I’m typing this message from a hotel room in Biloxi, Mississippi, located in the center of a strip of land called the Gulf Coast. Until yesterday, this part of the globe had somehow escaped my lifelong preternatural obsession with geography. I’ve always been fairly fascinated by maps. I can pore over the pages in McNally’s Atlas for thirty minutes without growing bored. But somehow the Gulf Coast is a place I’d never given so much as a second thought. Really, all I knew about this place were those nasty Katrina clips from CNN back in 2005.
This is all pretty unfortunate, because the Gulf Coast is a place a guy like me needs to prepare for. And I was woefully unprepared for this trip.
I was unprepared to travel to begin with. I had an “extended” New Years Eve night, and at my advanced age, my once formidable regenerative powers are not what they used to be. Before I dragged myself to the airport on the afternoon of January 2nd, the best I could do was hastily fill a suitcase with random articles of clothing and stuff my laptop into a bag. Out the door I went.
I was unprepared for a brutal day of air travel. In an effort to save some money, I declined the more expensive options of flying into Gulfport (the closest airport to Biloxi) or directly to Mobile (the next closest airport). Instead, I chose an itinerary that included a short layover in Atlanta, followed by the last flight of the night from Atlanta to Mobile, followed by a one hour drive in a rented car from Mobile to Biloxi. When the inevitable delay caused my plane to touch down in Atlanta only 20 minutes before my connection, my only recourse was a panicked sprint through the massive Hartsfield Airport, my luggage careening behind me on its squeaky worn-out wheels. Not fun at all, especially in my condition.
Although I made my connection (with under two minutes to spare!), I was unprepared for a short but uncomfortable trip to Mobile in a disquietingly small aircraft with an engine that made an outrageous amount of noise. I was also unprepared to sit next to a large, talkative bearded man who smelled like regurgitated Southern Comfort. And upon deplaning, I was certainly unprepared for my second maniacal long distance sprint of the night, this time through pedestrian traffic to the Mobile Airport’s rental car counter, which I reached just as it was closing. I was the beneficiary of the final rental agreement of the night, which spared me the pleasure of a night in Mobile.
I was unprepared to drive through a dense, persistent fog all the way to Biloxi. When my GPS instructed me to turn onto a deserted, spooky, unlit two lane road, I presumed it was on the fritz. It wasn’t. This was the way to Biloxi. I was unprepared to witness an alarming amount of roadkill on this portion of my journey, including two dogs, then some other mammalian species I didn’t recognize.
I was unprepared for Biloxi. Yikes. I was told that this was one of the nicer stops on tour. If that assessment is accurate, there are some real serious shithole towns with poker rooms in this country. To be frank, BIloxi is rather depressing. The yet-unrepaired damage done by Katrina is evident everywhere, from the vacant weedy lots where businesses obviously once stood, to the limbless drooping trees lining the shorelines, to the presence of shoddily paved roads everywhere. I did some exploring in my rental car today, and there’s just nothing going on down here, unless a smattering of gas stations and fast food drive-thru’s are your idea of what’s happening. I came up completely empty on what I thought was a reasonable quest: for a decent place to watch the football games. No dice. Plunked down in the middle of the desolation is a series of about ten casinos, some gleaming, others themselves in varying states of disrepair. They create a visually discordant environment; the casinos look particularly stupid and shameless on this sad beachfront.
After a very short night’s sleep (in one of the lower-end casino/hotels), I thought I was prepared to make it to today’s tournament at the Beau Rivage (a higher-end property) on time. Alas, no. Everywhere else I’ve ever played, a 10:15 arrival for a 12:00 start typically gets the job done. Not here. The turnout for today’s $300 event was so massive (over 1000 runners) that I waited on line for an hour and a half only to become the 30th alternate entry in a capped tournament field. Not good, especially when the structure calls for a starting stack of only 5000 chips with forty minute levels.
I was unprepared for the poker players down here. In the Northeast and in Vegas, I’m accostomed to crafty types at the poker table: dour asian men imitating lizard statues, studiously unkempt young dudes smirking at everyone in their baggy clothes. Not down here. Down here, every poker player has the countenance of a fat kid munching on his cotton candy at the county fair. I had the urge to blurt out “you’re having a really nice time, ain’t ya?!” no fewer than twenty times today. And no matter how often you hear the kind of down-home dialect people speak down here on TV, I reckon you’re still unprepared for the real deal. Yowzers. I have no idea what anyone’s talking about. I was also unprepared for the number of cigarette smokers in the tournament field. The lobby outside the tournament room was straight-up poisonous.
Needless to say, I was also unprepared to perform well in today’s tournament, and I fulfilled my suicide mission pretty quickly after I finally got seated. But I did notice that the games are real soft, which makes Biloxi a lot more appealing than it othwerise would be. After a good night’s sleep and a greasy breakfast (the only kind offered, me thinks), I suspect I’ll get more comfortable in these new surroundings soon. I better, I have a full week to go.