until morning we won’t have to pay for Saturday night. I am considering playing through for the second night in a row. Stuart is sitting and watching from an empty table. He won’t be there long. A player busts out and a seat opens up. The floor man calls Stuart. WTF?

Stuart jumps into the seat and pulls out a fist full of $500 chips. Where did those come from? Stuart says they came from the twenty six pit. The dealer busted twelve hands in a row. You owe me a hundred. He throws a pink five hundred and says thanks. Stuart plays $15-$30 like he plays $3-$6 and he always plays like the building is on fire.

This game was nuts before Stuart jumped in. He has just raised it to a level of chaos. At least three players are in competition for the wildest player at the table. Tiny, who weighs about 550, is putting an extra raise in pre-flop on every single hand. Don Ross is an absolutely wild player that has seen every flop since dinner. Ron Kilo has more money than a bank and is going to prove it. Now Stuart wants to run over them.

The hand I remember and I will never forget takes place in about the second orbit since Stuart sat down. Seven people see the flop in a capped pot and the flop of 762 seems to meet the liking of some of these guys. I muck my two overs and regret putting $75 in pre-flop, knowing it will be another $75 on the flop. A king hits on the turn and bets are coming from all locations and nobody has an idea what is going on. The $150 cap is achieved and three people see the river. I do believe Stuart has some of it. He may have a six, but he likes it. The river brings a jack. Don Ross leads out and the middle player raises. Stuart raises it to $90 and Don raises to $120 and the middle player folds. Stuart calls the $30. At this point I can no longer do this story justice. I was there, I saw it. I don’t believe it. Don says, “nice call”. Stuart, “I got nothing”. Don, “me either”. Stuart, “no really”. Don, “show your hand and take the pot”. Stuart, “I called you”. The dealer “who wants this pot?”. A long pause. Dealer, “anyone got a pair?”. Don, “not me”. Stuart “me either”. Profanity from many of the players seated at the table. Stuart “ten high”. Don “what’s your kicker?” Stuart immediately tables his ten nine missed gut shot. The roar is deafening. Don tables a ten eight. More cussing.

That may be the worst call ever.

Gene goes on to lose another $2000 of my money. He takes six weeks to pay me back and loses his car to repossession. We finally got a room at eleven in the morning. Stuart continues with his vices and is never sober. We sleep most of the day Sunday and play another all nighter Sunday night.

Monday morning the games are slow and we are ready to get home. Stuart buys me a shirt from the gift shop and wants me to put it on immediately. In his mind it is necessary to somehow make me more presentable.

Like all trips home, what a long drive. How come it takes so much longer going home? At three, Stuart can’t drive past the Cow Creek Indian casino in Canyonville, Oregon. Somehow the van is pulled into the parking lot. Stuart has an idea.

The three of us are going to play a blackjack tournament. Stuart will buy us each $500 in chips and you have to bet at least $25 per hand. The last one with chips left is the winner and keeps his chips and wins a $1000 prize that Stuart is putting up. Can you say too good to pass up? We are hooked. As you can imagine, I win about two hands and I am out after about fifteen hands. Gene needs the money. When he and Stuart are both up to about $1200, Gene asks that it be declared a draw and we cash out and go home. Stuart has the car keys and it is his tournament. I just want to go home. I am almost asleep. Shoe after shoe and Gene is betting quarters. He will need to lose thirty in a row to bust out. Stuart is all over the map and is all-in several times. Around midnight, after about eight solid hours of blackjack, no food and only a couple bathroom breaks. Gene loses the very first time he puts his last quarter out. Stuart is also all-in for about $175. Stuart wins the hand and the tournament. Can we go? Please god, make him cash out.

I veto dinner and we are back on the road. Gene sleeping and Stuart using crank to get us home. He no longer feels the need to stop to snort a line. I stay awake the best I can. I don’t know how we made it home. I slept from Grants Pass. I just know we made it.

Thanks for the ride.


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