Ira Turns Twenty One

For months, prior to his twenty-first birthday, Ira had talked of going on a real poker trip. He set up a vacation and planned every detail of the trip. He talked about it like it would be the greatest thing ever. I would rain on his parade and discourage him with my tales of woe. I was pretty sure we would be going exactly nowhere.

A week before, Ira was becoming desperate and finding little tolerance in my non-committal attitude toward his “Super Trip”. “Man we have to go, I have called Benny and everything is lined up. We are going to have a great time.” I would reply, “Do you have the car ready to go? Has the mechanic looked at it? Oil is changed? Tires are good?” He would remain undaunted, “not yet. I will get it done.”

On the night of Ira’s last scheduled shift, I came into the casino and signed up for the nightly tournament. Ira wanted to know if I was ready to go. “As ready as I am going to get. I have a bag in my car.” Should you get some rest? “We will leave when you get off work. I will be fine.”

We jump in the car and head south. Ira is concerned that I just left my car in the parking lot of the casino. “Trust me security knows who it belongs to.” We need to return in eleven days for Ira to work. That will be long enough for the two of us. We discuss where we want to go and what we want to see. I think we should go all the way to Las Vegas. Ira wants to keep it in California.

I decide we are going to stop at Cache Creek, “where the sand turns to gold” the first real card room of any significance, I want to make sure he sees it. This is a Native American Casino and you only need to be eighteen to play. You can see eight or nine tables in action. The casino is a little under 300 miles from home and a good place to get out and stretch the legs. Cache Creek has really good Asian food. We are there early and will have breakfast. We play the morning tournament and both of us cash. I split with a local guy when we are heads up. Only about four in the afternoon, but I am really tired and mentally drained from the tournament. I want to get a move on and get to Casino San Pablo or Bay 101 for the evening. I say that Garden City and Artichoke Joe’s are worth looking at, I just don’t know anyone there. We are on the road and driving too fast after a quick dinner in the Asian restaurant.

The two hour drive is shorter than I had planned and we are earlier than I thought at San Pablo. This place is in an ugly part of town and we have to walk a long ways from the car. Ira is young and innocent and a very skinny kid. Mental Note: we need security to get to our car alive. Playing my second night without sleep, I quickly drop a grand playing $20-$40 against a tough field. A quick loss of my tournament winnings. Ira is cross ways with the regulars and about to get his ass kicked. I am sure he has been mouthing off. He called somebody a fucking idiot. I decide to escape the place before we are broke and beaten up. We make the car, but the bad guys are following us. They follow us down the freeway and pull up alongside to flip us off. We take our car up to about 110 and can not lose them. We have less than half a tank. We have no outs. We need to be rescued.

The only towns I really know are Petaluma, where I have an uncle, and Berkeley where I went to college. We head for Berkeley with no specific plan in place. We try all kinds of evasive maneuvers and we can not shake them. We stop at a light and a guy jumps out and runs at our car with the full on “Crocodile Dundee” knife. I scream like a girl for Ira to run the light and he does. They are right on our tail again. This has gotten way out of hand. Never a cop when you need one. Finally as we approach a busy intersection it turns yellow when we are way back. I scream to run it. We accelerate toward the intersection and it is red with a couple seconds to go. I yell for a left turn as cross traffic enters the intersection. We barely make it in front of the traffic with a sliding left turn and they can’t follow us. We have escaped and need to calm down. We go to the football stadium and park in an empty lot where I can see all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge; a beautiful view of the Pacific. We are awake now.

Back on the road, we head to Bay 101 in hopes of finding a more hospitable crowd. After having my trials at San Pablo, I decide that $6-$12 suits my budget. I play another long session and I am up a little over $500 in the morning. Ira is playing $3-$6 and is up about $100. He is playing too many hands and caught up in the action. These players are using level two moves on him and he hasn’t moved to level three yet. His level two game works against a level one player. He has just been check raised for the twentieth time and he has folded every time. Not everybody that check raises you has a hand. Nine in the morning and I am starting to falter. I am cashed out and waiting for the boy to play to the blind. He has forgotten to cash out the last two times the blinds came to him. Racks in hand, I make it obvious he is leaving.

We are out in the morning sun and it is bright. We go south and find a hotel. The price is $169 and we can’t check-in until after two. There is no way I am paying that much and I am not waiting. We talk to Benny and decide to drive the 400 miles to his place. We can be there in five or six hours. I try to sleep for a few minutes and we are flying down the I-5 freeway. I sleep to the Grapevine when Ira needs me to navigate for him. Small town boy.

My bad, Benny lives in San Bernardino and that is a long way East of where I was taking us. I wish he lived at Magic Mountain. We trudge along in the mid-day traffic and get close to his place about four. We find Benny living in a modest apartment, his social security check making him the wealthiest guy in the complex. This place is sad. Benny had a bad month racking up two drunk driving tickets and his car is parked for a while and his license is suspended for a year.

We go out to eat at his favorite local spot and I find it very average and the clientele closer to dead than our age. They take good care of us and it is obvious that Benny is a regular. I can’t decide how well they know each other. We kill time waiting for traffic on the local streets to improve. We jump in Benny’s car after locking ours in the garage. Of course he is driving he is the only one drinking.

Casino San Manuel becomes the choice for tonight. I move up to $9-$18 which is a $3-$6 game played with three dollar chips. A rack is $300 and I am stuck three racks and I have just bought my fourth rack. I see Ira winning at $3-$6 and Benny is holding his own in a crazy $6-$12. I have been up close to 60 hours with just a short nap in the car. I am not playing my best. I take a break and go for a walk. I gather all that I have and come back with close to my A game. The cards turn and I win a couple huge pots. I pull off a successful bluff when I read that my opponent missed his draw. I have four racks in front of me within an hour. I have won ten of the last thirty hands. I am out of here when the blinds come around. I get tied into a huge pot when I flop a nut flush draw. The heart hits on the river giving me the nuts. I win the hand and immediately ask to be dealt out. I am not waiting for the blind. I have just over five racks and swear I will never get stuck a grand again on no sleep.

I am dozing away at an empty table. I can barely stay awake. I am out of it. Ira has gotten out of his game and is now playing $6-$12. The game is too good to be believed. Players are raising without looking and playing to the river in the dark. The two of them are not leaving while the money is being given away. I get on the list, why wouldn’t I? Sleep? Victor for $6-$12. I feel really uneasy as I give up $200 of my $360 win for the night. I so know better than this. I lose a couple stacks with AA when Q5 runs me down on the river with a miracle five. I flop a set of eights and get most of my chips in. I am good and I am back on top. I flop quad sevens and win again. My AK outkicks an A7 and I am fully nourished. I am cashing out 500 to the good from the little game and this time I am ready to make Ira and Benny miserable with my whining. I insist we get out of here. The sun is getting brighter by the day. We drive back to Benny’s apartment and I stay awake the whole way. How can it be three in the afternoon?

We head into Benny’s apartment feeling like walking death and looking worse. With the three of us inside; this 500 square foot apartment looks much smaller. I want to take a shower and knock off some of the big chunks. I really don’t fit into the shower; it couldn’t have been more than two feet by two feet, maybe 30 inches square. Cold water leaks from a shower head somewhere above my waist and below my chest. There are two knobs and they both should be labeled warm. Neither seems to have any affect on the water temperature. Wide open and the water is dripping out. The rust and mold would not bother me if I could get a shower. The electrical sparks from the fan make for a nice lightning storm effect. The second time I get shocked, I decide no fan or light is better than dying in this prison cell. I grab a wash cloth and the soap and start to give myself a sponge bath, using the shower like an outside hose bib. I know a clean wash cloth would be too much to ask for; so I don’t even bother. I see no real shampoo anywhere. I decide to use the Rogaine, I think it is shampoo. I am clean, cold and glad to get out of the shower. I see flip flops and know Benny is afraid to be in there with bare feet. I can always chop my feet off tomorrow if it looks bad. The only towel I can find has the smell of an over ripe gym bag. I decide to pass on it when I see the brown stain. I dry off with my dirty t-shirt that I wore for four days, somehow it seemed more sanitary. I throw on some underwear and look for a place to sleep. Benny is crashed on the only bed, a twin bed. Ira has the only couch. No part of the floor looks clean enough to lay on. I go out to the car and recline the seat. I am asleep in no time. About eight a friend shows up with an air mattress and I am headed inside to try out the new accommodations. He even brought me a clean sleeping bag. Uptown baby!

Wake up! Let’s go! I must have slept pretty hard because I don’t want to get up. Wow eleven o’clock, give me a second. I make a decision to break out clean pants and socks for this trip. Shaving will have to wait for another day and I definitely won’t be combing my hair. I am ready in five minutes and we are on our way out the door. Wait just one minute, it is dark outside. Eleven PM and I got about three hours sleep, no wonder I wasn’t getting up. When you play poker there are no nights off. The second I hear Palm Springs, I have to admit that I have no idea where PS actually is. In the desert somewhere is about as close as I can come. We drive East forever and I am sure we must almost be to Nevada. Wrong! Arizona. We are south of Nevada. Agua Caliente is a tribal casino with a good card room. Never mind that it is after midnight. We play another all night session. I am stuck for hours in $3-$6 while on the board for $20-$40. Stuck a hundred when I get into the game at six in the morning, I am not in the mood to gamble. I get my hundred back and show just about two hundred in profit. I cash out after thirty minutes. We decide to eat before we leave. I of course have the prime rib dinner at eight in the morning. These things are probably better if you eat it the night they make it. We make the drive and even I fall asleep this time. Back at the apartment, it must be ten or eleven when I doze off and start to snore.

I hear somebody rustling around and I am awake. I have to piss, so I get up to see Benny in his underwear logging onto his computer and watching satellite horse racing on his 12” black and white television. Some things you can’t put off. I really do not want to know why he is betting horses. What time should we get Ira up? As soon as the races are over we will head to Pechanga. Benny wants to get out of the house by three to beat the traffic. Man I never get any sleep.

Pechanga is very nice and has a good sized card room. I know two of the dealers here from a card room in Trinidad I used to play at. James was the manager at Trinidad and his girlfriend Cindy was a dealer at Trinidad. James had moved up to Trinidad to be the manager of the poker room, he left his wife down in Oceanside. He met Cindy up there and they have been close ever since. When James’s wife made him move back down to Oceanside, Cindy moved south and got a job dealing at Pechanga where James works; way too much drama for my liking. Benny knows them from up north and sees them regularly. They had heard we were coming down and look glad to see us. We are happy to see familiar faces.

We play all night again and we are going to be staying at Cindy’s house tonight, which usually means early in the morning. We finally get over to Cindy’s and it is not the greatest place. Benny is staying in a bedroom. Ira and I have the couches in the living room. Cindy has cats and no cleaning lady. There is no way I can sleep in her house with my allergies. I head for the front seat of the car again.

As the day warms up I have to roll down the window in the car a little bit because it is one hundred million degrees inside the car. I am sleeping and getting a little rest. In the afternoon, I am awakened from a sound sleep by the Pechanga police force. Not all of them, just most of them. They are not nice. I want to cry. They look into my bloodshot eyes and stubbly unshaven face and really do not want to believe I am not under the influence. I am tired. I am tired for the fifth time. Tough to cooperate when your truth is better than any lie. I think my friend Benny owns the car. I don’t know his last name. He lives somewhere by San Bernardino. We have been playing cards for four or five days. I live in Crescent City. My friend Ira drove us down to Benny’s house. No I don’t know Ira’s last name either. I am not real sure who to say drove us here in Benny’s car. This house belongs to a lady named Cindy who deals cards at Pechanga. No I don’t know her last name. Yes, I think they are all inside. I was asleep. I have $11,400 in hundred dollar bills. We are playing poker. I am in cuffs and everything I had in my pockets is on the hood of the car.

The police are headed for the house. I know there is no way our stories are going to match. Nobody will be able to name everyone. I pray that Benny can name a few of us. Benny and Ira are in cuffs in less than a minute. Ira does have tears going down his face. Cindy is still walking around a free woman and screaming her lungs out. There is a young girl in her early twenties or late teens that comes from the house. Cindy’s daughter and her boyfriend from what Benny is telling me. They are cuffed. They go into the back of a squad car. The car leaves. Nice.

Benny is telling the story to the police. Ira is telling a story similar to mine. Benny admits to driving and admits he has a suspended license. Benny gives them the go ahead to search the car. The police drag our bags out and I know this is game over for us. In my bag is enough to send us all to prison. Never let them see you sweat. Benny and Ira have no idea how bad this is. They scour the bags and miss the jackpot. Benny goes into the back of a squad car. I am free to go. Ira is taken inside for questioning. The police bring me the keys to the car and ask if I will take responsibility for the vehicle so that it does not have to be towed. I don’t even know how to act. I just go sit on the hood of the car and wait.

After an hour, Ira comes out of the house and he is white as a ghost and scared. He comes and joins me. “I didn’t know what to say.” I tell him everything is fine and just tell the truth as best you can and don’t make anything up. Apparently, Ira doesn’t have enough money on him to make our story believable. That seems like a good reason to scare a good kid to death. The sergeant comes to talk to me. Cindy’s daughter’s boyfriend just bought a bunch of meth from an undercover officer this morning. They followed him to this house and found us. I see why we were so suspicious. He wishes me luck and tells me not to let Benny drive. I shake his hand and I squeeze firmly to let him know that we are on the same page.

We all head inside the house as Cindy heads downtown to go get her daughter. I head out back to the patio where the smell of cats is not killing me. James is on his way over to the house. Ira doesn’t look good and Benny produces a pill for him to take. Don’t bother asking what it is, just take it. Ira slams it down with some water. I am drinking coffee to calm my nerves. We are laughing and making fun of one another. We know this story is too good to be believed. Makes being chased earlier in the week seem kind of mild. Benny asks if I got all my money back, I didn’t count it. On second thought, I don’t even care. I am looking at Ira when his eyes roll back in his head and he faints. He falls over backwards like he is dead. His head hits the concrete hard. Now what? He is alive and wakes up slowly. He doesn’t know he fell and hit his head. The knot is impressive. What a day.

When James arrives, we don’t have time to tell all our stories. We want to go to Pechanga and play in a partners tournament that is half hold’em and half Omaha. The buy-in is $150 and Ira and I are playing together. He hit his head twenty minutes ago, of course he is fine. We make it to the casino just in time to play the tournament. I am playing Omaha and playing well. We are talking to one another quite a bit throughout the tournament. The opposition falls away. At two tables, I get position on a big stack that is a husband and wife team. I am way better than her and Ira is a little worse than him. I need to go after her. I punish her for two consecutive half hours before her hubby tells her to be careful. She is now folding to my raises and I am attacking her blinds. Ira is playing well and we are going through the teams. We are second in chips. Finally, it is down to the two teams and we decide to split it evenly. James says we should hit our heads every day. We win $7500. Cindy is quick to come by and see if I want to loan her $100 on the same deal Benny had. I give her the $100. She will just have to owe me.

James says that he understands Cindy’s house is a disaster and I can’t sleep over there. He says tonight we will sleep at his place. James has a wife and I have never met her. I now know that she is extremely wealthy and she has a multi-million dollar mansion in Oceanside. I don’t think it is his. I really don’t know what to think. I slept in a real bed and I took a real shower. “Momma”, as James calls her, made us a great breakfast and fussed over us like we were royalty. There is something to be said for having an Asian wife. We are going to take James’s van today so there will be room for all four of us. James has become the fourth musketeer.

Oceanside to Oceans eleven card room where James knows everyone and the games are pretty good, even if there are only a few games. Free dinner for two hours play seems to be the part James wants to brag about the most. I play $20-$40 in the biggest game in the room and James provides a scouting report. I mop it up in short order. Ahead one thousand dollars I am racked up and cashed out before I have played two hours. James is stressed about me not getting the free dinner. I jump into a $2-$4 and complete the hours. We all order steak and lobster and it is everything James promised and more. What a deal. I lounge around and read magazines the rest of the night waiting on everyone. All I care about is getting James home in time so Momma will let me stay another night. I play the role of the mother hen and get us back on time.

Momma runs me a bath in the big tub in the master bathroom and I take a soak in the Jacuzzi tub. I know that I may never move out of this house. Being spoiled feels very good. Breakfast is better than the day before and I have better coffee. She went and bought good coffee just for me. I start to wonder how and why…I will never know. James brags about me like I am his son. I want to go to Viejas outside San Diego, James makes me ask Momma. She says for us to go and have fun and she will see us when we get back, no curfew. James is surprised that we have our freedom. Just be nice to them, that is all they really want.

I am playing $9-$18 and the game is not really that good. The place is huge and it is very nice. Way bigger than I expected. I am bored and tired. I am playing because we are here and it seems like the thing to do. In the wee hours of the morning, a dealer says, “Vic”. I look up to see a dealer, Jake, that I know from up north. He wonders what I am doing so far from home. I tell him it is only a thousand miles. I have to go where the games are good. He has been here a couple years and the games are always strong. He meets me at break and we chat. I get the rundown on everyone who is dealing in southern California that used to deal up north. Some of them I never knew. All of them would love to see me. I am tired and ready to go home. What a long drive back to Oceanside. We immediately jump into Benny’s car and he drives us back to his place. Just don’t stop in Temecula.

We make one last play at San Manuel and play all night in bad games. I see that they are running a promotion and begin to work on a scam. The player next to me is down for whatever and we begin to plot the strategy. I watch and at the half-hour they draw a lucky blackjack table. The thing is, there is no drawing. I watched him. He just picks the most active table. We agree. A few minutes prior to the next “drawing”, Sundance and I head to blackjack and hit a table with a couple young guys. We tell them to scream their ass off when they announce time for the drawing. We all do it. Miracle of miracles they draw us. We get to spin the wheel and win between $100 and $1000 to split. Sundance gets to spin. That entitles him to half and the rest of us split the other half. We hit the thousand. That gives us $666 which we already have a pre-negotiated chop for. I make a quick $333 for paying attention and putting myself in a position to get lucky. I am tired after the Viejas all-nighter and want my air mattress. Of course we are late getting back and Ira wants to get on the road.

We are on the road for an hour and decide there is no way we are going to make it after not sleeping two nights in a row. We grab a motel six at nine and negotiate for a two o’clock check out. We are pleased to pay $40 for four hours of sleep.

The drive home is long tiring and uneventful. We stay on I-5 and decide Redding sounds good for the night. We will play Casino Club and get a room across the street. I know I can walk to the room whenever I want. This is what I like. Ira left as a young twenty-one year old and I am bringing back a broken down shell of a sixty year old man. He tells me he had fun the first couple days and has been suffering ever since. He seems to need more sleep than we get every night. Ira says he won’t be going on the road with me again.

Ira wants to know why I gave Cindy the hundred. I say that I may need her some day. He says, “I hope not.” I say, “Me too.” I would rather have her owe me. I grab my bag and fish out a pair of dirty socks. I unroll them and turn one inside out so I can show him my stash. He almost wrecks the car as he stares in disbelief. Yes it was there when they searched our bags.

Good thing my socks are so nasty.

Ira and I have the same birthday, October 14. Happy birthday boys.

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