Thursday, March 24, 2016

An Unexpected Goodbye

Last Saturday morning I got up early and put a cut up chicken, onion, celery, carrots, garlic, parsley, salt, and bay leaves in a pot to simmer for my homemade southern style chicken and dumplings. I settled into the couch to watch some English soccer and get ready for the third day of March Madness when my cell phone rang.

It's rare that my phone rings since it's used most often for text messages, tweets, and web surfing, but it's even more rare that it rings that early on a weekend. It was a close friend from Kansas City. He had just called me a couple of weeks ago when he was making a last minute trip up to Des Moines, so I figured he was calling about something similar. I was wrong.

Chris asked, "Where are you?" I said, "Sitting in my messy living room with food on the stove. Why?" He didn't beat around the bush, "Dave died last night." It felt as if I had fallen from a great height. "What? How? What happened?"

Dave was my very best friend for a large part of my life. We met in 5th grade band when all of the area elementary schools came together for an all district concert. We both played french horn and hit it off immediately. It seems almost everyone has that one friend through middle school and high school that if they aren't at your house, then you are at theirs. That was Dave.

We were high energy kids who got in trouble for talking and goofing off, but we weren't troublemakers by any stretch. We were in band and choir together. We double-dated for every single high school dance. I drank my first beer with Dave. He got a six pack of tall boys from his Cousin Jim and we drank them as fast as we could behind the dock at the building where we worked in the summer. I was with Dave the very first time I threw up from drinking. Coincidentally the same night as the six-pack mentioned above.

After high school we roomed together in college and contributed to each others' poor decisions that led to both of us being asked to take a semester off to "re-evaluate our academic goals." Neither of us ever returned to college. We got an apartment together and both got a job at the same fine dining restaurant. Dave eventually got let go because he couldn't stop himself from telling the Maitre D' exactly what he thought of him.

After going through a few mind numbing office jobs Dave decided that he needed a new adventure. He joined the Marines in 1989 and completed his training just in time to get deployed for Desert Storm. Dave was in a Marine heavy weapons platoon that was attached to the Army's Big Red One 1st Mechanical for the short, but intense battles that took place after the U.S. began their ground campaign against Saddam's troops in 1991. He never talked much about what he saw or did while there, but he was never fully the same after he returned.

After we both married and had kids we drifted apart. We would still get together when old friends would come back to town and it was always like no time at all had passed.

It's been 5 days since he died and we still don't know exactly what did him in. He went to bed about midnight and about 4 AM his girlfriend (he and his wife divorced a couple of years ago) realized he wasn't snoring so she checked on him and he was gone. The autopsy results won't be back for a while, but everybody who knows him well knows it will be somehow related to his drinking.

Dave's ex asked our friend group if we wouldn't mind saying a few words about Dave at the funeral service. I told her I would try. I'm a big crier. I get choked up at songs all the time, so trying to speak at the funeral of one of my best friends in the world was sure to turn on the water works. I finally decided that I didn't give a shit if I cried in front of a bunch of strangers.

I got up and talked about what good friends Dave and I were through high school, college, and after college. I told everyone that my list of really close friends is very short so losing one of them hits  extra hard. I wanted to depict for them how Dave was the type of guy that would do anything for his friends and always had your back. We shared a love of movies and could hold a complete conversation just in movie quotes, so it was apt that I used a movie reference to make my point. If you've seen the movie "The Town" you'll remember the scene where Ben Affleck goes to Jeremy Renner and asks in his Southie accent, "I need your help with somethin'. We're probably gonna have to hurt some people and you can't ask me about it later." Renner thinks for about half a second before asking, "Whose car are we takin'." That was Dave. If you needed his help with anything he didn't stop to consider the consequences or costs. He just showed up and did whatever needed doing.

Today they buried him with full military honors at the Iowa Veterans Cemetery. It still is surreal to me that one of my closest friends is really gone.

Here are Dave and I just out of college doing what we did best at our first apartment. Dave is on the left and I'm on the right. In the last photo Dave is predictably in the center of the action and I'm on the right again.  Rest in peace, friend. A lot of people will miss you.

Friday, March 11, 2016


Haven't posted in a while.  I have to feel motivated to share a story and tonight that just happens to be true. I'm a small time gambler and definitely not a pro like some other people u see. I work a 9 to 5 job for a big company and only gamble when I feel like a I have a couple of bucks that I can spare.  I never gamble money that would keep me from paying my bills, so it's not consequential except that I'm a competitive person and I would rather win than lose, ya know?

So it's Friday night in the booming metropolis of Des Moines, Iowa. I decided to take $100 and head on out to Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino and try my luck at the tables. The plan was to play a little blackjack and if I happen to double up or more I would take it up to the poker room and play a little 1-2 no limit hold em.

I arrived at the casino and headed up to their "Sports Pit" on the Mezzanine Level. It's the non-smoking area and on Friday and Saturday night is the only place you can usually find cheap blackjack. As I approached the table there was one guy sitting in the third base (last) seat playing by himself heads up with the dealer and he seemed to be doing well. They were almost to the end of the shoe so I waited patiently before sitting down.

I took my place in seat 3 of 7 at the table and the dealer started to shuffle. Just then a couple starts to sit down at the Mississippi Stud table next to us and asked, "What kind of blackjack is this?" The dealer and floor person redirected them to our table. They started to sit down in seats 1 and 2. The guy playing the third base spot kind of raised his eyebrows at them, colored up, and skedaddled.

The older gentleman of the couple says to his friend (date? co-worker?) or whatever she was that they should move so they'll have more room. I almost moved to third base to let hem have more room at the end of the table where they had already set up shop and really wish I had. The gentleman took the last seat and the woman sat down to his right.

Let me take a moment to say that I normally don't get too worked up over people that play blackjack in a non-traditional way. I try to play optimal strategy and figure they're mostly just hurting themselves if they don't play that way too.  I figure there is just as much chance that their unconventional methods could help you in the end as hurt you.  But sometimes somebody does something so shit all stupid that you can't help getting a little worked up.

I don't count cards when I play. As I said before I try to play optimal strategy and I utilize a betting strategy that is meant to maximize the effect of winning streaks and minimize the effect of losing streaks. It goes like this: as long as I keep winning I bet 1 unit, 3 units, 2 units, then 5 units. Then I just bounce back and forth between 5 units and 2 units until I lose a hand. If I win 4 hands in a row then I will have won 8 units. Tonight I was playing $5 so it was $5, $15, $10, and $25.  If I lose multiple hands I just keep betting 1 unit until a winning streak starts.

The table didn't start out well. The couple were playing super unconventional, but were mostly just standing when they should be hitting which is kind of the lesser of two evils when it comes to dumb play. I've lost down to my final $10 of my initial $100 buy in and I went on a streak. My bet is all the way up to $25 and I'm dealt a 4 and a 5.  The woman to my left has A6 and the guy has K5. The dealer is showing a 6. I double and draw a 10 for a total of 19. The woman hits and draws a face card and stands on 17.  The older gentleman decides to hit his 15 against the dealer's 6. The dealer sort of asks, "Hit?" before granting him another card and sure enough he taps the table and says, "Hit."

He gets a 7 to bust and the dealer rolls over a 4 under his 6.  He then draws a face card for 20 to beat both the woman (who had $5 at stake) and me (who now had $50 on the table).  If numb nuts had just stood like he is supposed to I'm back to $105. Instead I'm walking away from the table with steam coming out of my ears with a single red bird in my hand after muttering something like "You've got to be fucking kidding me."

Did any of you figure out the title? With baseball season just around the corner and my beloved Cubs favored to win it all (I'll believe it when I see it) I had to throw in a baseball reference since the error by third base cost me $100 and E5 is the designation on the score card in baseball for an error by third base.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Donkament Success!

Wow it's been a long time since I posted anything here!  Sorry to anyone who actually takes the time to read my little missives for posting so sporadically. I'm super impressed with people like RobVegasPoker who post regularly. As always I only post when I have something worthwhile to share or a rant about something that has ticked me off.  This time it's my (spoiler alert) decent finish in a cheap poker tournament at my home casino, Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino in beautiful Altoona, Iowa.

The tournament in question is their weekly Tuesday afternoon tournament that kicks off at noon every single Tuesday except when Christmas falls on that day of the week. It's a $30 buy-in with a $5 dealer add-on that gets you an additional 1,000 tournament chips. Pretty much everyone takes the add-on which makes the starting stack 4,000. The structure is quick, but not turbo or hyper speed. The entire tournament takes about 4 and half hours to complete. There are 20 minute blind levels and the levels go as follows:

  • 50-100
  • 75-150
  • 100-200
  • 200-400
  • Break (10 mins)
  • 300-600
  • 400-800
  • 500-1,000
  • 1,000-2,000
  • Break (10 mins)
  • 2,000-4,000
  • 3,000-6,000
  • 5,000-10,000
  • 10,000-20,000
Iowa's racing and gaming commission has some weirdly strict rules about tournament poker. The casinos have to submit the tournament details including the maximum number of entries they will accept for each tournament. This tourney is capped at 90 entrants, but they do allow alternates to enter as people bust out for the first two blind levels. On most days they have an alternate list that is 15-20 people deep and usually don't get all of those in since the field for this weekday tournament is heavy with a certain older (aka uber tight) demographic.

The payouts for yesterday's tournament were as follows:

  1. $980
  2. $616
  3. $392
  4. $247
  5. $193
  6. $117
  7. $84
  8. $84
  9. $56
  10. $56
I'm a little fuzzy on the 4-5-6 amounts, but it is definitely something in that range.  Regardless of the number of entries they always just pay the final table and it's on the top-heavy side, so you have to finish in the top 4 or 5 to make it worth your time in my humble opinion.

Prairie Meadows has a very, very strict policy regarding the use of electronic devices during their tournaments. If you have your phone out when the dealer starts pitching cards for a hand, your hand is dead.  It doesn't matter if you were just checking the time, changing songs on iTunes, or playing a little Trivia Crack to kill time between hands.  Your hand is dead.  This makes it very hard to take any kind of electronic notes on hands, so I have to go completely off my memory.

On about the 4th or 5th hand of the tournament (50-100) I was dealt pocket 10s in early position. I raised to 325 and got two callers.  The flop was something like K-10-4 rainbow.  I bet 400 and everyone folded. I don't know what everyone else's strategy is when flopping sets, but I don't like to slow play them except in very specific circumstances with an especially aggressive opponent. Otherwise I want to get as much money in the pot as I can.

I don't remember playing any really significant hands during the next level or two although I'm sure I raised at least once or twice with AK type hands preflop and just took down the blinds.

In the 3rd level (100-200) one of the younger players at the table who was seated in seat 1 and UTG tossed out a purple 500 chip without saying anything.  The dealer looked at him a little sideways and said, "Were you intending to raise there?" The player said, "Oh, yeah, but I guess that's just a call, huh?"  The dealer confirmed that it would just be a call of the 200 chip big blind. About 6 players followed suit and limped along including me holding 10-9 of clubs.

The flop was a lovely 6h-7h-8c to give me the nut straight, but with a scary heart draw on board. The UTG player who allegedly meant to raise preflop bet 1,000. It folded to me and I was considering whether or not to make a reasonable raise or just jam.  I only had slightly more than the 4,000 starting stack at this point and I figured any raise at all and I'm pot committed no matter what happens on the turn or river. I announced all-in and moved all my chips in front of my cards. It folded back to the villain and he started monologuing and staring me down as I calmly looked back across the table at him. "The question is did you hit the straight or a set? Which is it...straight or set?  <sigh> Okay...I call."

He rolled over 6-8 off suit for two pair. I showed my 9-10 to give him the bad news that he was about a 75-25 dog. He didn't improve and I doubled up and he was down to about 700 remaining chips. In the post hand chatter he said something along the lines of, "Man that was sick.  And the crazy thing is that if I had been allowed to raise there you probably don't even play that hand." I responded, "I'm probably calling with 9-10 suited in that spot even if you raised to 500...or maybe you're an experienced enough player to know the single chip rule and you only wanted everyone to think you intended to raise with 6-8 off suit from under the gun so if it hit it would be well disguised and you could get paid off."

He kind of blinked at me with a face that said "you caught me" and stammered, "N-n-no I totally meant to raise there....or whatever it doesn't matter now." I guarantee 100 percent he was trying to shoot an angle there. I expect he had two intentions with that move:

  1. Discourage raises from other players to see a cheap flop
  2. Disguise the strength of his hand if it happened to connect with the flop
Aside from that hand there were very few interesting hands.  There was one hand early on where I raised UTG with pocket jacks to around 3x the big blind.  A middle position player 3-bet and then the big blind shoved.  I thought for maybe a minute before folding my jacks.  The middle position player called the all in and they rolled over AK (middle position) and QQ (big blind). The AK flopped an ace, but QQ turned a set and I got away relatively unscathed with just the loss of 3 big blinds or so. On the very next hand I was dealt two jacks again. I raised the same amount as before and got two callers this time.  The flop was A-A-J.  It was checked to me and I bet about half the pot with my boat hoping one of the other players was slow playing an ace, but alas both folded.

Since this is getting a little long I'll jump to the end.  I finished 3rd for a payout of $392.  Remember the villain/angle shooter from earlier?  He played short stack ninja and when I left he was heads up for the whole tournament with a commanding chip lead.  I don't know who won it, but I'd bet he did.

I tipped $32 of my winnings to the dealers. How do others determine how much to tip in that situation. I figure I've already given $2.50 from the tourney buy-in ($25 to the prize pool, $2.50 to the house and $2.50 to the dealers) plus the $5 add-on, so that makes a total of $39.50 I've personally contributed to their tip pool. That's about 10% of my payout. Agree or disagree?

So subtracting the tip and the tournament buy-in and add-on I cleared $325 for about 4 hours work. I'll take it.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

India Trip (Part 2)

In part 1 of my India trip report I kind of jumped right in with the air travel and the day-to-day itinerary. I want to start part 2 with some more broad observations about India and how it differs from life here in the U.S. of A.  The most striking difference is of course the vast difference between the haves and the have nots. The caste system is very much alive and well in India.  Service workers are definitely treated as servants and not equals by their Indian customers.  I witnessed several instances where Indian restaurant patrons very sternly scolded a server for a mistake or perceived slight. Our Indian counterparts also chastised us for tipping a little too generously for their taste too.  They said the norm there is to tip 10 percent at the very most.

There were also the very poor neighborhoods you would expect to see where people have constructed homes with whatever materials were available to them.  This was far more evident during our very short stay in Mumbai than in Pune, but it was still present.  As you traveled through the city it wasn't at all unusual to see a fairly modern building next to an empty lot filled with garbage.  There were also stray dogs everywhere.  They were just part of the landscape, but it was weird how the people and dogs never interacted with each other.  The dogs ignored the people just as much as the people ignored the dogs.

I also saw cows just wandering free on two different occasions. Once there was a group of three of them ambling down the street in the wrong direction while traffic just went around them.  Another time they were all grazing in the grass just outside of a tennis court that looked like it was part of some kind of sports club.  A co-worker saw two camels being led down the street one morning.  On a different morning we spotted somebody leading a herd of about 20-25 sheep down the side of the road in rush hour traffic.

And the traffic...that's a whole other subject.  Where we were, the mix of vehicles was about 35 percent cars and small trucks and 65 percent motorcycles and scooters. Except in the busiest of traffic the signals, signs, and road markings were mere suggestions.  Two lane roads were usually treated like they were 3, 4 or 5 lane roads.  They would fill every available space at an intersection while waiting for a light to change.  The 2-wheeled vehicles went wherever they wanted. They traveled between cars, on the sidewalk, through small openings in the medians, and even crossed to the wrong side of the road traveling against heavy opposing traffic. I also saw a few instances where there were 4 or even 5 passengers on one motorcycle. There would be a toddler sitting in the very front, dad driving, another small child behind him, and a mom riding side saddle holding an infant...none of them wearing helmets.

All vehicles on the road honk almost constantly, but unlike here it isn't usually angry honking.  They honk as a form of communication to say "I'm going to pass you" or "I'm next to you, so please don't change lanes and obliterate me" or to indicate to a pedestrian that they were not going to stop for them.  Since they are a former British colony they drive on the left which caused some comedy when my co-worker accidentally started to get into the driver's seat when we were being picked up after work one evening.  Here is a picture from outside the mall I mentioned in part 1 that shows the traffic.  I'm not sure why, but there is an over abundance of cars in this shot.

Lastly they are crazy for cricket there in India. It was on the TV every single time I entered the break room at work and there were at least 4 to 5 channels showing it each night when I got back to the hotel. I got one of the locals to explain the rules to me and I now have a pretty good understanding of how the scoring works and the format of the games.  I actually found myself enjoying the games and it was something with which to connect with my Indian co-workers.

The last day I reported on was Tuesday when we went to the Hindu temple. On Wednesday the jet lag and work was catching up with us, so we slept in and grabbed lunch at the hotel and went into work. I just realized I never really mentioned our work schedule. The group of people we were meeting with and training work a schedule that matches up with the regular day shift back here in the states.  Since there is a 10.5 hour time difference this means they work a 5:30 PM to 2:30 AM shift.  We typically worked 3:00 PM to about 2:00 AM each day.

On Thursday we went back to MG Road for more shopping because one of our group realized they needed to buy a couple more items for friends back home. We then grabbed lunch at TGI Fridays in the mall near the office before heading into work. Here is a shot of the view from the Fridays patio and a picture of the "scarf guy" that I found in my collection of shots.

On Friday we went bowling in the mall before grabbing lunch at Chili's.  We ate at a lot of American places at the behest of my co-workers who didn't have the most adventurous palettes.  If I had my way we would have eaten a little more local cuisine and gotten a little more spice in our diet.  Here is a shot of the lanes where we bowled.  It was a bowling alley and karaoke club all in one.  We stuck to bowling though.

As we made our way up to the Chili's from the bowling alley there was a large crowd gathered that all seemed to be standing back and looking at something in one of the stores. At first we thought maybe there had been a shoplifting incident or some other kind of problem, but it turned out the large crowd was checking out the cricket team from Kolkata that was making an appearance at the store.

We worked a slightly shorter day on Friday in order to have a few hours back at the hotel to clean up and pack prior to our very early flight on Saturday morning.  The flight departed at 5:25 AM which required getting to the airport to clear the multiple levels of security at the Pune airport.  The extra security didn't make me feel much safer since it was mostly for show and almost all of the measures could have been easily defeated by somebody with a desire to do so.  I really think the point is that personnel is cheaper there, so they hire more people and add extra levels of checks just to justify having more people. I had to show my passport and itinerary just to gain access to the airport and then showed my papers to not fewer than 12 people before finally boarding the plane...and this is a pretty tiny airport.

There was increased security everywhere you went. You had to go through a metal detector and possibly send your bags through a metal detector to enter most malls and large public buildings.  When our cars would return to the hotel at night they would roll a large mirror under the vehicle, check the engine compartment, check the trunk, and swab the steering wheel with a cloth that detected explosive material. (I shared a car and driver with one of my female co-workers and every night when the guard would reach into the car to swab the steering wheel he would greet me and ignore her. Just another cultural thing I guess.) My Indian co-workers were amazed when I told them that I could saunter into any mall without as much as a pat down. They were under the impression that the U.S. was much more secure.

On the way home we spent the night in Frankfurt, Germany. We stayed at the Sheraton that was attached to the airport and four of the six people in our party decided to just eat at a restaurant in the airport.  I talked another co-worker into braving the train system to go into the city for dinner. I withdrew 50 euros for the express purpose of indulging in a few German beers, but discovered at dinner that my co-worker doesn't drink.  Like at all.  Ever.  So I got one very delicious German hefeweizen with a head so thick it was like whipped cream with dinner and that was it.  Here are two shots I took while we were in Frankfurt.

I got a good night's sleep in Frankfurt and then forced myself to not nap on the flight from there to Chicago to ensure I wouldn't have any problems sleeping Sunday night.  I went to bed around 8:15 PM Sunday night and made it to work early Monday morning and suffered pretty much no ill effects from jet lag.  I think it made a big difference that I was maintaining essentially the same work schedule as home while in India.

Sorry this was so long.  I probably could/should have split it into three parts. If you lasted this long, thank you for playing along.

Monday, April 20, 2015

India Trip Report (Part 1)

I've got a lot to share, so I'm going to divide it into a couple of posts just so this doesn't turn into an epic RobVegasPoker style post. (I figured he wouldn't mind the ribbing as long as I gave him a reference link.) Just returned from India and wanted to share some anecdotes, insights, and observations.  It was a long and eventful journey to reach India.  I was initially scheduled to leave on April 9th, but some of you may recall that was the day there were some pretty serious storms in the Chicago area that spawned at least one deadly tornado.  Since our initial flight was from Des Moines to Chicago we had to reschedule until the next day.  Work didn't come into play until Monday, April 13, so that delay just cut one free day off our trip.

It also altered our travel itinerary.  The initial plan was to fly from Des Moines to Chicago, Chicago to Frankfurt, then Frankfurt to Pune, India.  Since the Frankfurt to Pune flight only runs three times a week we had to find a different option.  We finally settled on Des Moines to Chicago, Chicago to Frankfurt, Frankfurt to Mumbai, and Mumbai to Pune. That added about 4-5 more hours to the travel, but hell what are 4 hours when you've already been traveling for 30+ hours?

I was booked in business class for the entire flight, but due to rescheduling had to fly economy on the Des Moines-Chicago and Mumbai-Pune legs.  Neither of those flights are very long, so I sucked it up and took one for the team.  It was so much nicer in business class for those longer flights.  I didn't drink all that much, but it sure is nice to be pampered.  I snapped a few photos of the food and drink options on the first long flight. 

Warm nuts and a very stiff bloody mary.

Braised short rib and a Chilean shiraz

Salmon appetizer with fresh green salad and German riesling.

First here is a look at the amount of leg room I had in my seat.  The flight was on a Boeing 777 and I had what seemed like acres of space.  The seat reclined fully and had a leg rest that elevated.  You could lay the seat completely flat, but I didn't dare or nobody in my section would have gotten any sleep thanks to my snoring.  This flight also had a really great selection of recent movies and hit TV shows.  On the way I watched Big Hero 6, Birdman, and Whiplash.

Dessert was a simple ice cream sundae.  I didn't remember to snap a picture of it before I dug in, but it was nothing unexpected in either flavor or presentation.

The second long leg was a Lufthansa flight on an older Boeing 747.  The seats were way better than any economy seat, but after flying on that more modern 777 the day before they were a disappointment.  They didn't lie all the way flat and if you reclined it as far as it would go it felt like it was trying to dump you onto the floor.  I didn't take any photos of the food this go around, but the courses were a seafood appetizer, leg of lamb main course, and a pass from me on dessert.  The movie selection on this flight was also lots worse than the earlier one.

We arrived in Mumbai at about 12:45 AM local time.  The others in my group that have been to the Mumbai airport in the middle of the day said it was much more bearable in the wee hours of the morning.  I wanted to snap a picture of the massive immigration area, but was afraid they might not take kindly to me snapping photos. Four of our group of seven had cleared immigration when it became apparent that something was up. One of the other guys in our group appeared to be having a fairly animated discussion with the Indian immigration official.  They called the other two from our party that were in line to the counter and they got in on the hand waving and passport pointing. 

I won't go into details as to why, because I don't honestly know all of the particulars, but suffice it to say that one of our party wasn't allowed to enter India and was put right back on the very same Lufthansa airliner we had just exited for a return trip to Germany and eventually the USA.  I can't imagine doing that trip both directions over the course of 3-4 days.

We finally made it (down a person) to Pune at about 5:00 AM Sunday morning.  We checked into the Hyatt Regency and made our way to our rooms.  Here are a few shots of the room:

I took a shower (using great care to keep the water from getting into my mouth) and after 36 hours traveling it was heavenly.  If I wasn't terrified of the bacteria in the water I would have stood there for 20 minutes. After getting connected to the hotel WiFi and chatting via text with my family for a little while I hit the sack and slept like the dead until about noon.

After waking we went to lunch at a local micro-brewery called Independence Brewing.  We got a quick tour of their brewery and, believe it or not, they make beer exactly the same way we do in the USA.  Here is a shot of the brewery.

After a lunch of chicken chendatta and 3 of their house beers we headed down to MG (Mahatma Gandhi) Road to do some shopping for souvenirs for our families.  We went to a couple of shops that specialize in Indian knick knacks called The Bombey Store and Heritage. The proprietor of Heritage spotted me as a sucker and talked me into going into the room where all of the scarves and high end cashmere pashminas were displayed and sold. He showed me several items and there were a couple in particular that I thought my wife might like, but others from our group had told me about this amazing scarf shop we would be going to later.  I convinced the shop owner that I wanted to comparison shop and would return.  He dropped the price several times, but I held out.

After that we went around the corner to a local grocery store so one of the girls in our group could purchase some local tea for her dad. It was very interesting to see the difference in products and selection at a grocery there as compared to here. We then made our way to the local Nike store so I could by team India cricket jerseys for both of my boys. They are big sports fans and are more into soccer, but I wanted to get them something that had more of a local Indian flavor. The two girls that had been to India before wanted us all to experience what they referred to as "the scarf guy," but unfortunately his shop was closed on Sunday. (I later found out the scarf shop in question was called Guru Nanak's Cloth Store.)

After that we went over to the modern mall in town called the Phoenix Mall.  It was pretty much identical to any mall in the USA with a few exceptions among the stores.  Stores I saw that were familiar were Apple, Sunglass Hut, Forever 21, Sephora, Bose, JBL, Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, Burger King, Papa Johns, , and McDonalds. (The only difference is that all of the beef options are replaced with chicken and veggie options and anything that would normally be beef is actually water buffalo.)

After that we went back to the hotel to rest and clean up for dinner that night.  Dinner was at a place called Exotica. It was on the top floor of an office building and was sort of indoor-outdoor.  The restaurant was indoors, but there were screens they could roll up to let the breeze in.  Here is a picture overlooking the road below over the balcony.

It was a package deal that included an all-you-can-eat buffet with unlimited beer or wine.  A dinner like this in India is a very social and relaxed affair. There is no hurry to eat and leave. We probably ate appetizers and sipped drinks for a good 80 minutes before somebody finally suggested we go get main courses off the buffet.  I honestly didn't know there was going to be a buffet and thought the many appetizers we ate was all we were going to have and would have been satisfied with that.

There were a lot of Indian options on the buffet, but everyone in my group from the USA except me opted for the made to order pasta so they could control their Indian spice intake...chickens.  I went through the buffet line with an Indian co-worker and he told me what each option was before recommending whether or not I try the dish.  The only surprise I had was that the lamb in the lamb biryani was not boneless (discovered only after I shoved a rather large hunk of very bony lamb in my mouth).

The next day we went back to MG Road to visit "the scarf guy" and to pick up some items in the Indian souvenir shops that we missed getting the day before.  The scarf guy didn't disappoint. He was super personable and funny and just bombarded you with options.  There were so many scarves of different colors and qualities there that it made your head spin.  We all purchased an item or two and afterwards there were probably two or three hundred scarves and other clothing items strewn on the pillow they sell from.

After scarf shopping we went to the Hard Rock Cafe to get lunch.  The menu was pretty much the same as any other Hard Rock except once again the burgers would be water buffalo instead of beef. We then headed in for our first day of work.  I won't bore you with the details of training and dealing with the information security department.

Tuesday we went to a Hindu temple just as their pre-lunch ceremony began. You couldn't wear footwear into the temple, so the most exciting part of the excursion was the walk from the window where you had to leave your shoes and socks to the gate of the temple. The sidewalk and street were HOT.  Not like "Oh this is kind of warm" hot, but like, "If I don't get off this pavement in the next ten seconds I'll need skin grafts on the bottoms of my feet" hot. 

We arrived just as the ceremony was beginning which was signaled by the monk blowing a very loud blast on a conch shell.  Then there was about 15-20 minutes of singing and chanting while the monk waved various items first at the idols then at the worshipers. Two of the items were a bowl of I think burning incense and what I can only describe as a tiny menorah of incense. These were walked through the group of worshipers. I was busy paying attention to what the monk at the front of the room was doing, so I didn't see what was happening with the burning items behind me, so when the gentleman approached me with the bowl of burning incense and offered it to me I froze. I had no clue what I was supposed to do.  Luckily our host from Pune mimed for me that I was supposed to kind of collect some of the heat and aroma and sweep it over my face and head.  After they walked away he explained that it is a blessing...a collecting of positive energy if you will.

A short time later one of the parishioners at the back of the room urged us to move closer to the front to receive another blessing. The monk at the front started throwing what appeared to me to be handfuls of rice or some other grain at the worshipers. He was slowly working his way across the room from right to left.  I was the first of our group to be in the line of fire, so to speak, and didn't realize it wasn't rice until the drops of water hit me square in the face. I was positively douched with that scary bacteria laden Indian water.  Oh least none of it got in my mouth.  As the ceremony drew to an end an adorable little Indian girl walked up to us with a handful of flowers and flower petals the monk had given her to pass out.  We each took one and the man with her (her dad I assume) mimed for us that we were to smell the flowers.  After that our guide told us that we were to leave the flowers at the foot of the idol in the back of the temple. 

Here are a couple of pictures I snapped of the interior of the temple.

Our friend told us that they undress and bathe the idols and change the clothes every day to a different colorful outfit. I didn't understand the meaning behind all of the rituals, but have to say I was moved by the fervor of the believers who were in attendance. They were singing and dancing and lying prostrate and generally just really getting into the whole ceremony. 

After the temple visit we headed over to a local restaurant called Prem's.  We shared a lunch of tandoori chicken, butter chicken, chicken biryani, prawns piri piri, some kind of kabob, and the most delicious garlic and cheese naan (Indian flat bread) I've ever had.  I would go back just to feast on the bread alone, but everything we were served was delicious.  It is an outdoor dining room covered by trees and these balloon and umbrella like awnings.  They also have misters spread around the dining area in case it is overly hot.  This day it was the perfect temperature for an outdoor meal in the shade, so the misters really weren't needed, but they fired them off once I think just to show off a little. Since we reacted to the misters they fired them off 4 or 5 more times I guess to kind of put on a show for the American visitors.  The only problem is that we had to assume they were now coating all of our utensils, cups, and food with more scary Indian water.  Here is a picture I took of the dining area at Prem's.showing the offending misters.

I'm going to leave it there for now and will do another post in a couple of days with more stories and pictures.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Indian Food Anyone?

I guess it's been long enough since I posted on this old thing.  I wish I was motivated to post more, but I just never am unless something big happens.  As it turns out something kind of big is happening tomorrow.  I'm leaving on a business trip that will take me halfway around the world. 

I'm leaving in the morning for a little over a week in Pune, India.  Pune is a city of about 4.5 million people in Southern India just southeast of Mumbai in Maharashtra Province.  I've heard the food there is spicy, but not as spicy as northern India with a little bit more sweetness thanks to their use of sorghum.

I'll be training a couple of people to provide IT support to our staff there in Pune.  We used to always fly them here for training but discovered that receiving training in the USA (no matter how lame or insignificant) made them so much more marketable that they almost always left for greener pastures soon afterwards.  So I get to go like 8,000 miles around the globe to train two people.  Training that would normally take 2-3 days.  Training that I now have to try to stretch to 5 days.  I guess we will go real slow and do a lot of review and repetition.

I was actually supposed to leave this morning, but my flight from Des Moines to Chicago was cancelled due to inclement weather in the windy city and we couldn't find an alternate that allowed us to make our international connections.  So I get to try again tomorrow morning to make the trip from Des Moines, to Chicago, to Frankfurt, to Mumbai, to Pune.  Leave at 8:00 AM CDT on Friday and arrive in Pune at 5:00 AM Sunday morning their time.  There is a 10.5 hour difference (yeah...ten and a half) so actual travel time in airplanes and waiting in airports is about 34-35 hours. FUN! 

At least my company was generous enough to book me in business class for the international legs of the flight, so I'll get a comfy seat that lays flat. (People sitting near me are going to have a long sleepless flight if I have a couple of adult beverages and start sawing logs in my lay flat seat.)

I'll be sure to come back here and post along with stories and pictures when I return in a couple of weeks. 

On the home front I have played a couple of sessions of poker at my home base casino, Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino.  Nothing all that exciting to report.  I had one  session where I got my money in good against a loose player with an overpair and he hit a two outer on the river to stack me. Another time I lost my stack flopping a full house and losing to a better full house on the turn.

My last session was an entertaining one, but I only left with a small profit of about $40.  When I arrived at the table there were two players with pretty big stacks for a $1-$2 no limit hold em game.  One was an elderly gentleman I had played with before and he was tight, but not nitty. The other was a guy I had never played with before, but he was very clearly drunk.  Like slurring and cursing drunk.  He was getting warned on about every other hand about his language by the dealers.  At first he was playing relatively conservatively, but then he decided he had a problem with a couple of the guys on my end of the table and started playing really loose.

If one of his villains from my end of the table entered a pot, when the action would get to him he would just pick up a random handful of red chips and splash it in the general area in front of his seat. It was usually about $40-$75 each time.  A lot of times he did this without ever looking at his cards first.  Then if people folded he would tell them what pussies they were and ask why they came to a casino if they didn't want to gamble.  At first the drunk was getting lucky and hitting weird two pairs or unexpected flushes, but eventually his luck started to turn.  It was pretty clear he was going to lose all of that money he had in front of him if we all just kept him happy and gambling. 

The old man to my left (different than the one with the big stack mentioned earlier) did not appreciate this style of play and started to loudly and aggressively tell the drunk how he felt. I started whispering under my breath to him to not tap the glass, but he didn't care.  Eventually drunk guy started to lose some significant hands and his stack that at one point had ballooned to almost $2,000 dropped back to just above $1,000.  The old man's needling, which didn't seem to bother him when he was winning, finally drove him from the table.  Myself and three others immediately cashed out and left.

I took a quick walk through the table games area before leaving and found drunk guy sitting at a $10 blackjack table betting $100 a hand.  Apparently he was determined to try to lose all of that money one way or another. 

See you back here in a couple of weeks. 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Disney Douchebag

A conversation here at work got us trading vacation stories which reminded me of two pretty funny stories from my various trips to Walt Disney World.  One of the benefits of my work with the show choir is that I get to travel quite a bit for essentially nothing.  I've been to Walt Disney World about 10 times and only paid for admission into any the parks once.

These are two stories where I was somewhat of a douchebag to other Disney guests; once was intentional and the other was not.

The first (intentional) one happened when I was much in my early 20's.  I was young enough that the students in the program still thought of me as one of their peers and not as a chaperone or authority figure of any kind.  I had spent the day with a half dozen or so of the members of the choir and we all decided we wanted to watch the nightly electric light parade at Magic Kingdom.  We stopped and got some ice cream at the shop on main street and went to find prime seating right on the square.  We got there probably an hour before the parade started to get a spot exactly where we wanted.

About five minutes before the parade begins this couple with two kids in tow forces their way between us and instructs their kids to sit down right in front of us in the street. The dad was alternating between standing and half squatting the entire time so he's majorly blocking our view. As politely as possible I said to the dad, "Excuse me, sir, but we got here over an hour ago to get these seats and now you're blocking our view.  You're welcome to stand behind us and your kids can sit here in front of us."

He replied in a very definitive NE U.S.A. accent (Boston, NY, NJ, CT...who knows), "You're too old for Disney and I'm not leaving my kids up there unattended." And with that he turned around and started to get out his giant 90's camcorder to tape the parade. I turned to my friends and said, "We're gonna make sure they can never watch that tape with their kids."

When the parade started we stood up (because we had to in order see thanks to mister east coast) and got as close as we could to the microphone on his camcorder.  We discussed the parade like we were Willard Scott on Thanksgiving morning with one exception...we used every curse word in our arsenal non-stop. 

"Oh wow look at that f-ing float. Have you ever seen so many f-ing lights before? Holy $%@# that dancer was really getting down. Oh eff, that is the most amazing f-ing thing I've ever seen."

The dad shot us a few perturbed looks and eventually asked us to pipe down. I just smiled and said, "You could always move!" They eventually packed up and moved to a different spot.

The second (unintentional) one happened on a much more recent trip. The newest attraction at Disney's Hollywood Studios was the Toy Story Mania. It's an interactive ride where you have a gun attached to the front of your car and you go through various exhibits firing virtual cream pies, water balloons, lazers, etc at targets.  It was very popular and according to the Disney staff we spoke to they said the best bet for getting to ride it without a huge wait was to get to the park before it opened and book it straight to that ride.

So, that is exactly what we did.  Just as we arrived at the entrance to the ride this older guy tried to sprint past us and shoulder his way in front of my group.  I stepped in front of him and blocked his path so he had to get in line just behind us. The whole time were winding our way toward the ride our group was loudly commenting on the "nerve of some people trying to cut in front of us" etc. 

When we were almost to the actual ride the lady in front of us with two small kids whipped around and said, "Would you like to go in front us?" I was a bit confused and just said, ""  She said, "I really think you should. In fact, I INSIST!"

We traded spots with them in the line when suddenly it dawned on me...she thought we were talking about them. I turned around and said, "Uh, ma'am, excuse me. I hope you don't think we were talking about you before.  We were trying to give a hard time to the people in line behind you that tried to bump us out of the way to get in line in front of us."

A look of complete relief washed over her face and she said, "Oh my God I'm so sorry. I did think you were talking about us. You see just yesterday a couple of adults literally pushed my 8-year old daughter out of the way to get in line in front of us for an attraction that had a 20 minute wait. I'm just a little oversensitive because of that I guess."

I offered to trade them their spot back, but she refused. I felt like kind of a heel, but it all ended well in the end.

Have you ever accidentally been a douchebag before? It's not nearly as much fun as doing it on purpose.