Smoke poured from the green hood of my 13-year old Saturn as I idled in front of the Rio. Though the heat needle hadn't moved past the dreaded "H" during the four hour and seventeen minute ride from Los Angeles, something in the poor car's system must have snapped the instant I turned off the freeway and onto the streets of Las Vegas. I stared at the smoke, shaking my head as Pauly emerged from the casino's revolving doors and hopped into the front seat.
"You know your car is overheating, right?"
Yeah. Despite the $600 I'd dropped at Hottie's Lube only the day before, at least I made it to Vegas and didn't spend the day broken down on the side of I-15 in triple-digit heat. I manuvered my heavily smoking vehicle to the self-parking lot at the back of the casino, near the new "WSOP Valet Parking" entrance. I popped the hood and Pauly took a look at the engine, which was now covered in slimy green coolant.
"What's wrong with it?"
"I don't know. Let's ask Otis. He's a redneck, he'll know something."
"Hey, don't tilt about the car. At least you're here, right?"
"And I'm staying totally in denial about what just happened."
As we walked across the parking lot, a silver Mercedes SL500 paused at a stop sign, allowing us to cross. Behind the wheel was Chau Giang, who I'm guessing was headed home after busting from the $10K Pot Limit Omaha event.
"Chow Gang!" I exclaimed.
I'd been to last year's World Series, so I was prepared for the poker circus inside the Rio Convention Center. Almost immediately, I spotted Mark Seif, Marcel Luske, and Erik Seidel in various stages of mood, trudging through the long hallways. What surprised me was how much fancier everything was this year. Sure, there was a Full Tilt hospitality suite at the 2005 WSOP, but not one with plasma TVs, white leather couches and nonstop free booze. In 2005, each suite was marked with a placard, or maybe a banner. In 2006, each guest is welcomed by neon-lit archways at the entrance, bearing the site's logo. 18 year old models with fake tits stand guard outside, enticing passers-by with iPod giveaways and complimentary cocktails. Between Full Tilt, Poker Stars, Ultimate Bet, Doyle's Room, and Bodog, there is absolutely no reason to pay for drinks at the WSOP.
Pauly went back to work and I met up with Derek, Al, StB, and Byron. The final table of the $5000 NLHE tournament was down to three-handed play and Phil Hellmuth was chasing his 10th bracelet. Poker history could potentially be made tonight.
"I'm bored. Anyone want to go to the hooker bar?" said Al.
"Sure!" replied everyone.
I played the role of pied piper and led everyone to the Shutters Bar at the Rio, or the now-legendary "Hooker Bar" to the readers of Pauly's WSOP coverage. It was a bit early for the ladies of the night to be roaming the casino floor. Good hooker sightings don't happen until at least 11 PM. We took over one end of the bar and I deposited $20 into one of it's notoriously loose video poker machines. Apparently that term only applies when Otis is sitting with you, as my Andrew Jackson evaporated in less than ten minutes of one-credit betting. As I sipped my Soco-cranberry, StB gazed at my metallic pouchette that was resting on the bar.
"Did you intentionally match your shoes to your purse?" he queried.
Soco almost came out of my nose. That's the last thing I thought I'd hear coming out of the mouth of a beer-drinking, jean-shorts wearing sports-loving guys' guy from Milwaukee.
Of course I had matched them. Who do you think I am?
After a few cocktails, the five of us piled into a minivan cab, bound for the Excalibur. The first-night bar gathering had been moved to the Castle's Sherwood Forest Bar, since the Fontana Lounge was already occupied by some sort of horrifying band. Some of the veterans remarked how returning to the Sherwood Forest was only fitting, since it was the site of the first official WPBT all-night drinking binge.
This time would be no different.
There was already a crowd around the bar when we arrived. Ryan had brought his lovely wife Kim. Both Aprils were deep in conversation at the bar with Shelly. I bearhugged Bill Rini, whom I hadn't seen since the last Murderer's Row game back in February, and met his dad! The resemblance is uncanny. Iggy was perched atop a couple of phone books, a cigarette dangling from his lips. I met the totally awesome GarthmeisterJ only three or so hours into his bender that would last 34, and bounced around the bar, to chat with Heather, Human Head and Mrs. Head, Donkeypuncher, F-Train, StatikKing, Zeem, Katitude, Weak Player and Mrs. Weak Player.
Later in the evening, Pauly finally returned from the Rio. He'd called before leaving the tournament floor and was so on tilt that he hung up on me when I asked who won. Needless to say, poker history was not made that night, at least not the kind that the WSOP's hungry media were looking for. Phil Hellmuth did not win his tenth bracelet, losing his heads-up match with Jeff Cabanillas, a young unknown from East L.A. Spaceman would later recount to me the fans' resounding chant of "Phil's on tilt! Phil's on tilt! as Cabanillas claimed victory.
After a quick smoke break, Pauly was off tilt and apologized for the hang-up. The rest of the evening was a blur of stories, booze, and laughter at the bar. I imagined I'd be playing poker all night, but as more flights landed and more new friends and old shot Soco and bought this poor (formerly) unemployed Hollywood blonde cocktails, I just couldn't tear myself away to pick up two cards. There would be a whole weekend to do that.
The sun rose for me around 11 AM Friday morning. As I got dressed to go to lunch with Pauly at the Sherwood Forest Cafe, I heard that people were still down at the bar. StB still had a beer in front of him, Al was deep into his second fifth of Southern, and Iggy had gone on Roshambo tilt, spewing about $150 to F-Train. Small fortunes had already changed hands at the poker tables. Some folks had already been loaded for 24 hours straight.
And it was only the first day.