Never Ending Road Trip

I write stories about road trips because most of my poker career was centered on traveling to bigger places and playing in bigger games. There are several places where a player can just show up every day and know there will be a good poker game waiting for him. Twenty years ago those places consisted of Las Vegas and Gardena, California. Games were nowhere near as high stakes as they are today and often the game was rocked up with professionals trying to squeeze a living out the lone fish in the game. I can relate to all the stories Doyle tells of his travels around Texas going from town to town and sitting in the games. I spent most of my time travelling California, Oregon and Nevada. The road trip was a staple of the poker life in those days.

Poker players would pair up and find a travelling partner for many reasons; safety, boredom, share expenses and loneliness. At this point I have to share that I have traveled with many people and for the most part every travel partner I have had has been very easy to get along with. For the most part I was the trouble maker in the group. Vince, Ira, Stewart, Paul, Rick, Jennifer, Gene, Matt, Manny, Mike, Jerry, Rich, Ron, Jay, Greg, Selvan, Chris, and even Waterman were all able to survive a poker road trip with yours truly. When picking a travel partner you need to know a little something about the person and understand that you are spending the next several days with them. You will know them far too well by the time the trip is over. Gene falls asleep in the car almost immediately. Paul smokes way too much…even if he recently quit. Rick and I both snore. Some of the others have a need for medical marijuana. Jerry is a clean freak and is always straightening up the room.

In all of my travels it was actually at a power lifting meet where my friend Larry actually bailed out on Rick and I. In the middle of the night Larry got up and went to the office to get his own room. I guess the two big guys in the room were snoring pretty loud. I think that was the toughest I have ever had it on a road trip with a partner not getting along.

The all-time classic road trip and partners story is one that I heard first hand from my long time friend and poker travel partner Paul. Paul and Tiny made a trip to the World Series together in 1990. They drove the 900 miles from Crescent City to Binion’s Horseshoe. Tiny was probably the best player in Crescent City at the time and Paul had just moved up to Crescent City and was starting to make a dent in the local game. Tiny as you can imagine was every bit of 400 pounds and a poker player through and through. Paul and tiny loaded up in Tiny’s Cadillac and split the driving, gas, and room. Poker was a wee bit tougher in those days so Paul and Tiny both brought along a handgun or two. Each man carried a sizeable wad of cash with them also. I have probably neglected to mention that Paul was one of only a handful of black men playing poker at the time. Just by virtue of the color of his skin Paul was a trouble magnet and these guys were not being overly cautious by bringing a half dozen weapons and a 1000 rounds of ammunition.

Paul and tiny made the drive in 16 hours and there were not too many complaints. Primarily Paul hated the drivers’ seat because Tiny had broken it down pretty bad with all his weight. Paul is afraid of heights and will not drive across a bridge. I do mean will not drive across a bridge. He is shit your pants terrified of driving over a bridge. Tiny drove across the bridges and they made it all the way to Las Vegas. The only real incident of note coming at a restaurant where the waitress refused to come take the order. The guys had been through similar crap and just left and went somewhere else to eat.

Two weeks in Las Vegas at the World Series of Poker playing in the side action and Paul was bouncing around in smaller games and playing too much video poker. Tiny was in the big games and playing well. Tiny was showing a profit and Paul was existing on food comps and free drinks. Tiny managed to check raise Johnny Chan on all three streets in one hand that I have heard retold many times. Obviously Tiny flopped the nut straight and Johnny flopped top set. The game was $30-60 limit but it still makes a cute story. Somehow during the trip Paul was able to bullshit somebody out of a free hat.

The guys loaded up and headed back to Crescent City with Paul showing a thousand dollar profit and Tiny being up five or six times as much. Both were tired and had not slept much but they figured to take turns driving and trudge on home as scheduled. They drove to Coalinga and stopped and ate and refilled the car at Harris Ranch and of course Tiny had a steak for lunch while they were there. Paul took the wheel and pointed the Cadillac north on Interstate five. In a few minutes Tiny fell asleep and Paul just kept driving north cigarette after cigarette. Paul smoked about two packs of cigarettes and drove all the way to Redding where the car was making it on fumes. Hungry, tired, out of cigarettes and gas Paul pulled into a truck stop just south of Redding. Paul jumped out and went in and took a piss paid for some gas and bought cigarettes. Paul came out and started the gas pump and decided to wake Tiny up.

The problem was Tiny wasn’t going to wake up. Tiny had passed away in his sleep somewhere along the road. I would love to tell you that Paul shit, but I do not think that would do the matter justice. Paul is a good and honorable man and did the right thing which also may be the stupidest thing. He called the police and turned himself in. I might have driven home to find him just as dead and four hours closer to home.

Redding is not the hub of cultural diversity and that time had exactly zero black police officers. Paul was in for some serious interrogation. “Yes the dead man is my friend; no I do not know his name; we call him Tiny.” Just imagine the interview and how well the story was received. “Yes it is reasonable to have six guns and 1000 rounds of ammunition.” “I am not sure how much money is in the car…maybe around fifty thousand.” “No I did not know he died. He was fine at lunch.” The sheriff impounded the car and Paul eventually was able to call his wife to come and get him. Paul ended up losing most of his stuff and several thousand dollars. The guns would eventually find their way home and into the local pawn shop. The ammunition was lost.

There is a saying that all is well that ends well and this road trip ended about as bad as a road trip can end. Be careful who you pick for a travel partner.

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