Every day. At least four times a day. For two weeks. That's 56 chances to relive the horror, at a bare minimum. There's little wonder we fled Las Vegas as fast as we possibly could.
When I got the call that morning, it was him. I knew he was alive. He told me to look out the second-floor window and I'd see the scene of the accident. All I could see was an ambulance. I threw on shoes and started running. And when I got to the end of the block and made the turn north, I finally saw the car.
The entire driver's side door was punched in. Every airbag had deployed. The velocity of the oncoming car was so great the roof had buckled upward. Six windows, shattered. Mirror dangling off the side. The clearer my totaled car grew in my field of vision, the faster I ran, until at last I saw its driver walk out from behind the ambulance, looking almost completely unharmed. Sweat poured down my face and his as we finally embraced and sought out shade from the 105-degree heat. He had cuts on his arms, glass all over his clothes and some soreness that was sure to grow worse, but he was fine. The airbag saved his life. Mine too, because after ten seconds of imagining life without him, it wasn't a place I ever wanted to go back to.
The paramedics started questioning him to check for head injuries.
"Do you know what day it is?"
"I have no idea, but it's Day 1B of the World Series of Poker Main Event and I have to get to work."
"Do you know where you are?"
"Unfortunately, I'm in Las Vegas."
"Who is the President of the United States?"
"You know, that puppet Obama."
* * * * *
We'd been thinking about moving for a while. Pauly has never liked living in Los Angeles. Aside from the warm Januarys and the easy access to medicinal marijuana, there is absolutely nothing about this place he enjoys. He hates its food, its gridlock, it's vapid people and plasticine culture, its image-conciousness, and its lack of foot traffic. And after the accident, he wasn't going to be driving a car anytime soon. I don't hate it here, but its drawbacks are constantly multiplying. I've spent 85% of my life in Los Angeles and I'd like to see that figure drop. So why not get out while I can? It's not like I have a job that ties me to this place. The great thing about being a writer is that you can do it anywhere.
After Black Friday, we talked about Colorado. Our cost of living would drop dramatically and we already had a built-in network of friends in the Denver area. We started looking at Craiglist for rentals and talked to people about potential neighborhoods, and I was doing my best to remain open-minded to what would be for me, a great cultural/lifestyle shift. I mean, I'd be moving to a place where Tevas aren't just considered acceptable, but they're the norm. I'm not a hiker, a biker, a yogi, a skiier, or a boarder. My last experience living in a cold climate led to a decade-long affair with antidepressants. I know I'd enjoy being around friends and a great music scene, but could I really hack it living in Denver?
Then, like a fairy godmother, or perhaps Glinda the Good Witch, in walked Halli.
I met Halli in Vina del Mar, Chile of all places. I was on one of my first assignments covering the Latin American Poker Tour for PokerStars and she was there her best friend, Shirley Rosario. Shirley was playing the tournament and when Halli wasn't sightseeing or grinding the cash games, she was hanging out with our little media crew-- me, Otis, Chip Bitch, and Joe Giron. Back then, Halli was a cash game pro based at the Bike, but more recently she returned to San Francisco and moved back in to the sprawling Lower Pacific Heights Victorian that has bounced between herself, her brother, and various friends for years now.
When Halli came out to the WSOP and told us she was looking for someone to share her place with now that she'd ended her five-year relationship with her boyfriend, it was like a light turned on. It was almost too perfect. We'd be able to live in a place we both loved for less than what we paid in L.A. Pauly wouldn't have to drive at all. And don't even get me started on all the cool shit that is within walking distance of Halli's house-- everything from dive bars, to sensational Peruvian food, to world-class music venues like the Fillmore. Not to mention Halli herself. She lights up any room she walks into with her contagious energy... then she'll whisper vitriol in your ear about the fedora-clad hipster couple in the corner booth.
We spent the last three days up there and our new digs fit us like a glove. So, as a down payment of sorts, we walked into a mattress store on Geary and bought a bed. I teased Pauly about being in his late thirties and finally owning his first real piece of furniture. The plan right now is to stay at least six months. Maybe more. Maybe a lot more? I'll hang on to my place in L.A. through the holidays, but we'll have to make a more definitive decision about what to do with it at the beginning of next year.
* * * * *
"That looked like a new car," the paramedic said to me. He had short dreadlocks and kind eyes and tried to distract me as Pauly was treated.
"He bought it for me for my 30th birthday. I'd never had anyone buy me a present quite like that."
"It was a helluva present. It saved his life."
The back door slammed and the ambulance pulled a quick u-turn as we headed toward the freeway. A quartet of cops and tow operators still peered under the hood of my black Mazda as they prepared to haul it away. It was the last time I'd ever see it. A week later it was declared a total loss and I signed away the title in exchange for a check.
I bought another car. The same car, just a new color. And a moon roof. I was probably their easiest sale of the week, walking in off Santa Monica Boulevard and buying it just like I might a dress or a new pair of shoes. At one point, I pulled out my phone and showed the guys at the dealership the accident photos. One just could not wrap his head around the fact that Pauly hadn't even broken his arm. The other turned ghostly pale and zoomed in to get a closer view of the airbags before mumbling something about calling his wife.
Pauly loves the new ride, but is even happier about spending less time in it now that we're relocating to San Francisco. I can't say I blame him. I have great hope that this move will not only foster a better daily living environment, but be creatively fruitful for both of us. I could already feel it after only three days.
Only 31 more until a new era begins.