Wednesday, July 06, 2005

My Car is on Fire: WSOP Part I

If you're going to make the drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas in the early afternoon hours on the first day of summer, I'd suggest taking a car with a fully functioning air conditioner. Make that priority number one. Not charging up the ipod, or making the best playlist ever to get you through the four hours on the road, or stocking the car with bottled water and snacks. None of that is important. For without the air conditioner, you will be so sickeningly hot that neither music, nor desert scenery, nor even your impending WSOP debut will matter. And all that water you you had the brilliant foresight to purchase at the 7-11 before getting on the freeway will be hot-tub warm before you hit Barstow. But let's rewind a bit.

It's actually pretty remarkable my car even made it there and back. A week before, I was heading home from my WSOP "dry run," aka a $125 NLHE tourney at the Bike, that I busted out of after about four hours. I was on the 10, three exits from La Cienega when I noticed that people were honking and pointing at me, then moving/swerving/speeding away. Was my 13 year old, sea-green car really that offensive to these Mercedes SUV jackasses? I was about to give the finger out my window when I finally saw what the fuss is.

My car is on fire.

There is a cloud of white smoke streaming out of my hood, trailing behind me for a good hundred yards. The heat needle thing has moved PAST "H" into an entirely new territory. More of the various engine lights (besides the two or three that always seem to be on) have lit up. An angry man in a truck behind me is honking and flashing his lights. I look up and I'm passing La Brea. OK... can this thing make it another 3 miles? Because I'm really not in the mood to be pulled over on the side of the freeway with a steaming open hood at 2 AM. I was about to find out.

With every car going out of their way to avoid me, I hit the gas and barrel up the now-clear right lane. This, of course, is a very bad choice, and only makes MORE smoke come out of the hood. Now I start to believe this thing could actually explode and kill me. But I really really really don't want to call a tow truck. Seriously, can you imagine what that would cost? I'm a girl on a budget here. So I ease up on the gas, glide off the La Cienega exit ramp, and come to a steaming, smoking halt at the Venice Blvd. traffic light. The smoke abates a bit, now that the engine isn't screaming aloud in overheated agony. It returns, of course, the second the light changes and I hit the gas. Wow, there's a lot more smoke now that I'm going slower. But only one mile and I'm in my driveway. Please please please no cops. Please please please don't explode. I thankfully pull into my driveway shaken, but unharmed.

The next day I pour coolant into the engine and five minutes later its all over my driveway after leaking out through the HOLE in the radiator. OK... at least now I know what's wrong with it. Two days, $400, and a trip to Pep Boys later, it's fixed, but not after my ornery, elderly Jewish landlord left a nasty note on our door -- "clean up spill. People will slip. Kitty litter works well." Sigh.

I wasn't even going to drive the damn thing to Vegas. My sister, who has a far nicer car than I, was in NYC on a two-month TV shoot (she's a camera operator) and she'd never be the wiser if it went on a little outing. Even my mother supported this plan, I suppose out of fear of a "hey it's me, the car died in Yermo" call. But sis wrapped early and would be on a plane to LA just as I was supposed to be driving out. So it was fly, rent, or drive my own car. Being the cheapass on a limited bankroll that I am, I chose the latter. I can spend $200 on shoes on my lunch break or push it all-in on a bluff, but I can't fork over $29.99 a day to Avis.

I'm surprised I slept well at all the night before leaving. Usually, thoughts of the dry desert air, the clatter of chips and the dingdingding of slot machines will race through my head for hours before sleep comes. This time, though, I was dead tired. Working my normal ten hour days plus cramming in as much poker as I could handle in the weeks leading up to the WSOP had left me exhausted and spent. Even my father, barking over the phone from three miles away, urged me to get some rest.

"Did you play tonight?"
"Daddy, I'm too tired to play."
"See, what did I tell you? You need your rest."
"I've gotta practice. I'll only get better by playing."
"Well practice won't help if you pass out at the table."
"Hey, does two pair beat three of a kind?"
"But a straight beats a flush?"

I hung up with my father and fell asleep with Super System 2 splayed across the blanket.

It takes a good hour to get out of L.A. The 10 was clear, the car was running fine, and the little heat needle hadn't wandered past the quarter mark. Too good to be true, of course. As soon as I hit I-15, the air pouring from the vents turned from reasonably cool to moderately lukewarm. About halfway up the first big hill, it quit altogether and the windows went down and my car began its transformation from oasis to oven. I tried the A/C again going down the hill, but it was done for. As I passed the largest thermometer in the world, the temp read 109 degrees, and I was sure this was going to be the longest three hours of my vacation. I normally plow straight through on the drive, but I was so fucking hot I decided to stop at my father's favorite roadside diner-- The Harvey House in Barstow-- to cool off, have a sandwich, and continue plowing through my new copy of Harrington on Hold'em Part II and cramming all the insight I could into my addled brain before I was scheduled to sit down with 2000 or so of my nearest and dearest degenerate gambling friends at Event 22 of the WSOP.

I pulled into Valet Parking at the Rio at around 3:30. As I got out of the car, the (cute) valet asked me if I was all right, and I said, "oh, I'm fine, just a little hot from the drive." But he still looked a bit concerned. As I got my first glimpse of myself as I stumbled through the glass doors of the casino, I could see what he was talking about.

My face was totally purple. Not red, purple.

I'm a fair, freckled blonde girl. Heat that extreme manifests itself in even more extreme manners through the skin of someone like myself. I can't help it. Once I handed off my luggage to the bellhop and the delciously cool blanket of A/C enveloped me after pushing through the revolving doors, I decided to stop in the ladies room to throw some water on my face and cool down a little so I wouldn't frighten the people at the check-in desk. Probably the best decision I made that day.

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