Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Hills, Dive Bars, and Walking Around City Streets

By Pauly
San Francisco, CA

I've been in San Francisco since Monday. I won't gush too much about the change in my post-WSOP routine. In the past, I spent a week on the beach in Malibu decompressing with Nicky. This year, we opted for a few days in San Francisco. It was the wise choice.

Our friend Halli lives in Lower Pacific Heights and has the entire second story of one of those Victorians you see on TV and in the movies. We let her crash at our house in Vegas for a couple of days and she wanted to pay us back with an open invite to San Francisco. It was hard to pass up even though we had to head back on the road only three days after unpacking from Vegas. But hell, it was worth it.

I forgot how much I missed living in a real city. LA is a fake city and Vegas is hardly a city -- it's America's playground and a tourist destination, but it hardly constitutes my definition of real city. Think NYC, London, Tokyo. I've always said that I'd feel more comfortable living in Tokyo than having to live in a small town in Iowa. I'm a city guy. That's just how I am, which complicated my living situation in LA the last few years. Let's be honest -- I was only in LA because it's where my girlfriend lived and it was somewhat close to Vegas, which I had to be for work.

But San Francisco... is definitely more akin to my personality than the plasticity of Los Angeles. Best example is this -- inside of 2 days, I visited more bars in San Francisco than I did living in LA for four fucking years. Yeah, Nicky and I never went out to bars, and if we did it was to see a band at a club or other music venue. We're fans of Stout, but we're really there for the burgers and not the bar aspect of the joint. I think the last time we went out to a different bars was when Benjo was visiting two summers ago and last summer when a couple of colleagues (Remko the Dutchie and Alex the Aussie) stopped by to visit LA. Aside from that, the bars are simply too pretentious to visit. And don't get Nicky started on the annoyance of parking and drinking/driving.

Drinking in San Francisco is a different beast. You can hit up a few bars within a few block radius. Throw in a couple of cabs and some walking, and you can hit up ten different bars in an evening.

Nicky and I have been to San Francisco numerous times so we didn't give a shit about doing nay tourist stuff. We had a chance to stay with Halli and experience the city as a local. We basically asked Halli to do what she usually does and we'd just tag along. Monday night was a poker game with her brother and close friends. Tuesday night included bar hopping -- in the Haight, in Lower Haight, in Lower Pacific Heights, and the Marina. I made a joke that we think Halli's an alcoholic because in two days the only places she showed us were dive bars. In her defense, that's what I requested.

Bars in Vegas are either bars in casinos that hav video poker machines embedded into them, or it's a trendy, chic club with red ropes and long ass lines to get in. Neither are not my speed. I'm not a club guy and I'm not an alkie/degen slots player that I'd spend all my time at those types of casino bars. Alas, I'm not usually drinking unless it's at a Pai Gow table with friends.

In Denver, the Joker introduced us to a couple of cool spots where you could hang out and listen to kick ass music without dealing with the uber-Vegas party scene or stuck-up lounge LA scene. Nicky preferred those bars because she didn't get annoying glances from other chicks judging her on her selection of shoes and purse. Me? I liked Denver bars because you don't have to shout to be heard (no thumping terrible DJ) and you can toke a doobie in the back without being 86'd by a burly security guard.

San Francisco bars have the similar vibe to Denver. Sure, there's a few hipster-laden joints and clubs with ropes that I'd never be caught dead in, but the city has more than its share of places where I'd be comfortable to drink. Halli took us to a few of those places over the last two nights. I'm not much of a bar person, but I definitely enjoyed myself -- especially because I wasn't drinking that much and never felt pressured to keep on drinking. Laid back. That's what I like about going out to have fun. A laid back approach to socializing. Yep, I'm all about kicking back and enjoying life with a small group of people, enlightened and loosened-up by booze but involved in stimulating conversation. The alternative is going out to be seen or heading a specific club to increase your coolness factor, or have pics to brag to your fake Facebook friends.

Then again, I'm approaching 40. You don't go out to bars when you're 40+ unless you're in a mid-life crisis or trying to get laid or an alcoholic. At least, that's how I felt in Vegas and LA. Both cities were blunt about not catering to my needs as a social drinker. That's what I missed about New York City -- because within a ten block radius you could usually find a bar to cater to different groups of people and personalities. Same thing applies to San Francisco. Just a quick jaunt around the San Francisco with Halli and we were aware of so many more fun options.

Ah, enough about bars. How about those hills? Yeah, the hills are tough, especially someone like me with a bum back and sore hip. But luckily Halli lives near the bottom of Pacific Heights so we didn't have any of those monstrous hills to deal with. I definitely enjoyed the ability to walk around the city -- something I never do in Vegas (it's too hot and everything is spread out) and in LA (I'm like the only person walking around sometimes that isn't walking to their parked car). Yeah, whenever I went back to NYC, I also set aside a few hours to just walk around the city and let my mind wander. I always feel as though I write better after those meandering sessions, because it allows me to work out a few things. The alternative is to sit on your ass and nu,b yourself with bad TV shows and handcuff yourself to the machines/intertubes and get caught up in the static stream (Twitter) or wasting hours and hours on random stupid sites like Lesbians Who Look Like Justin Beiber.

Walking around. Hanging out in dive bars. Listening to people make fun of LA. Yeah, it's been a fun few days. I'm actually bummed out that I have to go back to LA, but at least I will return in a couple of weeks to see Phish play in Golden Gate Park. Now, if I can only figure out how to actually stay here longer and ditch the plastic hills of Hollyweird...

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Home Sweet Hollyweird

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

"You've been gone for two months. It's good to see you."

That's what the staff at the local coffeeshop in the Slums of Beverly Hills told me when I walked inside for breakfast. A couple of the staff members did a double take when I opened the door -- it was like seeing a ghost -- which freaked me out because I had a near death experience in Vegas and I'm not 100% convinced I'm alive which is why I have moments every day when I think I'm dead and my active experience is not life, but post-life so I'm just haunting my friends and girlfriend.

I never said goodbye to the kitchen staff when I departed LA just before Memorial Day. I never like goodbyes anyway, but the staff at the coffeeshop is used to my odd schedule -- sometimes they will see me every day for a couple of weeks, then I don't show up for a week or so because I'm on the road traveling or working. I lived in the Slums for almost four years now, so they know I leave Los Angeles for two months at the start of every summer for a work assignment. Regardless, they still did a double take when I walked inside. After the initial wave of shock, they welcomed me back.

It felt good to be missed. Being a good tipper will earn you that sort of loyalty.

Even the hipsters upstairs missed me and I don't tip them. Well, at the least they missed my belligerent outbursts that I was prone to during basketball games. As one of them said to Nicky, "It was weird not hearing your boyfriend scream at the TV during the NBA finals."

Yes, I reserved the "Hit your fucking free throws!" vitriol for sessions when I was sweating the game(s) in Vegas at a sportsbook or McFadden's pub with AlCantHang. The upstairs hipsters had a calm and soothing two months of quiet. Luckily football season doesn't start for another month or so, and even then I might not be here when it begins. The upstairs couple still has to deal with my morning routine of opening up all of the windows in the apartment while I write and jamming jazz tunes from different iPod mixes as the melodious sounds spill out into the alley. The sounds inside the apartment help drown out any of annoying sounds of the daily grind in the Slums of Beverly Hills -- from eardrum shattering leaf blowers, the woman leaning out her second-story window and chain smoking menthols while conversing on her cell phone in Farsi, the incessant barking dogs, the random old Asian lady across the way yelling at her deaf husband, and the steady flow of dumpster divers rattling around the recycle bins for beer bottles and soda cans.

I missed LA. I missed the perpetual sunshine and swaying palm trees and the soupy smog and even the jackoff texting while driving his shiny Beamer who cut you off on Olympic Blvd. That's what happens when you loathe Vegas so much, but after another arduous summer, I fled Vegas with a new-found disdain. I'm caught up in a rut that's tough to break out of -- I need Vegas as a hub of commerce. It's the only city where I know I can make money because I'm virtually unemployable anywhere else on the planet (well, with the exception of Paris -- because thanks to Benjo's translation and Jerome's PR strategy, Lost Vegas in French is a huge success -- but as much as I'd like to live in Paris someday, the language barrier is too difficult, plus it's too fucking expensive). Yeah, I'm torn because I need some time away from Vegas for an indefinite amount of time before I return, but that's problematic because Vegas is the only place where I can generate money, and that cash is the fuel that funds group projects, personal writing projects, and travel excursions.

I doubt I'll be spending much time in Vegas in the future and I need a new place for me to hunker down for a while to reflect on life and heal my mind and body. Vegas is the last place I want to be. I don't have time to explain everything right now, but the story will definitely unfold over the next few weeks and months. But for now, all you need to know is -- I'm loving every second I'm in LA, which is bizarre because I can't stand Hollyweird.

There's only two times a year I enjoy living in the City of Angels...
1) Immediately after the holidays when I fly back home after spending Christmas vacation with my family and need to get as far away from my crazy mother as possible, not to mention my body is not used to the frigid New York temperatures because the balmy California sun in January is a welcomed contrast to the dreary winter of discontent on the East Coast.

2) When I return home from Las Vegas after I cover the WSOP during a two-month assignment. It's like getting out of jail because covering the WSOP is like a prison sentence. In fact, my favorite day of the year is not my birthday, or Christmas, or the first day of March Madness, or a Phish festival, or some other holiday -- rather it's the day I leave Vegas with my girlfriend and we drive back to California.
I can't describe the happiness, the jubilation, the excitement of leaving Vegas behind in the rear-view mirror of life. It's a chapter I hope to never re-live, especially backwards in Kierkegaard terms. I'm always drained and exhausted at this time of the year, but this summer was as tough as I ever had it with a couple of unexpected twists and turns. The more I think about it -- 2011 might be the worst WSOP I've ever had since I started covering the most prestigious festival of poker in 2005. The 2007 WSOP was sheer hell because I had one day off and was overworked and underpaid. That'll always be my least favorite year but the 2011 WSOP is edging closer and closer to becoming my worst Vegas experience.

So much happened that future trips to Vegas are in jeopardy. I'm supposed to return in November (for work) and again in December (for play) but if I had to commit to going right now -- I'd opt out of both -- especially the December trip because I could think of a lot more other places I'd like to party with friends than Vegas. That's how much disdain I have for that city that almost killed me a second time. I'm not brave or foolish enough to volunteer to return so quickly. It'll take a huge bag of money to lure me back to Sin City and crawl back into the anus of the beast, but in these difficult times, there's less and less money flying around the poker industry, so I doubt I'll be back for a while unless someone "shows me the money!"

This summer had several highlights that matched many of my favorite Vegas experiences of all time. I guess that tells you how awful the lowlights were -- because even my most favorite memories of this summer were tainted by all of the darkness that engulfed me, my soul, and my brainwaves. Alas, I try to focus on the happy, fun memories from this summer in order to quell the negative thoughts and demons that followed me home from Vegas, a city in the middle of the desert that is nothing more than a black hole for souls. I lost a lot a respect for some colleagues, which happens every summer, because you never really know if you can trust people until they are put to the stress test. It's a necessary process, sort of like Friendship Darwinism, when you see which ones evolve and which ones fail to adapt.

I want to end on a positive note, so I look toward the bright side of life (in a very ironic Monty Python sort of way) because I made a couple of new friends, strengthened older friendships, and mended a couple of broken ones. It's going to take a while before I look back on the last two months on think about the fun and bubbly times, but as the saying goes, time heals all wounds.

What a fucked up world it is when I seeking solace in the City of Angels. Such is life, but I'm thrilled to be home, that is, if I'm actually alive. If Vegas is hell, then I hate to think Hollyweird is heaven. Or then again, maybe this is hell, which means I'm equally fucked.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Circuit

By Pauly
Las Vegas, NV

My colleague Alexander Bradley (an Aussie ex-pat living in Paris) started an amazing project called The Circuit, which focuses on life on the international poker circuit. Alexander focused on Europe the last few months but has since arrived in Vegas to shoot a couple new covers, in addition to creating video versions for PokerListings.

Here's my cover of The Circuit...

And here's the video...

Check out more editions of The Circuit.