Monday, August 06, 2007


New York City. A glorified eight day layover in between jaunts from the Left Coast to Europe. Almost the midway point, NYC would be a stop to load up with supplies before I embark on another six-week journey. Getting to NYC was no easy task. Crappy weather and plenty of storms on the East Coast fucked me up. The plane I was supposed to fly to JFK had arrived over an hour or so late to Long Beach. When we eventually took off, the pilot said he get us into NYC only 30 minutes behind schedule despite the delay.

I sat in the same row as a strung out 40-something model wearing jeans a a green pajama top. There was an empty seat between us. During the boarding process, she was given a few pills by her friends sitting a few rows ahead.

"What's the little one for?" she squealed loud enough for everyone on the plane to hear.

"Just take them both," a giggly voice shouted back.

She downed both and by the time the plane reached cruising altitude, she was passed out and took up both seats. I didn't mind even though I was on minor travel tilt. I loathe delays especially when I'm trying to get home after a long stint on the road.

Since I had a couple of long flights ahead of me, Nicky surprised me an early birthday present before I left Hollyweird... Bose noise reduction headphones. I always bitched about crying babies on planes and she wanted to help out in that department. I didn't get to test the baby-proofed headphone out on my flight from Long Beach to JFK... there were no crying kids. On a positive notes, the headphones managed to reduce the background noises and the roaring engines. I didn't have to crank the volume up all the way to hear.

The weather messed up the DirectTV service. For most the flight, half of the channels were out. I watched dogfights of the Vietnam War on the History channel and listened to the Yankees game on XM radio, which some JetBlue planes come equipped with these days.

Somewhere over Nebraska I flipped to the channel with the inflight LiveMap (now sponsored by Google Maps) to check our progress. A little white airplane is shown over a map of the United States with little purple dashes behind it to let you know where you flew over. But that instance, the little white plane was headed west... and pointed left on the map headed back towards Colorado.

I did one of those double takes and thought I was having a flashback or something. Too much liquid sunshine. Too much nitrous. The screen changed to a quick advertisement before it returned to the map. The little white plane on the map was pointed to the right... or east... like it should be headed towards Iowa instead of Colorado. Then fifteen seconds later it changed. The plane was pointed toward the south to Kansas. That's when I thought I was tripping. Definitely too much liquid sunshine.

The pilot then announced to the passengers that the weather was so bad at JFK that there's a severe back up of arriving planes that air traffic control sent them into a holding pattern over Nebraska in order to let them catch up. I was not bugging out after all. We were going in circles.

For the next twenty minutes, I stared at the map as the little white plane moved around in a circle and constantly made right turns over North Platte, Nebraska. I began to think about how much gas the plane had left and if we'd die in a horrible crash in a farmers' cornfield because of an unexpected tornado or something. That's when I popped a generic Vicodin and bought a beer from a perky flight attendant. If I was going to die in a flyover state, I might as we be sloshed.

In between Chicago and Detroit, the plane went back into a holding pattern. They made more right turns and flew circles over Kalamazoo. We arrived at JFK almost two hours later. And they didn't have a gate for us to disembark. Too many planes. Not enough gates. Angry and pissed off passengers. Mayhem. The plane stopped in the middle of the runway somewhere and shuttle buses took us to the baggage claim area.

Usually the Midnight arrivals at the Jet Blue terminal have about two flights of people waiting for luggage. The weather delay meant that a dozen flights were crowded into the area. People fought for elbow room to get their luggage. A little good luck finally came my way. My bag was one of the first one to come out. I sprinted for the taxi line and it was backed up. Just when I expected to wait another hour, a tall Haitian guy with a green Jets hat walked over and asked me if I wanted a taxi. I asked him if I would be a solo fare and he agreed. Sometimes gypsy cabs at the airport make you share rides with other customers. We haggled for a few minutes on a price and off we went.

When I finally home, I quickly picked up the huge shopping bag that housed most of my mail. My mother and Derek had flown out to Las Vegas and July. They gave me the most import mail (spanning a month) such as a few paychecks checks from freelance work. But when I arrived home after almost two months, I had a small mountain of other mail to dig through.

I have a sorting process; I dump all the mail on the floor and make four or so smaller piles. One pile for bills. Another for checks. Another for bank and brokerage statements, and the biggest pile is junk mail. I also pick out the magazines and sort those into piles; poker, non-poker like Rolling Stone, catalogues, and alumni (high school, college, and fraternity - everyone is looking for a handout these days). I sift through the junk mail and pick out items that I can toss immediately... such as credit card applications or postcard invites to art galleries and concerts that occurred weeks ago. I set aside the questionable mail into something I call "most likely junk mail but I'm going to open it anyway" pile. 95% of the time I end up tossing that shit out. I also always flip through the pages of the magazines very quickly and shake each for a moment. Sometimes envelopes get stuck in between the pages.

I open up the paychecks first. There were three. Nothing larger than a couple of hundred bucks. Alas, those smaller checks add up. Then I put the rest of the mail aside until I wake up the next day. I head over to the bigger boxes. There's a stack of several including big envelopes that could not fit into the shopping bag. Like a little kid on Christmas morning, I start tearing away at the envelopes and ripping open the boxes with my keys. Within minutes the area around me is cluttered with pieces of tape and torn paper. In many ways, my infrequent visits to NYC makes me feel like I'm in college again when the only time I came home was during the holidays.

Over the last couple of years, every time I return to NYC after a tiresome trip, I celebrate my own personal Christmas. It's usually 2 or 3am and I'm exhausted after a long flight home, yet I conjure up enough energy to tear into those packages. Most of them are books and magazines. I'm a junkie for the written word. I can't get enough books. Usually across my travels I run across someone who recommends a book. When I can, I find a used copy online and buy it. By the time I arrive back home, I have a half a dozen of books waiting for me to read during my time in NYC or somewhere along the way on my next journey. And most of the time I forgot that I bought those books. A pleasant surprise.

PR reps, publishing companies, and literary agents send me books to review on the Tao of Poker or the other places I write. Most of them are poker or gambling books, but I also get random CDs from indie bands that I never heard of. After writing for a German music magazine, I was placed on a weird mailing list from a small PR firm based out of Toronto that handles record labels on the east coast that I never heard. I have a stack of CDs from bands like Panda of the Purple Promise, Muppets Collide, Miserable Neptune, and my favorite new band... Crank Detour. I'm not usually fond of four guys in Ed Harvey t-shirts with messy hair that can't play their instruments fronted by a chick covered in tattoos who sounds like Cyndi Lauper getting anally raped by a garden hose... but when a band has a name like Crank Detour and sing songs about meeting Jesus in an A.A. meeting in downtown Oakland and then skipping out early to shoot dice in the alley, I quickly hit their MySpace page and see if/when they are touring.

Then there's the business cards. I amass a small collection during a long assignment. I pulled a few out of my wallet and threw them on my desk with the rest of them that I took out of my computer bag. I quickly looked through them all, stopping to check out the ones with the cooler designs. I keep every card that someone gives me. I might never use the information on there, but it's always important to have a big shoe box full of business cards. You never know if you might need to contact them or the company that they represent.

The cards were a reminder of the diverse people that I met. I looked at each one and was amazed at the different people that I crossed paths with over the last two months. That list included an Editor of a Canadian business news site, a poker agent, a PR executive, a camera store owner, a tax accountant from Santa Fe, the manager of a Las Vegas bar, poker teacher from The OC, a craps tutor from Las Vegas, a restaurant owner in LA, assistant poker room manager in Tunica, the owner of a South African TV production company, an engineer from Utah, AP writer, real estate appraiser from NJ, an insurance wholesaler from Ohio, a writer from Vancouver, a comedian from Santa Monica, an attorney from NY, a freelance artist from Oregon, a photographer from London, a fund raiser from Pasadena, web designer from Philly, commercial real estate financier from New York, a tax attorney from Reno, magazine editor, head of marketing for an online poker site, A British magazine writer, an events manager from Spain, a film maker from Brazil, media relations manager from Dublin, bookstore owner from Texas, player management rep from Gibraltar, and a journalist from Germany.

And of course, I handed each of them my business card.

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