In the last few days, I've covered the WSOP Main Event final table, driven the 280 miles from Las Vegas to Los Angeles, and had a 16-hour stop at home to do laundry and re-pack before getting on a plane to Poland to cover the EPT Warsaw. Until this morning, I was cranky, starving, and jet-lagged to say the least. I finally feel somewhat human again, due in no small part to the excellent coffee here in the media room.
As for Vegas, I thought the Main Event final table was a success from a spectator standpoint. Amidst a climate in the U.S. where the poker boom is essentially over and mainstream interest in the game wanes by the day in the face of a slumping economy, there were thrilling hands, spectacular suckouts, and for the most part, great poker was played. Ratings for ESPN's "plausibly live"telecast were up over 50% from last year and nobody got whacked during the 117 day break so I'd bet on another delayed final table next year. Me? I'm just glad the damn thing is finally over.
The real highlight of that weekend in Vegas were the late night hijinks with fellow bloggers, which Pauly has written up in his inimitable manner over on the Tao of Poker. Go read Emissaries from the Land of Indulgence because it's better than anything I could write about that weekend.
And now, some observations from my first day in Warsaw:
In Poland, I easily pass as a local. In most of the European locales I've frequented (Barcelona and Monte Carlo especially come to mind) I kind of stick out and instantly appear American. Waiters in restaurants, hotel concierges and cab drivers take one look at me and start speaking English, despite my attempts to communicate in the local tongue. Here, where my pale skin and blonde hair cause me to blend in quite well, people just start rambling at me in Polish, a language which to me sounds like Russian spoken with a heavy lisp.
Polish food is scary. I've been on what my friend and fellow reporter Owen calls the "EPT Starvation Diet" since landing here - which I'm cool with. Between the added walking and the significantly decreased food consumption I usually drop 4-6 pounds per EPT event and consider that an added bonus. On my first morning I was up in time for the hotel's breakfast buffet and was sufficiently horrified at the spread, which consisted of several strange cold salads, a fish terrine, egg rolls, mini hot dogs, cold-cut salami, a selection of cheeses, and very stale toast. I'm usually a pretty adventurous eater, but I draw the line at fish salad for breakfast. I emerged from the buffet with a cup of coffee and a glass of orange juice. I would have gone for the pre-packaged yogurt, but I saw a picture of what looked like a peach on the front of it-- a fruit to which I'm violently allergic. Couldn't chance it.
In Poland, Pizza Hut is a sit-down restaurant. There's a Pizza Hut around the corner from my hotel and while it was closed by the time I got off work last night, it was open this afternoon and I popped in for lunch on my way to the casino. The interior looked like a Chili's or an Applebees or any other sort of American chain restaurant-- no take-out counter in sight. After the waiter greeted me in Polish, I was seated in a large leather booth and ordered off a rather extensive menu which included pasta and salads. Total cost for a green salad, a small pizza and a Diet Coke? 24 Zlotys, which is about $8 US. Which brings me to my next observation.
Poland is quite inexpensive. Fancy a vodka from the hotel mini-bar? Only 12 Zlotys, or about $4. A cab from the airport to the city center? 35 Zlotys or about $11.50. I brought about $500 with me and I doubt I'll spend even half of it here.
Poland is fucking bleak. Back in college when I spent four frozen winters in the midwest, I'd often play that Counting Crows song "Long December" on my walkman as I chattered my teeth on the way to class. It made me think of home, the Hollywood Hills and reminded me how long it had been since I'd seen the ocean. When I think of those winters I see gray skies, leafless trees, people in parkas shuffling around. I'll probably come away from Warsaw with similar memories. I have seen the sun exactly once since being here, and it promptly hid behind a cloud about ten minutes later. Tonight, it was pitch-black by 3:45 in the afternoon. With sun-up around 7 a.m., that's less than nine hours of daylight.
I don't know how those Swedes and Alaskans do it.