Sep 13, 2014

NFL Week 2: Lawn Care

Well, that was a rough start to the 2014 NFL season. 1-4 in the Supercontest picks (although 1 better than someone I know), a losing record overall, lost 2 of my 3 fantasy leagues, and of course the Browns lose in dramatic fashion. I should have known; I watched the game in Macau where it's now a trend with the Browns losing heartbreakers when I watch the game at the Venetian:

2010: NY Jets 26, Cleveland 20, OT
2013: New England 27, Cleveland 26
2014; Pittsburgh 30, Cleveland 27

Oh well. A 3 point road loss to Pittsburgh isn't the end of the world. Let's move to week 2.

We have a picture from 2011 when we still lived in our apartment in the city and came out to visit friends of ours at the Golden Lake housing complex. (In 2012, we moved out to Golden Lake and no are very good friends with this family). Here is their side yard - you can see our boys playing on the trampoline (with Martin, age 3, trying valiantly to get on).

But what's that to the left of the trampoline? That's lawn care in China. There are two workers from the complex on the knees - well, actually squatting - and doing lawn care. I think in this picture they are actually weeding. They spent over an hour weeding the lawn by hand - with one of those hand-held, two prong gardening instruments.

This photo I think shows the dichotomy of China right now . It wants to be modern and more "Western", but still relies heavily on good old man-power to get things done. It's as if the industrial revolution hasn't come to parts of China yet. I have played golf where we go by a bunker and there are 10 ladies - all dressed in hats, long sleeves, and long pants on a 100-degree day - doing a "relay" of sod squares to repair a bunker. 10 people!

It also highlights the rich-poor gap in China. There are insanely rich Chinese people (not counting the ex-pats), and yet, in the same city, we have workers doing hand-weeding as a full time job. I may have a picture of some of the cars in the garage of our apartment (where we used to live) - Bentleys, 4-door Lamborghinis, etc.

I guess this is the result of a society with a low cost of labor........but what happens when the labor costs go up and these manual jobs disappear? I think a lot of economists are trying to figure that out, and are a bit frightened at the possibilities. Some sort of class war will be coming here....not this year, not in the next 5 years, but probably in our lifetime. I don't think I want to be here when it happens.

Anyway, on to lighter things...it's clear now that we have a rich-poor gap in the NFL. Wes Welker can be re-instated, the Doobie Brothers on the Steelers can face no punishment for their pot-smoking hijinks, but Josh Gordon? No way in hell - 10 games for you. It's like we will always be the weeders on the lawn looking up at those ex-pats on the trampoline ....until we get a quarterback.

(Do we have one? This week will tell a lot).

On to the games:

Mia 23, Buf 20. I've been going back and forth on this one - I just am more impressed with Mia's win than Buffalo's. Should be a very close game.

Was 27, Jax 13. How the hell did Jax not cover last week? They could not score at all once Phi stopped turning the ball over - and Washington's defense impressed me.

Dal 27, Ten 24. Romo can't have 2 disasterous games back to back, can he? Don't answer that.

Az 20, NYG 16. Maybe the preseason does matter, after all. My Giants pick last week could be the dumbest pick I have made in a while.

NE 31, Min 20. I'll take this even as the line increases above 5. I refuse to believe that the Patriots are "done", with all that talent. They will score here, and I don't think the Vikes can keep up.

Cin 27, Atl 16. I'm impressed with Cincinnati. Moved up and down the field against the Ravens - who may have a good defense. They will score TD's against the Falcons.

Car 27, Det 24. Again, not sure what to think here. Two evenly matched teams; I don't know if the Lions D is as good as they showed Monday night.

TB 27, StL 10. Banking on a bounceback from the Bucs and a continuation of the mess in St Louis.

Sea 19, SD 17. This is a scary game for the Hawks. They don't usually play well outdoors, on the road, against halfway-decent defenses.

Oak 19, Hou 17. Just a feeling here. Don't think Fitzpatrick can get it done on the road for the Texans.

GB 31, NYJ 17. The Jets will struggle on O - GB has a weak pass D, but how do the Jets take advantage of that?

Den 31, KC 23. Reid will have this team ready on the offensive side of the ball - but Denver is just too much.

Chi 28, SF 27. I don't think the Niners are elite; Dallas gave them the game last week, and Dallas was moving at will.

Ind 30, Phi 24. The improvements on the D side will help the Colts.

Best bets: 16 of them; last week: 5-9-1:
Was -6
Dal +3 1/2
Az/NYG under 42 1/2
NE -5 1/2
Cin -5 1/2
Atl/Cin under 49
Det/Car over 44
TB -5 1/2
SD +5
Sea/SD under 44
Oak +3
GB -7 1/2
KC +12
Chi +7
Chi/SF over 48
Ind -3


Supercontest picks: Last week: 1-4
Was -6
Dal +3 1/2
NE -3
Cin -5 1/2
Chi +6 1/2




 

Sep 7, 2014

NFL Week 1: The Playground



Hello everyone! We are live from the Venetian in Macau for Week 1 of the 2014 NFL season. Spending a 3-day weekend in Hong Kong and Macau with Mike A - otherwise known to some as "Why Not 5" - and others. A Morton's dinner is on tap for later tonight (I will sign the check as Mr. Steve Wieczynski to see if he has an account on file. After that, gambling and then kickoff at 1 am my time.

As many of you know, this will most probably be my last NFL season in China. Details are still being worked out for our trip home - I could be back in time for the home playoff game between the 2014 AFC North Champions Cleveland Browns hosting the wild card Denver Broncos; but nothing is set in stone yet. For the theme this year, we will be focusing on pictures I have that represent the experiences of China. These could be pictures of our family interacting with the Chinese, or just some random pictures I took in the street of daily life. I have a lot of pictures on my phone that I don't think I have published, and this is a good way to share 17 of them.


We start Week 1 with the playground. I don't think I have shared this yet. THis picture was taken in November, 2010, three months into our stint here. The "new"ness had worn off and we were still trying to comprenhend life here. We had been told numberous times that life as an ex-pat in China is like life in a fishbowl. Chinese, especially those from the rural areas, will be fascinated by the "white people" they see from Ohio. We saw it a lot for the first month or two - but life was such a blur for us then we didn;t really notice it. I think this photo is when it hit home.


We traveled to a public playground on the main island in the city - Er Sha - which is very crowded and diverse. Here's Freddie and Warren playing around - and there's a Chinese lady, camera at the ready, taking pictures of them. For what reason? Just to have and say "I saw them! They really do exist!" I had to snap this picture to capture the fascination that the Chinese had - and still have! - on foreigners.


It happened even today at lunch, someone came up to our group and took a picture. This was the first time I realized that the fishbowl would not end here in China.


Kind of like how Johnny Manziel feels in his new city and career! Maybe JFF should head over to China to see how life really is when you are constantly in the spotlight - good training for the 24-hour meaningless ESPN coverage.

(they do realize he is not starting, correct?)

On to the games!
NO 31, Atl 24. I can't help it. I know it's a trap, and I will willingly take the Saints. They have more talent - this is the obvious pick....

StL 24, Min 21. Not sure what's going to happen here. Unsure of Cassel at QB, and I think Hill will be OK running Stl's offense with the conservative Fisher.

Cle 24, Pit 0. Twenty five years ago, the Browns went to Pittsburgh for the opener with a new coach and a QB that got hurt the year before and missed the last half of the season....and this happened. I will suffer for just 50% of that beatdown this year.



Phi 34, Jax 27 - A gut feel here. Bradley had the Jags playing well late last year, and he is defensive coach that should be able to help stop Philly a bit with all this time to plan.

NYJ 23, Oak 13. I think Rex Ryan and the Jets' D will be able to handle a rookie QB at home. Oak turnovers will give the Jets the ball in good field position several times.

Bal 19, Cin 17. Two offensive coordiantors that love to run and eat clock - should be a low scoring game, with the Ravens finding home magic again.

Chi 31, Buf 17. Again, too easy, but I am sooooo impressed with the Bears' offense.

Hou 27, Was 20. Anything can happen in this game - but I like Romeo, Watt and Clowney vs. the shaky Washington O.

KC 24, Ten 13. Kansas City still has a good defense, right? They should shut down the Titans.

NE 30, Mia 27. Mia's improved O line will allow them to score vs.the Pats, but it's hard to see NE lose this with Brady and his weapons. Love to see a shootout here.

Car 23, TB 17. I don't get the Tampa love. What has Josh McCown done? Are we sure Doug Martin is good? Isn't Carolina's D still elite? I know Cam is banged up, but I have faith in Derek Anderson (cough).


Dal 33, SF 30. Dal's weakness is Pass D, and I don't think SF can fully take advantage of that. And Dallas may be playing desperate from the get go in week 1. Love the home dog with the upset here.

Den 34, Ind 23. Den rang up 49 on the Ravens last year in primetime week 1, and the Colts D is not better than the Ravens.

NYG 27, Det 24. Coughlin vs. Caldwell - who ya got? I know the Giants looked horrible, but I have to believe that COughlin will use all sorts of schemes to neutralize Megatron.


Az 23, SD 20. This is the game where I have no idea what will happen. Is either team a mirage - or both? Is Arizona's defense still elite? Will Rivers play ot his form last year, or 2013? Who knows....we will learn a lot from this game.

Best bets: 15 of them.

To recap:
 
Last year: 127-122-6

Overall, 6 years: 1002-916-57

NO -3

Jax +10 1/2

Jax/Phi over 51 1/2

NYJ -5

Cin/Bal under 42 1/2

Chi -6 1/2

Hou -3

KC -3

Ten/KC under 44

NE/Mia over 46 1/2

Car +2 1/2

Dal +3 1/2

SF/Dal over 51

Den -7 1/2

NYG +6 1/2


Supercontest: here we go again! The 5 picks:

Jax +10 1/2

NYJ -5 1/2

Dal +4 1/2

Car +2

NYG +5 1/2

Sep 5, 2014

Let's get ready for football !

Hi everyone :

So this blog is turning into a NFL and Vegas diary blog ?

Anyway, it's the weekend of week 1 of the NFL season - which means it is a trip to Hon Kong ! We are doing the annual day trip in a boat around the harbor. Should be great - weather looks nice so far.

It also means unfettered access to YouTube - and time to scour the archives for old NFL openings !

How about this opening from NBC in 1981 between a huge week 16 clash between Miami and Buffalo ?

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=jMyGvAJxVUc

Even Don Criqui seemed bored of the annoying theme.  And how about a better tag line, Radio Shack ?

The one thing NBC did right was the beginning for their pregnant show.  Remember these montages ?

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=BctCHz2iyr4

I don't remember that last game. I was only 8.  This was the year of red right 88 - so more heartbreak was coming. 


May 24, 2014

2014 Vegas Diary - Part 4

And now - the globally-awaited conclusion to the 2014 Vegas diary. Not going to apologize too much for the long delay - just have not found the time to sit down and finish it. Real life getting in the way (like kids baseball, golf, Acapulco-themed Chamber of Commerce balls.....)

Saturday, March 15

Where did we leave off? Oh yes, heading to bed at 3 am Friday night with the TV on half-blast. I appreciate Layup's comments that I am a light sleeper - and I am - but I refuse to believe that normal people sleep through the night with the TV on , with a volume setting of 10 or more. I didn't realize that Layup was really a 75-year-old grandmother that can sleep through anything.

This night was a usual night of me tossing and turning - I was in bed, awake, at 5:00 in the morning. Tried to fall back asleep - but could not. My mind was active, thinking about all the things I had to do - I had to pick up Nike fuel bands for the kids; I have to convince Layup to take me to a US Bank sometime today, since I still have $1300 of checks I need to cash; I need to go to Walgreens for some minor drugs.....

Walgreens! Aren't they open 24 hours? Of course!

After about 15 minutes of arguing in my mind whether to wake up and go to Walgreens, or fall back asleep - Walgreens won. I left the room before 5:30 to head to the LV Strip Walgreens. On the way, I said hi to Ana - who was dealing Pai Gow in the morning in an absolutely dead casino. Also called home to Jeff to see how the kids were doing; it was 9:00 pm Saturday night in China and there was a movie at the clubhouse; all the kids were busy and the conversations consisted of "Hi Dad - I'm fine - gotta go!" So no worries there.

Walgreens on the strip at Friday night at 5:30 in the morning is a strange place - no doubt about it. There were at least 3 people sitting/laying down within the entrance. Alcohol-included slushies were being sold by the register. Everyone was 26 years of age or under....except for, going up and down the aisle for ZZZQuil, Children's motrin, Old Spice Deodorant for Freddie and Flintstones. Got in a nice conversation with Mom and Dad as well while going up and down the aisles. And the 5 Walgreen's plastic bags that I was carrying was a nice repellent for the ladies of the night prowling the strip as I headed back.

Said hi to Ana on the way back - and went to sleep around 6:30. Woke up maybe 9:30 or so - headed downstairs; had to say hi to Ana and play some Pai Gow with her. Most of the crew joined us in the morning; then some broke off for breakfast. Leland and I were left - and the two of us headed to the craps tables to start an epic run. I think we both rolled 4 times each with a total of 1 point made. So much for that.

Got some UTH in during the rest of the morning, then tried to convince Layup to take me to the bank. He was on a good UTH run and didn't intend to leave - so I got the keys for a solo drive. After lunch in the room - I headed out. Took a few wrong turns, but finally ended up at the US Bank for a 10 minute transaction of cashing checks. It took about 90 minutes in total, but it felt like forever.

The lack of sleep was really starting to hit me now, and I was in one of those moods when you have no sleep for 4 days - just a feeling of fatigue? depression? grouchiness?  The group was playing UTH at a full table - well, I wasn't going to join them. I headed upstairs to lay down a bit and then went to the mall to look for the Fuel Bands. Did you know that mall is a LOT further away than it seems? And there is no freaking Nike store in there? I was getting pissed off quickly. Really pissed. A Wendy's bacon cheeseburger and a Frosty helped to calm me down some as I headed back.

It was about 4:00, 5:00 or so when I met back up with everyone. It was an afternoon off that was moderately successful but didn't help my mood too much. We played some tiles - where I think Layup won over $500 or so, craps and UTH. The group wanted an early dinner (since most have not eaten since breakfast), and so everyone (except me) suggested BLT. Fine - a BLT burger and shake will sit nicely in my stomach still full from the Wendy's and Frosty. I'm still working that out.

I felt better during the dinner as my big bet of Iowa State -2 in the Big XII champ came through. Then a group outing to Blackjack switch - why the F do we play that game??? It was about 9:00 or so when we all kind of stood there, wondering what to do next.

I have in my notes that Don suggested Baccarat - why? why do that to us again? One last group session of baccarat ended in disaster again for me. Another run at craps and UTH was indifferent, and half of the group - Don, Mike, and Leland - headed for bed. That left Wiz, Layup and I alone around 11:00 pm. What could we ever do?

Yes, one more trip in the Salon for blackjack. It was the three of us at one of the back tables against the wall - where we could see into a private room that was lit with a single craps table in the middle of it. Our eyes all widened immediately.

"What's that? You actually have that in here? What's the limit?"

Apparently, it's never used - MAYBE it is open once a year. It clearly is a "if you have to ask, you can't afford it" sort of thing. Million-dollar bankroll is required. Wiz now has a long-term goal in his life - to pull the funds together to play there. I say we open up a mutual fund company, get contributions for the fund and use it to play - and then all of us roll and bet the "don't". A guaranteed 35% return!

The blackjack treated two of us well....there were 2 or 3 shoes in a row where Layup and I made money, but Wiz got shellacked. After the last shoe he threw in the towel - he reached is limit. Wiz said his goodbyes and it was just Layup and I for the rest of the night.

We kept doing well at blackjack, so we stayed there. At one of the shuffles, we noticed a $25 roulette table open right next to us. Seriously, I never noticed it ever being open before...but this being Saturday night.....

Layup and I joked during the shuffle. "Nice placement - right next to the blackjack table! Does anyone actually play roulette in here?" The dealer smiled, and said - well, I don't know what he said, since Layup and I got up and went over there. "One spin won't hurt between shoes!!" We put 5 green chips on some numbers, and the ball was released.....the ball bounced in and out of the "18" before jumping to a losing number......

Layup and I had a nice session at blackjack - so, like moths to a light, we ran back to the baccarat table to lose it all. And we did. It was about 2:30 now, and we we're ready to call it a night. Back to the blackjack table!

There's always a theme in these diaries of wacko characters at the craps table on Saturday nights, and this night was not an exception. We settled in for a while; a guy from Columbus was on my end with me for most of the session, and I think Layup had someone on his end for a while. But the oddballs that came in for 3, 4 rolls tops were fascinating.

One guy - drunk, of course - leaned against the rail next to the stick. He constantly kept dropping $5 chips every roll.  "FIVE DOLLAR YO" he would scream. He would win every once in a while. "WHO'S YO IS THAT? THAT'S MY YO!" as he would prance around the table.

There were only 5 or 6 of us at the table, and he would constantly ask the dealer..."Is that MY Yo?" Yes, sir it is. "DAMN RIGHT! THAT'S MY YO!"

The next call: 8, easy eight. Yo comes down.  "Damn it!". He lasted about 20 minutes.

The session was consistently bad until the end - when I got the dice and Layup was down to his last $100 at the table. He played the "All or Nothing at all", as usual, when I rolled (again). I started off hitting the 12 and the 3, and then a couple of points. Next thing I now, I have 8 of the 10 numbers covered for the bet.

I think I needed a 2 for the "all small" - and I rolled it to make myself some money. All that was left was...the yo. My memory is hazy - it took me about 6-8 more rolls before I rolled and ---- the eleven showed up. My second career "All or Nothing at all".

Layup immediately sprinted toward my end of the table like he was a contestant on "The Price is Right" and Rod Roddy called his name. He grabbed me in a bear hug and jumped up and down - sure, alcohol may have been involved, but rolling that "All or Nothing at all" is like a no-hitter in baseball......you've got to celebrate!

That put us even for the session at craps - and, at 5:00 in the morning - gave us the adrealin rush we needed to go some more. Where else to go but - of course - one last baccarat session?

We headed into the baccarat lounge and saw a strange scene. There was one empty table - with a dealer - on one side of the aisle. On the other side, there was a game in progress - a dealer and three Arab-looking men - and one of them was doubled over in pain at the table, with his head in his hands. His friends kept asking him "Are you all right?" "What do you need?"  There was a pit boss over there, looking fairly unconcerned, over the dealer's shoulder.

We sat down at the empty table and stared at the happenings across from us. The pit boss - an Asian American who we got to know well - came over and asked for our cards.

"What's going on over there? Is everything all right?" we asked.
 The pit boss shrugged. "Oh, I don't know, I think he's fine. Want to play? Any markers?"
I was shocked that he has been 15 feet from the whole thing and knew nothing.
"He doesn't look very good- does he need a doctor?"
"Nah- they got the pit boss over there to handle it. Should I get the drink lady for you?"

The dealer offered no information - so we played while continually glancing behind us. After about 10 minutes, the guy hunched over ended up flat on his back under the table. Yes, he was laying down - conscious - underneath the baccarat table. He obviously was in pain, but from what?

I tried to glance over at the chips at the table - they weren't black chips, and there weren't many of them. My guess is he got physically sick at the amount of money he lost. But that's just a guess. That's when we needed a drunk Wiz to go over there and ask the posse: "So, how much are you guys down for the night?"

After about 30 minutes, a wheelchair came and took the man away. I don't think we ever knew what happened - or if those chips on the table were ever colored up. Layup - what was your theory on what happened there?

of course, the session was a losing one - and it was about 6:30 when Don and Mike appeared to say goodbye. They were a bit surprised - but certainly not shocked - to see Layup and I still awake at that time. We said goodbye to them, and then Layup and I headed up to bed.

Sunday, March 16

There was no trouble sleeping that night/morning, and the alarm rang at 9:30 - it took me a good hour to get out of bed. We were packed up and ready to go around 11; I went to the cage to check on my funds I had deposited and wanted to take some of those funds back with me.

The withdrawal process took a good 10 minutes just to get some of my money. It would have been easier to go to the UTH table, get a marker, get the chips, and then go to the cage to cash the chips.

Anyway, we stopped south of town at the Nike outlet to finally get the Fuel bands, ate lunch at Chipotle (yes, I was a little paranoid walking around a local shopping center with a lot of cash on me). In what is becoming an annual tradition, we listened Tommy Tyde and John Thompson release the NCAA brackets at 3:00 pm pacific. I let out a scream when Dayton's name was announced.

I checked in and went to the Delta lounge where it was EXTREMELY difficult to stay awake for 3 hours in the lounge while waiting for boarding. The non-stop MH370 coverage on CNN was not helpful. The plane ride home was smooth; I sat next to two people from Mexico City heading to Guangzhou to start importing product. They spoke no English and (of course) no Mandarin; I was racking my brain to find the Spanish I used to know to translate Spanish to Mandarin for this couple. I slept about 10 hours and really had no jet lag for the next week in Guangzhou.







 

Apr 20, 2014

Vegas 2014 Diary - Part 3

Friday, March 14

Before we get into more of the play-by-play details of the day, I do want to talk about one theme that was present during the trip this year. Usually, when Layup and I room together, the TV is set to ESPN for the entire 5 days - and it doesn't move. We watch repeats of SportsCenter over and over until falling asleep, and the day sometimes begins with Stephen A yelling at us.

But not this year. Every once in a while, a significant news event occurs during the Vegas trip. In 2003, everyone in this group can remember the War in Iraq starting the Wednesday before tipoff of the first round games. That led to many profanities against Dan Rather and CBS whenever they broke into coverage of the tournament.

This year, the MH370 tragedy/search/farce was omnipresent. We had the TV glued to CNN most of the time in the room for any new information on where this plane actually went. Recall that it disappeared the morning of March 8. At this point, it is now March 14 - and this was about the time where the Malaysian authorites were absolutely clueless on which "zone" in the ocean to search. And it was sometime during this trip where it was announced that the plane was still sending signals to a satellite 7 hours after takeoff.

It was horrifying and fascinating at the same time. I know this sounds crazy, but at this time - the most logical answer to "What happened to the plane?" was that it was hijacked and in Northern Afghanistan somewhere. I couldn't get enough of the rumor mongering on CNN, the "unofficial" MH370 24/7 news channel.

Anyway, this Friday was Southern Highlands day - the annual tradition of golfing at the premier course in Vegas that is always a treat. There wasn't much sleep for me again the night before, and the wake up call came around 7:30. Time for the morning Baccarat with Ana!

And this time, Ana treated me well. I was there for about an hour - and I do remember a banker run of about 7 or 8. I kept partial pressing on each win, and Ana would get concerned for me  - "don't get crazy!".  Ana, you want crazy? Let me introduce you to my friend Wiz.

After that session, there was only time for a shower - no breakfast! - and off to the car to play Southern Highland. We got there - and the lack of sleep, food and the Absinthe all were conspiring against me. My head pounded, and I was in no mood for any physical activity. The friendly locker room attendant - the same guy that was been there each year - offered Motrin...I took 4.

Golf was ......well, not good for the first 4-5 holes or so. Then I started to hit fairways with the no-tee approach, and some putts were dropping. The entire foursome started playing well on the 7th, with Mike hitting the flag on the approach; on 9, I hit a drive, bunt 3 wood to 135, and then a thin 9 iron that rolled up to 2 feet.

On to 10 - where I was right of the green in 2, and got up and down. On 11, the turkey burger I had didn't kick in yet, and I held my hands out on the tee box - and they were visibly shaking. Wiz said: "you too, huh?" and his were wobbly as well. The drinking and lack of sleep had caught up to all of us.

11 - a miracle chip from the right of the green to 6 feet, but I missed the putt. (I still regret that). 12 - par. 13 - routine par. 14 - bunker in 2, blast to 15 feet - made it. 15 - the hole I hate - driver, hybrid just over the green; bad chip to 20 feet but I canned the putt. 16 - 70 feet away in 2, and a nice 2 putt. 17 - the 190 par 3 - hybrid to 15 feet, par. On 18 I hit a good drive, but aimed at the creek in the center of the fairway, and found it. A double for a 39. Best nine in Vegas in a LOOOOONG time.
(Sorry for boring you with that, but it is memorable, and I had to put it down in here for reflection...)

After the snacks/pear vodka in the locker room after the round, there was no time for gambling since we had a 6:00 dinner reservation at Lavo - another tradition. We met in the lobby at 5:45 - everyone was there except for Leland. Where is he? Well, no one was exactly sure. The stories came in:
- his phone is ruined as some naked strippers at Bare threw him into the pool;
- he started drinking at 9:00 am and had already passed out for the day;
Leland was ofifically listed as "questionable" for the dinner at 5:45.

Dinner was awesome, as usual. Layup and Ira started to pound fireball shots and beer chasers; that got up to about 4 per person when the entrée came. Leland was downgraded to "doubtful" at 6:15, as we all realized there's no way for us to contact him (and vice versa) with the phone being ruined.

The conversation at the dinner table revolved around naming teams in obscure NCAA conferences. We started with the MEAC - Ira and I challenged each other in a "countdown" style. Keep naming one until you couldn't. We got to the 13th team (I took a mulligan with one accidental repeat) and couldn't name the last one - Howard. Argh!
We did it again with the SWAC - and I won that one.
Last came the mascot game - name the mascots of various NCAA college. This is where my absence from the US for 4 years really showed. I was very rusty on this - and it's clear that Ira was a specialist in the small East Coast colleges. I got him on some of the Midwestern colleges - IUPUI , anyone? - but there were several teams he named that I knew 5 years ago but simply forgot.

After the fried Oreos - I had 4, thank you - We headed back to the Mirage for the night - it was only 8:00 pm. As you can guess, Leland did not show for dinner. First stop back at the Mirage was the craps table - an open one! Three of us went on one end - I think it was Ira, Mike and I - and the other three - Wiz, Layup and Don - were on the other end. Time for Team Craps! Which team would make more points in one round around the table?

Don was not present to begin - so Layup started for the other team. 2 points made. Wiz - Zero. So it was our turn - and Mike saved the day with 2 points to my 0 and Ira's blank.
We kept waiting for Don to complete the roll for the other team - but he was nowhere to be found. Mike informed us that "dinner was not sitting well with him". Mike was going to use the public restrooms on the casino floor for the rest of the night.  Wiz pinch hit, sevened out quickly, and the game was suspended at 2-2.

Then we ran over to the baccarat room. Most of us sat down - can't remember the exact people at this table - and started playing. Most of the others were jumping around - going from banker to player and back haphazardly. I seemed to always be opposite Mike - betting the other way against him - and I could catch no cards. Mike seemed to be on fire against me - a Tiger Woods at the table. I couldn't beat him! And if we did end up on the same side, it was nothing spectacular - some wins, some losses. I lost all the profit from the session with Ana from the morning.

And this is where the trip turned. We all got up, I'm just wandering around the baccarat room, when Mike says "Are you going to cash in?" I usually go to the main cage to change my chips into cash - in fact, I always go there - but Mike suggested we do it there, in the baccarat room. There is a desk in the back where you can go cash in. So I went against my normal routine and cashed in there....and then went to the Salon with Layup and Wiz......

The blackjack session was awful. Nothing went right. Carnage everywhere with the 3 of us. It go so bad that I had 2-2 vs a 7.......and, in a desperate attempt to shake things up, I decided to split.

First card received - an 8. Oh boy, here we go. Now I'm doubling (at least I have 10). I got a 5. Nice.

Next 2 - I receive another 2. I don't believe it. OK, we'll split that too and flush more money down the drain. One of the 2's busted, and for the second 2 - a 7, for a 9 total. Fine, we will double.

I ended up playing 5 units on that hand - and went 0-3-2. So much for shaking things up at the table......the losses kept mounting until I finally had enough and picked up.

It was about 1 am or so, and I should have gone to bed, but.....well,,, the baccarat table started calling again. Layup and I sat down for one more session -and it was quickly clear that we should not have. More losses as I searched in vain for Mike. "Where is he? He's unbeatable! He needs to tell he how to bet......" . At 3 am, we called it a night, and Layup and I went back upstairs where I fell asleep for about 45 minutes......


 

Apr 6, 2014

2014 Vegas Diary - Part 2

Thursday, March 13

There is always one day of the trip that is the most memorable one, where the group picks this day as the day most representative of that years' trip. Most of the "signature" days come on a Friday or Saturday, such as the Golden Nugget day of 2007, the cabana day of 2008, the downtown day of 2012, etc. For whatever reason, Thursday turned out to be the signature day of the 2014 trip.

Up and at them around 8, 8:30 - and the first order of business was to obtain the annual gift to the group - the $10 Money Line bet on America's favorite hockey team! That was done around 9 as the early NCAA games started to tip off. Saw Todd and Ben with Ira in the book as they were watching the games; Todd proceeded (again) to introduce himself. I admire his ability to get hammered by halftime of the first ACC quarterfinal.

Back for the morning baccarat session with Ana, the Filipino; she kept giving me "5"s which is an average hand in baccarat; that resulted in a wash of a session. After breakfast - where everyone received various casino chips from New Zealand - we did a group run to the craps table. It was proven again that none of us could roll.

At about 11:30, we packed up and headed to our first golf round at Shadow Creek. Shadow is a course wholly owned by MGM for the use of the casino guests of their resorts. The day started out nicely with the two caddies coming up to the 5 of us and complimenting all of us - "usually, we get guys that can't hit the ball 100 yards". (Well, he hasn't seen my mid-round tee shot yet).

I was nervous as hell on the first tee. I had been working hard on the tee shot to be looser and more aggressive; there was water on the left (which is where I miss it if I overcook it) on the dogleg left opening hole. The range session was good - I stepped up to the first tee - picked out a spot on the right side of the fairway - prayed - and took the club back.

I finished through the ball and it took off on a line down the left side of the fairway, just missing a fairway bunker. Fairway hit, 270 yd tee hit. Holy shit.

The next shot was a full wedge that I put to 15 feet; I had an uphill putt to win the first hole for the team - but even though I missed it, I was so happy. Par on the first.

That was it for a while. The next tee shots were: 100 yards left (#2), 230 yd hook into the water (#3, #4), 80 yd worm burner into the weeds (#5), 100 yard pull (#6), ....

Well, so much for positive thinking.

On #14 or #15, I joked about what I did last year when I struggled - I threw the tee ball on the ground and teed off from the deck. Why don't I start here? It was a 470 yds par 4. I placed the ball on the turf - and whack - 240 down the middle. Par. Good drive on 16; 17 was a unbelievable par 3 which could resemble an elevated #12 at Augusta. I took at 8 iron - ball started right of the flag and drew in to the left-side pin position. Right on line.....

.... until it flew everything and into the back pond.

Oh well. Made a back-breaker 12 foot uphill putt for par on 18 to win money from Don and Wiz. Felt a bit better after hitting the last 3 fairways without a tee.

Two notes from the round:

- Someone was on fire on the front side, and it wasn't Wiz, Don, Mike or I. Leland came through with the career nine of 39 on the front at Shadow Creek. 2 birdies, was it? Great driving, excellent irons and no three putts. Awesome to see. I think he will retire from the game for 10 years after that round.

- Nothing worse than the battery dying on your phone when you are trying to track the Cincinnati/Central Florida under (largest over/under bet at 4 units) and America's favorite hockey team trying to protect a 3rd period, 1-goal lead. Mike and Leland were pissed at my constant requests for their phone on the last 3 holes.

The locker room was a shrine to current sports stars. There was the Michael Jordan locker. Mike Shanahan had a locker - which was the background for some pictures taken by the Skins fan in the group. And then we saw a large black man laid out on the couch, dressed in golf gear, watching the games. I thought nothing of it - until Wiz/Leland started to talk about him.

"You know who I think that was?". No.....

"That's Shannon Sharpe's brother! You know, the receiver?"

Sterling Sharpe? Yes, yes, that was him!

Sterling may have gained a few pounds since his playing days, but there he was, on the couch in the locker room. This concludes the 2014 version of "Celebrities we have seen gambling during our trip" (although there were reports of Montell Williams in the high-limit slot area this year).

We got back just in time to get ready for dinner, at Sage at the Aria. Hoo boy, what an adventure this was. Our reservation was at 7 - we got there in time, seated fine - and then it seemed that it took forever for the server to come over. And then the sommelier did not appear for a while. Our appetizers took a while to arrive.

The poor sommelier came over after the appetizers and Layup said very loudly and dryly "Well, thanks for showing up" or some such sarcastic remark. Ah, I see the alcohol was kicking in!

My choice for the entrée came down to the pork chops - which I do not get at ALL in China - or the flank steak. I asked the waitress - she recommended the pork. Wiz went with the pork also. Layup, Don and Mike all chose the steak.

The food came - well, let's just say there were orgasmic sounds coming from Layup, Don and Mike. "This is the best steak I have ever eaten!" "It just melts in your mouth - I'm not exaggerating!!" "Oh My God, I'm going to cum" were the quotes from the three of them.

The pork? It was good, yes, but it's hard to enjoy a meal when the entrée you declined to order is causing those sorts of reactions. Yes, I was jealous. dammit. The portions were not large for any of us - which would come into play later.

We all ordered dessert - great - and then we all ordered Absinthe, an after dinner drink. That may have been a mistake.  I still don't know what goes in that - but they lit it on fire at the table. It was about 8 ounces in a goblet - and, of course, there were dares on the other side of the table to chug the drink.

So - we were well oiled as we left the beautiful Aria to go back to the Mirage.  (Why don't we stay at the Aria some year???) . I'm not sure how it got so late, but the book was closed when I got back - and I had plenty of tickets to cash. They told me I could cash them at the main cage. Fine! I'll head over there.

Boy, that's a big mistake. I had 9 winners to cash..... the process to cash a winner at the cage involved multiple steps and stapling a receipt to each ticket. It took 15 minutes there to get the cash needed for the night.

I found the group at the baccarat table, where all 7 of us where going to "own" the table for the night. It started with the staff trying to open the table and the glass lid on the chips; their key would not work. We had to move to the corner table when the fun finally began.

First, the display went out. "Dongle not present" or some such error was on the baccarat display screen. With all of us buzzed (at least) or drunk, that message was the based of a few bad puns.  After a while, a technician came over a fixed it; I offered to tip him a $5 chip for his effort. He was not allowed to take it. I offered again, again, and one more time. He was ready to pull the wrench out of his bag and whack me.

After another half hour, I look over at Layup. Uh oh. I see red splotches on his face and he is getting a bit bloated. He's having an allergic reaction. He says he feels fine, but will go and get some Benadryl from the store when the time is right.

Being the concerned brother I am, I stand up and go talk to the pit boss. I'm not drunk, but I'm not sober either.

"Yes, sir?"

yeah - my brother over there? He may be having an allergic reaction.

"What? Do you want me to call a doctor or the ambulance???"

No, no, no, God no. I just want to ask - do you have an Epi-Pen in case we need it?

"An Epi-Pen? Let me call a doctor now, sir!"

No, please, no, don't do that right now. Please lower your voice.

Too late. Layup found out what I was doing.

"What the F? I'm fine. Did you just ask her for an Epi-Pen?"

Well, yes, just to be sure.

"I'm fine....Jesus....ok, I'll go get some Benadryl"

Layup comes back with Benadryl - and peanuts and Beef Jerky!

"I'm still hungry from that meal!". He proceeds to open up the package at the table. "Anybody want some?"

Well, I guess, since it's here...sure.....

Layup passes it around, takes some more jerky - oh look, the cards are in front of him! He picks them up.

"Sir! No food at the table, please."

Layup moves his chair 5 feet back, stuffs the jerky in his mouth - and then leans far forward (with the chair away from the table) to check the cards. He mumbles something unintelligently as he lays down his natural 9......

The next 30 minutes was a battle between Layup, the beef jerky, and the pit boss trying to catch Layup in the act of eating.

We all ended the day around 2am - but I was starving after the pork and the alcohol. Time to go get a 3/4 lb burger at the Carnegie deli. Nothing better at 2 in the morning! Shared a few bites with Layup in the room (see Jim Gaffigan - "oh, I'll only have a bite.......MFBDBFDSHGFUISGIUSDG") and tried to sleep with all that in the stomach.

 

Mar 23, 2014

Vegas 2014 - The Blog - Part 1

Another Vegas trip has come and gone, and now we start the herculean task of trying to put all the pieces together. My notes are very scattered from this trip - I'm going to need more input than usual from the readers to piece together more details (or to send in corrections).

As usual, what a wonderful trip. As I have said before, each trip has its own mood and set of memories. I think it's clear this trip was one of the less crazier trips - not as many "crazy" stories that would only happen in Vegas - but still, memorable for several reasons. I think the general mood on the trip was more laid back than usual; maybe a combination of work getting in the way for some of us, the golf eating most of 2 days, or the lack of a side trip outside the casino. Needless to say, it was great to again get together with everyone where the only obligation is to get the morning parlay in on time.

Special thanks to Jeff, my brother in law, who filled in for some last-minute child watching in China as Janice was required to travel on this week (the only week in 10 where she is traveling).

Tuesday, March 11

Unlike last year, the flight from China was uneventful; I was able to sleep some (maybe 4 hours) and get some work done (8 emails?) on the flight over. Layup picked me up around 7:30 at LAX and we were on the way to Vegas. I had my customary 5 minute nap in the car ("How long did I sleep?") before we got to the Mirage before midnight.

Layup did not park at the main valet - he went to the North entrance - and did not ask for luggage service. So I'm entering the casino with my suitcase and my gargantuan golf case walking by 1OAK, the night club. Tuesday night is locals night at the club - and so the lobby area was packed with 20-somethings all dressed up and drunk. Here comes Eric with the golf bag after a 12 hour flight and a 5 hour drive - I'm in no mood to deal with that. I was thinking of myself as a 16 pound bowling ball trying to take out as many Kardashian-wanna-bes as I could at midnight.

After checking in and throwing our bags in the room, we find Wiz at the UTH table for the initial sessions. And, for once, the initial session starts well - I don't think I lost a hand in the first 6 or 7. Double my money there, then went to the craps table where we found out for the first time (of many) that none of us could roll. Off to baccarat to show Wiz how to play and where Layup and I ganged up on him a few times for a winning session - and off to bed around 4, when the Nyquil kicked in.

Wednesday, March 12

Not exactly sure when I woke up - let's say about 7:30 or so. That's 3 1/2 hours of sleep the first day, which is near a record for me (if you have read the past versions of the blog). There was the first of many morning baccarat sessions with a Filipino dealer named Ana; she became a bedrock of the trip this year - as she worked the morning shift (4 am - 12 noon), so she was usually the last dealer I saw before bed and the first when I woke.

I remember being hungry, so I asked about when the buffet stopped serving breakfast. The pit boss called over - the answer was 10:45 or so. At that point, Wiz had joined me in the baccarat salon as we were playing, we joked if we could get the breakfast burrito at the table.

"No, but there is a room in the back" was the answer.

Wait, what?

"Yes, if you want to order food, you can - we can serve it to you back there. "

Wiz's and my eyes lit up. Now that's class! Call ahead for breakfast, coffee and mimosas and have it served in the salon....

The rest of the day was a blur. The first parlay (of many) was entered (I still have the ticket; the time stamp was 9:48) and then a visit to the buffet. The rest of the morning and afternoon was spent at the UTH table - a long, successful session. Wiz, Layup and I started; Don and Mike were arriving at this time and was trying to text us to see if anyone was going to pick them up. Their requests went unanswered. Wiz had to go work for most of the afternoon, so Layup and I were there for a couple of hours before Don & Mike joined us. All I remember is that the NBC SN was on the TV....and they were showing coverage of the Paralympics. The event that day was skiing. Now, we didn't understand the event.

Each skier had a different disability - one skier had just one leg, one had one arm, one was blind with a "guide" in front..... and yet they all competed together. So many inappropriate questions crossed our mind....

- how is it fair that a one-armed skier can compete with a one-legged skier? Doesn't the two-legged skier have an unfair advantage?
- the blind skiiers - what happens if their guide crashes? Do they get a do-over, or is that just the luck of the draw?

Layup and I scheduled massages for the same time before dinner (a "couples" massage, as Dan the pit boss called it all weekend). One last baccarat run with the group around dinner time, where we got introduced to Ira's friends Todd and Ben (for the first time). They were plenty hammered already, with more to go.

Dinner was at 6:45 in the new steakhouse at the Mirage, which was excellent. I had a mandatory work call at 7:30, so I had to eat and run. I left $200 with Don for my part of the bill, and went upstairs.

I came down after the call at 9:00pm to find everyone at a packed $15 craps table. As soon as I got there, everyone started cheering.

"Yay! You made us $500!"

What?

"We've won $500 tonight!"

Um....who's we? Don? Leland? All of you? How?

It took a while to figure out, but apparently the bill for dinner was $170 or so (all-inclusive). So I had $30 change coming to me, but I wasn't there to get it.......so the group decided to put the $30 on the field....it hit.....so they pressed it....it hit again....press one more time, another hit.....

It still is not clear to me what happened next. Some said that most of the profits were pulled down, others said another press happened.....well, no one was sure exactly where all the money went. I never did get my share of the profit (or my $30 change), and no one was owning the pot on that one.....maybe this will get cleared up in the comments.

While I was trying to listen to this story, the roller was still rolling on the other side of the table. He was hitting some numbers but no point, so I didn't jump in. After a while, the dealer changed the table limits to $25.

I bought in.....certainly they would see I was with the group and would be grandfathered in for $15. I got my money and put $15 on the pass.

"Sir, this is a $25 table" was the quick response.

But, but...I was here with them!

"$25 minimum, sir....."

Fine. It was a losing session as it was again demonstrated that no one in this group could roll as the dice flew around the table.

I'm not sure what happened next - someone must have talked me into a salon blackjack session - and it was a good one! Leland texted Layup during the run that he could hear us cheer as he sat at the Pai Gow table playing with John the dealer. I don't remember any of this at all - which is strange for a profitable salon trip.

The night ended at the craps table (again), where some college kids that joined the table next to Wiz and Layup actually started making points and rolling hardways. I may have had a few drinks by that point, so we were parlaying the hard 4 and 10 - and this kid did it back to back! The day ended on a good note from the craps table. 1 day down on the trip with no damage whatsoever to the bankroll....a great start. Would it be a trend for all 4 days or is the inevitable storm looming around the corner?



 

Mar 9, 2014

New Wardrobe addition

I love some vibrant colors on my golf shirts -orange, yellow, green - but this may be a bit too much. I hated to take a picture in a public restroom, but I had to capture this. This would be considered "way over the line" for me, even though some of you might think this is an ideal target for me to aspire to.

 

Tianjin pictures

Just wanted to share some experiences from my trip this week to the northern city of Tianjin.

First, a helpful hint on the restrooms at the airport. It's so obvious when you think about it!


You also may have heard about the pollution in China. Here is a picture from my hotel room; the large building on the left that in under construction is about 1/2 mile away.



 
 

Looking forward to Vegas 2014

Yes, I am way behind on my blogging. A lot has happened since January - a great trip to New Zealand, where we were almost in a head on collision on a highway - with a car driving the wrong way; me climbing rocks in India for 5 hours with co-workers and no water; and my weekly Sunday role-playing of Bobby Knight.

But it is Vegas week 2014! Heading to Vegas Tuesday night for the annual trip. There are some certain things that I look forward to every trip - some great, some mundane, and some peculiar......

- the view of the strip by plane (or car) as you arrive. Still is an instant smile-inducer.
- the first look into the sportsbook when you arrive, and the sheer number of items on the board.
- the smell of the casino - each casino has a distinct smell; the Mirage has a kind of "vanilla-lotion" smell
-  the first Tom Collins of the trip
- the first night when you try to plead with yourself to sleep more than 4 hours. (hint: it never works).
- the first time picking up the 2 cards in the UTH hand
- walking through the sports bar next to the book at 7 am when it is completely dead. It's a sense of renewal - a new day with new adventures has arrived
- going outside to the strip at 7:30 am - and seeing a ghost town
- the endless loop or repeat SportsCenters being replayed ad nauseam from 10 pm - 7 am
- the vodka tonics in the locker room of Southern Highlands
- the breakfast burritos at the Mirage buffet.
- the rolled eyes of the group as I wear another orange (or green) collared shirt to dinner
- the $25 fantasy golf side bet

What did I miss?
 

Jan 18, 2014

2014 Swing Thoughts

It's a new year - time to clear the brain of the old bad habits from my golf swing and head into a new year with clear, concise thoughts. I'm trying to just focus on the contact and make a good swing now - to get back to basics - instead of constantly fighting to shoot a number.

I've got it down to four pre-swing thoughts that I am focusing on:

1. Square the left toe at address
2. Set up behind the ball
3. See the follow-through swing path - swing on that path
4. Pause at the top.

4a. No, I mean it, pause at the top

4b. No, not an Eric "technically, a pause is the instantaneous moment between the backswing and the downswing", but a Don Hershey "you can sneeze when he is at the top and it won't affect his swing" pause.

4c. Dammit, if you don't pause, I will shove this club up your ass.....

There, those positive thoughts ought to do it.

Yes, most golfers only have one - maybe two - thoughts in their head pre-swing....but as you know, I am psychologically messed up in the head on the course, so I need all these. And this is an improvement! I used to have 7 or 8 thoughts in my head in past years!

Jan 12, 2014

Here we go

First real medical emergency this weekend...Martin fell while we were at basketball - and started screaming; his forearm resembled a very soft "S" shape. Oh yeah. Joe Theisman immediately came to mind.

First thing to do was to go to the local Emergency room to get X-rays and hopefully get it reset/cast. Well, we got the X-rays - two X-rays in a cement block room where they escorted everyone out except for Martin and me (I drew the small straw). The X-rays confirm a slight break; however, the Chinese emergency room does not have the resources/materials to put a cast on. Um, how is that possible?

So we are in a bit of limbo - it is not that serious so it doesn't need surgery; and an American pediatric doctor is coming into town on Tuesday when he can see Martin. So, for now, we wait; Martin's arm is immobilized and he is playing his IPad one-handed for 12 hours straight......

 

Weekend getaway

I know, a bit late for the annual birthday posting. As a present, Janice and I got away for the night
(Friday night) to Macau. The first time just Janice and I took a trip there without the kids! It's much more relaxing, of course.

But it's obvious I am getting old. After checking in, we headed to our dinner reservation at Morton's. (Have to celebrate a birthday with some Western steak!). By the time dinner was over, it was about 9:30; the wine and other drinks kicked in, and I was exhausted. We gambled for about 30 minutes - a bit of craps, a bit of baccarat and I gave up. Too tired to go on. All I wanted to do was sleep.

I was asleep before 11, and woke up after 7 - woke up extremely refreshed. What a birthday gift! Sleeping in a hotel room without the kids! After a morning hot tub session, it was non-stop morning/afternoon gambling for 6 hours. Now that's a birthday.

Some quick highlights:

- Baccarat is a great game for head-to-head matchups. I'm playing my usual minimum bet on the banker - $500HK, $800 when pressing - when a Chinese guy sits down. After a few hands, he puts $20,000 on player. I still have my banker bet.

He gets his cards - a King and an 8. Not good for me.
I turn over my cards....a. 7........and a 2. My nine beats his 8. I smile, he leaves in a huff. That's what gambling is all about!

- Craps was horrible. I was in mid-Vegas form; rolled two turns on Friday night after dinner; I rolled the dice exactly 5 times combined. A nice sequence of 6, 7; then 8, 5, 7. Ugh.

- Here's an example of how stats can be your enemy. This guy was rolling at the end of the table- and the last time he rolled, he rolled nothing but 9s. So it's his turn again. He sets a point of 4.
So I bet:
 - odds on the 4
- place the 6 and 8
- what the hell, it's my birthday, so we place the 5 and 9 also....
- and a little sugar on the hard 4 and hard 10.

So I have the 4, hard 4, 5, 6, 8, 9 and hard 10. I'm set.

The guy rolls seven more times without sevening out....
....and I lose money.

How?  His rolls:
a. 12....nothing
b. 11....nothing
c. Easy 10 - 6-4...Hard 10 loses; what the hell, I'll go back up.
d. 3.... nothing
e. Easy 10 again...6-4. Argh, another loser.
OK, I'll put an end to this. I place a bet on the field.
f. 8...good, winner 8, but loser on the field.
I do not replace the field bet. Of course....
g. 3....nothing

I'm in shock...of course, next roll is a 7.

Outside of one winning session at the Wynn (what a nice casino), it was a bad gambling weekend. But a wonderful 24 hours away from reality (and away from the kids).