Friday, September 12, 2008



I guess I should fill you in a little about my accommodation over the past few weeks here in the States. The first week was spent in a luxury hotel with my mum and sister. We got free fruit, a daily weather report delivered to our room and all the shampoo, shower gel and towels we could handle!

When they flew back to the UK, my standards of dropped considerably. I spent the next four nights in a hostel, which was pretty much OK apart from the Germans waking me up at 6am every day by rooting around in carrier bags and planning their schedule for the day. One other thing to note about the hostel was the complimentary breakfast it served which was basically just lots of varieties of sponge cake. No toast, no cereal, just lots and lots of cake and some lemon flavoured water. Very strange indeed.

Next I spent several days couch surfing with three different people in San Jose, San Luis Obispo and Oxnard. All of whom were great and in one I even got my own room.

Then I got to LA.

I was always dreading LA because all of the hostels seemed unbearably grim, so I knew I'd have to shell out for a hotel or figure something else out.

I started out in a hotel in the Bell Gardens district. Not on the tourist trail but directly opposite a casino and a great smoothie bar. After staying there a few nights I was considering whether to move on but was undecided. Upon returning from the casino at 2am one night, my mind was more than made up.

I was a little sleepy and groggy but I soon snapped out of my tiredness when I turned on the bathroom light and saw what could only be described as a GIANT cockroach writhing around on its back on top of the toilet seat! I think tomorrow I would be checking out!

It was just bizarre that it just ended up directly on top of the toilet seat. I could only surmise that it fell from the air vent above. Either than or the maid, who I had thus far not left a tip for, had decided to leave me a little treat. I only wish I'd taken a photo, it was huge. About (holds arms wide) this big!

Now I'd just re-read Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, as well as seeing it on stage in London, so there was no way I was going to kill the cockroach, just in case it was actually a travelling salesman. Instead I was faced with the task of getting the creature into a very small plastic cup so I could take it outside. After a few Chuckle Brothers style moments and a frightening instant when I thought it was going to jump on me. I managed to take Colin the cockroach outside and release him into the LA streets.

I check out the next day of course, making time to fill out a customer comment form on my way out.

And now the poker bit...

I have to mention poker as I have been playing a fair bit these past few days. I finished 21st in a large tournament last night, winning a little bit of money and having a good run at the $17,600 first prize. I played great despite having no good cards at all, so I was pleased. One notable moment came when one of my toughest opponents who had just been given a ten minute penalty for swearing, proceeded to say that he wished the children of the poker room manager would die horribly and painfully.... He was unceremoniously kicked out of the tournament and the casino. It probably wasn't the best decision he's ever made.

But before I end this note, let me tell you about a very funny but also somewhat unsettling hand of poker. I'd been playing in the 9/18 limit game at Commerce Casino and was just getting ready to leave as it was approaching my bedtime. A new player sat down in the game in the nine seat (right next to the dealer) and straight away it became apparent that he'd had more than a little to drink. The first hand he was dealt his cards and waited for his turn, gazing into the distance with a slightly glazed and gormless expression on his face.

A few people folded and the action went call, raise, call, call. When it got to out hero he turned over his two sixes face up and said "I wanna split em."

Oh dear.

After some commotion the floor manager was called (sadly not the one who looks like a Vietnamese Bobby Charlton) and a discussion ensued. It soon became clear that this man didn't know where he was, what game he was playing or even perhaps who he was. Stalemate ensued, as he had not made a confirmed action as the hand could not continue. Our hero still seemed firmly under the impression that he was in a blackjack game and was insistent that he wanted to split his sixes. The whole table was doubled up in hysterics.

Now the part that made me feel decidedly uneasy inside. It was clear that this man was holding up the game and was in no condition to play it. However all parties concerned seemed reluctant to move him on. It could have been something to do with the $300 in chips he had in front of him. "Listen guys" said the floor manager almost conspiratorially as he leaned over our hero, "I really don't want to kill your action here, you know." The floor manager was now clearly complicit in this drunk guy losing his money. Perhaps there would be a nice tip in it from the other players for bringing a drunk to the table?

I felt sick.

Well finally and somehow it was decided the guy with two sixes had called and the flop was dealt. I think we all knew what was going to happen next. The flop came 2-6-Queen giving our hero the second best hand possible, three sixes. Suddenly he comes to life. "I'm gonna bet em" he shouts, flinging chips across the table. One guy called him even though he clearly had the second best hand possible. At the time I thought this was a stupid decision, but the more I think about it, the more I admire his cold hearted calculation. Our hero could do anything. He could fold at any time, he could collapse, he could throw up on the table, the pot was there for the taking. But our hero was not to be dissuaded. He bet out again on the turn, still with his cards face up and took down a nice pot.

Of course, the next hand our hero called the dealer a "fucking idiot" and was instantly thrown out of the game. He didn't know who he was or where he was, but he'd played one hand and won it, turning a nice profit on the evening. That's poker, sometimes you get beaten by a drunk.

A little later as I left the casino I spotted him stumbling around outside the casino with no shoes on, being escorted somewhere by security.

Sometimes playing poker leaves me feeling a little bit ill.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008


LA Story

I spent last weekend with some of the most mean, rude, miserable, abusive and downright unpleasant people I have ever had the misfortune to meet. No, I'm not talking about the waiting room at West Bromwich Job Centre, I'm talking about the poker room at the Bicycle Casino, Los Angeles.

The plan was simple - Play a little poker whilst I'm here in LA to make some of money to pay for a little bit of my trip. Little did I realise how much like work it would actually be...

In Vegas gambling is fun. People play poker for recreation. Tips flow and so does the beer - It's a fun place to play. At 'The Bike' things are very different, at least in the games I played. Grim faced, moody and even downright angry, the players hurl a constant stream of abuse and often their cards at the long-suffering dealers.

There is completely crazy superstition. People won't play when certain people deal, they always need to sit in certain seats and the regularly request the deck is changed for no other reason except they just lost a hand. Players regularly berate others for their perceived poor quality of play. Thankfully I was able to play the clueless, bumbling Englishman to perfection. Hugh Grant would have been proud...

Why are these people there? Why indeed was I there when the experience was such a drag?

Well for one, I was staying in a hotel ever the road and I didn't know how to get anywhere else in LA because of the mindbogglingly confusing public transport network. There are no maps or schedules at stops and half the time it doesn't even say where the bus is going. Drivers are generally monosyllabic and best of all, there are paper timetables on the buses themselves for completely random other routes with no connection to the one you are on!

In the end I viewed it as simply a money making exercise and grinded it out. But hey, the free Chinese food is very nice and I made my wages the two days I played there, so it wasn't at all bad.


The doctor

One of my more interesting opponents was a Sri Lankan doctor who sat next to me and played for a few hours. He was very friendly, we chatted and inevitably the conversation turned to his profession.

Now, I'm not questioning the medical ethics or integrity of this man, but all I do know is that within an hour of meeting me he offered me all manner or drugs, prescription or otherwise, all for "very reasonable prices."

It seems one of his biggest trades was in tablets to treat erectile dysfunction. This is the reason why I am currently carrying a Viagra tablet around in my wallet.

I tried to explain to the good doctor that I really didn't have any trouble in that department. And when I confessed that I'd never even used Viagra or Cialis, a veritable gasp went up around the table (average age of about 70).

"You have to try it, your life will never be the same" urged the doctor, ignoring my vehement protests. "Take a look at Larry over here" he said, gesturing to another of our opponents. One glance at the smile on Larry's face told me that both him and his wife were very happy indeed.

To placate him, I accepted his offer of a free sample. "You find yourself a nice chica, you take the pill and how do you say in England? ....... boom boom....."

Well I wasn't sure what Basil Brush had to do with anything, but I put the pill in my wallet along with his card, where it has remained ever since. I guess I should throw it away or something, just in case in a moment of madness I think it is a paracetamol and take it. Instead of soothing my headache it could lead to a completely different kind of ache...

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