Life as a single man

Poker, Bowling, Craps, Gambling, Las Vegas, My-Sugar-Na, Nostalga, Reno, Restaurants, Vacation

(Pre-blog side note; I am now on Day 10 trying to complete this report on my trip to bowl the USBC Open Championships - aka Nationals - in Reno.  However in the interim, I've had to attend the high school graduation of (Sponsor's Name Here)'s Official Son, Mitten, as well as to throw his graduation and 18th birthday party.  And in the tradition of his old man, the day after his 18th birthday he made me take him to Potawatomi to play bingo and get his birthday points added to his account.  With any luck, this trip report will be completed and posted today.)

For a variety of reasons that are unimportant to this blog, my beautiful bride did not accompany of this year's trip to Nationals.  As much as I tried not to, everything I did was tinged with "Gee, I know My-Sugar-Na would enjoy this".  But soldier on I did, and below are the details to prove it.  I've done trip reports chronologically as well as grouped by subject.  Chronologically works better on short trips, but five days is a looooong time.  Therefore, this will be grouped somewhat chronologically.  For example, "Travel" will be first, and the money shot (which happened Friday night) will be near the end.

Travel - Having Southwest Airlines flying out of Milwaukee is a godsend, especially when travel dates are flexible or known well in advance.  Having been assigned Nationals dates of May 19 & 20 for almost a year allowed us to purchase from as soon as the fares went on-sale last December.  I was able to get the round-trip fare for $228, while others that waited a few months were lucky to find fares for under $350.

The core group included my good friends Grap and Ray Sunshine, while Poodle came later and left earlier.  Also in our group (among others) Rose, Should've-Brought-the-Invasion, Ken and Mrs. Ken, Internet Dude, College Girl, Mr. College Girl, Bowling Uncle UJ and Ain't B. 

The flight to Las Vegas on Tuesday, May 18th (Side note; It should be considered cruel and unusual punishment to have Las Vegas as a hub for any airline.  Flying in and seeing the strip out the airplane window while landing made me think "VegasVegasVegas!!!", but as soon as got off the plane and walked to the next gate for the connecting flight to Reno, all I could think of is "I didn't spend nearly enough time in Vegas".  Cruel.) went smoothly, with enough time for a Nathan's Famous chili dog and the obligatory $20 in the slots in between flights (don't laugh, this could happen to you).  The flight to Reno, however, was quite bumpy getting over 10,000 feet and also coming back down through the mountains around Lake Tahoe.  But land safely we did. 

Due to a Three-Stooges-like comedy of stupidity, I didn't bring the credit card with me, and when I got to the Alamo car rental counter, I ended up having to sign away my inheritance, my virginity and lay a $300 cash deposit (I'll get into why the $300 deposit was to be an issue) to take possession of our car (Side note; I had reserved an Impala, and was given a Jeep Commander - which we immediately nicknamed the Canyonero.  I'll get into why this was so very helpful).

Bowling - Each year at Nationals, there are numerous side tournaments in which to enter.  One of the more fun tournaments is the 40-Frame Game, which as its name might suggest is one 40-frame game. Each frame has a gimmick (like 9-pin no-tap, Mulligan, bonus pins, penalties for not striking, etc).  Should've-Brought-the-Invasion and Bowling Uncle UJ - supported by Ain't B - and I made the trek to bowl this on the night we arrived in Reno.  The shot, well, I don't know where it was.  It was supposedly (and probably was) a league shot, but I spent the first 18 frames and the last 18 frames fishing around.  However, those four middle frames were GOLDEN!  Needless to say, our scores resulted in a $61 donation that could instead have gone to a needy casino (Side note; speaking of needy casinos, Reno is what happens when a town is centered around gambling, then a neighboring state allows Indian casinos to be built between Reno and their largest tourist draw - the San Francisco Bay Area).

The team event of Nationals itself was bowled on Wednesday, May 19th.  For weeks and weeks prior, we had practiced in centers in Wauwatosa, Muskego and yes, even Madison... each center having claimed to be putting down the Nationals shot, and each of which had bowlers vow that it played "really close" to Nationals.

Phooey.  My 132 game the first game is testimony to that.

In the other eight games (once I opened my eyes to what was really happening, and opened my mind to what to do about it) I averaged 204, which is well above my 189 career Nationals average.  Despite the horrible start, I will cash in team, singles (656 series) and All Events (1765 for nine games), and made a $160 on-the-spot profit on the various side pots.

In fairness to the centers that put out their version of the Nationals shot, I can practice all I want, but the variables about being tired on day two of a vacation, the starting time of 10:30 PM CDT, the adrenaline flowing during the grand march, etc., are things that can only be practiced once a year.  At Nationals.  In the Team event.  For $150.

One other bowling comment; I took advantage of a not-free coaching session offered by PBA Champion and USBC Silver Level coach Mike Jasnau.  Jasnau first allows you to get loose and to find the line on the lane, then with various sensors placed on the lane, charts 10 shots to gauge accuracy of speed, target, entry angle, etc.  He also videotapes a number of the shots.  By the time my 10 shots were up, he found that my game was solid overall, but had two areas that could be immediately worked on - my push away and my slide.  He showed video of some pro bowlers on a split screen, showing what I do and what it should look like.  I bowled a number of shots using a better method, then we split screened a before and after, as well as comparing the after to those same pros.  Upon completion, he handed me a DVD with everything we had discussed (including the split screens).  I won't know if this will make a long-term improvement in my game until next league season, but I can say that the changes felt natural and easy to implement.  I did enjoy my session, if for no other reason to confirm how accurate I am and that my physical game is mostly on the right track.  I look forward to practicing this next fall in league, and visiting him next year when the tournament is again in Reno to see what else we can successfully implement.

Good Eats - While it is true that I ate my way through Las Vegas last year for Nationals, part of that is because of the large array of fine restaurants.  Not as much so with Reno.  However, I had my share of good meals. 

While still on the plane, I had convinced Grap and Ray Sunshine that we needed an Awful-Awful (more on that later... notice the trend?).  But during the second hour of the first day of gambling, Grap had won free buffets for all of us (including Rose who had showed up during the course of the day) at Harrah's Reno where we were staying.  I have been spoiled with just how bad the buffet is at Potawatomi, because I was cringing at the thought of this imposed dinner.  But I was pleasantly delighted with how good it was.  With the made-to-order pasta bar, to the only-six-to-a-casserole-so-they-are-always-fresh enchiladas to the carving station for prime rib and Polish sausage, well.... that was all I ate for that meal and had left many more stations without as much as a glimpse.

Having stated in prior blogs that I get some of my best dining ideas from television, I can thank that dominatrix for my enjoyment of meals at Kitsch’N on Roscoe and Cemitas Puebla in Chicago, Lombardi’s Pizzaria in Manhattan, the Standard Diner in Albuquerque and the Hash House A Go-Go in Las Vegas (among others). I had learned right before I left for Reno that Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives had been to Reno, and one of the places visited was the Gold and Silver Inn. Grap, Ray Sunshine, Poodle, Rose and I all had breakfast there. I still haven’t seen that episode, but it makes me wonder what Guy had because it certainly couldn’t be breakfast. It was standard coffee shop fare… not bad, but certainly not worth eight minutes of precious Food Network time.

For dinner before bowling the team event, we finally did get to the Nugget Diner. The Nugget is a slot parlor across the street from Harrah’s, next door to a closed liquor store, which is next to the closed Golden Phoenix casino, which used to be the Primadonna, which is next to the closed Fitzgerald’s casino, which is next to the closed Old Reno casino. The same group of us that went to the Gold and Silver Inn also dined on the Awful-Awful (marketed as Awful Big and Awful Good… though not apparently worried about awful grammar) which is a fresh 1/2# burger on a big bun with lettuce, onion and thousand island dressing, then placed gracefully on a full pound of fries. How could one have that meal, and still be mad at anyone? Can’t be done. I argue that it was one of the best meals that I had in Reno last week.

Other than a birthday dinner (more on that one below, too) and a dinner at the Hard Rock Café in Lake Tahoe (which will mostly be remembered for the constant reminders to visit the gift shop, and if they don’t have what you are looking for, feel free to find it on-line), only one other meal really stood out. Due to my cash deposit requirements for the rental car and another financial mess of not-my making (which, too, is still to follow) I had to run around town looking for a credit union. Grap and Ray Sunshine were with me, if for no other reason to get out of the casinos, and in our travels we came across Ray Sunshine’s Diner (well, it isn’t really Ray Sunshine’s Diner, but in keeping with this blogger’s policy of not divulging names of family and friends, it has been so renamed). Needless to say, we went there for lunch and to our surprise, they specialize in Sloppy Ray Sunshines! I’ve never ordered one in a restaurant before, so I had one with bacon and cheddar cheese. It seemed a little overpriced, but what the heck… we were on vacation. If you know me, you know that when I am out of town, I love to go where the locals go. And it didn’t get more local than Ray Sunshine’s Diner.

GamblingBelieve it or not, I didn’t spend much of the first three days gambling (but don’t be silly, I did find SOME time for play :o) But by the time mid-day rolled around on Friday, I was down a few hundred bucks. Once our Tahoe trek (more on that below… and the last time I will use that.) (Side note; If I had done this completely chronologically, I wouldn’t have to refer to “below” all the time. I guess I could have started with that stuff, but, well, you know…) was done and I realized I only had about 15 hours to go to the airport, I decided my one bender would have to be a good one.

I started trying to play poker at Harrah’s Reno, but one uber-aggressive geek not only took the fun out of it, he also took a quick hundred bucks. Angry, I wanted to play craps but Harrah’s only had $10 minimums. Now angry at both the uber geek and Harrah’s, I went across the street to the Cal-Neva (which is next door to the closed Virginian casino) to play $5 craps (Side note; why would anyone play $10 craps when a $5 game is about 100 feet away?) I went on a little heater and cashed out almost two hundred ahead after about an hour. By this time it is about 1:30 AM and I am getting tired, so I go back to Harrah’s with the intent of blowing the traditional $20 in a slot machine (just in case, you know?) then going to bed.

Well, that first $20 turned into about $100, so I cashed out and put a new $20 in another slot and ordered a drink. In waiting for my drink I turned that $20 into that almost $80. Becoming emboldened, I cashed out and went to the High Limit room to put a new $20 into a $5 video poker game, and without anything more than a flush, turned it into $150 (and two free buffets). I headed towards my room, but gave in to one impulse too many and ended up losing a Benjamin in a different $1 video poker machine along the way.

Saturday morning, after going souvenir hunting, packing my stuff, and checking out of the hotel, I noticed it was 10:30 AM. I had missed the start of Harrah’s morning poker tournament, but the tournament director allowed me to enter (less the blinds that had passed my seat). The entry fee was $45 and I was given $3500 in tournament chips, and I got an additional $500 in chips for having a coupon in the book that Harrah’s gave to the bowlers. I had managed to turn that $4000 into about $1400 when we combined from three tables to two. Then I was lucky to steal a couple of blinds that allowed me to survive to the first break.

At this point, I just kind of held on and watched others knock each other out. Before too long, I still had a small stack, but we were combined to the final table where I saw about four others with the same amount of chips as I. I have learned that short, low buy-in tournaments are as much luck as skill (or in my case, getting the lucky cards and skillfully playing them) as I doubled up twice while knocking out two short stacks. I made it to the final three (coincidentally to my story, the top three spots cash) with the chip lead. The guy across from me had a few less chips, and the guy over there was very short stacked. About five trips around the table later, the guy over there sucked out (getting a good card on the river) on me to double up, then got the guy across from me, then sucked out on me again… to the point where all three of us had about the same number of chips. I had a buffet to eat and three hours to get to the airport, so I proposed (and all accepted) that we call a draw and split the prize money. After tipping the dealer, I turned that $45 into $240, which finally put me in the “profit” column for gambling for five days. My total gambling profit was $141. By no means did it pay for my trip, but it’s better than a sharp punch to the gut (see: Sunshine, Ray).

Here are the “See Below” Nuggets  -

Reno Aces baseball game - The Reno Aces are a AAA minor-league affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks.  They built a new stadium two years ago in the heart of the developing Freight House district.  Other than Gerardo Parra (who had been demoted from the Diamondbacks just after the previous series against the Brewers, and who has since been recalled) I hadn't heard of any of the Aces.  That didn't prevent me from going to the game right from the airport on Tuesday, and cheering against the Cubs (this team from Iowa), and just like major league life, the Cubs won.  The Aces drew 4,500 people to a Tuesday afternoon game which I thought was pretty good.  In all, a sunny day, seats in the 5th row behind the dugout, and a cold brew was a GREAT way to start the trip

ATM Mess – I thought I had taken enough cash with me to withstand a few gambling losses, but having not foreseen leaving a cash deposit for the car, I was low on cash sooner than I had thought (throwing a 132 game also cost me about $150 in side pots… I honestly didn’t see that coming, either) so I headed to an ATM Wednesday after bowling. Being too cheap (I know, being cheap on a gambling trip is an oxymoron, but deal with it. It’s my story) to spend the $4 in ATM fees at the casino, I found a bank about a mile away for $2.50. It is one of the older machines where you slide your card in… and this machine kept it. Not in the “you have insufficient funds” or “we suspect a stolen card” kept it, more like a “you never even slid it in” kept it - I was not offered a chance to enter the PIN. There was an 800 number on the machine, which I called, but because I was not a member of the Nevada State Bank, they basically said to go to the branch the next day.

So Thursday morning I visit the branch and explain my tale of woe. They didn’t care. They contract with someone else to handle the ATMs, and I was told that part of the contract was that all “sequestered” ATM cards are destroyed. After trying to negotiate with the banker and getting nowhere, I called my wife (trying unsuccessfully not to yell at her) and explained how I am down to my last $80 with no credit card, no ATM card, eight hours sleep in three days and my entire vacation fund in a credit union 1500 miles away. Proving why I am so very much in love with her, she called my credit union, found out that they are a member of the Credit Union Service Center, and located two credit unions in Reno in which I could access my account.   It was on the trek to the Greater Nevada Credit Union that we drove past Ray Sunshine’s Diner. The axiom that “Scared money never wins” is true… my gambling and bowling luck turned the second I made that withdrawal from the Greater Nevada Credit Union.  I had money in my pocket - and access to more - and was on my way.

Birthday Dinner – Ray Sunshine turned 50 in February. But for various reasons, none of his buddies did anything special for him, so I took the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone – organize a team dinner and celebrate Ray Sunshine’s birthday with a surprise party. And boy was he surprised! I guess a party 3+ months after the actual birthday would surprise anyone. I had worked with the Ruby River Steakhouse (across from the Peppermill) to set the party up for as soon as they opened the doors Thursday evening. It isn’t easy coordinating a group of 16 with a restaurant that doesn’t take reservations, but Ruby River did almost everything right… from setting up our party in advance to splitting the checks appropriately to giving Ray Sunshine a huge hunk of ice cream cake and a Styrofoam cowboy hat to wear while we sung. The only thing we were missing was good food. It tried really hard, but it was quite mediocre. The 24 oz prime rib was a little tough and had no seasoned crust. Mrs. Ken got the wrong entrée and didn’t send it back (but wished she had). Others said their food was good, but not great. But at least we all said we had a good time, and Ray Sunshine found out that his friends aren’t all complete boors.

Day Trip to Tahoe -  Friday after dropping off Poodle at the airport, Grap, Ray Sunshine and I took a drive first to Virginia CIty (specifically for a cup of Suicide Ale at the Delta Saloon, home of the Suicide Table), then through the mountains to the Stateline, NV area of Lake Tahoe.  The trip to Tahoe was mostly uneventful, save for the fact that the high temperature that day was 43 degrees (with a wind chill in the 30s) and we were in shorts and no jackets.

Part of the deal with getting Grap to Tahoe was that he had to be at a sports book or sports bar by 5:00 PM to watch the Chicago Blackhawks (hopefully) win their NHL playoff game (which they did).  We got to Harvey's Resort and I settled into a poker game.  A couple hours into the card game, a guy said that his wife just called and it was snowing.  "Hmmph", I said to myself, "Snow in the Lake Tahoe area isn't uncommon".

By the time the game ended and our dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe was complete, there was about two inches of snow on the ground (mind you, we still have no jackets and are in shorts).  Because Grap had spent most of the four hours at Harvey's watching hockey and eating, he still wanted to gamble, so we stopped at MontBleu.  It took only a few minutes for the three of us to blow through too much money, so we decided to get the Canyonero and head back to Reno.

We hit the road and it was just kind of misting.  The traction was good so we all thought "No problem".  Until we turned right to go up the mountain.  Instant blizzard.  I couldn't see more than a few feet in front of the truck, and didn't know where the road was.  I told the boys that as long as I could see the road markings, though, I could manage 30 MPH without a problem.  I was trying not to act scared, but my mind wasn't thinking about the potential obstacles... only "I hope we survive this".  Heading into the tunnel, Grap said that "at least it won't be snowing in the tunnel".  Yeah, right.  It was blowing so hard that it was still snowing 3/4 of the way through the tunnel!  I was in control (he says, gripping the steering wheel so tight that my wrists were hurting.)

As we kept ascending the mountain, we lost the road markings.  Further up the mountain we came across the "Do not proceed without tire chains" flashing lights, which we duly ignored.  Near the top (but not knowing how close the top was) I considered pulling over, but then what would we do?  Sit in the car until daylight?  I didn't see a "Hilton at the Top of the Mountain" as we were driving to Tahoe... so we decided I should press on.  The wipers were freezing up so I put the heat on to try to melt them, but between my panic sweat and the heater, I couldn't take it so I shut the heater off.  I had no idea what to do when we caught up to a little Nissan Versa that couldn't go more than a couple of MPH... how much room do to we have to the left, and is there a blind curve with a car in that lane?  We finally get to the Spooner Summit (elevation over 7200 feet) and begin our descent.  One might think that this was a relief... and it was, until I kept gaining speed.  Again, not knowing where the twists in the road were I was afraid to go more than 30 MPH or so, but had to be judicious with the brakes of an unfamiliar car heading down the slope.  

It took about 80 minutes to make that 26 mile drive, and even though it was still snowing in Carson City, it was at a lower elevation and was not sticking.  Another 30 minutes later when we got back to Reno, there wasn't even any snow remaining on the car.  But my mind was so frenzied... there was no way I could go to bed, and it was no wonder I played some horrible cards before going to the Cal Neva to play craps.

So, the short version of a long story is that I had a memorable time.  I certainly missed not having my wife with me, and I hope to rectify that before next year's trip to the Nationals in Reno

Luckily for her, however, we are going to New York City on the Fourth of July (and a trip to Petite Abeille and, yes, Peter Luger Steakhouse on July 5) so that My-Sugar-Na, too, can have a vacation.  And if it can take me less than 10 days to get one posting done, I may blog a few more times before that trip.

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