Wednesday, December 31, 2008

On the Road 2008: Tao of Pauly Year End Video

By Pauly
New York City

I spliced together an eight minute video of some of the highlights of my 2008. I traveled extensively in 2008 from Australia to New Zealand to Denmark to Langerado to Las Vegas to Colorado to London to Amsterdam to Budapest to San Francisco to San Diego to Rhode Island and lets not forget places like New York City and Los Angeles. Here's just a taste...

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Slow Crawl

By Pauly
New York City

Benjo called me from the airport on Saturday afternoon. He arrived at JFK. I told him to ditch any socialist newspapers that he might have imported from France. Homeland Security isn't keen about anything leaning too far left. Then I leaked some privy information that most NYC cabbies are fronts for Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. If Benjo said the wrong thing or made the wrong move, he'd get his throat slashed.

Lucky for Benjo, he successfully navigated immigration, customs, and a ride into Manhattan. I met Benjo and Johnny Mushroom in the East Village on Saturday night. The trio of us rented that swanky canal house in Amsterdam in August of 2007 and now we were all chilling out in the big city for a few days.

Johnny Mushrooms is originally from Australia. He's dating a nice gal who lives in San Francisco but most of her friends live in NYC. We met up with a group of 20-something girls from Cornell. Brights girls who like to party. We essential crashed Bree's party. Never met her before. Neither did Johnny Mushrooms. But her friends were friends with his girlfriend so it was totally cool that he showed up unannounced with a bottle of vodka, Benjo, and myself.

I had not played drinking games in a decade, perhaps the last time I visited Derek at school and hung out in his fraternity house. I routinely drink with AlCantHang and there's nothing quite like it. Drinking as a game is peanuts for a seasoned veteran like Al. For him, it's more like drinking... as life.

At first Benjo had a tough time adapting to the rules of Up the River. I kept a keen eye on Johnny Mushrooms. He's a poker pro and even though he never played the drinking game before, I gave him respect since he'd pick it up very quickly. Benjo eventually understood that the entire point of the game was to get as shitfaced as possible while getting everyone else in the game snookered as well.

A few more people showed up to the walk up on First Avenue. As the small group turned into a party, I naturally mingled with the potheads. Or rather, the Ivy league potheads instinctually gravitated towards me. I dazzled them with tales of Nicky's medicinal marijuana batches and a few Amsterdam stories such as the time I almost shit my pants.

I had to leave the party for a bit to head uptown to see a guy about a horse. Benjo tagged along. We took a slight detour to Gray's Papaya for hotdogs. Then we took a walk down 72nd Street to the Dakota where John Lennon was whacked.

We headed back downtown and ended up at Beauty Bar. The bouncer stopped us. He was funny and hysterical. The nebbish owner who gave me the gloss over before he reluctantly nodded to the brother at the door who finally allowed me entrance to a bar that I could care less about going inside. Lots of 80s music. The booze buzz wore off. I went home to get some rest before an exhausting Sunday of football.

Sunday was huge for me. I rarely sports bet anymore so I had everything (money and emotional turmoil) riding on the last 16 games of the season. Every game had significance since I was ahead by one point in the Pauly's Pub pool. I was sorta freaking out. I knew that I'd make the money and finish in the Top 4, but I was in first place since Turkey Day. I just didn't want to choke.

Lucky for me, I had a solid week. Only one person had more wins than me and I managed to hold onto first place. After an eight hour binge of football on Derek's couch, I headed downtown to meet up with Benjo and Johnny Mushrooms.

They were staying at the Pod Hotel. It's sort of like a high-end hotel for budget travelers with different types of rooms to fit various budgets. Johnny Mushrooms was in the middle of playing a couple of the big Sunday night online tournaments. It was work for him. While he played in the Pod, Benjo and I had a couple of beers in that odd neighborhood on the East 50s. The Sunday football game was on and I tried to explain the skinny about American Football. After drinking pints of Stellas at the Irish pub, I took him over to the East River promenade. I pointed to the water and explained to him what a floater was.

Johnny Mushrooms went deep in one tournament and won a few bucks. He was exhausted and decided to call it an early night. Benjo and I continued drinking at a different bar. At one point, a cougar had her eyes set on Benjo.

On Monday morning, I had to catch up with some work. Benjo and Johnny Mushrooms did some tourist crap like the Empire State Building, Ground Zero, and Chinatown. Johnny Mushrooms had to fly out to San Francisco and left in the mid-afternoon.

I headed to the West Side and checked into a swanky hotel... my home for four nights for Nicky's visit. I found a sick sick sick deal online which essentially got me four nights for the price of two including a seriously discounted rate for New Years Eve. Even the top hotels are hurting and if you know where to look, you can find some amazing values.

Anyway, I took Benjo to one of my favorite spots in the city... Strand bookstore near Union Square. Benjo is also a writer and frequently reads books in English. He had a lot of fun wandering the tiny aisles lined with massive shelves. He bought a couple of books. He had never read Women by Charles Bukwoski, so I bought that for him. I purchased two books. The Plague by Albert Camus was recommended by Benjo. A malcontent Frenchman recommending a novel by a French existentialist? Talk about cliches. I also picked up a book about John Coltrane's music called Coltrane: The Story of a Sound.

After a quick trip to the bookstore, we had to meet up with Derek and Nicky. Derek just got off work while Nicky arrived from LAX. We grabbed dinner at Big Nick's. That's a favorite eatery among the McGrupp brothers. I took Nicky there last summer and she loved it. And since Benjo is a fan of greasy spoon diners, we knew he'd love it.

We retreated to the P&G for drinks after dinner. We luckily snagged a booth and drank pitchers of Yeungling. Benjo and I got drunk and recorded three episodes of Tao of Pokerati. Two were good. One was stellar. Hopefully, those will be uploaded sooner than later.

The party ended early. Nicky pulled an all-nighter before she got on her flight and was exhausted. Derek had to work on Tuesday and Benjo had to get up early for his day trip to Washington, DC. He wants to take a photo with Obama. The Frenchies love the guy.

Friday, December 26, 2008

2008: The Year in Pictures

By Pauly
New York City

Inspired by Benjo's the year in pictures post, I sifted through my Flickr galleries from 2008 and selected some of my favorite photos. These were posted in chronological order. Enjoy.

The Players Party at the Crown Casino
Melbourne, Australia

Flying over Lake Wakitupu
Queensland, New Zealand

Sunset over Lake Wakitupu
Queensland, New Zealand

Red Light murals
Amsterdam, Holland

The swans outside the Citadel
Copenhagen, Denmark

Rink at Kongens Nytorv
Copenhagen, Denmark

South Beach
Miami, Florida

Walking to the main stage during Langerado
Big Cypress Seminole Reservation, Florida

Outside P&G
New York, NY

Iggy's $10,000
Las Vegas, NV

Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park
San Francisco, CA

View from my balcony in Soho
London, UK

Outdoor market
Amsterdam, Holland

Canal at dusk
Amsterdam, Holland

Budapest, Hungary

Near Gellert Hill in Buda
Budapest, Hungary

Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico

Inside the Judge's Chambers
Las Vegas, NV

To view more of my photos, head over to my Flickr galleries.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Auggie Wren's Christmas Story

By Pauly
New York City

I have been posting this every year as a Christmas tradition. Auggie Wren's Christmas Story written by Paul Auster, is one of my favorite short stories written by one of my favorite NYC authors. Enjoy it and have a Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Tuesday Photo Dump

By Pauly
Hollyweird, CA

Here's a random batch of photos from Vegas, LA, and Carlsbad...

Schecky & Cora

Friday, December 19, 2008

Vegas and Wedding Pics

By Pauly

I posted a brand new gallery of photos. This batch includes my latest trip to Las Vegas featuring Gracie & Pablo's wedding!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Las Snow

By Pauly
Las Vegas

It snowed in Las Vegas on Monday. Nothing special, just a couple of inches mostly around the foothills of the mountains and in Summerlin where I lived this summer.

The bad news was that certain parts of I-15 were shut down, specifically Cajon Pass which we need to take to get back to Los Angeles. We had alternate routes but with the rain and bad weather, it would have taken us at least twice as long. Who wants to be driving in shitty weather for 8 hours?

Instead, we decided to stay in Vegas one extra day and will drive out in the morning. The positive side was that I got to have dinner with Flipchip and the Poker Prof at Burger Bar, which has some of the best burgers in Las Vegas. I also bet on some basketball. I hot a three-team parlay and won a big bet on the Magic. I turned a slight profit gambling in casinos during this trip. The downside is that since we arrived on Wednesday, I lost about $500 playing online poker in my hotel room at the MGM. That number was much higher, but I cranked out a winning session last night to lower my overall online losses.


As the dawn of the new day began, I gazed out of my room at the Excalibur and snapped this photo...

Click on the photo(s) to see an enlarged view. Also, in the pic above, you can see tiny little Red Rock Casino (the shiny thing on the left side about 1/5 into the frame).

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

puerto vallarta > lax

By Pauly
Hollyweird, CA

On Thursday night, Nicky went to bed and I continued to drink with Otis. It was his birthday and we pounded free drinks until the wee hours. At the all inclusive resort, they gave us Sol beer in industrial strength plastic cups, sort of like the cups you'd find in the dining hall of your college. They'd keep bringing over those cups with the occasional shot of tequila.

When I stumbled into the room, the vapors from my breath woke up Nicky. The beds were small as is... but we had two of them in our room. She begged me to sleep in the other bed because she didn't want to get drunk from the booze in the air.

I passed out and woke up when my alarm rang. That's so rare. I often set alarms but I always wake up before they go off. We had a few hours to kill before work started. We went for breakfast at the buffet.

The buffet would have been the equivalent to a low end Vegas buffet. I focused on three items; eggs, hash browns, and bacon. I slopped all three onto my plate and drenched it in pepper. Nice little breakfast scramble that was drenched in grease. That was my cure for the hangover.

And I dug the bacon. I've eaten bacon all over the world and the locals whipped up a proper batch. Bonus points.

Nicky and I decided to take a walk on the beach. We wandered up and down for a bit. I sweated out a lot of the booze and it was time for a quick shower.

My hangover dropped to a category 1 hangover. That's the lowest level. I can function but still feel it. Otis was hurting a bit more and rightfully so, it was the day after his birthday.

The tournament seemed to be going on smoothly. They started on time which is rare so I was impressed with the setup. I only knew a handful of pros and like most countries and regions where I travel for work, I rely upon the local press and my local contacts to help familiarize me with local players that rarely set foot in Vegas.

I worked with one guy who wrote for my client's Portuguese version of the site. The Brazilian reporter was a couple of years older than me and his English was poor. When he found me, he said, "Ah you are the Pauly?!" He had a strong emphasis on the which cracked Nicky up.

He thought that I spoke fluent Spanish and we'd have conversations (actually he'd speak and I'd nod and pretend like I knew what he was saying) in broken Spanish and Portuguese. I think we got along great considering I had no clue what he was talking about. He was a funny guy. My friend Felipe from Portugal was essentially his boss and told me that he might be as crazy if not crazier than me. And the dude was a little nuts, but in a good way. He spent a lot of time outside of the tournament room snapping photos of random hot girls.

Late into the night on the first day of the tournament, things seemed to be going as scheduled. The hungover was gone and I was looking forward to the end of the night. With about 90 minutes left to go, the tournament was interrupted by local gaming officials. The kicked everyone out of the room. We were told to grab our things and leave.

You can read about what happened over at Tao of Poker on a post titled.... Shakedown Street > Mexicali Blues.

Anyway, for about two hours, we were holed up in the business center. And for like ninety seconds, I had a brief freakout. Someone suggested that we remove our press badges. For a couple of moments, I was on edge and extremely concerned at the safety of Nicky and myself and my fellow media reps like Owen, Otis, Joe, Alex, and everyone else. I never thought that I'd get tossed into prison in Mexico for a non-drug charge! Forty-five journalists were killed in Mexico since 2000. According to Reporters without Borders, Mexico is considered the most dangerous country for journalists with the exception of Iraq.

I got plenty of emails, calls, text messages, and IMs from concerned friends. Our safety was never in jeopardy. But it was best that we didn't prance around the resort with media badges dangling from our necks. We didn't want to stick out and opted to blend in. Our cover story was that Otis and I were gay lovers on a long weekend holiday. They'd believe us too because Otis was not wearing any underwear. He forgot to pack skivvies and socks when he left G-Vegas.

Anyway, after being in limbo for a few hours, the tournament officials told us to leave and return at noon on Saturday. We packed up our gear, dropped it off in the rooms, and headed down to the outside bar where we drank until 5am. The mood was weird. Odd. Almost like a funeral, but without a dead body. Some of my friends suggested that the tournament was over and that there was no way it would continue. I guess you can say that poker in Mexico died that day and we were celebrating it's brief and short life.

I woke up on Saturday with a similar hangover to Friday morning. We continued the routine and shuffled down to the buffet where I ate my trifecta of a breakfast/hangover cure.

Bacon. Hashbrowns. Eggs. Add lots of pepper and consume.

I wandered over to the meeting and we were told what exactly happened, although those details were still very vague. We were then told to come back at 5pm where a final decision on the future of the tournament would be made. I went up to the room to write and played a bit of online poker. When I returned at 5pm, the tournament was officially canceled. A couple of drunk Venezuelans were stirring up shit and nearly caused a riot. I stayed at the back of the mob and left when I thought it might explode into a free-for-all.

I went up to my room to finish up a recap. I have covered hundred of tournaments all over the world and I had never seen anything like that happen before.

Nicky and I joined a couple of friends for the sunset down on the beach. That was followed up by dinner at the buffet (it was Italian night) and we returned to the outside bar. More beer. Bad cheese fries. And tequila.

I woke up on Sunday and guess what? Breakfast buffet. Otis had left. Most of my other friends were either departing or trying to find flights out of Mexico. Owen had to fly from Mexico to Prague for work. It would have cost $1,600 to change his flight. Nicky and I hung out on the beach for a bit. I wandered up to my room to watch football and check the scores. The resort aired local NYC stations like CBS, NBC, and ABC. And the football was dubbed in Spanish. It was funny to watch Los Gigantes and hear a lot of Spanish and football terminology mixed together.

At halftime of the Giants game, I decided to pull the trigger and look for flights out of Puerta Vallarta. It was pricey but I had such a bad vibe from the place that I wanted to get out of there. We had to drive to Vegas on Wednesday, so an extra day in LA would have been welcomed since I'm way behind on some projects. Nicky was ambivalent. She could have stayed on the beach and read, but she also saw the benefits for leaving one day earlier. So I booked us a flight on Alaskan Airlines. The last flight out of Mexico.

I'm glad that I left in the middle of the disaster of the Jets game. When we got to the airport, I noticed that there was no X-Ray machine for our checked baggage. Instead a couple of security guards with gloves conducted a hand search of my bag. I dunno what they were looking for. They avoided all the "real spots" that I would hide something. I didn't have anything to hide but if I did, I would have packed whatever contraband into certain spots that they overlooked.

Anyway, we survived security check in despite the fact that the ticket I had booked included a typo in my last name. The federalies didn't notice. We watched the end of the Cowboys/Steelers game at the bar. The flight was not full and Nicky and I had a row to ourselves. I completed the Swing Voter of Staten Island. Parts of it dragged and other parts were fantastic. I was happy that I finished it so I could move onto the next book in my pile that was penned by an old friend, Schanzer.

Our flight landed at LAX early. Immigration was a breeze and my backpack popped out as soon as I arrived at the baggage claim. I changed the rest of my Pesos and got a shitty rate but I didn't care. I was happy to be back in America.

The shuttle bus dropped us off in the parking lot and as Nicky and I made our way to her car she asked, "Is this the happiest you have been to see LA?"

I told her no. It was maybe the second or third happiest. The first was at the end of the 2007 WSOP when we left Vegas after a brutal 7 week assignment. And the second time was when I returned from Australia for the first time after being away for a month. The funny thing was that both those instances involved me being away for at least a month. I was in Mexico for only a couple of days and was glad to be back.

How did we celebrate? We immediately got wasted and drove to In and Out Burger. I had been going through ganja and iced tea withdrawal. At the end of devouring my 3x3, I managed to spill a newly topped off cup of iced tea all over Nicky's expensive handbag.

I shrugged and said something like, "If I ruined it, I'll buy you a new one."

"They don't make these anymore!" she shrieked.

She drove home to the apartment and it really was good to be back. I stayed up to write and Nicky crashed. Monday was a free day for us because we thought we were going to be losing it as a travel day. I wrote most of the morning and in the afternoon, I read the first three chapters of Schanzer's book Hamas vs. Fatah.

We also decided to buy a Christmas tree to spruce up the apartment. Nicky found a small lot on Olympic. We wandered around and inspected several trees. She found one that she liked within minutes. Her only requirement was that it had to be at least my height (or six feet). The tree we liked did not have a price tag. Nicky thought the real value was $40 or $50. When we pointed out the tree to the salesman he told me that the price tag was $65.

"How about $40."

"How about $55?" he said then he paused for a second and then muttered, "$50."

"Come on, you can do better," I said.

"$45," he said.


A young Mexican kid hauled the tree over to Nicky's car. He placed a strip of old carpet on the roof and tied the tree down. I tipped him $5 and his eyes widened. I'm guessing that was his biggest tip of the day, which I thought was standard, but he thought it was a lot.

Nicky sped home and realized she should be driving a little slower with a tree on her room. We set up the tree very quickly and within minutes, the entire apartment smelled like pine needles and marijuana.

When I woke up early this morning to write, I was greeted by the scent of Christmas.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Mexico Sunset Pics

By Pauly
Neuvo Vallarta, Mexico

Here are a couple of gems...

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Last 5 Books I Saw People Reading on the Subway....

By Pauly
New York City

And yes, I rode the subways a couple of times. The last time? A young woman sat down and opened up the Bible.
Last 5 Books I Saw People Reading on the Subway...
1. The Holy Bible
2. Momma's Boy by Bubba Bala
3. Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography by David Michaelis
4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling
5. Affinity by Sarah Waters

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Last 5 Books...

By Pauly
New York City

I've been on a reading binge again...
Last 5 Books I Purchased...
1. Lie Down in Darkness by William Styron
2. The Swing Voter of Staten Island (The Five Books of Moses) by Arthur Nersesian
3. Hamas vs. Fatah: The Struggle For Palestine by Jonathon Schanzer
4. Home Before Daylight: My Life on the Road with the Grateful Dead by Steve Parish
5. Garcia: A Signpost To New Space by Charles Reich and Jann Wnner

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Couple of Work Pics

By Pauly
Las Vegas, NV

My biggest regret when I head out to Las Vegas for work, especially for the World Series of Poker, is that I focus all of my attention on the Tao of Poker and making deadlines for freelance clients that the content suffers on my other sites particularly... Tao of Pauly. It's an extremely frustrating thing that I must endure and weather.

Anyway, Michalski took some photos the last few days. I want to share two with you.

Working in media row with Otis, Jen, and Fipchip

With Lou the Dealer

A couple of us had been betting on which poker dealer would deal the final and winning hand of the WSOP broadcast on ESPN. There were three or four selected for the final table including Lou (pictured above). Michalksi actually picked Lou and his friend Linda. I had the other two dealers. I lost.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Pest > Buda > Pest > NYC

By Pauly
New York City

Here's a story about my last day in Budapest...

On Sunday morning around the to 8am hour, I cleared out dozens of empty beer bottles left over from the party. I aired out the apartment and the brisk air chilled the room and eradicated the smokey leftovers from a long evening of spliffs and cigarettes. It was finally time for sleep. I crashed for a couple of hours. Might have been my best sleep in Budapest. I probably had less than 20 over the week. I could have slept a bit longer but forced myself to wake up and write.

I wandered downstairs to Vamhaz street and was taken aback at the isolation of my neighborhood. Almost empty for a Sunday late morning. Quiet. The Burger King was open and empty. I wandered around the corner to the cafe. I ordered a ham and cheese panini (which was bad) and drank orange juice (which was food). I walked across the Szabadsag bridge into Buda. It was hot. Over 65 degrees and I slid my jacket off my torso. I slung it over my shoulder and smoked a spliff on the bridge. Within minutes, I stepped foot on the other side of the river in Buda. I was at the southern part of Gellert-Hegy (Gellert Hill) which included the Citadella. The top of the hill included breathtaking views of the cities below and the Danube winding its way through the land.

I made my way along a path to Rock Kapolna or the Rock Church that was carved out inside the massive mini-mountain. The church was empty aside from a couple of tourists. I sat down in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary which seemed to be illuminated from all angles by a warm glow. I glanced at the rugged ceiling. Rock. All around us. A church carved inside the rock. Pews. Bibles. Altar. Candles. My eyes focused at a massive crucifix that hung over the altar with Jesus impaled on the wood structure. It was almost life size and the face wailed in agony.

Flashbacks bombarded me about my upbringing. Dozen years in Catholic grammar school. The Jesuits in high school. The nuns. The priests. All those Sunday mornings as an altar boy. I tried to recall the last time I was inside a church. Barcelona last year with Nicky? There was a church around the corner from out flat in El Born. No wait, it was the famous La Sagrada Familia by Gaudi. Spain and churches seem to go together. I never expected to be in a church in Hungary. On a Sunday of all days.

I tried to remember the last time I was inside a church on a Sunday. I couldn't. When was the last time I even went to regular Sunday mass? Sure, there might have been a random Christmas mass but I'm not an avid churchgoer, or even an occasional one. I stopped going when I stopped being an altar boy after the 8th grade ended and I headed to high school. The Jesuits forced us into the church on Park Avenue during high school for various ceremonies. Aside from weddings and funerals and 9/11 memorial services, churches are not usually on my list of places to visit.

I sat in the rock chapel. It was musty and hot. I sweated profusely and had a brief conversation. I talked towards the crucifix over the altar. Perhaps I was talking to myself or the higher being, whether it's God or not. Who knows? The conversation was brief. For months and years, I have been on a journey of self-discovery. I have done a lot of soul searching particularity over the last couple of month. I was in search of answers and some sort of clues to elevating myself to the next level. I had always hoped that the next stop on my rigorous travel itinerary would lead me to a moment of clarity or inspiration. That necessarily did not happen. Rather, it was a confession of sorts but more of a clarification of forgiveness. I had not to a formal confession to a priest in over a decade. Maybe two? That's a lot of sinning. A lot of intense Catholic guilt clogged up my intestines. Old school confessional look like toilet stalls for a reason. You take a immoral dump and the penance that the priest gives you is a piece of toilet paper to wipe your ass clean.

I said my piece... I know that I'm a fuck up and made plenty of mistakes, too many to count. But in the end, it's all about forgiveness and compassion. A little of Jesus and a little of Buddha. I made promise to myself that I'll do a better job improving my karma over the next few months. That will be one of the many objectives as I formulate a plan for the next 3-6 months.

For a moment, I stopped sweating. I left the church with a semblance of inner peace. It didn't come without a price. Forgiveness isn't free. I slipped a donation in the box and even gave a bum in front of the rock church a couple of forints.

I decided to walk up to the top of the Citadel. There were numerous paths... some conventional and others off the main route. As like most of my life, I opted for the path less traveled and avoided the main pathway that was cluttered with tourists from all over the world. I mean, we all end up at the same destination. I'd just rather take an alternative route, see something different, and get a little lost along the way. It's a lot more interesting and a heck of a lot more original. That decision to wander around set the tone for the rest of the day as I actively chose to get lost and wander the hills and streets of Buda.

I made my way to a graffiti ridden wall. I paused for a second, wiped the sweat from my bald spot, and snapped a photo. A small kid wandered up to me with a Gatorade bottle that was filled with water. He could have been seven or eight and spoke in Hungarian. He stopped bothering me as soon as I said, "Sprechen sie Deutsches?" I guess he didn't like Germans. I was left alone to take photos and wander.

I sat down on a bench right after a steep climb up a wooden stepway. I was winded. All those cigarettes and spliffs killed my lungs. I wiped a stream of sweat from my forehead and realized that we were really high up on the hill. I could see the Danube raging below but the Citadel was still a bit farther of a hike. I wasn't on a set schedule. I jotted down some notes and wrote for a bit while I caught my breath.

The Citadel was packed with tourists. A couple of buses arrived and people trickled off each bus. Some headed for the souvenir carts others stood in odd places and took photos. I waited my turn to snap a couple of pics of the Danube. I realized that thousands if not millions of people have stood in the same spot and snapped the same fuckin' photo of the Danube below. In fact, I recently saw one that a friend took. In fact, two friends took a very similar pic when I checked out their Budapest photo galleries shortly before my visit.

I wandered away from the herd and took off down another side path that was empty. I quickly found myself surround by trees. I walked for a couple of minutes before I saw anyone else. An elderly couple passed by me. I stopped and looked up at all the tall trees. A breeze whipped through and the golden leaves began to flutter down from the brittle branches. It was snowing shades of yellow as leaves gently wafted down and all around. I took my time and walked down from the massive hill. I got lost again and didn't care. I took more photos and stopped occasionally to jot down a note or two.

I found myself at the edge of the Erzsebet bridge. I almost considered crossing but realized that I liked the vibe of Buda more than Pest. I stayed in Buda and wandered along that side of the Danube. I felt very fortunate to have a leisurely Sunday stroll along the Danube. A tinge of loneliness fell over me. I usually have that during solitary moments of cool because there were plenty of times I thought about how certain friends or Nicky or Derek would enjoy the things I saw or the places I had been. At the same time, I thought about everyone who was in Budapest covering the assignment with me who were on planes at the exact moment and heading back to their homes in different countries. I was lucky because I had that extra day to enjoy the sites of Buda instead of rushing out.

I made my way to Moszkva Terrace and sat at an outdoor cafe. It was filled mainly with tourists. I wrote a bit. Inside near the bar, a TV aired the NYC marathon on the EuroSport channel. I lost time and realized that it was mid-afternoon. The sun would be going down soon. I was tired from all the walking and fatigued from late night parties two evenings in a row. I said good-bye to Buda and walked over to Margaret Island in the middle of the Danube. After a quick tour of that area, I grabbed the tram back into Pest. I knew it would be taking me near where I lived but didn't know exactly where. I didn't bring my guidebook with me. I had a detailed street map but it didn't have tram lines. I decided to wing it.

I love riding the trams in Amsterdam and I did the same in Pest. I cranked up my iPod and I watched people and checked out streets that I had never seen before let alone knew existed. I got off one stop earlier than I should have. That was fine. I wandered through the Jewish quarter until I found my neighborhood.

I went upstairs and took a long hot shower. I let the day sink in. Wandering a city that I had never been before. It's one of my favorite things to do in life. There are so many more I'd like to see. Such little time. Maybe I'll get to explore more in the upcoming months.

I did my football picks and took a nap. I woke up an hour later when I was bit by something on the elbow. Mosquito? Spider? I wandered outside and grabbed a plate of chicken paprika. I thought about finding a bar that aired football games but decided against it. I had to clean up the apartment. I had to pack. I could have wandered around some more, but I wanted to spent my last evening writing with the windows open. I had a ton of work to catch up on, but that would have to wait until I returned to the States. Work will always be there, but I probably will never set foot in Hungary or Budapest ever again. I tapped into the vibe. The source. Finally. And I didn't want to let those waters of inspiration run dry. Maybe they would follow me for the rest of my journey. Sometimes, I lose it and wonder when it will ever pop up again. That's why I keep moving forward until I stumble upon another pool.

I stayed up as long as I could and fell asleep for a couple of minutes sitting at my laptop. My fingers were too tired and making too many keystroke mistakes. I decided to stop and take a shower. The sun was up. I was out of cigarettes and vitamins. I finished packing and began to upload photos. The door bell rang. It was my ride to the airport. I went down to the Hungarian woman who was my landlady. She did not speak English and only Hungarian and German. I figured out that she wanted to know if I made any long distance calls. I told her, "Nein." She gave me my deposit back and I left the building.

My driver got me to the airport in less than twenty minutes. The check-in line took longer than I wanted. Immigration and security were a breeze. I exchanged the rest of my forints. I ate a croissant and an iced tea. I realized that I wouldn't get back to NYC until Monday night and that the only meal I'd get would be from Delta. I made a bee-line for the cafe and bought a chicken/cheddar cheese cibatta sandwich.

My flight was not packed... about 80% full. There was a baby nearby that cried at the beginning but kept quiet the rest of the flight. There was a group of women sitting behind me. Americans. From upstate New York. Loud. They wouldn't shut up. About thirty of them. A few sat in the front of the plane so there was always a steady stream of old ladies walking back into my section. I popped two Xannies. Whenever I'd drift off to sleep, I'd get elbowed by one of the ladies as they constantly walked back and forth.

The Bose headphones could not drown out their incessant chatter. I nearly punched one of them out when they were filling out custom forms.

"How do you spell scarves?" one shrieked. "Is it with an F or with a V-E?

She repeated that phrase every five seconds for twenty minutes straight.

Delta did not have that hip individual entertainment center and TV in front of you like KLM, JetBlue, and Quantas. I was forced to watch Get Smart again. I fell asleep in the theatre when I sawGet Smart the first time with Nicky in the summer. It wasn't a very good flick. I watched the end of it when I flew to Amsterdam and I had to sit through it on my flight to Budapest and again on the way home. They also showed a bad Brendan Fraser flick (I think it was called Journey to the Center of the Earth) and Mama Mia. The old ladies would not shut up about Mama Mia. I was out of drugs and thin on patience. The flight could not get back to America sooner.

The meal was blah. Rubbery lasagna. The dessert was some sort of carrot cake. I drank a lot of ginger ale and they handed out a slice of pizza and ice cream as a snack before we landed.

Immigration and customs went quick. My bag was one of the last appear. I wandered outside to the taxi line. It was a clusterfuck. The portly lady running the line had no clue how to do things. Poorly organized. She had people stand in a line the wrong way, so people could walk out of the baggage claim area and cut to the front which added to the confusion. She assigned me a cab that was an SUV when there were three parties with four or more people standing behind me. That was the last SUV in line. I offered to take the smaller sedan that pulled up behind the SUV. I walked over to that cab and she screamed at me as I opened the door. She refused to let me take that one and tried to close the door. She was pissed that I was trying to quash what little power she held.

There were a few regular cabs in line behind me. I did the logical thing and offered up the bigger cab for the family of four behind me. More space since they had a ton of luggage. Basically, that's her job to do and she wasn't doing it. I opted for the smaller cab to help out a bit. The family understood what I was trying to do. The woman who worked at JFK? Not one fuckin' clue.

My cabbie from the Sudan laughed when I slid in as she still screamed at me. We arranged a flat fee as the driver pulled from the curve. I asked him to drive fast and I got what I wanted. The guy drove like a maniac and I fastened my seat belt. He even drove on the shoulder in a few places. It took almost an hour for the entire trip but it could have been two hours in that ugly rush hour traffic. I gave him a huge tip.

I wandered upstairs. I had a small pile of mail. I opened up my backpack and unloaded my gear. In less than 44 hours, I'd be returning to JFK to fly to the west coast. In that brief amount of time, I had a ton of shit to do before I took off on my next journey.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Budapest Photo Gallery

By Pauly
New York City

I finally uploaded all of my pics from my trip to Budapest. Check out the Budapest gallery.

I have dozens and dozens of other galleries from various other trips and music festivals and different collections of food galleries and Pauly paintings. Click here to view all of my galleries.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Daily Budapest Droppings

By Pauly
Budapest, Hungary

Although I had a five day assignment, this one worked out more smoothly than previous overseas gigs. Multi-day poker tournaments are usually played with a dinner break and in Europe sometimes those can last two hours. Lucky for us, the EPT Hungarian Open did not include a dinner break which meant shorter days at the casino (ten or so hours a day instead of 12+). The downside was that we had weird eating schedules.

The other good part of this assignment was that I lived in a rented apartment instead of staying in a hotel. Schecky pointed out a couple of options. I got in contact with the owner who was from Germany. He had a two bedroom flat within walking distance to the casino for an amazing price. They arranged a car service to pick me up at the airport and he even called the day that I arrived to make sure everything was fine. Staying in an apartment gave a sense of normalcy in my abnormal life.

I usually rose around 9am or to write or catch up on other work in our massive living room that had 16 high ceilings and parquet floors. I woke up Dana around 11am or so to get ready. We were caught in a dreadful cycle of crashing around 6am every night hanging out and listening to music and talking and drinking and partying which meant we were dragging ass all morning.

Our flat was located on Vamhaz street near the Great Market Hall in District V. It was under heavy construction which included the entire Szabadsag bridge and the majority of my street leading up to Kavin Ter. Half the street was covered in dirt as construction crews replaced massive pipes below. We'd have to navigate our way towards one of the streets that ran parallel to the Danube, which was about a block or so from the apartment.

The walk to the Las Vegas Casino was around twenty minutes down a winding shopping street that catered to tourists. Plenty of crappy Hungarian folk art souvenir shops were sprinkled in the collection of old buildings, department stores, tourist trap restaurants, and dozens and dozens of money exchange booths.

The casino was two bridges away. That's how I explained people the location of my flat. The casino was just off the Chain Bridge neat Roosevelt Ter. The Danube can be crossed by a series of bridges which separate the Buda and Pest sides of the river. In fact, Budapest is actually two cities divided by the Danube. I lived and worked in Pest while I could see the rolling hills of Buda across the river.

A tram that ran along the street near the Danube, but we walked to the casino in order to grab some food and drinks for breakfast along the way. Almost every morning we popped into Subway. I picked up a six inch and gobbled it down before I got the casino. One night we got off work early and Dana went to the grocery store. She bought Hungarian wax peppers, pasta, sauce, and bacon. She whipped up a batch of pasta with a spicy bacon marinara sauce. I ate that one morning for breakfast which hit the spot.

Aside from one morning of shitty weather (where the skies opened up and pissed down hard on us), the weather was unseasonable warm for this time of year. We had a few sunny days which mattered since we got to experience a bit of that warmth before the work days in the basement of the Sofitel/Las Vegas casino complex where the poker tournament was held. Europe has already initiated day light savings time (a week earlier than North America) so it would be dark by 5pm. Any daylight is welcomed.

We got plenty of free drinks in the media room including ginger ale which helped on the first day when I was wicked hung over. For the first time ever at the EPT, we were given assigned seating in the media room. Lucky for me, the guys next to us (Matt and Rod from Pokerlistings) were friends. It was sort of planned out that the English speaking media reps were in my row (in a five row conference room) made up of the Irish, Scots, Canadians, Brits, and me being the lone American in our row and the entire room. The Italians were huddled together and the Hungarians were right behind us with a couple of solo journalists from Portugal and Poland. Benjo sat in the back with the French and the Germans. My photographer was Hungarian and spoke great English. He usually photographed fencing so this was a change of pace. He did a stellar job considering it was his first time shooting poker. The sister site (Hungarian Poker News) had a couple of reporters working the event. They assisted me on getting to know the local Hungarian players which helped me out immensely.

Around 4pm or so, I'd get a craving for food. Hungry in Hungary. The casino/hotel served super pricey food. A cheeseburger and fries cost something like $17. We'd end up rushing to the local Burger King on one of the short breaks in the Vorosmarty Ter nearby. Rod went almost everyday and I tagged along with Matt and they'd bring back food for Dana. I managed to rack up a not-so-impressive Whopper count. They call them Dupla Whoppers in Budapest. They also charge 80 Fornits for a single package of ketchup or mayo. I could get a value meal for around 1,300 Fornits or $6.50. The main reason I don't eat fast food in the States (with the exception of runs to In & Out Burger) is that sometimes I'm forced to eat fast food on the road out of necessity, price, and convenience. That was the case in Hungary.

I craved a proper American breakfast (bacon and eggs and toast and bagels) and would be void of one the entire trip. Since we finished work no earlier than 10pm every night, food choices were limited. There was a sushi joint located near the Four Seasons. It was open to Midnight and we ate there twice including once on Benjo's birthday. The gang at PokerStars bought Benjo a cake for his birthday. We all sang Happy Birthday in the media room which made his face flush beet red.

One evening, Dana and I ate Italian food. The lasagna was tasty and cheap. I swear that our Hungarian waitress was hitting on Dana. She gave the old line, "Have I seen you before? Did I serve you?" Dana had never been to Budapest before and it was the first time was walked into that eatery. Dana has one distinct feature... the tips of her hair are dyed red. I guess that turned our waitress on.

Another evening, Dana cooked up bacon back at the apartment and we feasted on that delicious late night snack. It was super salty but much better than the stuff I ate in Australia or other parts of Europe that pass off ham as bacon. It wouldn't be until Saturday night before we had a traditional Hungarian meal. The chicken paprika was delicious... a a great cut of chicken which added to the flavor of the dish that was served with homemade gnocchi.

I was jonesin for herbal supplements. No vitamins. Boooo. I didn't think it was going to happen but a Phishy friend of the Tao found me a local contact and I got sorted out on Friday morning before work. That might have saved me because otherwise, I would have drunk myself silly. Vitamins means my insomnia is manageable and I also write better. It gets me into the right frame of mind.

We'd get back to the flat around Midnight most evenings. We tried to be good and not go out drinking to the wee hours every night during the work week. The bars were a bit pricey around the casino. Instead we'd buy a few bottles of Wernesgruner from the 24 hour store around the corner for a less expensive option. Dana picked a bottle of Jack Daniels at the Duty Free shop at the airport and polished that off. I'd chat with Nicky on Skype and tell her about my day. My new British laptop has a web camera so we were able to see each other via Skype.

Dana was a work colleague from London and the girlfriend of Snoopy, another well-respected member of the international press and one of my favorite British writers. Although Dana had been doing various freelance writing work over the last year, she was a musician and had been for many years. One of her last previous steady gigs was busking in the London tube. She had all these odd influences for a Londoner such as bluegrass and she never heard of a slew of American bluegrass/twangy bands such as Yonder Mountain String Band. We'd smoke cigarettes and talk about music. I'd play different tunes for her and she played some of her material that included solo work and a back up band. Check out Dana and the Greeks. Some good shit there including Motherfucking Whore.

Without my vitamins, it was hard to fall asleep. I tried every night and ended up lying in bed listening to my iPod. Dana is a night owl and she eventually fell out just before sun up.

On Friday night, we ate sushi with Benjo for his birthday. It was Halloween but you wouldn't know it in Budapest since they don't celebrate it. A group of us ended up back at our flat. We bought cheap Hungarian beer at the corner store and partied it up until sunrise.

On Saturday afternoon, the final table went relatively quick. One of the fastest that I ever covered on the EPT. A British player named Will Fry from Nottingham took it down. He intended on donating a percentage of his winnings (close to €600,000) to charity. He intended on helping raise the awareness of poverty in the third work.

Saturday night. Done with work. We got lucky and had a chance to enjoy a Saturday night in Pest. Dana and I raced home and dropped off our laptops and gear. We grabbed dinner at a local Hungarian joint. She ate goulash. I crushed a plate of chicken paprika. It's cooked in cream sauce with tons of paprika. They top it with a bit of sour cream which I particularity didn't like. The gnocchi was perfect to gop up all the extra sauce.

Dana and I sat at an outdoor cafe for beer and cake. We waited for the rest of our friends to finish off their recap articles and dinner plans. We all met up at a bar around the corner from the casino where we caught another break. A couple of players were at the bar and joined our group including one young pro from Norway who made the final table. He bought us a couple of rounds. The media on the European events are close-knit. Although they all come from different countries, most of the time everyone is far away from home, sometimes in a strange land. So it's natural that you stick together with your work colleagues on the road after hours.

The bar closed up shop early and we got kicked out. Although it was Saturday, it was also a national holiday. November 1 is All Saints Day and it's recognized in Hungary. People head to cemeteries en masse to light candles at the headstones of their loved ones and hang out there until sunrise. We had limited options and I offered to host everyone back at the flat for the after party. The apartment was clutch. No way we could have done that in one hotel room.

I lost €100 in various prop bets including trying to throw apple cords out my window at a bum/drunk passed out across the street. I also lost money on betting that Matt could not eat three Hungarian apples in ten minutes. That was an offshoot about the monster bet that Rod said he wanted to do... fifty apples in ninety minutes. We shot some videos. Stay tuned for those. Benjo and I also recorded four new episodes of Tao of Pokerati. And yes, stay tuned for those.

Even the guy who won the poker tournament stopped by the party. We raged until 5:30am. That's when Dana and Rod had to leave for the airport. As soon as everyone cleared out, I cleaned up all the empty beer and liquor bottles and all the wacky tabacky and tobacco lying all over the coffee table.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Another Budapest Pic Dump

By Pauly
Budapest, Hungary

Here are some pics that I took over the last week...

Benjo and his birthday cake