Monday, June 7, 2010

365 Photo Project - Day 158

Taken: June 7, 2010, sunset
Location: Healdsburg, Ca.

I played poker last week. It's one of my many vices. I'm not much of gambler -- I've never felt lucky enough for that -- but I do love a good card game. I would say I'm just an average player, kept from getting good by a number of things not the least of which I can't seem to trust that little voice in my head when I play.

That's the same voice that guides me as a writer, the one that I count on in those moments when I'm facing a blank page on some ridiculous deadline. Let me tell you that sometimes that little voice is as amazingly prescient when it comes to poker as it is when I'm writing. Yet, I just can't seem to put any faith in it.

I suppose that might change if I played more but my jones for poker ebbs and flows a lot, mostly ebbs. I'll go months without playing before suddenly deciding it's time to head up to the local casino for an evening of hold 'em. Sometimes I'll end up going two or three times over the next week and then go back to not going for months again.

I like the people watching aspect of the game. When you're sitting around a table for a few hours, it's a great opportunity to observe people. A good player is looking for a way to read his opponent's play but I'm not very good at that. I just like to watch and listen, hear what people say and how they say it. I've played with truck drivers, prison guards, retired actors, fireman, cops, housewives, farmers, businessman, even a professional player or two. All of whom end up in my writing somewhere in the small details.

The worst part about going to my local casino is the casino part. Loud slots machines clanging under a cloud of cigarette smoke, the place filled with mostly poor people spending their last pennies trying to hit a jackpot. They bus them in from all over the Bay Area and the crowds keep on coming, even to a place where the House has all the advantages and then some. And the smoking. Ugh. The Indian Casinos don't have to adhere to federal nonsmoking laws so they get to hire dealers who must stand in the plumes of smoke for hours and hours with apparently no recourse when 0 or 30 years from now, they come down with lung cancer or emphysema or some heart problem from all that second-hand smoke. The poker rooms, ironically, are almost all nonsmoking but not the gaming areas.  There the people watching is different. Like the old guy I saw recently. He was in a wheelchair, attached to breathing apparatus and he had been wheeled up to a slot machine which he was filling with coins, no expression on his face.

I realize this makes me seem hypocritical. Believe me, I'd much rather skip the whole casino experience and play in a dedicated card room. And I know the power of wanting to believe in luck, that the next card or next coin is going to change your life. It's a lure as old as people. Hard to fight it no matter how much the odds are against you.

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