Los Angeles, CA
The flavor of the Bahamas ran up my nose when I unpacked my bag and caught a whiff of my dirty clothes. If you ever want a quick and last memory of a vacation spot, just quickly inhale your clothes as soon as you unpack them. They will smell like the last place you were when you wore or packed them. In this case, my clothes smelled like the Atlantis resort, moreover a combination of the beach and whatever air freshner their maids sprayed in the room. The Atlantis aroma is unique unto itself. It came back the moment I stepped into the sprawling monstrosity of a complex.
The last time I visited the Bahamas, I was in the middle of a work assignment and didn't really have time to enjoy fun in the sun, spending most of my time in a room watching poker players and spending my nights binge drinking Kaliks, the local beer, at the lobby bar with other members of the media, an eclectic hodgepodge of Canadians, Brits, Americans, Germans, and one giddy Frenchman. Benjo was on that trip and that was one of the few times (outside of Budapest) when he was actually having a fun time.
I should say that I've worked in lots of strange locales following around the poker circuit, and the Bahamas were one of my most memorable. Sure, the food was super expensive and service was slow as shit, but that was the only time that I never felt pressured to crank out content. I wrote at the most relaxed pace than any other assignment that I got in six years. Island time seeped into the mindset and although the hours were long, the pressure to perform was almost nonexistent. I definitely don't look back at the 2009 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure (PCA) as some of my best work. I'm citing blame on the hangovers and spreading myself thin (because I covered it for three websites, one newspaper, and two magazines). The overall content from yours truly was certainly mediocre at best with a few witty one liners, but I fondly look back at that trip as the most fun I ever had being a poker writer. I woke up everyday, hungover to shit, but thinking as I gazed out to the ocean: "I can't believe I'm in the Bahamas to get paid to write about a bunch of knuckleheads playing cards."
Last winter, I skipped the PCA to work on Lost Vegas. This summer, the plan was to skip it again to work on Jack Tripper. The PCA is a major hotspot on the poker circuit. Outside of the WSOP in Las Vegas, the PCA is considered one of the must do/see/play destinations on the international circuit along with the Aussie Millions in Melbourne, the WSOP-Europe in London, and the EPT Grand Finale in Monte Carlo. If that's considered an international Grand Slam, then I've covered all of them at least once. I really didn't want to return to the Bahamas because it's one of those epic adventures that you have to do once...but seems absurd the second time. I blame David Foster Wallace for waking me up to the gaudiness and high-cheese factor of vacation resorts after reading his epic essay about cruise ships. I expanded more on that topic at the Tao of Poker in a post titled Dispatches from the PCA: You Enjoy Myself.
Alas, at the last minute, Nicky won a free trip to the Bahamas and I instantly changed my mind. She won an online satellite to a Ladies only tournament at the PCA. On the night after Christmas, I helplessly sat on my brother's couch in NYC watching her play from our apartment in LA. She was on the cusp of winning and I got too anxious. I had to take a walk in the blizzard. That's how bad it was...that I was willingly walking outside to avoid watching the outcome of the tournament. When I returned, she was one spot away from winning a seat...and then it happened in a blink of an eye. She had won her online satellite and had a free ticket to the Bahamas. The Atlantis resort if pricey at almost $400 a night and much higher during peak times. Nicky's tournament fees, flight and room were covered. All I had to do was come up with airfare and I had a free trip to the Bahamas. I realized that I didn't want to go to the PCA to work (even though it was my favorite time, I just couldn't suck it up a second time and work in such a leisurely environment, the sun makes me too lazy and unfocused, and I need the harshness of the Vegas summers to get me into warface mode), but I happily embraced a trip to the islands for a vacation.
It had been a while since I took a trip, a true vacation from myself, that did not involve a family holiday, intense partying because of Phish, or a work assignment. Even the Phish journeys have some sort of work vibe attached to them -- either with the sheer size of juggling a dozen or more spun out friends in a caravan, or having to take diligent notes every night for an upcoming book -- those Phishy excursions are not fun vacation moments due to the high stress involved. So, for the first time in a while, I had an actual vacation where I didn't have to worry about writing or the websites (thanks to the Joker's Jam Cruise updates on Coventry and the Human Head's link dumps on Tao of Fear). Luckily, the internet is so shitty that it prevented me from spending any time on it, and I found out right away about the sickly insane retarded rip off roaming charges that Verizon slapped me with for using my wireless aircard in the islands. After racking up $200 in charges in less than 15 minutes, I pulled the plug.
That $200 kick in the balls would be the first of many beatings I'd take on the island. That's a good thing because I attracted all of the bad juju on the trip, which enable Nicky to attract all of the good vibes and become a beacon for hope and success. Afterall, she was there to play in a poker tournament and as veteran tournament reporters we knew that you needed a lot of precise decision-making and a sprinkling of luck to come out ahead. For a brief moment, two days to be exact, the poker gods shined thy love onto my lady. She seized the opportunity and the results were both astonishing and somewhat expected. We both knew she was good enough to make a run, because once you advance to a final table of a poker tournament -- anything can happen. Someone said that success is putting yourself into a position to be lucky. Well, that's what Nicky did. You can read about her victory in the PCA Ladies event. She posted Part 1 of Beyond the Fairy Tale over at Pot Committed. Fantastic recap.
My desk is cluttered with items that I acquired in the Bahamas; none of them are what you would consider souvenirs. I have a notebook with about twenty pages of scribbled notes mostly incoherent key words to trigger my memory, or drunkenly and hastily written quotes that friends might have uttered between the Midnight and 4am hours when we sat in the lobby and drank island-themed drinks. My poison switched from the local beer, Kalik, to the Bahama Mama. It was pink and fruity. The flavorful concoction of a mixture of juices and rum. The secret was that you couldn't taste any of the booze. The good barkeeps unleashed a heavy pour and you'd ingest at least three or four shots of spiced rum with every cocktail. Some drinks with skimpy rum shots were heavily diluted with punch, but those were few and far between. In fact, those were welcomed because a weak fruity cocktail would slow down the booze intake. It was like easing off the breaks without actually easing off the breaks. That's important for someone like me who doesn't drink as much as I used to. But some habits are hard to change, and a place like the Bahamas is conducive for volumes of liquor consumption.
The British scribes are my favorite to hang out with because they are usually very reserved and mellow, but they let it all hang out during these late night jamborees of rum and whiskey. My colleague Simon celebrated a victory of his favorite football team, Ipswich township, with a series of blue cocktails. I only vaguely recalled a Blue Hawaiian from my days as a bartender, and I think that I only made one during my brief time behind the bar (it was only one because I mixed it so badly!). I made a few Blue Kamikazes on occasions to impress female patrons, but blue drinks were something that people did not drink in NYC.
However, pink and blue cocktails were the rage in the Bahamas. No one frowned upon you if you consumed seven or seventeen. In fact, considering the amount of booze in them, the drinks were the cheapest item at the Atlantis. Food cost an abysmal amount of money considering they also slapped you with a mandatory 15% service fee charge, which means they already got paid for the lackadaisical island time service that makes European cafe waitresses look liked speed addicts. But for the overpriced food, the drinks were fair market price. Cocktails at trendyy lounges in LA, meat market clubs in Vegas, and hipster bars in NYC were priced more than what we consumed in the Bahamas. Booze was so freaking cheap to produce down there that even at their inflated rates, we still got a bargain.
And that's why rum is evil.
Well, one of the many reasons. But shit, those fruity cocktails with catchy names like Bahama Mama go down so smooth because you can't taste the rum. The next thing you realize, after talking gibberish for three hours, you black out and then wake up three hours later fully clothed with a pounding headache, cotton mouth, and a rum-induced sweat seeping through all of your clothes as your pores spew every sip of rum that you consumed in the previous twelve hours.
Then you get up and do it all over again.
I wish that I wrote more in the Bahamas. I didn't because I was so goddammed drunk and hungover the entire time that I really didn't feel well enough to sit in front of the keyboards and peck away. I wrote a little bit and took decent notes, but I have to piece together everything from my memory banks, drunken tweets, a few pictures, Nicky's blog, and whatever items that I have scattered on my desk including four flight stubs from two different airlines. This journey took Nicky and I through five different airports (LAX, MIA, NAS, FFL, LGB) in order to secure the cheapest price for a round trip to the Bahamas.
Also on my desk is the room key with Nicky's last name. The room keys, with photos of other vacationers enjoying themselves in different water-based activities at Atlantis, are dangerous because they also act as room credit cards. Atlantis wants you to have fun in the sun in a cashless society and they encourage you pay for everything on your room card from cocktails to meals. And that's what we did. When I covered the PCA, I was fortunate enough to get a $2,000 per deim for nine days of work. My friends working this year had their per diem reduced to $1,200 and most of those scribes drank their full per diem with three days left on their assignment. That's what happens when you binge drink and have the itch to gamble. They played a version of credit card roulette and tossed their room keys into the pot and the waiter fished out one by one, eliminating the lucky drinker from having to pay for that entire round. Once they waiter had one room key left, that unfortunate sot got stuck with the round -- which could have been anywhere from four to fourteen cocktails. No wonder they ran out of per diem more than half way through the trip.
Once Nicky won a little money, and we didn't care about our tab the rest of the trip. That's a dangerous decision that gets many gamblers with new-found wealth in trouble, but we really didn't want to worry about money after such a joyous occasion. We also picked up a few drinks for our writer friends who were now stuck paying for their own self-medicating rum cocktails. That's the least Nicky could do because she felt their pain about having to pay your own way during an assignment in a super pricey location.
There's also the room bill on my desk. Three pages of charges, mostly from the same place -- the Coral Lobby Bar. Based on the price, I can tell you how many Bahama Mamas and Kaliks we got per round. I should say that Starbucks was actually the cheapest thing on the Island. I guess they were able to set their own prices and keep them relatively low and away from the grapples of island inflation. Sure, the actually muffins and pastires were inflated, but the drinks were somewhat close to market price. Heck, the iced teas were a bargain at $2.60. I usually pay close to $4 in Las Vegas, which is why I tried to boycott them last summer.
The bill to our room was itemized so we could inspect each purchase. I can't believe that I paid $14.95 for shoddy internet connection that was a tinge faster than dial-up, but based on the costly roaming charges, it was necessary especially the deeper that Nicky went into the tournament because I was updating her progress via Twitter. Many of our friends were refreshing nonstop for updates because the Ladies event was one of four other tournaments running at the time, and those were bigger buy-in events. The majors got more coverage than the minor Ladies event, but when it got down to the final table of eight ladies, our friends in the media (and a few players) slowly gathered on the rail, popping in and out every few minutes to check up on her progress. It was cool that at any given moment, Nicky had a few of our friends nearby. I know she's usually nervous and doesn't want the attention, but at that point when it's do or die, you welcome all the support that you can get. It's sort of uplifting and inspiring. Little did she know about all of the well wishers on Twitter and everyone else at home anxiously following along. That's one of the coolest things about Twitter. I know I constantly go back and forth over its benefits and its intrinsically evil nature, but for once, Twitter came through in the clutch as an easy means to update the masses on something happening right now that they can't find information about.
I also spotted a losing sports bet on my desk. Fucking Butler failed to cover in their game on Sunday. It was the final nail in a coffin that I would like to officially bury all of that bad juju in the Bahamas and I hope it doesn't follow me back to the mainland. I went 1-9 on the island in a combination of awful bets online and at the sportsbook. The worst of it happened on Saturday. While Nicky was fighting her way to a championship, I was on the rail ignoring the action and focusing more on the Baltimore/Pittsburgh game. I had a couple of monster bets on Baltimore and that was about to blow up in my face. I would have probably went apeshit and threw chairs around the poker room if I had to see the final minute of the game. Alas, I saved myself embarrassment and imprisonment by rushing over to watch the final hands that Nicky played. She had won and I didn't get to see the end of that game.
I had lost a few grand at that point, but that didn't matter because Nicky marched to a victory.
She burst into tears the moment that she won. She had a rough 2010. Living with me is hell, especially watching me squirm with all of the turmoil I endured with finishing up Lost Vegas and dealing with all of the fuckups and obstacles with the final publishing process. She also unfairly lost her job, like many other veteran writers in poker and in other industries, squeezed out because she made too much money and wouldn't blindly follow poor decisions from the powers to be. She had a mentally challenging year compounded with worrying about her future as a freelancer and a writer. The end of the 2010 ended on a high note -- with a victory in the satellite. If anything, that gave her a glimmer of hope that maybe she could grind out a few dollars as a poker player in 2011 to help plug the massive hole leftover from losing her biggest freelance client. But neither of us expected a big score in the Bahamas. We were both simply happy to go and have a vacation where we unplugged and relaxed without worry about anything.
Well, the deeper that Nicky got into the tournament, the more serious things had gotten. When play ended late on Friday night as it spilled into Saturday, we went to bed knowing that she still had a lot of work ahead of her. We woke up on Saturday morning with a different vibe. It was certainly more serious and I snapped into gopher mode. I wanted to make sure she had everything she needed to play her best poker. I've been around tournament enough to know that she needed a right balance of food and drinks, not to mention a charged iPod. Sometimes music soothes you after a bad beat, but it also helps you kill the time. The food end was a nightmare after room service took over 2 hours to even show up. I tried to cancel and they wouldn't let me, so we just left and headed to Jamba Juice instead. I felt horrible because I wanted to surprise Nicky with breakfast in bed and have her get a firm base before she played poker for what could be ten to twelve more hours. That never panned out. Damn island time took over and we were sitting around in the room starving as the clock ticked closer to re-start time. We bailed and Nicky shrugged it off. That's when I knew she was ready to play -- she was in game mode -- and didn't let the fuckup knock her off path.
Shit, this post is now in excess of 3,000 words so I'm going to stop and come back some other time to write more about my thoughts of the Bahamas. Then again, maybe I won't because my clothes are currently in the laundry and won't smell like the Bahamas anymore. The aroma is inspiring. That's gone for now, unless Nicky hasn't unpacked yet and I can catch a scent of the islands from her suitcase...