Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Leave the Driving to Us

Quote of the Day: "That’s when I discovered that Frank Niro is the Bobby Knight of poker coaches. In other words, he gave me his honest views, sometimes in a loud voice." --Eddie Koopman

In the photo above, Chef Billy Town and Easy Eddie Koopman relax on Thanksgiving Day at the Easton Mountain Retreat center in Greenwich NY.

Note: This is the second in a series of guest weblogs by Eddie Koopman (also known as Woodstied or Easy Eddie). That way, his growing number of friends in North Carolina, New York, Missouri, Nevada and elsewhere can keep track of his progress. His previous blog appeared here on November 29, 2006.

After several interesting days at a resort in upstate New York, ChessSafari departed on November 30 in hopes of finding a ride to visit his children and grandson before returning to Seattle. Yes, Frank is a grandpa.

He gave me a choice of methods to return to Seattle with the idea of meeting up again in about a week. I told him that I would prefer to take Greyhound across the country from Albany to Washington State. I could have flown or taken another train but this was the least expensive choice and they have more frequent smoke breaks. So he went online and booked my bus tickets before leaving town.

I left Easton Mountain on Monday December 4th with another ride from Kirk, the guy who had taken me to Turning Stone the previous week. He got me to the Albany Greyhound station in plenty of time.

Because of my stroke, I was able to check my baggage through special handling, which meant that Greyhound would move the bags from bus to bus. This would, theoretically, be much simpler for me. But I had the feeling from my first meeting with the baggage people that I may never see my bags again. That would not be a good thing since just about everything I own was crammed into those two bags.

My anxiety over my bags was heightened when they sent me on the first leg of my journey three hours earlier than the scheduled departure time. No problem, though. I would rather spend three hours waiting in Manhattan than in Albany. That was the last I would see of my bags on the trip.

During my stopover in New York City I was able to visit a restaurant I used to hang out at as a runaway kid in the 1960s. However, I did not like the new Times Square of 2006 as much as I did the old 42nd Street. So much has changed, and not all for the better. I walked around until my next bus left for Ohio.

At our first major stop, some police officers boarded the bus and took two passengers off in handcuffs. One was a man in his thirties and the other was a 15-year-old girl. “Kidnapping,” I heard them say. Next we stopped near the Ohio-Indiana border for a snack break. The driver said the bus would be serviced. I got off with my seatmate and several other passengers. When we looked around the bus had left the gate. We waited and waited for it to return. It didn’t. Good thing my bags weren’t on that bus!

After a time a different bus came by. The driver acknowledged that the other bus had left a few fares behind and directed us to board his bus for St. Louis. He said we would still get there in time to make our Denver connections. When we arrived in St. Louis I checked for my bags so that I could take my medications. I was told they were “on the way” but not quite there as yet. In other words, they were missing in action.

At this point I was pretty exhausted and ready for a restful journey from St. Louis to Denver. But the ride was total misery. A young mother with her 19-month-old screaming infant was in the rear of the bus. The mother had no money for a bottle for the baby. And even though several of the passengers, including me, would’ve chipped in for some milk for the baby, the gift shops at the terminals we visited were useless.

I would like to suggest to the Greyhound management that the stations should sell baby items for its passengers if they are going to allow infants to ride. These items would be much more useful than bus shaped piggy banks or Greyhound logo baseball caps. I never saw a company so out of touch with the needs of its customers. At one point, I glanced toward the back of the bus and saw the baby take off his diaper and try to eat it. He was so hungry.

By the time we arrived in Denver my scheduled layover time was less than one hour. I thought I was heading next to Salt Lake City, Boise ID, and Portland OR on the way to Tacoma. At least that’s what my printed itinerary said. When they called my connection bus I lined up at the gate with my ticket in hand. When I got to the door I was told that I couldn’t board the bus because it was full. I would have to wait for the next bus…in twelve hours. Huh?

The new ticket that they issued at the counter re-routed me through Montana. I looked at a newspaper and saw that the temperature was near zero every place along the new route. I wanted to call ChessSafari to tell him that, rather than arriving Thursday evening at 6:30 PM, I would probably not get to Tacoma until at least 8 AM on Friday, December 8th. My cell phone was dead and my charger was in my lost luggage. I checked as each new bus arrived in Denver during my 12-hour wait; still no luggage.

I finally found a wireless phone store where I picked up a new charger for $32. Thankfully, Chess had anticipated that I might need some extra cash and gave Kirk an extra $140 to hand to me as I boarded the bus in Albany. That was certainly coming in handy now. On the way to get the charger I passed a sign that declared, “The New Greyhound. On-Time Certified!” Like I said: Huh?

It was so cold in the bus terminal that I decided to go to the nearest movie theatre to kill some time. The movie was “Stranger than Fiction” starring Dustin Hoffman. It was not one of his best efforts. Save your ticket money on this one unless you like boring movies.

After the movie I made one last trip to the baggage area. I asked about my luggage and also about the items I had left on the seat of the coach that abandoned us in Ohio. I wanted to know if there was a lost and found area. It seemed like a reasonable question to me.

I was told to ask security and that they would take me to it in the garage. I did so and the security officer suggested that I get out of the station immediately or I would be subject to arrest for disorderly conduct. I attempted to explain that the baggage handlers had sent me to him. His response was to take out his cuffs and threaten me. I had already seen that drill once on this trip, so I left the terminal. After four more hours in the freezing cold my connecting bus was finally ready for boarding at about 10 PM, minutes before frostbite was ready to set in.

As the driver went through the list of stops ahead I was just happy to get some warm air to my toes. Then he said, almost in a mock tone of voice, “and thanks for choosing Greyhound.” I wasn’t the only one who spoke up and said, “never again”.

Once we started moving, however, the bus got chilly. I asked for heat. He said, “OK”, but no heat came on. Passengers were wrapped in heavy coats and blankets; at least those that had them. One passenger handed out extra sweatshirts that he brought with him until he ran out. At a break in Wyoming, a passenger asked the driver for heat. His reply, and I quote: “Talk to me after my break. Until then I don’t want to be bothered.”

Not to over emphasize the point, but there should be regulations governing the transport of babies on long bus trips, especially if there is going to be inadequate climate control. When we got to St. Regis, Montana, all passengers were told to depart the bus. The driver explained that we had to wait approximately thirty minutes while he went to pick up a relief driver. All passengers, including mothers with infants, were left standing in the cold on an ice-covered parking lot waiting for his return. An hour and a half later, so it seemed, the bus came back with a fresh driver.

Twelve hours later we hit Seattle. Frank had arranged for my departure point to be Tacoma, an hour south of Seattle, because my original itinerary had me going through Portland. In other words, getting off in Tacoma was supposed to save an hour on the bus. But the way they ticketed me after Denver brought me through Seattle first. So it turned out to be an extra hour on the bus. On top of that, the Seattle to Tacoma connection was delayed adding a final dose of insult to the injury caused by those “On Time Certified” signs that now seemed to be everywhere.

Actually, there was one more insult. When they unloaded the luggage from the Seattle bus to the Tacoma bus, I spotted my two bags. That meant that they arrived with me in Tacoma. It also meant that they had been in Denver with me when I was frantically searching for my medications and cell phone charger.

I will be sending a copy of this trip report to the Greyhound corporate offices in Dallas TX. If anyone who reads this has any contacts at Greyhound, please let them know of my trip from hell, by way of Montana. Perhaps they will at least refund my fare. More importantly, perhaps they will make an effort to improve their customer service. Another copy is going to my lawyer.

The one thing that went as planned was that ChessSafari was at the Tacoma Greyhound station waiting for me when I arrived 14 hours late. I gave him a big hug. Then I went to my motel to take a hot bath and a long nap. I’m ready for some poker.

ChessSafari and his friends have treated me extremely well since the minute I arrived in the Seattle area. My motel is directly across from a bowling alley that conveniently has a card room. There are no paid dealers. Local players who all seem to know each other pass the deal from one player to the next around the table. I sat down in what I thought was an Omaha-8 game, where I can usually hold my own. Two hands later the game changed to FARGO. Then the next player changed it to CRAZY PINEAPPLE.

To me pineapple is something you garnish a ham with and Fargo is a city in North Dakota. After three hours of change-the-name-poker (called dealer’s choice flop games by the house), I was ahead by twenty bucks. To me, that was dinner so I cashed out. I learned later that I could’ve changed the game to limit hold’em on my own deal. Maybe next time.

Frank likes to play every Saturday morning at a no limit hold’em tourney on the Suquamish Indian reservation in Kitsap County, Washington. As he did the previous time we went there, he offered me incentives to play my best poker: a $50 last longer bonus and $100 to knock him out. 32 players entered the $35 buy-in event and we both made it to the final table. I outlasted him to 5th place and took home the bonus as well as the bubble cash prize equal to the entry fee.

It was the first time that I ever participated in a discussion of a final table deal. I found it quite interesting. The final table players agreed unanimously to modify the posted prize structure wherein players four and five would get their buy-in back and a ten percent tip would automatically go to the dealers from the first place money. Then we played on.

ChessSafari busted in 10th place when he called a player’s all-in raise while holding A-K. It was a good call; the all-in player had A-Q. Unfortunately, a queen came on the river. My day ended when my last 3,000 chips went into the big blind and I had to try to survive against two opponents with 7-3 offsuit. No such luck.

In general, I was happy about the way I played. Frank acknowledged that I made good decisions early from what he was able to observe. At one point he moved to my table where I was the big stack. That’s when I discovered that Frank Niro is the Bobby Knight of poker coaches. In other words, he gave me his honest views, sometimes in a loud voice.

On one hand I flopped the nut straight on a rainbow board and over-bet my hand. Then I showed my cards after my opponents all folded. He was not happy that I chased everyone out of the pot and especially not happy that I gave free information about my play by showing the nuts in that situation. I understand now that I could’ve added to my stack by playing less aggressively there.

Later, an opponent raised pre-flop from the small blind with pocket kings. I had limped with Ts9s and called his raise. The flop came AsKs2c. He checked and I made a pot size semi-bluff bet with my flush draw. He called (for reasons that are obvious now). On the turn he checked again after a rag fell. Sensing weakness when I should’ve smelled a trap, I bluffed off half my remaining stack. He called.

The river brought the deuce of spades, completing my flush and pairing the board. I had him covered so I moved him all-in. He called with his nut full house. The hand cost me three fourths of my stack and I went from big stack in the tourney to an average stack. Frank seemed to be holding his breath during the hand and practically turned purple by the river. You’d think it was his money I was betting with! Come to think of it…

In retrospect it was a dumb mistake on my part. But hindsight is, as they say, 20-20. It amazes me that good players like ChessSafari are able to determine that the guy was holding pocket kings, or at least narrow down the range of probable holdings, so as to avoid this kind of trouble. I set myself up by pushing a bluff against resistance from a good player with a ten high flush draw, even with the ace and king already on the board. I can see that now. I was trying to be aggressive with a big stack. This is how we learn, I guess.

Frank felt that I should have won this tournament, or at least made it to the final heads up match. It was expensive tuition but I did have a good learning experience. I’m pleased with a fifth place finish out of 32 in only my fourth live tourney. Like any good coach, Frank was very complimentary after the tournament, although still a bit edgy about the two hands mentioned above. He went out of his way to make me feel good about myself. He made it clear that he was criticizing the decisions at the table, not the person who made them. I appreciate that.

By the way, while at the resort I participated in an energy healing session with Sunfire. It was very helpful. The strange thing is that my blood pressure went to 120 over 80 (normal) immediately afterwards. I have not been at that level for over two years. This has been a trip that I will never forget. Even though he laughs it off, I believe that Frank has saved my life…the life of a person he never met before, by deciding to help someone make needed changes.

When we were in New York on Thanksgiving Day, ChessSafari gave me a bookmark that read: “Pray for a tough instructor to hear, act and stay with you.” I see that bookmark each time I open my copy of Killer Poker Online by John Vorhaus.

For sure I have met a tough instructor in Frank Niro. He tells me he will help me make my poker (and other) dreams real but he will not tolerate me not helping myself. For the first time in a while, I believe my dreams are achievable…if I can be willing to do the required work. Poker is just one example, and there is a lot of work my coach is asking me to do.

I don’t have words to say how I feel deep down inside as I think, and wipe tears of joy from my eyes. Not many people know that not very long ago I seriously considered walking in front of a rolling semi back in North Carolina. I thank God that I trusted that I would get a second chance at life itself.

I still have a long way to go to get a job, an apartment, and all that goes with it. But now I feel the strength to get it done. I have said goodbye to North Carolina and am looking forward to a long life in the Seattle area and many wonderful new friendships.

Anyway, that’s it for my trip so far and thanks for going Greyhound!


Look for these upcoming Safaris…a partial preview:
Friday, December 15, Blog Log
Monday, December 18, Sereda, Serfreda!
Friday, December 22, Mile 1 – Everything that Comes Before…
Monday, January 1, Reflections


Javakid said...

Nice post Easy Eddie, keep up the good work and Happy Holidays to you and Frank.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I am a bit late in that I just now am reading your guest blog (at least I am consistant for being late in most everything I do, lol!). Thanks for sending me your updates and the link to this wonderful reading adventure Ed. It is sure to be an all niter for me as I just cannot stop reading! I felt your pain Ed as you rode on the most widely dreaded mode of transportation there ever was. As you describe your Journey as it unfolds or should I say as it inflicks it's many service blunders at your expense,it was your humor and your high level for extreme patience that kept me interested in every detail whether good or bad. A fun read my friend. Reading Frank's brought tears both happy and sad I have to say, in a good way though. As I read on I almost feel like I was there. Sounds weird I know. Hard to explain it just pulled me in the way you tell the story. Anyone ever tell you that you have a way with word? LOL, just kidding Frank.Well, I have babbled on enuff so more later I must get back to where I left off. Ciao Karen aka HERMES from PSO