On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair…
I was stupidly excited for my trip to California at work. The clock had barely touched 4 when I said my goodbyes and sprinted out the door, rolling luggage in hand. The jubilation was juxtaposed with the aura of death clinging to my office of late, due to the mass numbers of layoffs happening recently. I couldn’t care less though. Poker awaited me on the sunny west coast.
I took the A train to the Air Train, this time using the southern route to Howard Beach rather than my typical ride to Jamaica station. The Howard Beach route is faster by about 15 minutes, so yay me for learning something new! I boarded my Virgin America flight and was awestruck immediately by the amenities available in coach. This airline is like JetBlue, on crack. Not only do they have an inflight entertainment system with multiple satellite TV channels, but the same system also serves up music and movies as well. With a swipe of a credit card, you can order up to 24 or so movies right to your screen. There were also about 150 albums to choose from to listen to. You could even make your own custom playlist, ala Ipod. Oh, and there were 4 electrical outlets available in every row of seating. And the best feature on the plane, you can order (via your inflight entertainment system, natch) meals delivered right to your seat. Hooyah! Best. Airline. Ever.
After a long but pleasant flight, I landed in LAX at about 10:30PM. I got off the flight quickly and ran to catch what turned out to be the very last shuttle bus to the Enterprise rental car facility. They were closing down, but managed to get me into a fullsized car that was an upgrade from my economy because it was so late at night. I happily threw my stuff in the trunk and started to drive away. I hadn’t gotten more than 50 feet when I heard a rattling coming from the front wheel well. When I stopped the car, the noise stopped. When I moved again, it started up. This wouldn’t do at all. I was going to be here for a while and I need a dependable vehicle. So I walked back in and told them there was a problem. As soon as they drove it to test, they agreed and asked me to pick another car. I picked the Audi Convertible but they nixed that idea (Hey, I tried). Instead, I got into a Toyota Yaris (I hadn’t heard of it either). The car drove fine, even if it was a bit underpowered. The only thing that annoyed me about it was that it had manual windows and doors. They even make that anymore? I put my trusty Garmin in place on the dash and was on my way.
It was about a 50 mile drive to Riverside, California which was where I would be staying for the first two nights of the trip. I picked Riverside because it was centrally located between the Palm Springs area, where about half of the casinos I would see were, and LA. I arrived at midnight, precisely, and was disappointed to see that the Days Inn was actually a motel. One of the adventures of traveling on the cheap is that you never quite know what to expect. But I’m not a dainty traveler and a few nights in a cruddy motel room wasn’t going to kill me. I crashed immediately on hitting the pillow.
When I got up in the morning, it was another 90 minutes to the city of Indio (located about 30 minutes East of Palm Springs in the desert) where my first casino awaited. The Spotlight 29 Casino is a pleasant enough place. Small, but friendly, I arrived with high hopes of finding a game or two going and immersing myself into my experience. Lo and Behold, the poker room didn’t even open up until 10AM! I used the time to get a really great breakfast of something they called French Toast Bagels (thinly sliced bagels prepared like French toast). At 10AM, there was nary a single person waiting to play, so I collected my chips, called it a visit, and went on to the next casino right down the road.
The Fantasy Springs was the next on the list. It was about the same size as Spotlight 29 and had a nice archway entrance to the poker room. When I got into the room, though, I noticed something odd right away. There were no people. That wasn’t the odd part. There was no brush desk either! That’s weird. Who do I ask about games? The room was small, only 8 tables or so, and when I got a closer look I realized what had happened. All the tables were PokerPro tables. You know, the automatic ones that deal sit n’ gos without a dealer. Grrr… Since there were no chips being used, I decided that from now on, PokerPro rooms would not count as real poker rooms (Sorry Mohegan Sun). My trip was a few hours old and I still hadn’t played a hand of poker after two casino trips! WTF?
Undaunted, I hit the road again. It was closing in on noon now and the desert sun was high in the air. All around were interesting California desert scenery. I passed miles of windmills, like orange groves in Florida, and saw a few honest to goodness tumbleweeds. The hills were pretty and some of them were snowcapped too. The next casino I hit, Aqua Caliente (which by the way is the most racist name for an Indian casino ever!), actually had poker games going. It’s a beautiful facility, maybe on the smallish side, but the 11 table poker room was in full swing when I got there. I managed to sneak into an Omaha HiLo game after a small wait and eked out a tiny win after about an hour of play. But I couldn’t dally. I had many more casinos to go before I could sleep. There was nothing particularly noteworthy about this place. It looks like many other Indian casinos across the country, but at least it’s clean. One bad thing about the Indian casinos, though, is that smoking is allowed on the casino floor. Nothing like Laughlin, NV where smoking is a religion, but I could smell it a little.
Back in the car and off to Palm Springs this time. I always imagined Palm Springs as being this wonderful vacation resort town but when I got there, I found it’s just this little rinky-dink desert town with nothing to it. There are some nice golf courses, from what I understand, but that didn’t interest me. I pulled up outside of the Spa Resort casino and walked inside. Beautiful. They really put money into this place and it showed. The hallways were cool marble and the Southwestern theme was pretty without being obnoxious. The poker room was a small 8 table job which was running some low limit games when I got there. I managed to get onto the list of the No Limit game and we started a new table. I sat in the 5 seat and scouted out the competition. There were two people who knew like they knew what they were doing and one completely donkey looking guy. He was 5’9”, about 260 pounds and had really badly done tattoos covering his arms. He was also drunk, at 1:30p. After playing about 30 minutes and building a small profit off my $200 buyin, I flopped a set of 7’s on a board of Ks-7s-3h. One of the good players led out for $15 and I popped it to $45, trying to make flush draws pay. Stupid drunk guy (STG) smooth called on the obvious flush draw. Smart guy went into the tank before finally correctly putting me on a set, which he announced out loud. I wanted to punch him but it didn’t seem to matter. I had a fish on my hook and I was reeling him in. The turn was a brick. I moved all in for another $100 or so, which covered the other guy who didn’t hesitate to call. The turn was a spade. I knew I was beat but STG slowrolled the J2 flush like he had just taken down the WSOP main event. I got my money back from him later, or at least most of it, when I flopped a King flush vs. his top pair and he doubled me up. I wanted to stay to make some more money off an obviously weak table, but I had so many more rooms to visit.
A few more miles down the road was the strangely named Morongo casino. This was the first real poker room that I visited. It had about 35 tables, with quite a bit of action going when I got there in the afternoon. In addition, they had a few limit tables and some Omaha tables. In California, Omaha is more readily available than the few crappy tables available in New Jersey. Naturally, I wanted to play Omaha, which is an infinitely more interesting game to me than Hold ‘em. Mind you, I seem to suck at it, but I’m fascinated by the game. That curiosity is killing my profit at the tables though, and I’m probably going to have to give it up after this trip except for certain circumstances. So I sat down at Morongo to play 3-6 O/8 with a full kill (full kills are common for limit games in California). It took a little while, but I lost two buyins in short order. In my defense, when they dealt me the first hand, it had 5 cards in it. And it wasn’t a misdeal. Let me repeat that. In Morongo Casino, they deal O/8 with 5 fucking cards! I kept drawing to straights, not realizing that even flushes were suspect in this game! I left with my tail between my legs and headed down to my next destination.
Soboba was about 45 minutes out of my way in the middle of absolutely nowhere. At this point, it was 11:30 at night and I was starting to feel the effects of a full day. I got out of my car at the end of a full parking lot and legged it over to the entrance, where I was turned away. I had my camera slung over my shoulder and the redneck rent-a-cop stopped me at the door. “We don’t allow cameras in here”. Really? What the fuck do you think everyone is carrying in their cellphones, dickhead? But I learned long ago that it’s not good to argue with an armed man. So I legged it back to my car, locked up my illicit camera and came back to the poker room. It SO wasn’t worth the trip. The casino is a crappy little local casino and the poker room is whopping 9 tables. I eked out a small profit at the 3-6 table and left as soon as I could.
Even though it was late, I was still a little jazzed up with adrenaline. I decided that rather than go back to my hotel, I was going to visit one last casino to give me some more playing time the next day. And I’m glad I did. I trekked up another hour north to the San Manuel casino and I was very impressed. It’s a 60 table room, quite nice, with a whole lot of action going when I got there. By far the best room I had seen today. I killed some time playing 3-6 7 Stud while I waited for an O/8 table to open up. When it did, I played a 2 hour session that ended with me being exactly even for that table. Probably the best I did at O/8 all week! Grrr… Still, I was happy I had seen this place. It was a nice room and populated by lots of fun players. I drove back, very tired, to Riverside and fell asleep happily.