Monday, May 08, 2006

Vegas Birthday and Book Learnin'

A lot has happened between my old and new blogs. And some of my posts will be to recreate my blogging void.

One of the things that allowed me to leave the mothership was an offer from Michael Craig to help him out with a book project. Along with interesting work and better pay, Michael promised me adventure - or what we started calling the Magical Mystery Tour(MMT). Every book related trip was sprinkled with surreal encounters, side trips, and wonderment. Usually I got no more than six hours notice that an MMT was in play. Working for Michael, I always had a bag packed and enough gas in the green monster to get me to the airport. And except for this particular trip, I always booked one way to Vegas. I never knew how long I was staying or what city I would be returning from.

This trip was a little bit of an anomaly. I had booked the trip a whopping week in advance in hopes that an MMT would materialize. It was the middle of April, my favorite month in Vegas. It was also during the WPT Championship at the Bellagio. And it was my birthday.

This was a nostalgia fueled trip for me. I was at the filming of the very first WPT Championship, back when the WSOP was also in Spring. I had stayed at the Golden Nugget downtown and spent my mornings writing from the Starbucks patio. I hadn't been published in poker at that point, it was still a couple of months before my first article would appear in Canadian Poker Player. But all the seeds were sown for my poker writing "career" on that trip. And this year, for many reasons, I needed to relive that experience; go back to where it all started.

My favorite couple, Jen Leo and John Caufield (OK - yeah it's Caldwell. Note to self:no blogging before first coffee), were going to be in Vegas. When I heard they were staying at the Nugget, I knew this trip was meant to be. Michael Craig realized he couldn't fight fate and declared an official MMT stop. Game on. I didn't tell anyone it was my birthday. I had already gotten what I wanted; a springtime trip to Vegas with some of my favorite peeps and the promise of magic and mystery. (pictures of Jen at the blogger convention in December 2005)

On the morning of my birthday, I met up with John and Jen for breakfast at the Carson Street Cafe. It was at the Carson Street Cafe, now years ago, where Lou Krieger first encouraged me to try to publish. So the nostalgia vibe was already in full swing. As breakfast with Jen and John was coming to a close, the waitress brought out a huge blueberry muffin with a candle stuck in the middle. Wtf? John tried to convince me that he figured out it was my birthday because I picked 4 and 17 as my keno numbers. He has a good poker face and I almost believed him, but Jen had too much mischief in her eyes. Apparently my brother had emailed Jen that morning. Squealer:)

I headed over to the Wynn to meet up with Michael. Ever since the Beal games in February, Michael's main hang was the Wynn. When I walked in, he already had "the office" set up; a printer, two laptops, files, and his working snacks (Cheezits and Rolos). After a bit, Chris Ferguson stopped by to review part of the book draft. Like all trips with Michael, this wasn't all work and no play. Chris stayed around for hours, talking about the NBC Heads-up, the start of Full Tilt, the WPT waiver situation, and the art of building chip castles.

Michael had Chris sign one of his BARGE poker chips (the one with his winning chip castle on it) for a friend's baby that had been born that day. OK. I played the birthday card. I couldn't help myself;it is the coolest chip castle. So Chris signed a chip for me. He also grabbed the first papers he could put his hands on, which apparently was a draft of his article for All-In Magazine about heads-up play he happened to have with him, and inscribed, "Happy Birthday Amy, Chris Ferguson. P.S. "Jesus Loves ya." For all my time in the field, I have no player autographs. I have very few pictures of me with pros. I'm generally not into that. But these cool mementos will remind me of that lazy afternoon with Chris' big frame sprawled out on the loveseat, Michael at the desk, me at the table - shootin' the shit about poker.

After Chris left, Michael decided that it had been too long since his last trip to the Gamblers Book Club. Again a blast from the past. The first time I went to GBC, arguably the best bookstore for poker players and gamblers alike, was with Lou Krieger on my original adventure. I have of course been back there since, as chatting with manager Howard Schwartz alone is worth the journey. He knows what's coming and going on the poker book front and he can, and will, tell a thousand stories. The store is moving from its old haunt in a few months, so I'm glad I got this last opportunity to walk the floor of the old location. For my birthday. Michael took me past the brimming shelves. Every book that he recommended that I didn't own, he bought for me.

Not bad for a "work day"...

Of the books that Michael gave me, so far I have read Poker Face: A Girlhood Among Gamblers by Katy Lederer, The Man with the $100,000 Breasts by Michael Klonik, and I'm almost done with Fast Company by Jon Bradshaw. Each book brought something to the table as far as my own introspective assessment about writing in general and poker specifically. Poker Face was Katy Lederer's own journey; exploring, living, and then leaving, poker. A lot of food for thought in that book. $100,000 Breasts served to remind me of all the strange and interesting characters in this gambling world; funny, disturbing, brilliant, degenerate and surreal. When the author first meets Brian Zembic, the man who got breast implants on a $100,000 bet, he was living in someone's bathroom. He was going to collect $14,000 if he could live in the bathroom for 30 days:

Rows of $100 bills are taped to the mirror to remind Brian what he's earning each day he serves his self-imposed sentence but he confesses his resolve is weakening. "Joey, one of the guys who made the wager with me, he owns the apartment and he's been sending people over here to take a dump," Brian tells me, reclining on the floor. "It's brutal."

While Fast Company offers great profiles of some of the world's most famous and infamous gamblers, it is the writing that is blowing me away. Unfortunately the popularity of poker has yet to set particularly high benchmarks for writing. When Canadian Poker Player lost Dave Scharf as editor, I felt that poker lost one of its only advocates for improving the quality of poker journalism. Fast Company reminds me that I need to read more outside of poker. And if I continue to write, I need to set better benchmarks and standards for myself.


Blogger John Caldwell said...


I am the Rodney Dangerfield of Poker. :)

10:53 AM  
Blogger mattg said...

Wow, first ladies with cleavage, and now a guy. Amy's certainly working the crowed for hits.

3:56 PM  
Blogger JasonSpaceman said...

Unfortunately the popularity of poker has yet to set particularly high benchmarks for writing.

No kidding. All we've got to look to are books that are decades old (The Biggest Game In Town) and deceased tournament reporters (Andy Glazer). How much of the problem is public demand, how much is lack of talent, and how much of it is apathy on the part of media owners?

6:36 PM  

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