Sunday, June 27, 2021

F*ck Me Sideways

This is the second part of my recent visit to The Bike.  Be sure to catch part 1 here.

The main thing I want to tell you is that the game was really, really fun.  As different as night and day from my last game at the Bike.  Now I know some of this is just luck of the draw, and it might not be entirely due to the lack of masks and the lack of the plexiglass (and also that one or two players were drinking beer).  Maybe I just got a really bad table last time and a really good one this time. But I feel certain that the lack of masks and plexi had a lot to do with it.  Everyone was laughing and talking and having a good time (no more than two players wore masks at my table the entire time I was there).

I was having a good time too.  And then the table got really, really good.  Sadly, I don’t mean that in the sense that the game was great poker wise, or that I was able to win a shitload of money.  I’ll get to my poker hands later.  I mean the table became a total blast.  Because of one bloke who joined it.

Let’s just call this fellow “Hugh” because his real name is not Hugh.  I first noticed him when he was at a nearby table.  It was hard not to notice him.  He was loud and he was ridiculously talkative.  I couldn’t really hear what he was saying, I was just hearing him talk a lot, it seemed like he never shut up.  And he had a rather annoying voice.  It was high and squeaky, and it seemed strained.  He sounded like maybe he’d had throat surgery or perhaps had damaged vocal cords.  From a distance, it was kind of painful to hear.

So when I saw that he was table-changing to our game, and in fact was going to sit on the seat to my immediate right (that I had just vacated so I could see the cards better), I was not happy.  Hearing this guy talk with that strained voice up close and personal, right next to me?  I figured my fun was over.

I was wrong.  This guy had me laughing almost non-stop the entire time he was there.  Somehow, when he was right next to me, his voice was a lot less annoying.  And when I could hear what he was actually saying, it turned out that he was funny as hell.  The guy had an English accent and said he was from London.  Never did figure out if he was visiting from there or he was now living in Southern California.  One thing for sure I can tell you, he was losing money hand over fist.

I guess you could call Hugh a human ATM.  I can’t count how many times he got felted and bought more chips.  At various times, while he was complaining about his luck and his results this day (almost always in an entertaining manner), he claimed to be down $900, $1,200, $1,300, $1,000.  The figure he said increased and decreased even though he was steadily losing.  He used his losses as an excuse for some wild play. When faced with a tough call, he would say, “Well, I’m already out $800 today….I call.”  This would be a situation where it was obvious he didn’t have a chance to win the pot.

One of the first pots he played when he arrived, he had raised, there was a three-bet all-in, and he was covered.  So he had to risk all his chips to call (it was around $200 I think).  He agonized for a long time, kept talking about how much he was losing, and finally called.  I don’t think they showed until the board was filled, and the other guy had pocket Aces.  Hugh showed his pocket 9’s in disgust.  It was pretty easy to figure out why poor Hugh was losing!

He was telling us, however, how much better our table was than the one he had just left. “The biggest pot over there was $23.  I’d win a pot and it’d be $15.”  He repeated this several times.

A few hands after the pocket 9’s, (and after he bought more chips) a virtually identical situation happened.  Hugh called all-in preflop and this time he lost to pocket Kings.  What did he have?  Pocket 9’s again!  He said, “Damn 9’s again. I had to call.”  Then he whined about getting pocket 9’s.  I didn’t have the heart to tell him that about 10 minutes before he showed up, I had pocket 9’s and flopped quads (I’ll get back to that).

He was muttering about those damn 9’s all through the next deal. I think this hand he folded preflop, and of course there was a 9 on the flop.  He bitched mightily about that.  “There’s the 9, there it is.  Where was it last hand?”  And for a while, almost every flop thereafter had a 9 on it! Everyone in a pot against him would comment on the 9 and joke that he finally had his set of 9’s.  As far as I could tell, he never was dealt another 9 the rest of the day, but it was sure a fun running gag.  Especially later when there were two 9’s on the board.  And when he folded to a bet (yes, he did sometimes fold) he said, “There, I’m folding my quad 9’s.”

As I said, at first he was mostly bitching about how much money he was losing.  But then he started telling us that he had been divorced three times.  So when he got annoyed at something or someone (can’t remember what), he said, “That’s just like my ex-wife.”  I asked, “Which one?”  He said, “All of them.”

Then he faced a big bet on the river on a board that had four spades.  He claimed to have two pair and didn’t know whether to call or not.  I’m pretty sure everyone at the table knew the guy who was all-in had a spade.  Hugh probably did too but he just couldn’t get away from his two pair.  He tanked, but he was hardly quiet.  “He’s got a spade, doesn’t he have a spade? Do you have a spade?  Just tell me if you have a spade.  I’ve got two pair.”  Then, he actually flipped over his hand.  He did indeed have two pair.  But no spade. At this point, the dealer called the floor, I’m not sure why.  The floor came over immediately but did not warn him not to show his hand, since it was heads up and the other guy was all in, there was really no problem with him exposing his hand.  He did warn the guy…..he said he would have to start the clock if he didn’t make a decision soon.  But it was all in good fun and the floorperson left before Hugh acted.

Hugh kept talking and I don’t think anyone really minded that he was holding up the game, we were enjoying his act.  Finally he said, “I’m out $1,200, I’m divorced three times…...F*ck me sideways.” A few seconds later he repeated the exact same thing (although he might have changed the amount he was out—but he never changed the number of times he was divorced) And after a few more seconds, he said, “I call.”  Of course the other guy had a spade.

Now, however much he had lost, he was starting to run out of money.  He telephoned a friend and tried to get him to give him some cash.  His only solution was if he could find someone who had Venmo, who would give him $500 if his buddy sent $500 to that someone’s Venmo account.  No one was willing to do that, understandably.  Somehow though, Hugh lasted at the table past the time I left, so I dunno what happened or how he kept playing.

Now with all this crazy action, with Hugh being a human ATM machine, you must be thinking I cleaned up at this game.  Sadly, that is not the case.  By the time Hugh got to the table, I was mostly card dead, and whenever I did get cards worth playing, he was either away from the table or had folded preflop (it did happen)  The whole time I never got into a hand with him.  And as should be obvious by now, there was no way to bluff this guy.  To get money out of him, you actually had to have a value hand of some kind.  And the other players at the table, when they played against him, were pretty solid and always showed up with a hand.  It was quite frustrating, but at least I was laughing the whole time.

In fact, there were only two hands I played that are worth talking about.  And both happened before Hugh showed up. I had been playing some hands without much success, but I was actually getting some cards to play.  I was down to about $250 from my $300 buy-in (remember, the game is 2/3).  Under the gun, with Ace-Jack of clubs, I open to $15.  I only had one caller.  The flop was just awesome, 8-6-5, all clubs.  Yahtzee!  Of course I did think about the straight flush possibility, but that’s worrying about monsters under the bed, right?

I checked.  Fortunately (or so I thought), the other guy bet.  But he bet big.  You would think a reasonable bet there would be $20-$25, right?  But he overbet the pot and put out $75 or $80.  I didn’t bother asking for a count.  He had over $400 so I was covered.  Just seeing the stack he bet, I realized that I couldn’t really raise there without shoving.  I mean any raise I could make would have me committed, and besides, I wanted to get it all in.  So of course I did indeed shove.

He snap called.  I asked, “You have a straight flush?”  No.  He said, “I have a set.”  We didn’t show but I believed him.  And groaned when the turn was another 8.  I don’t remember the river but it didn’t matter, I was drawing dead. I re-bought another $300.  He had flopped a set of 6’s and on the turn had the full house.

Any other way I could have played that?  I mean, I guess I could have just called, but then, even after the board pairs on the turn, am I really going to fold the nut flush? 

A little while later I was dealt pocket 9’s and called $20.  It was three-way.  Talk about good flops.  How does Jack-9-9 sound?  The preflop raiser bet $30 and of course I just called.  The last guy went all in—but it was for only $24. The turn was a 10.  Unfortunately he checked.  I checked behind.  In hindsight, I should have bet. If he was on a draw, he’d call something, but if he missed on the river he wouldn’t.  As I’ve often said, you don’t get a lot of practice playing monsters.

The river was another Jack.  Well now, my first thought was, oh if only he had pocket Jacks!  That would mean the Bad Beat Jackpot, with me having the losing hand.  That would be one pot I’d love to lose.  I dunno what the amount of the jackpot was, but it’s typically between $10K and $40K, something like that.  Of course, my opponent had not played the hand like he had pocket Jacks and had flopped a boat. He checked. I put out a bet of $75. He tanked for a long, long time.  Finally he said, “Well, if you’re bluffing……” He was really agonizing about calling, but he finally just folded.  Damn.  I decided to show my hand because how can you not show quads when you get them?  He was startled.  He said he folded a straight.  Then he said something odd. He said he would have called if he had a Jack.  No kidding!  The second nuts?  Of course he’d call.  But that damn paired Jack killed my action.  With only one pair on the board, no way is he folding a straight.  Two pair made it a lot easier.

What about the all-in guy?  Well, he mucked his cards as soon as the other guy folded so he didn’t have pocket Jacks either.  We talked about the possibility of the BBJ for a few minutes, I won a fairly small pot, and that was that.

And as I said, I didn’t get much to play after that; won a few small pots.  I left down $320.  But it was nice to have fun playing poker again.  Can I say the entire difference in the fun quotient of this game was due to the lack of masks and plexiglass (and the fact that I was dying of thirst the entire time)?  Certainly not. But it didn’t hurt.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

No Plexiglass, No Masks, Better Poker

Long time, no blog! So this will be the first of two-parts, just like in the good ol’ days.

In my previous post, here, I reported on two sessions at the Bike.  I visited there again in late May and had a totally miserable time.  I decided I would not return to the Bike until California completely opened up, which was scheduled for June15.  Lockdown poker was not for me.

In May, there was still plexiglass at all the tables, everyone was required to wear a mask and you could not have a drink (any kind of drink, even water) at the table.  I described my issues with that in that post linked above.  What I didn’t describe is how much I hate the drive to and from the Bike (one of the main reasons I started playing in Ventura).  That particular day I used Google Maps to help me navigate the journey to and from them, but despite the help, it was still a horrific drive.  I can’t get to the Bike without driving thru the heart of downtown Los Angeles, and even on a Saturday afternoon, it is miserable.  Forget about trying it during any kind of rush hour.  And to make it even worse, Google Maps had me exit the freeway and take surface streets for part of the drive and took me straight into a traffic circle.  Is there a setting for Google Maps where I can tell it to avoid traffic circles? You can refresh your memory as to how much I hate traffic circles here.

The game that day was awful.  Not only was I totally card dead but the table was dead too.  As noted, between the plexiglass and the masks, there was absolute no chatter at the table.  I was sitting in virtually total silence the entire afternoon—and also I desperately needed a drink of water.  I mean, the NBA playoffs had just started and the games were on in the room.  You would think that would stimulate some conversation among the players, but no, no one said a word. Funerals are more fun than this. Sure I like to win, but what first got me into poker was that it was a social game and there was a lot of friendly banter (which in a perfect world, would lead to great blogging material.)

After a terrible drive home (where Google Maps gave me some misinformation about what lane to be in), I vowed I would not return to the Bike until the lockdown was over—if then. It just wasn’t worth it going thru that hellish traffic to only be more miserable at the table.

Of course, in general, the poker games were more fun in Ventura than the Bike (and more fun in Vegas than at either).  But thinking back, I did have some great, fun posts from Bike sessions, so it is at least possible. I mean, if there were no masks and no plexiglass and I wasn’t suffering from a painfully dry mouth, that is.

If you’re wondering why I didn’t go to Ventura, well, sadly, it has not reopened and is unlikely to do so any time soon, if ever.  The lockdown was devastating to them (and tons of other small businesses, for sure) and they filed for bankruptcy (see here). Perhaps they will find a new location and re-open sometime in the future, but I am not holding my breath.  So for now, it’s The Bike. 

But the state did indeed open up on June 15.  Well, mostly.  There are still some restrictions (for example, you can’t ride Uber without a mask, or visit a medical facility without one).  The state rule is that no one who has been fully vaccinated is required by the state to wear a mask, inside or out. Businesses can request proof of vaccination but are allowed to go with the honor system.  No place I’ve entered since 6/15 asked me if I had been vaccinated (and I entered every place I did without a mask, it was glorious!)  Of course any business or government facility can have stricter rules if it desires.  But for all intensive purposes, we are open and free! (Note: I am a professional writer, and I know that the proper expression is, “for all intents and purposes.”  But my purposes are actually fairly intensive.)

On the 15th, most of the southern California rooms tweeted out that masks were no longer necessary for those who had been vaccinated.  Some tweeted out pics of the plexiglass being removed.  Only a few rooms voluntarily talked about drinking at the table, but it seemed logical that it would be ok and some answered my question about it when I asked (the rooms that answered confirmed drinking was allowed at the table.) The Bike was one of the rooms that didn’t answer my inquiry (don’t they know who I am?) but I assumed it would be ok. Just the same, for my first visit, I smuggled in a couple of small water bottles. We were having an early season heat wave and there I was carrying a heavy jacket so I could hide the bottles in the pockets.

So this past Saturday, I made the trek down to the Bike.  I still had to “check in.” They won’t let you enter the casino without a player’s card (even though once inside it is totally useless as they are not tracking hours for comps, no Southern CA room is.) They are still keeping track of who is there for contact tracing purposes in case an outbreak breaks out. I don’t believe they took my temperature but they did give me a paper orange wristband to show that I had been screened.  

As soon as I entered the place, I saw what I wanted to see. Well, no, I didn’t see a scantily clad Sports Illustrated swimsuit model.  But I did see little carts next to the poker tables with beverages on them. Yes! Also, blissfully, in the main poker room, I didn’t see one hint of plexiglass anywhere.  Sweet!  And masks? Well, every single employee wore a mask, but well over 75% of the players seemed to be unmasked.  That was great for a couple of reasons.  One, I might actually be able to hear what someone was saying.  It would make it easier for fun conversations to be had.  Also, well, I want to see as much of a person’s face as possible when they make a bet. I want to see if they have a poker face. The mask makes it too easy to cover that up. The very first place they should ban masks, after banks I suppose, is poker rooms.

It would be nice if the dealers were maskless, because they’re the ones who you have to hear in order to know what is going on with the game.  It’s a visual game but you sometimes need to hear the dealer answer a question of how much the bet is or who’s turn it is to act. But there is a different government bureaucracy in CA that controls health and safety standards for workplaces, and they dilly-dallied making a decision on whether or not employees could go maskless in workplaces.  They only decided the day before I went to the Bike that they didn’t have to wear masks either.  So businesses weren’t prepared and were still requiring masks for the time being.  Hopefully that will be gone by the next time I hit the Bike, but it could be that the Bike wants their employees to keep wearing masks.  We’ll see.

I had used the excellent Table Captain software from my employer, PokerAtlas, to register for the game I wanted while I was driving down there.  I checked in on the phone, saw there were a few names ahead of me on the list, and tried to figure out how the people with drinks had gotten them.  But I saw nobody serving or offering to serve drinks.  When I got to a table, I asked how to get a drink.  I was told that they were coming around every hour or so with a cart that had soft drinks on it.  But if I didn’t want to wait (I didn’t) I could go to the Bike Brewery (just off the casino floor) and get a drink from the take-out line.  Which I did.

It seemed like it took forever for me to get that $2 Diet Pepsi, but I made it back to my game without missing a blind.  And I was happy to have that drink, let me tell you.  I later realized that they had not yet hired back any servers or cocktail waitresses, that’s why it was self-serve.  All the time I was there, there was only one time that someone came by with a drink cart, but they never came close to my table  And I think they just had water.  Oh well, hopefully next time things will be closer to normal.

And with that I’ll stop and tell you more about the game and the poker next, probably at the end of this weekend.  Hint: The table was a lot of fun and I encountered an extremely colorful character! Stay tuned.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

California Poker--Inside & Out

Since I’ve last blogged. I’ve actually played poker. Live poker.  Twice, in fact.

Now the last time I’d played previously was in October at the Bike and I reported this to you here. I didn’t return, and if you read that post you’ll understand why. I especially hated the use of porta-potties instead of the virtually brand new restrooms they had just inside the facility.  Then colder weather came, and then the state put us back in total lockdown early in December for a few months.  They closed card rooms, indoor dining and they even banned outdoor dining.

Sometime earlier this year, not sure when, they opened up a bit.  Outdoor dining was allowed, then even the card rooms could open for outdoor gaming. I resisted going back because of the cooler weather and because I didn’t like the restroom situation.  However, L.A. county did finally ok indoor dining (25% capacity), at which time I saw The Bike promoting the fact that they were now offering indoor dining in a couple of their eateries.  I assumed that meant the inside restrooms would be open.  Perhaps it was worth a trip down there.

So three weeks ago, on a Saturday, I went down to the Bike. I was right, you could now enter the building to either eat or use the facilities, but the main purpose of the Bike, to play games of skill and chance, was still relegated to outside.

One new thing was that you had to have your ID scanned in order to enter the property.  I assume that they want to track everyone who was there in case they get some kind of COVID outbreak. (In case you have forgotten, I received my second vaccination in early March, see here).

It was a fine day weather wise and the outdoor nature of the game was not an issue on this day.  I used the PokerAtlas app to get on the waiting list and didn’t have to wait too long for them to open a new game for me and seven other alleged poker players.

It was my usual game, 2/3 NLH, $100-$300. The tables were filled with plexiglass, and it seemed to me that there was more plexiglass than I remembered.  The tables were 8-handed, and sitting in one of the two center seats, across for the dealer, seemed cramped. Oh, I had plenty of legroom, but both my arms were butted up against the side plexiglass for my spot pretty much the whole time.  I had heard that during the original lockdown, the Bike had ordered new, larger tables to accommodate social distancing.  Still, I was cramped, eight-handed.  

Masks are required at all times, this is a statewide mandate.  Masks are required whenever you leave your house, inside and out. Technically, I am not allowed to walk the few yards to my mailbox without wearing a mask. And you are not allowed to eat, or drink, at the table.  Can’t even have a capped water bottle that you keep closed and sip occasionally.  That is strictly against the rules.  Again, this is a government mandate, not the Bike’s. 

One thing I will say, playing poker in these conditions is a lot less fun than pre-COVID.  Between the masks and the plexiglass, conversation is virtually non-existent. One of the reasons I switched to poker from table games long, long ago was that poker was such a social game. And it’s conversations at the poker table that result in my best blog stories.  No more.  In two sessions, virtually no one said a word. And it was very difficult to hear anyone, especially the dealers, most of whom had heavy duty masks and face shields.  I had to be very careful to make sure I totally understood what the dealer was saying before acting.

Once I started playing, I felt rather rusty.  It had been so long since I’d played regularly that I forgot how to play to some degree.  Of course I knew the rules, I just didn’t feel I had the right strategy or the right at-the-ready experience for any situation that might come up. I can hear some of you saying, “he never knew how to play anyway!”

I was card dead, which because of my rustiness, was fine by me.  I wanted to get back into it gradually and the garbage hands I was chucking hand after hand made that easy to do.

At the end, it seemed like I only played two hands, the only two pocket pairs I got.  One was Aces and one was Kings.  I won with one and lost with the other.  If you need me to tell you which is which, then this must be your first time reading the blog. But I think I suffered because of inexperience.  Well, inexperience with the Aces.  Maybe I just was spooked by the dreaded pocket Kings.  I guess it’s still me, rusty or not.

I had played nearly an hour and probably hadn’t played any hands but the blinds.  I got two Aces and a guy in front of me raised to $11. I made it $28 and it folded back to the original raiser, who made it $54.  I didn’t think too much (dumb), I just took a $100 stack of reds and put it out there next to my $28.  I should have raised more.  This time he just called. 

Like the time I played in October, this wasn’t the typical Bike game I recalled from when I played there regularly years back.  There was no wild action.  It was actually nitty.  No one was out of line. So when he four-bet me, I was sure he had a real premium hand. Like pocket Kings. Maybe Queens. Or Ace-King. Nothing else. Especially since this guy had been at the table as long as I had and he probably saw that my three-bet was my first raise, and really, my first voluntary bet of any kind. He had to know I had a big hand.

So when the flop was King-high, dry and rainbow, I panicked.  I assumed he had just hit a set of Kings.  Well, I didn’t assume it but I was sure worried about it. When he checked I worried he was setting a trap, so I checked behind.  A brick on the turn and again, it went check, check.  Same thing on the river.  My lack of recent playing experience cost me. Of course I should have realized he wouldn’t play a set of Kings like that. Maybe he’d check the flop, but he’d come out firing on the turn. I needed more practice.

I said, “I guess you don’t have Kings?” as I showed my Aces.  He hesitated for a bit and then showed his pocket Jacks quickly before mucking them.

I’d like to think if I’d been playing poker regularly for the past year I would have played that better, and maybe gotten some more money from him. On the other hand, he might not have called any bets with that King out there, the same King that freaked me out.

The only other time I raised was a bit later when I got the pocket Kings myself in early position.  I opened to $15 (which was actually on the high side for this table, that’s how unBikelike it was).  I had two callers. The flop was Jack-high, I bet $25, one caller.  The turn was another Jack.  I checked. He bet $55.  

It was me. It was pocket Kings. It was my first poker session in over five months.  I couldn’t shake the feeling he had a Jack. A Jack was certainly in his range, right?  Ace-Jack, King-Jack, etc?  I didn’t trust any other read I could come up with, so I folded.  I think it is most likely I made a bad fold, but I’ll never know.  Again, I couldn’t remember how to play, but I could remember how many times Kings have cost me dearly.  Oh well.

I really couldn’t play longer than two hours. I find it even more annoying wearing a mask while sitting down and playing poker than I do when I am shopping at Walmarts. Also, the lack of water was really tough on me. I have a dry mouth problem, I can’t go that long without some liquid. I had smuggled in a couple of tiny bottles of water but I would have had to have left the area, with my jacket, in order to get to it.  I just cashed out and drank one of the bottles of water on the long hike to my car.

I was able to book a $75 win thanks to those Aces, at least.

Two Saturdays later, just the other day, I returned to the Bike. I had noticed they were now offering indoor gaming. L.A. county had progressed to where indoor dining was now up to 50% capacity, not 25%, and this meant that card rooms could have some indoor tables, if they were properly spaced out. I assumed that there was no way there would be room for all of the Bike’s games inside, and that it would be a mix of indoor and outdoor. I assumed the tables games, where they make their big bucks, would be the first allowed indoors, followed by the huge buy-in poker games. My crummy little 2/3 game would be the last to get inside.  

So imagine my surprise when I got there and the outdoor area where I had played just two weeks ago had been turned back into the driveway for the valet parking.  Yes, all the games were now inside, including all the poker.  Now, some of the outside areas that were now deserted looked like they could still be used for gaming if they got super-busy, but basically, the Bike is like it was pre-lockdown. The tables were a little farther apart, but not really all that much. I’m sure their setup had to be blessed by the county health officials, who of course, always know what they are doing. Of course, there was still no eating/drinking at the table, all of which still had  plexiglass. Masks of course were still mandatory.

Now it happened that the weather this Saturday was particularly picture perfect, even by Southern California standards.  Playing outside this day would have been pretty damn nice. Still, it was good to see the progress we are making that we could play poker inside, like civilized human beings.

One thing that seemed to be worse inside than outside was the plexiglass.  The fluorescent lighting indoors reflected horribly off the plexiglass, making it even harder to see. I was sitting next to the dealer, normally a great seat from me to see from, and had trouble reading the board.  Another player on the other side of the table had to constantly ask the dealer to read the board to him, and sometimes she slid the cards right in front of him. And this guy was a lot younger than me, and wasn’t even wearing glasses (though I suppose he might have had contact lenses).

I was a little less card dead this session, but that didn’t work out to my benefit. Won a small pot with Ace-9 off in the big blind. I opened to $15 with Ace-Queen suited from UTG+1 but didn’t get a call.

Then I ran up against a guy who reminded me of Mr. Subliminal. He probably didn’t look anything like Mr. S, but I never remember what Mr. S looks like when I do run into him, and for some reason that was the first thing that came to mind when I saw this guy.

I guess out of boredom I limped with Ace-5 of hearts.  It was 4 or 5 way. The flop was Queen-Jack-10, one heart.  With a gutshot and the back door flush draw, I called Not Mr. Subliminal’s bet of $20, we were heads up.  No bet on the turn, a brick.  Another brick on the river, he bet $20.  I honestly thought my Ace might be good, he had made a few other river bets (that didn’t get called) that I suspected might be bluffs. Ace-high is a bluff catcher, right?  I called but he showed me a 10.

Then the hand that really stuck in my craw, against the same guy. I had pocket Queens UTG and made it $15. Only this guy called.  The flop was 10-9-3, rainbow. I led out for $25, and after thinking for a bit, he went all-in!  He had over $220 and I had him covered, but barely. I tanked.

It wasn’t a draw heavy board. Would he play a set that way?  I didn’t think so, that would be bad play. I mean, I hadn’t played like a guy who would raise with Queen-Jack under the gun. He might have had the draw himself, I suppose, and was making a semi-bluff.  One way or the other, I felt I was probably ahead. He couldn’t play a set that badly, could he?  Well, I never convinced myself that he could have, but I couldn’t convince myself that he didn’t have a set, either.  Would he play two pair like that? Maybe?  Anyway, again, I will blame my rustiness, but I just couldn’t find the call in me. I folded. Pretty sure I made a bad fold, but I’ll never know.

Inside, I was able to last a full two and a half hours with the damn mask and no water, but I had to call it a day down $125. But I suspect I’ll start spending more and more Saturday afternoons playing some poker, our government lords and masters willing.

Monday, March 8, 2021

Vaccines Are Better The Second Time Around

In my last post, I described the “fun” I had getting my first COVID vaccine.  This time I’ll talk about the second shot, which I just received just last week. Fortunately for me, this will be a much less exciting post.

By the way, I should have mentioned this in my last post, but for those keeping score at home, I got the Moderna vaccine.

As I mentioned, there was some HMO I had never heard of running the vaccine center for my first shot.  In the email I got from them confirming my appointment, they advised me that they would automatically schedule me for the second dose when I was due. They would notify me by email when my second appointment was, and they strongly suggested that I keep that appointment, although they said there would be an option to reschedule if absolutely necessary.

They didn’t give me a time frame for notifying me but I sort of assumed I would hear from them fairly soon after getting the first shot. Ha!  For nearly a month, I hadn’t heard back from them, not one word.  According to my vaccine card, I was due for the second vaccine on March 1, exactly four weeks after I got the first one.  But February was about to end and I hadn’t heard a peep out of them.

There was no obvious way to contact them as far as I could tell.  I was thinking if nothing else, I would have to battle my way through the damn county website I had gotten the first appointment on and try to get scheduled that way.  But I dreaded that.

Fortunately, I was saved from that horror by a text I received from Kaiser, my own HMO, in late February.  It said it was time for me to get my COVID vaccine, I was finally eligible!  Yeah, they were now able to service youngsters like me.  They lowered the age just enough to allow me to get shot.  That was great, but I had concerns that the fact that I was looking for the second shot, and the fact that the vaccine had to be Moderna might be problematic. I mean, what if Kaiser was only distributing the Pfizer vaccine?

They gave me a website and I had to do an “e-visit” which basically just had me answer questions about whether or not I had already gotten the first shot and which one it was.  It was clear the software was properly designed to handle folks like me who had gone out-of-network for the first shot.

I can’t say for sure, but it also looked like they could handle either vaccine, at least based on the questions I was asked.  The program determined that I could get the second dose as soon as the week of 3/1 and gave me one of six sites I could make an appointment at, all of them reasonably close to where I live. Two of them were in the same facility I go to for 95% of my medical care, so that was cool.

One of the sites was ridiculously close to me, even closer than the place I usually go. I had no idea there was a Kaiser facility that close to me.  It turned out that location had the earliest open appointments, so I grabbed it, not sure where I would be going.  But it was for March 3, clearly within the window of when I needed to get the second dose. Cool. The appointment clearly said “Moderna—second dose” so it seemed like I was all set.

Although close to me, I was unfamiliar with the specific neighborhood of the address so the week before my appointment I drove over there to see.  It was easy to get to and seemed like a relatively new Kaiser facility, but rather small.  Obviously, this location didn’t off any specialty services, but all I needed was a damn shot.

On the Saturday before the appointment, I finally heard from the HMO that had given me the first shot!  I had an appointment scheduled for the coming Tuesday at 1:40pm (which was the time of my appointment for the first shot).  I was glad in the end they had not forgotten about me but geez, how about a little notice? Just three days before the appointment they tell me?  SMH.

I cancelled that appointment but for backup, I rescheduled it for after I was to get the Kaiser shot. I figured that if something—anything—went wrong with the Kaiser shot, I wanted to be covered to get that second vaccine that week.  I booked it for the day after my Kaiser shot, knowing I would cancel it if everything went smoothly with Kaiser.  I did consider that round two at the same location as my first shot might be less of a hassle. I mean, a month later, the COVID rate had gone down considerably and there would likely be a lot fewer cars online to get tested.  And there might be fewer people getting the vaccine too.  News reports said that shipping delays of the vaccine due to bad weather across the country meant that the huge locations like the one I first went to had to cancel any first shot appointments.  Maybe I’d go over there and see only a handful of cars backed up, and it wouldn’t be nearly as bad as last time.

But no, I rescheduled so I would still have that as a safety option but I wanted to get the second shot inside, not in my car, if at all possible.

On the day of the appointment, I got over there about 40 minutes early and was delighted to see that there was plenty of parking and no line to get in. As soon as I walked in, they handed me a brief form to fill out which was mostly questions that I had already answered online.  When I was done, I went over to register, and some guy plugged me into the computer, confirmed I was in the right place, put some sticker on my form and sent me down the hall to get my shot.

The facility might eventually be medical offices, but for the time being it was set up almost like a DMV—only efficiently run.  Or maybe it looked like the college hall where I voted last year.  As I marched toward the office to go to, I passed a whole bunch of people sitting in small office-type chairs.  I guess there were about 30 chairs and about 20 or so people in them.  But I was told to head straight for a certain office, and when entered there were four desks where nurses were giving folks injections, a bunch of chairs for folks waiting to get shot.  But there was just one person ahead of me.  I didn’t have to wait more than a minute to get called.  The nurse had to fill out a bunch of paperwork, including on my vaccine card, and stuck the needle into me.  And I was vaccinated.

All those chairs and people that I had passed on my way in were the folks that had already had the shot, and they were just waiting 15 minutes to see if they had any immediate bad reactions. So I joined them for 15 minutes, felt fine, and was dismissed.  I got back to my car about 10 minutes before my actual appointment time!  This experience couldn’t have been more different that the first shot.  What an improvement!

As soon as I got home, I went online to cancel the appointment with the other HMO.

Side-effects, you ask?  Well I did have a pretty bad headache that evening, and also when I woke the next morning. But feeling otherwise fine, I ran some errands in the morning and then took a nap after lunch.  When I woke up from the nap, I was feeling lousy, like I might have a fever.  I did!  It was 100.1°. I was tired but otherwise no other symptoms.  The fever was gone by the time I went to bed and by the next morning I was pretty much 100%.

I sure hope this is the last time I have to blog about COVID.  Please.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Waiting in Line to Get Shot

This happened a month ago, and I’ve been meaning to write it up as a blog post for all that time.  But after spending years doing a lot of writing in the evenings, almost daily, I’ve gotten out of practice. It’s just really hard to force myself to slave over a PC and bang out a post these days. This year-long break from actually living has had a major effect on all my habits, both the good ones and the bad ones.

So in an effort to return to an actual life, I wanted to get the COVID vaccine. You know, so I could start living again. The distribution of the vaccines has been chaotic, to say the least.  Every state has different rules, and then every county within the state has different rules, and I think even some cities have different rules from the counties.  It is disorganized chaos (and that’s the worst kind).

My HMO is Kaiser, one of the biggest.  And they know my medical history. I knew they were going to be administering vaccines, and honestly, na├»ve as I was, I expected them to contact me the very first day they got the vaccine and demand I come in for a shot.  Hell, I half-expected them to just show up at more door one morning, with a Nurse Ratched type holding a needle and ordering me to drop my pants and bend over. Yes, I knew the shot goes in the arm, not the ass, but go with me here.

I mean I have a ton of co-morbidities.  Overweight.  Over 65. Type 2 Diabetes. Triple bypass survivor. I kind of felt I should be at the very top of the list.

But no, first they had to vaccinate health care workers, then people old enough to consider me a young whippersnapper. In fact, when they opened it up to non-health care workers, they wouldn’t give the shot to anyone under 75.  Old as I am, I am not that old.

But then the county of L.A. lowered the age to 65+.  I qualified.  I expected to get that call from Kaiser. “Come right in, today, Mr. VegasPoker. We have your vaccine right here. Don’t waste a second.”  But no…..Kaiser still was not vaccinating anyone under 75, even though the county said they could.  I guess they didn’t have enough vaccine, and they were saving what they had for the real geezers.

So I waited.  But my friends encouraged me to try to get the shot outside of Kaiser, not to wait.  BTW, these friends live in Ventura County, right next store to L.A. County, and in that county, the lowest age was still 75 for everyone. My friend was really eager to get the shot, but she couldn’t because she lived in the wrong county. Like I said, it’s a crazy system.

My initial assumption was that if I tried to get a shot at non-Kaiser location, they wouldn’t take me, telling me I had to go thru Kaiser. My friend insisted that wasn’t that case, they would shoot anyone who showed up and was old enough. So I tried to book an appointment on one of several government run websites that had vaccine appointments available.

There were many false starts. The website was poorly designed. Instead of just being able to register first for all the possible locations to get the vaccine, you had to pick the location first and then register.  I don’t know how many times I entered a shitload of data on a particular site, just to get to the point where it said “click here to book an appointment” only to find out that that particular site didn’t have any appointments.  And I’d have to start all over.

One site that would have been real convenient said they had appointments for every day in that week.  But when you got to the point of booking it, you could only pick one day, and that day was booked.  I had to back out, enter all the information again, and go to another day.  I did this five times for this site and it turned out that, despite what it said at the front end, there were no appointments available any day that week.  I was just a total waste of time.

Then finally, a month ago now, I tried again. I noticed a location saying it had appointments available that had never had appointments before. It was at a park that I wasn’t that familiar with, but I kinda knew was pretty close to my house.  I broke through all the preliminaries and got to the magical place that said, “book an appointment,” I clicked it and expected to be told they had no appointments. By the way, the date available was this very day, implying I could get the vaccine that same day.  To my astonishment, it said they had an appointment for today….11:40am.  I looked at the clock.  It was then exactly 11:38am. Shit. This place was close but not that close, especially since I wasn’t even dressed.  But I clicked it anyway and saw that 11:40 was just the first appointment available. They had appointments available at 10 minute intervals until about 3:20pm.

Hooray.  By this time I had checked Google maps and found out that this location was a mere seven minutes from my house.  Initially I was going to click on 12:10 but then I thought better of it.  I had no idea how long this would take, I better eat lunch first.  So I made it for 1:40, giving me plenty of time to eat, and find the place. I wasn’t familiar with the area, wasn’t sure where I had to go or where I would be able to park.

This vaccine site was being run by the L.A. Fire Department. After booking the appt, I got an email from some HMO I’d never heard off before confirming my appointment. I guess this was the outfit that was actually administering the shots, since firemen aren’t nurses.

You may have heard that there were some huge, mass vaccine centers around town.  Your area may have one of them.  For L.A. County, these were places like Dodger Stadium and the Forum.  These were drive up locations, where you had to wait in your car for possibly hours until you got the shot.  I avoided places like that like the plague.  I had no interest in waiting in my car, moving along inch by inch with my engine running while I got barely closer to the front of line. Ugh.  So I never tried to get an appointment at Dodger Stadium.

All the confirmation told me was to wear a mask, and bring a copy of that email which had the QR code. No other vital information, like where to park, or a more exact location to report to.  There was a specific street address given when I booked the appointment. One thing it did warn—do not arrive early. That was a very specific rule they had.  Show up on time, not early. Don’t get in line early.

Of course, I planned to arrive early and if necessary, just sit in my car until it was time to report in.  I didn’t know how to find the place or where to park.  So I left my house and Google maps found the street address of this place.  Which, of course, didn’t exist.

I was driving on the street where the park was, I mean I could see the park on my left, and even saw a parking lot for it. I almost parked there, but I could see it was a pretty big park and I might be in for a big walk.  So I came to another entrance to the park on the left, but Google maps was telling me to turn right for the address I had put in.  I was glad because I couldn’t have turned left into the park’s entrance.  There was a line of cars a mile long waiting to turn right into the driveway. I saw in front of the driveway a sign that said “COVID Testing.”

Boy was I relieved I didn’t have to get in that line. There must be some other place where they are giving out the vaccines, I was sure of that.  When I was on that street that was leading away from the driveway, Google maps told me I had arrived at my destination.  There was nothing there!

Well not quite nothing.  At almost the exact spot where Google maps told me I had arrived, I saw about three or four people on the sidewalk, sitting under a temporary awning. I figured that was where the shots were being administered.  They were sitting in front of a fence that had what looked to be a little league baseball field behind it, something you’d expect to see as part of a public park.

I wasn’t sure I was right though, so I went to the end of the street and parked on the street. I walked over to the folks under awning.  As I was about to ask, “Is this where I get the vaccine?” I realized I was about to make a fool of myself.  These people were sitting there, enjoying their lunch.  They were clearly not medical professionals distributing vaccines.

Well, I decided to keep walking and go that park driveway, and ask where I should go for the vaccine. By the time I got to the intersection, to cross the street and be on the same side as the driveway, I got a good look at what was going on.  There was not only that big sign that said “COVID testing” but there was a guy there directing traffic, guiding cars into the driveway one at a time as the line moved ever so slowly.  I got across the street and asked the guy where I should go for the vaccine.  He pointed to the seemingly endless line of cars that was backed up down the street, leading into the driveway.  “That’s the line, get in the end of it.”

I was sure he was mistaken.  That was the line for testing.  I wanted the vaccine.  I explained that to him. He shrugged and said, as far as he knew, there was only one line. If I wanted to, I could walk up to where there were people checking the cars in.  So I kept walking, on the driveway, towards the people there. 

It didn’t take long for a woman to come running toward me, waving her arms, apparently telling me to stop.  I did, and she came over to me, what did I want?

I told her I was there for the COVID vaccine, not COVID testing.  Where do I go for that?

She pointed to all the cars. “There is one line for the test and the vaccine.  You have to get in your car and find the back of this line.”

Are you fucking kidding me (I didn’t say that to her, I just thought it)? “I have a 1:40pm appointment, I’ll never get through this line in time (it was now about 1:20pm).”  She said that was fine, they’d keep my appointment.

I said, “The website said nothing about having to be in your car, about having to wait in your car, about even needing a car to get the vaccine.” She apologized for that but said the website is run by the county and they have no control over the information on it.  I needed to get in my car and find the back of this ginormous line and just slowly creep along and wait my turn.

I started walking back to my car, which was quite a bit away.  And I was damn furious.  Yeah, the website is run by the county, but I got an email from the HMO running this thing. Why didn’t it say that I needed a car? I mean, most people in L.A. have cars, but some folks don’t.  Or, what if someone decided to take an Uber because they were worried about the possible side effects of the vaccine, and were worried there’d be a slight chance they couldn’t drive home?  The email should have given that detail—that you would have to be in car and prepare to sit it in for hours while waiting for the vaccine.  At that point some people could have realized that they couldn’t deal with the arrangements at this location and cancelled, and tried to find another site. There is no doubt in my mind, since the website gave no hint of this, that there were people who took a bus there, or walked, or took an Uber, and were shit-out-of luck when they saw how this thing was operating.

I was seriously considering leaving.  Waiting in my car and creeping ever-so-slowly for hours was not what I bargained for.  I thought I was avoiding that by not going to a place like Dodger Stadium.  But, reluctantly, I got in my car and tried to find the end of the line.  First I got to the end of the block and saw that the line turned the corner and I had to make a left turn to find the end of the line.  In my memory at the time, I thought I had to turn left once more to find the end, but that turned out to be incorrect.  I only made one left turn.  But that new street that I was following to find the end of the line seemed endless.  There were many intersections crossed and there were traffic guards keeping the lines straight at the intersections.

I finally found the end of the line and had to make an illegal u-turn in the middle of a fairly well trafficked street to get into the line.  I had no idea how many cars were in front of me but it seemed like a million. I was over two miles from the actual check-in spot, and my pal Woody estimated that there were 250 cars in line. Again, I wondered if it was worth it to do this.  I know if I had known when I made the appointment I was going to have to do this I wouldn’t have made the appointment, I would have tried to find a venue that was run more to my liking.

And of course, once I was in that traffic line, I was pretty well stuck.  It would be hard to bail at that point. I mean I couldn’t pull out of the line.  I would have had to stay put for awhile, had the cars behind me honk at me, until I had enough room to pull out.

But I stayed.  At least it was a decent day out, not too hot, so there was a lesser chance of any car overheating than there might have been.  That would have been a nightmare.  Especially if the car had been mine, or literally any car in front of me. I didn’t like idling all that time but it would have been insane to turn the engine off and restart it probably 100 times or more if I had decided to do that.

I was really glad, that without proper warning, I had eaten my lunch first, since I probably would have died from low blood sugar if I hadn’t.  Also glad I went to the bathroom the last thing before leaving my house. And glad I had taken a bottle of water with me in the car.  But as I moved along at a glacial pace, I started to worry that I might just be gulping that water too fast.  I wasn’t worried about running out—I was worried about filling up my bladder too fast.  Of course, there was no way to take any kind of a bathroom break once you got in that line.

Then I thought about the people in line who were waiting for the COVID test. And I assumed that most of the people in the line were there for that. Because all you hear about is how the vaccine is in limited supply and there are so few shots available.  I assumed that 95% of the line was for testing and how ridiculous was it that the few of us who there for shots (and had dutifully made our appointments as we were told to do) had to be in the same line. It made no sense.

So, those people who were waiting to get tested were….well, sick.  I mean they were having COVID symptoms, that’s why there were waiting to get tested, right (I suppose some felt fine, and were either getting tested as a requirement to return to work or because they had been exposed to a COVID-positive person)? So how great must it have been to wait in their car in that obscenely long line while they were ill, possibly extremely ill?  What if they suddenly had trouble breathing (the most common really bad symptom of the disease)?  How would that work?  I mean, it might not be stalled car that held up the line….it might have been a passed out driver that did it!

And then another thought.  What else is a symptom of COVID?  How about diarrhea?  I mean whenever you a screened for COVID before they let you enter a place that does screening, one of the questions they always ask you is, do you have diarrhea? So imagine having that symptom and being stuck in your car in that line, waiting to get tested?  How exactly would that work?  I mean I know how it would work and it wouldn’t be pretty.  Or smell good.

Most of the time, the line of cars was hugging the curb. But occasionally there were (legally) parked cars we had to go around, thus venturing out into the street, a main road in that neighborhood. I pitied anyone parked there who had to leave before the line of cars was gone.

What a fustercluck!  And after spending all my adult life dealing with L.A. traffic, I was now in the worst traffic jam of my life.  And what was that bullshit about not arriving early for your appointment?  The times obviously meant nothing.  I wished I hadn’t waited the extra 10 minutes I did before getting there. The sooner the better for this absurdity.

I don’t know what the right way to do this was.  But I was sure the way they were doing it was the worst possible way. But finally, I crept forward, turned a corner, and eventually—after over two hours in my car, in line, I could see the entrance to the park. And after a 2:20 hour wait, I got to the point where a human being came over to my car window and asked to see my appointment email and screened me.  Cars getting the vaccine went straight, cars getting tested turned left. It seemed that there were a lot more people getting shots than I had ever imaged.  My 1:40 appointment (it was now after 4pm) was not mine exclusively, obviously, but just a window.  I followed a trail, found another line to get in (inside the park, at least) and waited some more. I got screened several more times, I got asked the same questions about half a dozen times, but finally got in a queue (one of six) where I could see at the end of which people were getting shot as they sat in their vehicles.

The one question that seemed dumb was which arm I wanted the needle in.  Did I have a choice? I mean for me it’s always the left, although since I broke my right arm a case could be made that my left arm is now the strongest and I should get it in the right arm. But I said left because, well, I was not supposed to get out of the car and the nurse was clearly going to shoot me through the driver’s side window.  How would that work, if I told them my right arm?  Would I have to contort myself to make my right arm available?  Would the nurse go around to the passenger side and reach over to shoot me?  I never found out.

So I got my shot. And they gave me a card, making it official that I got my first shot. It was blank, at least as to my name.  I could have filled in anyone’s name as having gotten the first shot.

Now the email said I would be monitored by a medical professional for 15 minutes after getting the shot in case I had any side effects.  That was quite an exaggeration.  Instead I was told to drive my car to a dirt “parking” area and just wait in my car 10 minutes and if I felt ok, drive off into the sunset.  So I did.  That area was jammed with cars and I ended up getting stuck in a ditch trying to get out of the way of other cars waiting. Fortunately, although I couldn’t go any further forward, I was able to back out of the ditch, turn my car around without hitting another car, and wait.  I had to drive through some shrubbery to exit (no kidding).  I left after about 8 minutes because I was afraid I would get blocked from exiting as more cars were coming in to that dirt lot than were leaving.

The way I left, I was surprising close to my neighborhood, and made it home in just a few minutes.  As I pulled into my driveway, I received a text from the HMO running this thing that it was now safe to leave the area, I had waited long enough.  Good to know.

I had no side-effects from the first shot. All told, the ordeal lasted around three hours.  And I was exhausted, mostly from mental fatigue.  Who knew that waiting in line in your car could be so exhausting?

Now you can read my report on my second shot, see here.