I've lived 150 miles from the Mexican Border for about 85% of my life. Yet I had never ventured south of it until this week. As a high-schooler, I was too much of a dork to rise to the level of rebellion required to make an illicit weekend trip to Tijuana. In college, I was too stoned and miserable to care. In my twenties I was trapped in my office and didn't go much of anywhere, and in the three years that have passed since I left the 9-5 life, my debauchery has spread from Las Vegas to Key West to Amsterdam to Sydney... but never Mexico. Then (in Las Vegas, ironically, over fajitas) Otis hired me to cover the LAPT Nuevo Vallarta for PokerStars and Pauly got the green light to take the reins on this one for PokerNews. After the bleary weather and odd food I'd encountered in Poland, this assignment seemed like a vacation.
80 degrees. All-inclusive resort, meaning nonstop free food and drinks. Beautiful ocean. Magnificent sunset. Reuniting with other friends that comprise the marauding band of travelling poker media. Greg Raymer's smiling countenance looking down at me from a life-size poster next to the check-in desk, as it does on every tour stop from Scandinavia to Latin America. The waiver we're told to sign, stating that we promise not to gamble.
Did the Federales know the sums Pauly and Otis had previously wagered on the toss of a lime? Would they come leaping out of the bushes should we engage in a few friendly hands of Chinese Poker? I've had to sign all broadcast and print rights to my own image away upon arriving at a poker tournament. I've been Polaroided, had my passport scanned, even been required to apply for casino membership before being allowed inside a tournament venue. But, as I would quickly realize-- those events all took place in countries where gambling was legal. Not here.
"So, you are the Pauly!" exclaimed Danny, the Brazilian reporter for PokerNews' Portuguese-language site. He was a fan of the Tao, and Pauly checked off yet another foreign country where he was recognized by a fan.
We were at the PokerStars welcome party. Waiters milled around carrying trays of Margaritas, Daquiris, beer, and shots of tequila. A few hundred twenty and thirty-something guys in Stars swag wandered around, picking at the buffet as a mariachi band performed onstage. Some guys were doing a rather energetic dance where they clanked two knives together as they high-kicked. I wondered how much I'd have to pay either Pauly or Otis to try it.
It was Otis' birthday that night. We made sure to tell that to the Mexican chick with the whistle who was pouring shots of tequila down peoples' throats. Otis got an extra-long pour. Pauly took one too, though most of the tequila ended up on his shirt. She came after me, but I waved her off. She persisted.
"I just got out of rehab!" I blurted, finally chasing her away.
I crashed early that night, leaving Pauly and Otis to bond like men do. At about 3 a.m., the sound of the room door shutting woke me up. Pauly stumbled in and crawled into bed. He smelled like tequila and cheap beer. The stench oozed out of his pores. I tried to kick him out and make him sleep in the other bed but he passed out and thankfully, rolled over in the other direction.
The next afternoon, the tournament got underway smoothly and on time. Shirley Rosario, whom I'd coincidentally been seated next to on my flight down here, was playing, as was PokerStars Brazilian blogger-turned sponsored pro Maridu. I'd written a few short features and had finally gotten the hang of posting to the blog when, as most of you already know, the tournament was suspended with 89 out of 242 players remaining.
I won't go into the drama of the next 24 hours out of respect for PokerStars, my employer on this assignment. But, as Otis said on his blog, I'm pretty sure you know where to look for that part of the story.
* * * * *
I slept in on Sunday morning and found myself watching NFL games in our room at a time I thought would be spent covering the final table. We had both FOX and CBS but the commentary was in Spanish. The Giants were "Los Gigantes," the Cowboys "Los Vaqueros." When a reciever dropped a pass, the announcers would call "pasado incompleto!"
Eventually, I wandered outside and sat under a palm-frond umbrella with a book. I sat there and read for an hour. A group of fortysomething guys sat next to me. From the way he was talking, I could tell that one of them had been among the 89 players who had ended up cashing the tournament.
"I got $7,900, I'm sitting on the beach and I'm not in Ohio!" he said, holding his bottle of cerveza aloft.
Pauly wandered outside a few minutes later. He had ten minutes to make a decision. Should we stick around for another 24 hours, or get on the last flight out tonight?
I didn't really care. I was on the beach reading a book. I was sitting in 80 degrees and going home to 75. I didn't have a deadline to worry about for several days. There was free beer at a bar 20 yards away.
He confessed, though that he was getting a bad vibe about the place.
"Like when we saw that three-legged dog in Nimbin?"
"Sort of," he replied.
"Then let's go home."
Six hours later, we touched down at LAX. And though he typically has little more than thinly-veiled disdain for my city, this time he saw the freeway lights and smiled.