Monday, January 21, 2019

"Car Not Ready"

The Nightmare Before—And After—Christmas
Part 3

And we continue with Chapter 3.  See here for the previous chapter.

Well now I was without a car for at least the next two days.  Thank goodness for Lyft and Uber.  I had never used either until I was recovering from my triple by-pass two years earlier.  I needed them to make doctor's appointments when I couldn't drive.  I opened the Lyft app and requested a ride back to the hotel.  The trouble was, since the last time I'd used the app, my credit card had expired, so I had to update it before it would let me request a ride.  I think the process was a little more difficult than it should have been but I managed and my ride came by in a few minutes.  Pretty sweet.

The first thing the Lyft driver said to me was, "Do you speak Spanish?"  I said no.  He said his English wasn't very good.  However, we really didn't need to communicate so it wasn't an issue.

As I continue to tell the story of my car woes, I will report on any interesting conversation or experiences I had with Lyft drivers while I was carless.  I've always heard that most users of rideshare apps prefer to have a totally silent driver.  But I had a few interesting conversations that might be worth talking about. I didn't mind the conversations when I had them; no one was obnoxious.

I guess I should also mention that there will be more than just car talk in this saga.  The issues with the car led to me doing things I don't normally do that I will be talking about.  Like, for the first time in many years I played table games (sort of). And I will probably talk about the issues I had with a hotel/casino or two.  But that's for future chapters.

Anyway, in the afternoon it occurred to me that my Uber app was also using an expired credit card.  I figured I would update right then and there before I needed it.

OMG, what an experience that was.  At first, I couldn't even open the app.  I got a message asking me to prove I wasn't a robot.  Why?  Just because I hadn't used the app in awhile?  Anyway, after checking the "I am not a robot" box, I then got a series of these stupid tests where they show you a bunch of pictures and you have to check which ones have fire hydrants in them, or crosswalks, or busses.  What nonsense. Seriously, why the hell was this necessary?  Now I have a fairly large phone (Galaxy 9+), but when you chop the screen up into nine pictures, it's really hard for an old guy like me to see the pictures well enough to really tell what I'm looking at.  I think I failed the test a few times and was probably screaming loud enough to be heard in Mesquite. 

Finally I got past that, but all that did was get me to the point where I had to enter my user name and my password.  Who the hell remembers this password?  I'm sure I created it once and never used it again.  But Google said it remembered my password so I tried that.  And… didn't work.  OK, I clicked the reset password button.  I reset the password.

And after doing that, every damn time I tried to get in, I got an error message.  I don't think the message was explicitly that I entered the wrong password, so I wasn't sure if that was the problem.

I tried logging in from my PC.  And I was able to do that with my newly created password.  The trouble with that was…..and this is unbelievable if true….it was not possible to update the credit card from the PC.  It seems they designed it so you can only do that from the app.  Is that nuts or what?

I ranted about this on Twitter, and directed a tweet or two at Uber Support.  I tried to explain the problem but all I got back was a message that I could update my credit card through the app, and how to get there.  They weren't telling me how to do that if I couldn't log in.

Well I guess I was entering the password incorrectly (so easy to do on a phone) because just as I was about to throw my phone out the window in a fit of rage, I managed to get in.  And then I was able to update the credit card.  Hallelujah! 

Of course, the irony is that the whole time I was without a car, I never once actually used Uber, I always used Lyft, so the whole exercise was for naught.  However, I know that you need both so you can compare prices, sometimes there's a significant difference depending on which is busier in your area and which one has the most drivers available.  But for all of my rides, the cost was virtually identical or Lyft was slightly cheaper.  Once or twice it was a bit more than slightly cheaper. So I ended up just going with Lyft the whole time.

So I used Lyft to get me to my destination for that night, Planet Hollywood.  I made sure to ask the driver who dropped me off where the pick up location for rideshare was so I wouldn't have a problem being found by ride.

I might have walked over to Bally's if I needed to change games, but I ended up at PH the whole evening.  I walked to where I was told the pickup spot was (very near where I was dropped off, but that isn't always the case).  I requested a ride and the app told me I was gonna be picked up in some kind of Toyota I never heard of—a C-HR.  And thus this incredibly tiny Toyota shows up and it's for me.  It looked like one of those "Smart Cars" it was so small.  But get this….it's actually an SUV.  A subcompact SUV.  When I first saw it, it looked like it didn't even have a back seat, at least I couldn't find the door handle for the back seat so I started to get in the front passenger side.  But the driver pointed out the door handle for the back seat—yes there was one—it was up near the top of the door.  It was a very odd design.  I was able to get into the back seat and I couldn't believe how little room there was back there.

As I was being driven back to my hotel, I was wondering how the hell the driver could use this car for Lyft.  I am sure she must get requests from larger people than me that actually can't fit in the car.  And if she had two large people, well forget it.  I mean really, this seemed like an impractical vehicle to use for rideshare.  I wondered if she picked people up from the airport?  Where would they put the luggage?  I have to assume she goes to pick up riders and encounters some that just can't get into that vehicle and they have to request another ride.  Wow, that would really piss me off.  Not to mention she's wasted her time.  Very strange.

Well the next day was Christmas so nothing was going to happen with my car then.  I took Lyft to the Strip and played poker all day.  My evening session will result in a "woe is me" blog post down the road for sure.

The next day I was hoping to get my car back.  I didn't hear from the guy so I called him at around 2pm.  "Car not ready."  Well, will it be ready later this afternoon?  "I'll try."  I kind of pushed him and asked what time he closed.  "Close at 6."  So I said I would call him around 5 to see how he was doing.  I got ready to head over there at a moment's notice if he called.

No word, of course.  At 5:15 I called and he said the car wouldn't be ready tonight.  "Tomorrow."  I said, "Tomorrow, for sure?"  He just said "Tomorrow."  I wasn't confident.

Well now I was in a pickle.  I had to pack up the car first thing Friday morning if I was going to leave town when I intended.  I had to have the car Thursday.  If I didn't have the car Thursday I couldn't leave.  I had no reservation past Thursday night.  Gulp.

I figured I needed a contingency plan at the very least.  I went down to the front desk and asked about staying a few more days.  I asked to speak to the manager, who knows me and has done extra things for me before (because I am a regular customer at this place).  But he had left for the day.  Damn it.  Why didn't I go over there immediately after speaking to TC at 2 and not gaining any confidence the car would be ready that day?

But I asked the woman at the front desk about extending my trip through the New Year's weekend.  She said that first of all, the rate would be considerably higher.  And second of all, the hotel was fully booked—actually she said it was overbooked—for Sunday night.


This created all kinds of issues for me.  If I really did have to stay the weekend, and couldn't stay where I was, how would I get a new (and really expensive) hotel?

I should explain that when I go to Vegas for 10 days or more, and stay at this place, I take a lot of stuff with me.  I mean a lot.  I take clothes—enough so that I don't have do laundry while I'm there (when I stay for a month like I did during the WSOP, then I will do laundry).  I take a lot of stuff for work (above and beyond my laptop).  I take food.  Yes, I take food that I can buy cheaper in L.A. (or online) than I can in Vegas.  I take cushions so I can try to find the perfect combination of them that will make it less hellish when I am sitting on the not very comfortable chairs the hotel provides.  And in the winter, I take a collection of jackets, sweaters, sweat shirts that I leave in the car (mostly) so I can be prepared for various weather scenarios.

It's a lot of stuff.  Let me put it this way: The stuff I take pretty much fills up the Lexus.  I can say this:  There's no room for a passenger on my way to Vegas. 

So if I had to relocate, presumably to a more standard hotel, how would I get all my stuff there? I mean I guess I could stuff a cab or a Lyft car with it all….assuming it was big enough.  I can tell you one thing.  If that Toyota C-HR showed up, there's no way it would be adequate for all my shit.  I suppose you can request a bigger car?  I never had to worry about that before.  Actually with all the stuff I had, I'm not sure it would fit in a regular car because I'd also have to fit into it too.  It was a nightmare just thinking about it.

So I started thinking that maybe I'd rent a car.  At first I was thinking I'd need it just to relocate and that I could use it to get around Vegas until my car was back.  But then I had another thought.  If the car wasn't going to be ready the next day, maybe I should rent a car for a week, take all my stuff home to L.A., save on the exorbitant New Years room rates, and come back after New Years, turn in the rental car and hopefully my car would be ready then and I could drive it home.  It sounded crazy but it was a possibility. I mean, if I knew for a fact that my car was not going to be ready the next day, it would have started to make sense to plan for that.  But I just didn't know.  Everything was up in the air.  I actually checked on rental cars but I couldn't find a very good deal on one.  I guess the rates were high due to the holiday.

Then there was the weather.  Having lived in Los Angeles most of my life, I am quite spoiled.  Every time I visit Vegas in December I am uncomfortable with how cold it yes.  Yes, I know, those of you who are used to the midwest or the northeast are laughing.  It's not as cold as those places.  But when you are used to Southern California, which pretty much as the best climate on the planet, you really aren't used to cold weather.  As it happened, until, oh say Christmas, the weather had been fairly nice.  I'd say it was warmer than usual for that time of year.  Oh it was cold, colder than L.A., but not too bad.  I was making do with my mid-weight jacket.  I had a sweatshirt or two in my room, but that was mostly to wear in the poker rooms, which are notoriously cold.

The point being, when I left my car with TC on Christmas Eve, I was wearing my mid-weight jacket and my heaviest jacket—really a ski jacket—was safely resting in the back seat of my car.  When the weather started dipping down into the 30's at night on Xmas, and even in the high 20's, I really needed my ski jacket.  And I had foolishly left it in my car, which was now in the possession of TC.

So on Wednesday night, after requesting a Lyft, I went outside to wait and was basically freezing my ass off.  I had on a lightweight shirt, a sweatshirt, and the mid-weight jacket and it wasn't nearly warm enough.  For my convenience, this happened to be one of the few times the Lyft rider was late.  When he finally showed up he said traffic where he was was really bad.  Whatever.  I was looking forward to getting into a nice warm car.

Except his car was not warm at all.  He had no heat at all turned on.  I think he might have even had a window open.  He was wearing what looked like a nice thick leather jacket.  Maybe it was enough to keep him warm.  But I was freezing.  I dunno what the protocol is in this situation.  Is it ok to ask your Lyft driver to turn on the damn heat?  I was new to this, so I said nothing and continued to be cold.  Fortunately it wasn't a very long ride to MGM.

After the poker, I headed to the rideshare pick up spot and it was super busy. There was actually an MGM employee there whose sole responsibility (at least at that time) was helping people find their Lyft and Uber rides. It took awhile for my driver to show up and the spot is in the massive MGM parking structure so of course it was cold.  Almost as cold as the poker room.

Anyway, my ride showed up.  The driver was a young guy and one of the chatty ones.  At least his car was warm.  He asked me if a show had just let out and I guess that one had, as I remembered walking past the David Copperfield theater and seeing them selling souvenirs.  

The driver told me he was likely going to work New Years Eve because there is like a 3X mark up on the fares then.  But he would work early, not late.  He didn't want any drunks getting sick in his car.  Then he proudly told me, "So far, no one has gotten sick in my car…yet."  He went on to describe the one time it almost happened.  Apparently he was taking a couple of girls somewhere and one of them had to hang her head out the window.  I didn't find out if she tossed her cookies outside the car while he was driving or not.  But then he said her friend banged her head on the car door not once but twice reeling her in.  "She must have woken up the next day and wondered why there were two bumps on her head."

The weird thing is that after he told me the story, I swear I noticed a faint smell of vomit from inside the car.  No kidding.  I guess it must have been the power of suggestion.

Then he told me the car he was driving wasn't his car—it was a rental.  Lyft has a deal with Hertz and their drivers can rent a car for a special rate.  His personal car is older and has some issues, this way he always has a newer car and if anything goes wrong, he can just swap it out (sounded good to me at the moment).  Plus, he can use the rental car for his own personal use, pretty much do anything he wants with it except that he can't use it to work for any other business but Lyft.  But he said that it only made economic sense if he "made bonus" which he always had done.  I assume that's some kind of financial incentive for taking some certain number of rides per week.

He dropped me off and I was left to contemplate what the next day would bring me. 

And that ends this chapter. Warning: I'll probably interrupt this series next time with a post about my recent experience playing a tournament at Commerce.  Did I cash?  Well, you'll have to come back to find out.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship

The Nightmare Before—And After—Christmas
Part 2

We return to the tale of my car woes in Vegas during my most recent visit. You can find chapter 1 here. 

I drove to Vegas without incident.  I must admit though, that for the first week or so, every time I had reason to lower my driver's side window, I kinda held my breath a little.  But it worked fine every time I used it.  There was no problem with the window the entire trip.

However, I soon had another concern.  I started noticing a weird noise coming from the engine.  I dunno how to describe it, it was just kind of an odd noise, perhaps a rattle, but it was not all that loud and I sometimes wondered if I was imagining it.  But every time I thought it had stopped, it came back.  It seemed a bit louder when the car was stopped and idling but that could have been because there was less road noise interfering with it.

Now, I had driven up on a Friday and by the first Monday of my trip, it was starting to worry me.  As it happened, I had arranged to drive up to Mesquite to meet LM and Woody for a nice dinner Monday nite.  Mesquite is about 80 miles north of Vegas on the way to Utah (but I think you actually drive the thru the northwest corner of Arizona before you get to Utah on the I-15).  Mesquite has a number of casinos, mostly accommodating locals and visitors from Utah.  There's actually one poker room there—at the Eureka Casino (and if you ever find yourself in Mesquite, you can see their live games on the PokerAtlas app).  The crowd in Mesquite is mostly older and basically the casinos in Mesquite remind you of how Vegas was 20-30 years ago.  Especially in regards to the prices.

LM & Woody like it for the lower prices, the more relaxed atmosphere and the reminder of what Vegas used to be like.  So while they also enjoy Vegas, they sometimes go to Mesquite for a few nights to enjoy the cuisine and the local spa (much cheaper than a Vegas spa).  At the CasaBlanca Casino, there is a really great restaurant called Katherine's that they eat at every time they go.  It is really like a Vegas restaurant from the 70's & 80's.  The ambiance and service are first rate, the food is beyond excellent and the prices are at least half of what a similar meal in Vegas would cost you, maybe less.  I've eaten there a number of times and really, really enjoy it.  Let me put it this way—it's so good that I don't mind the 2-1/2 hour round trip from Vegas through the middle of freaking nowhere to dine there.  The steaks are delicious and the last couple of times there I've had the veal parmigiana (one of my favorite dishes), which is to die for.

So I drove up there Monday and I did mention to Woody the noise I was hearing.  He went out to the car with me and had a listen.  Unfortunately, although he did acknowledge that it there was something off with the sound, he couldn't identify it and had no way of attempting to diagnose or fix it up there.  He said I needed to take it to The Wiz.  Well that was a great idea, but the Wiz was about 350 miles away from where I was at the moment.  He did say that it didn't sound too serious and that it would likely be fine for the rest of my trip.

I was a bit nervous about the hour-plus drive back to Vegas on a mostly deserted freeway but there were no issues.

The next day Woody came back to me with a theory about the noise the car was making.  It could be the A/C pump (I think that's what he said).  So I said, well if it's the A/C pump, could I just keep the A/C off for now and then the car would be fine until I had it checked back home?  He said that might work.  Now I should explain that the Lexus has a really spiffy climate control system and if you leave it on "auto" the A/C actually runs all the time, even when you are using the heater.  But I could manually turn it off and really, I didn't need the A/C when the outside temperature was running between 40° and 60°.  I was eager to test this by just running the engine and turning of the A/C.  Unfortunately, it didn't stop the noise, so apparently this wasn't the problem.

That evening I met with my buddy Don for dinner.  I volunteered to meet him in his neighborhood for our meal and then drive the two of us back to the Strip for some poker.  As I was about to leave to meet him, I cleared a few items I had in the front passenger seat.  I also wanted to move the passenger seat back so Don could easily get in it.  You see, when I am driving alone, which I usually am, I have the passenger seat moved all the way forward so I can sometimes rest my right arm on it while driving.  To my chagrin, the power seat was not working!  For the life of me I could not get the seat to move in any direction.  It was stuck moved all the way forward.  Only a small child could have gotten into that seat.  This was a brand new development.  Last time I had tried to move the seat it was working fine.

So after our nice dinner, where I had explained to Don the issue with the seat, Don took one look at where the seat was and saw that there was no way he could use the front seat.  So I cleared some space in the back seat and I had to drive with him directly behind me.  I have sometimes felt like a chauffeur transporting people before (especially in Vegas) but this time I actually looked the part too.  The only thing missing was my chauffeur's hat.

I texted Woody about the seat to see if he had any ideas.  Was it possible something that he (or the Wiz) had done in getting the window fixed had caused the problem?  He had no clue.  He said it was question for the Wiz.  Well, this time I was only 280 miles away from him. 

As my week progressed, it seemed to me like the noise was getting noisier, although I grant the possibility that it was my imagination.  But I couldn't stop thinking about it, and it started affecting some of my decisions.  By that Saturday, I ended up at the Venetian and after I was through there, I wanted to go to the Wynn.  With the cold temperatures, I would have preferred driving that short distance, but I ended up walking—I just didn't want to make one extra trip in the car.  I guess I was getting a little paranoid.

The next day was Sunday, which happened to be two days before Christmas.  And my plan at the outset was to drive home on that Friday, before the big New Year's Eve weekend.  I had been in Vegas for New Years the past few years and really felt like there was no need for me to experience it again.  The room rates really get jacked up.  Since I stay off-strip at a place built to accommodate long term guests (i.e., the rooms have refrigerators and microwaves), the rate wouldn't have been astronomically high like it would be at a Strip hotel, but still, I felt it wasn't worth it and that two weeks in Vegas this time of year was plenty.

On that Sunday, I was so paranoid I actually recorded the engine sound and sent it to Woody for his review.  I don't think the recording properly captured the noise, but I also expressed my thoughts that it was getting louder and that I was actually concerned that it might be a problem that would explode before I left for home or worse, on the way home that Friday.

I dunno if he was able to glean anything from the recording I sent him, or if he was reacting more to the obvious concern in my texts, but he did suggest that maybe it would be a good idea if I could try to find an independent Lexus repair shop in Vegas to check it out.  Obviously I could take it to a Lexus dealer but that would likely be extremely expensive (Woody knew this from firsthand experience). 

I found this advice on my phone after driving to Caesars for some dinner and poker on this Sunday night.  So while eating, I goggled Lexus repair.  I noticed a bunch of them said they wouldn't be open until Wednesday, meaning that they were taking Christmas and Christmas Eve off.  Taking it in on Wednesday when I was planning to drive home Friday seemed to be cutting it way too close.

But I did find one place that looked promising.  Almost all of the reviews were extremely positive.  The reviews said the shop was great at finding and fixing issues and they said the prices were reasonable.  According to Google, the shop would open at 9am the next morning.  Also, it was located pretty close to where I was staying.  Aside:  When you are used to Los Angeles, everything in Vegas is close to everything by comparison.  But this place was literally just a few miles from my hotel. 

I sent the link to Woody and he said this guy sounded perfect.  The thing was, timing was still tight.  Even if this guy was open Christmas Eve, was he working a full day, or perhaps taking a half day off?  Would he even have time to check my car out, especially since I'm not a regular customer of his?  Would the three days (Mon, Wed & Thurs) be enough time to diagnose and do the repair?

I knew that I had to get there when he opened, or at least as close to that as I could manage.  I have to admit, for me to be in Vegas and have to get some place at 9am is a virtual impossibility.  I often sleep well past that time!  But I knew I had to get there early to have any chance of getting the issue resolved in time for my return to L.A. that Friday.

As such, while I was playing, all I could think of was getting up real early to get over there on time.  I knew I had to make it an very early night.  I was totally preoccupied by this.  Also, that noise the car was making had been quite loud and I was wondering if I could even make the short trip back to my hotel from Caesars without incident.  As such, I was too distracted to pay any attention to the cards.  After an hour I realized it was pointless to keep playing and I just cashed out.  I made it back to my hotel ok, but the noise was just freaking me out.

I couldn't sleep much that night so I was up extra early and did indeed manage to get up and out the next morning to be there at around 9:10 or so.  That was better than I expected.  The place was located in an auto repair strip mall I guess you'd call it.  You turn into a driveway and there's a row of service bays.  There were three distinct names over the bays, so I guess there were three distinct repair shops (four, if you count the bay that was for smog checks). 

I found a place to park and walked past the bays, and saw that the Lexus repair guy was at the far end.  And his bays were all closed.  His door was locked.  There was no sign indicating his hours.  But it was past his opening time (per Google) and he sure wasn't there.


The repair shop next to his was also apparently closed.  But the one closest to the street, was open and busy.  There were a bunch of cars being worked on by a bunch of people.

Note: both this shop and the one next to it (which was closed) seemed to just general repair shops.  The shop I'd come for was specifically identified as Toyota & Lexus repair.

The first thing I wanted to do was try to find out if the Lexus guy was just running late or if he was closed today.  I poked my head into the garage that was open and got someone's attention.  He was Asian and I noticed that most if not all of the mechanics were also Asian.

I said, "Do you know if the Lexus shop is going to be open today?"

He said, "No."

Hmmm..  I guess I should have been clearer.  Did he mean no, he didn't know, or no, he is not open?

"He's not going to be open today?"

The guy said, "No, he won't be here today."  Or something to that effect.

By this time I'd noted that he had a pretty strong accent and I knew that there might be a language issue communicating with him.

Now I had a split-second decision to make.  Do I take off and go back to Google and try to find another Lexus repair shop, knowing that many if not most of them would likely be closed on Christmas Eve?  Or do I ask this guy, who obviously repairs cars for a living, if he can check my car?

I went with the second option.  I said, "Do you work on Lexus?"  He said he did.  I asked if he could listen to my car, it was making a funny noise.  (Not too much later, I noticed one of the cars that he was working on at the time was a Lexus, an older model but not as old as mine).  I should mention when I started up the car that morning, I didn't hear any noise at all.  It was like when you finally make that dentist appointment for a toothache and you go see the dentist and the pain is suddenly not there.  But no, that didn't last very long and by the time I got to this place, the car was as noisy as it'd had ever been.

So he checked it out.  He heard the noise, looked around, and after a few minutes he came up with his (initial) diagnosis.  "It's the water pump."  I asked if he could fix it.  He said something like, "let me check."  And went into the office, leaving me by my car with the hood and door open.  I stayed there for awhile but eventually went into the office, where I found the guy looking intently at a PC.  He didn't seem to notice me.

As I already indicated, there was something of a language barrier.  The name of the shop was displayed in English, but above it there were Asian characters (I know there's no such thing as Asian characters but I'm not sure what actual language it was and even if I was sure, I wouldn't say because I don't want to identify this place).  He was a bit hard to understand, and he seemed to be having trouble understanding me to some degree.

In the meantime I had texted Woody that it was the water pump.  He texted back that he didn't think that was it, he had replaced the water pump within the past year and a half.  He suggested I take it to the guy I found on Google.  Well, that wasn't an option at the moment.  Oh and spoiler warning:  It turned out that Lexus shop wasn't open the entire week. He didn't return until after the New Year.  The fact that I know that gives you some idea of where this story is heading.

Anyway, the guy finally looked up from his PC, saw me and said it wasn't the water pump, it was a bearing adjacent to the water pump.  He wrote down something and showed me his estimate for the repair.  It wasn't that bad.  But I didn't know if what he said made any sense.  So I asked him if he would mind talking to my friend, who sold me the car and had worked on it for over 20 years.  He said ok and asked for his number, but I said I would just call him on my cell phone and hand him the phone.

I called Woody and told him the new diagnosis, and then handed the guy the phone.  I could only hear one side of the conversation of course.  But at the end, he handed me back the phone.  Woody told me it sounded legit.  The bearing was right next to the water pump, and he wasn't going to replace the water pump.  Woody's main concern was the quality of the part.  He tried to get the guy to tell him where he was getting the part from and he couldn't get that answer.  But the guy assured him it was a brand new part, and good quality.  Woody said he thought it was ok to let the guy do the fix.

OK then.  I asked the guy how fast he could do it.  "Well, very busy."  I wasn't expecting him to finish that day, even if he was planning on working a full day this Christmas Eve.  He said he could take it out today but then he'd have to order the part and put it in Wednesday. So I said, "It'll be ready Wednesday afternoon?"  He kind of nodded but not in a way that convinced me he'd have it done by then.  So I told him I had to drive the car back to L.A. on Friday, so I really needed it back on Wednesday. He said OK. But I didn't have total confidence that I'd get it back then.

Anyway, the guy gave me his card.  On the front, it was mostly in English but with I guess the name of his business at the very top in the Asian characters.  The back was entirely the Asian characters.  It was Greek to me except it definitely was not Greek. 

For the purposes of this story, from here on out, I will refer to this gentleman, who I was now entrusting my Lexus to, as "TC."  Because you know, this blog always uses pseudonyms.

And that's where we leave chapter 2 in this long running series.  There will be another chapter, or at least another blog post, "soon."

Sunday, January 13, 2019

He Made The Wrong Argument

I'll get back to my car story next time but I thought I'd take a brief interlude to put a little poker content up here.  Well maybe not poker content but poker etiquette/ruling content.

This happened at one of the tournaments I played last month.  I won't say what venue this took place at, I don't want to identify it.  But let's just say it was at a room that I've played tournaments before.

I'd been playing for a few hours and surviving, and they'd already broken a table or two and I had just recently moved to one of the three remaining tables.  Between my chips, my heavy jacket, my water, I wasn't able to take my diet coke (which was mostly ice) with me to the new table as it was in the middle of a level and I was rushing.  As such, I really needed a new diet coke.  Fortunately I ordered one and was waiting for its arrival.

In the mean time, I had a tournament to survive.  The level had just changed and I was the big blind.  I posted the new amount and then noticed the waitress was back with a load of drinks and it looked like she'd skipped me over.  Damn.  Did she have my diet coke and just forgotten to give it to me or had she forgotten to bring it? 

Meanwhile I looked at my big blind hand, saw it was 7-3 off and assumed that I wouldn't be playing it because there had been no limped pots at this new table since I'd gotten there.  I noticed the guy on my immediate left had put some chips out in front of him and so I was trying to get the waitress's attention.  Before I could get her to notice me, I realized the dealer was telling me the action was on me.  Well that was fast.  I didn't even see the action, but I saw the chips in front of the UTG player, and since the blinds had just gone up it looked to me in that brief nano-second that he had raised.  That made sense because I realized he was the only player had put chips out to bet and if he had just limped in, surely someone else would have limped or even raised.  Knowing I had  a garbage hand, I just slid my cards forward towards the dealer.

And then I heard the dealer say, loudly and pointedly, "Your option."  I realized that she had said this five seconds before, when I wasn't paying attention, to get me to act (but without the emphasis).  And I realized she was telling me that I could see a flop for free if I just didn't fold.

I reacted very quickly and pulled my cards back.  The dealer hadn't touched them and they never got near the muck.  We proceeded to play out the hand, heads-up.  Actually, I would have preferred it if she'd just mucked my hand.  I ended up with two pair and lost to a straight.  I didn't get busted, I didn't lose a whole lot of chips, but at that point of the tournament it hurt to lose any chips above the big blind.  I had bet the turn and reluctantly called the river.

Well that sucked but as the player next to me was dragging in the pot, he asked the dealer, "Why did I have to play that hand?  He folded."  He meant me.

The dealer said that I had the option and hadn't folded. But the player wasn't happy with that explanation.  I chimed in that I had not folded because my cards had not hit the muck, I retrieved them before they were mucked.  But the player was upset and insisted on talking to a floor.  I pointed out that he had won some chips off me and the logical resolution to his complaint would be for him to give me back the chips he'd won (above the big blind, that is).  He scoffed at this, that wasn't the point.  "You're a poker player, you know what I'm saying."  Well yes, but I hadn't technically mucked.  It is my understanding that as long as a hand is retrievable and hasn't touched the muck, it is still a live hand.

The dealer explained to the floor what happened, but I don't think she really said much about how she pointed out to me that—subtly perhaps—that I could see the flop for free.

The player just kept insisting that I folded and the floor confirmed my understanding.  As described to her, I had not folded.  Or as she said, "I can tell you, his hand was not dead."

I have to admit I was totally embarrassed by this, it was just inexcusable for a player with my experience to even for a nano-second start to fold a big blind hand when there had been no raise.  And yes, if the dealer hadn't somehow pointed out to me that there had been no raise, I would have forfeited my big blind and possibly never realized that I just gave away chips for no reason.

But frankly, the guy was making the wrong argument.  Instead of complaining that I had folded, he should have made the case that the dealer had given me some help, a clear violation of all rules and etiquette (one player to a hand).  He would have been on firmer ground there.

When I initially slid my cards to her, she did remind me that it was my option.  It was subtle.  She didn't say, "you're the big blind, there's no raise, you can see the flop for free."  But she knew what she was doing, she knew I would take the hint she gave me.  Of course, I assume if I didn't catch on after she said it again, well, then I'm just too stupid to save 

That said, I'm not really sure the dealer did anything wrong anyway.  I mean, it's been awhile, but I have seen any number of dealers clue the player in the big blind that they could just check and see a flop for free when they tried to fold.  Of course, in those cases that I remember, it was almost always in a cash game and also, it was usually the case that the player attempting to fold was an obvious newbie.  Even if this was the first time I'd ever played poker, we were now in the 8th level and if I'd survived this far I should have been able to figure out the big blind by now. 

I never saw anyone object in those cases, and you want to correct little mistakes newbies make so they enjoy the experience and keep playing.  But this was a tournament, a different animal, and she has to protect not only the player who limped in UTG but the other players at the table and in fact all the players remaining in the tournament at the other two tables.

By the way, I should point out that if he had complained when I initially retrieved the cards, and they said I had folded (or perhaps killed my hand because I had gotten unfair help from the dealer), I wouldn't have argued the point, I would have given away my big blind without a thought.

But now we were just arguing rulings after the fact.  And I really do wonder if it was ok for the dealer to give me that extra little hint.

Of course, if I had not realized the action was on me when I did, and was still trying to get the waitress's attention, and she said "Your option," a second time without my having slid my cards forward, no one would have said anything.  But I did give a physical indication that I was giving up on the hand, and then she repeated it was my option, giving me the chance to pull my cards back.  It took all of two or three seconds.

Anyway, I wonder what you all think?  Was the dealer wrong?  Is that something she should only do in a cash game and only when the player seems like a newbie (making it a judgment call on the part of the dealer)?  If there are any dealers or floor persons out there, please weigh in.  What's your normal way of handling this?  What is your room's policy?  I'd be interested in hearing from you.

From a distance, I think I should have pointed out what the player failed to do, that his argument should have been that the dealer gave me a bit of assistance unfairly.  But at the time, as long as he wasn't making that case, I didn't want to get the dealer in trouble since it wouldn't have affected anything anyway.  Besides, if I had said anything, how could I be penalized for what might have been a dealer's error? Either way, I suspect that dealer will think twice about doing that again anyway.


Thursday, January 10, 2019

Broken Windows

The Nightmare Before—And After—Christmas
Part 1

Well as I mentioned here, I had some car trouble in Vegas during my recent December trip.  With this post, I will begin to tell the entire story. It will take a number of chapters, and I may not run them consecutively (still to be determined).  In order to do this, I have to start before I even got to Vegas.  I want to start at the very beginning.

In 1913, Henry Ford initiated the first moving assembly line for automobiles in Highland Park, Michigan—

Hmm….I guess I don't have to go back quite that far.

So let me just remind you that a little more than a year ago, my good friend Woody and I made a deal and I walked off with one of his cars. This resulted in a two-     part blog post, the first part of which can be found here.  I coyly didn't mention the make, model and year of the car back then, but I will now.  It was (and is) a 1995 Lexus LS 400.

I have loved that Lexus for more than a year, and yes, I had to put a few bucks in it during that year, all minor stuff.  Just before I was ready to head back up to Vegas, I took it in for an oil change.  Everything was great..

At sort of the last minute, I decided to get a haircut on the Saturday before the Friday I was planning to drive up to Vegas.  Why do I mention such a seemingly insignificant event like that?  Because it turned out to be a very fortuitous decision.  In order to get said haircut, I had to park in one of those big parking structures where you need to pull a ticket to enter and leave (but no, I didn't have to pay for parking, this isn't one of those posts, parking for the first hour is free).  I entered the structure without incident, but when I went to hand the attendant my ticket to exit, the driver's side window, which I was sure I'd already lowered, was still up.  I lowered it, gave the attendant my ticket, and hit the up button on the door to raise the window as I entered traffic.

The window remained fully open.  Uh Oh.  I waited a few minutes and tried again.  The window raised about a third of the way and stopped.  I tried a few minutes later and it raised another third of the way.  I tried a few minutes later and it raised all the way up.

Hmm….this was certainly a new development.  On the way home, I played around with it and discovered that it would only move a little bit at a time—and only if I waited a few minutes between attempts to raise or lower it.  I decided to leave it up and stop playing with it.  I called my pal Woody and he basically said that the motor for the power window was dying.  It would need to be replaced and he said he could replace it.  I pointed out that I was less than a week away from my two weeks in Vegas and really wanted to have this fixed before I went up to Vegas.

Thus, had I not decided to get that haircut at the last minute, I never would have known about the motor dying as I generally keep the windows up 100% of the time to enjoy the climate-controlled comfort of the Lexus.  Without the haircut, I would not have tried to use the power window until after getting to Vegas and trying to get into one of the casino parking structures. So it was really a good thing I found out when I did.

Of course, a few years ago, the inability of being able to open the window would have not been a big deal.  I could have easily spent the entire trip in Vegas without needing to lower the window.

But a few years back, Vegas casinos, most of them, began charging for parking.  I might have mentioned this before, I can't recall for sure.  Anyway, they put up gates and machines to make sure everyone pays (or has an upgraded players card so that they've "earned" free parking privileges).  To enter any of these garages, you either have to pull a ticket or insert your players card into the machine at the gate.  In other words, you have to lower your driver's side window to enter the parking structure. 

All of the parking structures that now insist on having you pay to park were built long ago, back in the good ol' days when the casinos actually wanted your business and would encourage you to come in and spend your money inside the casino. So once some corporate meatheads got the idea of charging you before you even entered the casino, they put the gates and the ticket spewing/card reading machines in.  They had to retrofit these gates and machines into lanes that were not built with that in mind.  And they wanted to add multiple lanes/gates so that the lines to get in and out would only be really annoying, and not so obscenely awful that it would discourage people from even trying to get in.

As such, most of these lanes are extremely narrow.  The point being, at most structures I've seen, there isn't room for a person who is not really, really skinny to open the car door, get out of the car, and put their player's card (or grab a ticket) in the machine.  There also isn't room to drive further up so there is more room to exit the car to do this, they just weren't built for that.

So, I honestly didn't see how I could visit Vegas in the year 2018 without getting the window fixed.  I really didn't want to keep trying my luck that I could keep rolling it up and down in sections and hope that I could always get it up (so-to-speak).  The thought of it finally completely dying and then having the window permanently rolled down didn't exactly appeal to me.  And I wasn't sure how many (if any) of the structures I'd want to park at could accommodate a car without a usable driver's side window.  I likely would be relegated to parking at the Venetian (which still doesn't charge for parking) and Planet Hollywood (which also doesn't charge for parking because the garage is owned by the shopping center attached to PH and that is not owned by CET).  Of course, I could visit any of the locals rooms in town, as they don't have any damn gates, but if I wanted to play in locals rooms I could stay in Los Angeles.

As I said, Woody said he could repair it himself.  So on Monday, I drove to his house and we immediately headed to a Lexus junkyard in a part of town I'd never been to before to buy the replacement part I needed.  Woody had done this many times before and had a relationship with the owner of the junkyard.  Basically I was buying a working part from a totaled Lexus.  This was a much cheaper alternative than buying an OEM Lexus part, which would be quite expensive.  Woody also buys parts like this off eBay but there was no time for that.

This business was not the kind of business I'm used to dealing with.  Woody's wife, LM, knew I would be a fish out of water at this place so she instructed Woody to get a picture of me there.  I present said picture below.  To get to the office to negotiate the deal, I had to walk up a narrow, creeky wooden staircase and stand in a very narrow space while we discussed business.  It wasn't exactly an AutoZone. 

But he had the part we needed inventoried and we bought it (I think it was a small motor that runs the window, but what do I know?).  We headed back to Woody's so he could do the repair.  I am totally mechanically inept, so I left Woody to do the repair and went inside and visited with LM (I've been pals with LM for much longer than I've known Woody—we worked together for over 7 years and I don't want to say how long ago that was).

Well, long story short (ha!), the repair didn't go as fast as Woody had hoped.  We checked on his progress periodically.  He was having some issues but was sure he'd get it.  One time we went out to check and he was gone.  Not to worry, we just assumed he'd gone to the local AutoZone for a minor part.

Well, it was early December and soon he ran out of light.  He kept laboring away in the dark before he finally announced he was out of ideas and he wasn't going to be able to get it working that night.

The side panel on the driver's side was removed.  I think it was then that I learned that he had apparently blown a fuse attempting the repair.  For awhile I believe the entire electrical system in the car was offline, but he did now have it (mostly) working.  I think he had to buy a fuse at one point.

Try as he might, he just couldn't get the window to work.  He said we had no choice but to take it to his favorite mechanic, a genius (especially in regards to electrical work) who I'm going to refer to as The Wiz.  The Wiz is located closer to my house than Woody's.  My car was partially dissembled but theoretically drivable.  Theoretically.  Woody said it would probably be a good idea if he followed me home.

So I suggested instead I just stay over that night.  And we'd both drive to The Wiz early in the morning (he'd follow me).  This sounded like a much more practical idea.  Of course, I didn't have a change of clothes, or a toothbrush, or food (LM had a kitchen full of food but none of it catering to someone with my medical conditions and dietary needs).  Also, I didn't quite have a full complement of my medications for the morning (but I did have most of the important ones).   

I could make do in a pinch.  Suddenly I had a feeling of déjà vu.  It was almost exactly a year ago—to the day—that a one day visit to LM & Woody turned into a sleepover (two nights, actually) when I took possession of the Lexus (link to that story at the beginning of this post). I pointed this out to them.  Is this now going to become an annual, December tradition?  Doing something with my car and ending up spending a night or two?  Hmmm…..I also made a promise, that from now on, whenever I come to visit with a Lexus issue, I'm going bring an overnight bag with clothes, extra meds, and some Rob-approved food

After we went out to a nice dinner, Woody had a idea.  He thought of something else he could try in the morning to try to fix it himself (and save me some money). 

Fortunately I had my laptop with me so in the morning, while he took another crack at it, I got some work done. Finally after a few hours Woody came to me and said we had to take it into the Wiz after all.  I got ready for this, but he still needed to hit up an Autozone for something first (I can't remember what that might have been, maybe another fuse?).  Anyway, I drove down there with Woody following me and most of the driver's side panel inside in his SUV.  But the car made it there fine.

Well, after a thorough testing, the Wiz figured out that the problem was that the motor we had gotten from the junkyard was just no damn good.  He couldn't repair the part.  I'm not sure, but I think it was so bad that it had blown a fuse and temporarily fried my whole electrical system the day before (I could ask Woody for confirmation, but honestly, I don't think he wants to relive this and he might have successfully driven the memory from his mind).

The Wiz could fix it but only if we could get him a working motor.  What to do?  Well, there was an AutoZone right across the street from the Wiz, and Woody thought that he might have bought this very same part from them before.  So we went over there and checked.  They looked it up and actually found a record of Woody buying the part not that long ago, maybe a couple of years back.  The good news is that AutoZone has a lifetime guarantee on all the parts they sell.  The bad news is that this particular part was part of a factory recall not too long ago. So not only didn't they have that part (or a similar part) in stock, but no AutoZone (anywhere) did since they had sent them all back!  But they did offer to give Woody a cash refund on the recalled part if he returned it.

At that moment the part was in my car door, not working.  It was Tuesday, I was heading to Vegas in three days without a working window.  Woody checked on eBay and found a bunch of sellers who had the part, but it was too late to order it and get it in time to do the repair/replacement.

In desperation, I suggested going back to the junkyard to see if they had another part we could try.  So we did that.  It was when we were back at the junkyard (which fortunately wasn't all that far from the Wiz) that I learned that Woody had already been back to the junkyard a second time the day before, and was already trying the second motor he got from them.  That's where he was when he disappeared on Monday.

At first the guy was willing to give Woody two more motors to try (and bring back the other one, he trusted Woody) but it turned out he only had one left.  This was our very last shot at getting this done before Vegas.  In my mind, I was cancelling my Vegas trip if we couldn't get the window working.  If it didn't work, it would have been three strikes and we were out.

We took it back to the Wiz, who tested it and voila, it worked!  Now it was just a matter of the Wiz installing and putting everything back together.  It would take some time and we were starving so we drove over to the nearby Costco for a delicious lunch of hot dogs and pizza.  When we got back, it was ready, at least in theory.  But Woody had noticed earlier that the trunk wasn't working properly.  You could only open it with the key.  The release inside the car wasn't working, and neither was the button on my electronic activator (but that still worked for the doors).  The Wiz was at lunch but one of his guys spent another half hour or so figuring out what the issue was and fixing it.  Meanwhile, Woody took the recalled part over to Autozone and got a nice refund for it.

The dumbest thing was, at one point, the guy who was working on fixing the trunk release suddenly couldn't find the keys to the car.  They weren't in the ignition.  They seemingly hadn't fallen in the trunk or inside the car.  They were nowhere to be found and we all sort of panicked.

Well duh, eventually he noticed the keys were in the lock for the trunk (since the releases weren't working, that was the only to get into the trunk).  Yeesh.

Finally I paid up and was on my way.  Everything seemed to be working just fine, and I was able to get home and start to prepare for my trip.  I kept testing the window every so often and it worked perfectly every damn time.

After a crazy, nerve wracking couple of days, I could look forward to a nice trip to Vegas, hopefully without any further incident.

It was not to be, but more on that in future posts.