Trip Report — I Hate Philadelphia (Part 3)
I hate Philadelphia. It’s Detroit — with one major difference. There are actually people LIVING in Philadelphia.
Which begs a serious question, why the fuck would anyone want to LIVE in Philadelphia?
The first part of this blog will be an attempt to fill in that elusive blank with some kind of explanation. Call it a Hail Mary of logic.
I always feel compelled to give some background to these rants. I lived in the Northeast for ten years. I visited Philadelphia at least 100 times, so I’m no stranger to the scene. Ninety or so of those visits were passing through on the way to Atlantic City, but many occasions turned into what I can only describe as an anti-vacation vacation.
So, let’s play a little game, shall we?
Question: If I say a word, what word immediately comes into your mind? What image immediately comes up when confronted with the word “Philadelphia?” For instance, when one thinks of Denver, the rocky mountains come to mind. When one thinks of St. Louis, maybe it’s the famous Gateway Arch. With New Orleans, it’s probably the French Quarter.
My mental flash drive of Philadelphia pretty much is an crash dump of rusted out ship hulls, decaying half-empty warehouses, lead smelters, oil refineries, welfare cheats, and dark, dirty, cold impersonal streets littered with filth.
I know. Stereotyping is wrong, except for when it just so happens to be dead on accurate.
And so, I arrive in this hellhole on a Tuesday night. It’s 35 degrees, drizzling and getting dark, which seems like the ideal metaphoric mood for this miserable place.
From the outside, the so-called PHILADELPHIA INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT looks EXACTLY like the new Aria (Las Vegas) — only if it were laying on it’s side. The airport is a giant gray steel and glass structure — kind of a cross between some Orwellianesque stage set and what one imagines the headquarters to the Social Security Administration to look like.
I remind myself that this will be one of three times I will actually fly into Philadelphia within a six-month period — which is three times too many as far as I’m concerned. I was here for two weeks back in December (nothing spoils the holiday spirit more than spending the Christmas preamble in weary action-starved Atlantic City).
What’s most astonishing is that some people actually take PRIDE in being from Philadelphia — which is sort of like admitting you were birthed out of the ass of a pit bull. I know people can’t help WHERE they were born. But show some fucking humility. Listen. No one is fucking impressed that you grew up where they filmed “Rocky” — correction. Make that Rocky 1, Rocky 2, Rocky 3, Rocky 4, and Rocky 5 — or that you flunked out of Penn. I mean this is a place where everyone in the city looks like Burt Young — and I’m talking about the females here. You’ve got nothing to be fucking proud of.
When I meet someone from Philadelphia, here’s what I EXPECT to hear. Takes notes:
“Hi! My name is Sal. Even though I have lived most of my life in a filthy hellhole with scumbags, it hasn’t rubbed off on me (too much) and I’m actually a pretty decent guy….if you give me the chance.”
I’m reasonable. I don’t judge.
That’s an introduction I can accept. Someone who speaks truth, from the heart.
X. ATLANTIC CITY — FIRST NIGHT
I’m limo-ed from the Philadelphia Airport to the front door of Caesars Atlantic City. They always send me one of those long stretch limos, which is such overkill. Not that I don’t deserve it. I *do.* But I always tell them just to send a simple car and driver, but every time I fly in, they give me the asshole wagon treatment. I suppose the perk is less a testament to my role and more an illustration of Atlantic City’s current state of desperation. They simply get no traffic during midweek. The entire limo fleet sits and gathers dust. Either that, or maybe they ARE desperate for the $500 or so I will probably lose in video poker over the next several days.
But the real reason I do not want the limo service is easy. I have to tip the fucking driver. When I had money, I used to over tip. Everywhere. All the time. Now I’m working poor, and it’s $40 tip each way. That’s as high as I’ll go. It doesn’t sound like much, but adding up all the tidbit travel expenses essentially cuts 20 percent out of my gross. So, that’s an unnecessary 80 bucks I am blowing — round trip. To a limo driver, who gets health insurance and a retirement plan while I am one Caesars Tower bowel movement away from robbing 7-11s.
Another annoyance, the limo drivers are always bored off their asses and want to talk like fucking magpies. So, when they know someone from Las Vegas with an Italian last name is being chauffered in, they suddenly want to talk shop and confide with all their “issues” for the 90-minute psychoanalytical limo ride. I know. I sound like a real prick. But hey — just stick my fucking bags in the trunk, pack me comfortably in the back seat, keep your mouth shut and your eyes on the road while you do your best to get me to the front door. In other words…DO YOUR JOB. Is that too much to ask?
Oh, another thing. I always try to carry my own fucking bags once I’m at the hotel. Of course, this FUCKING IMPOSSIBLE in Atlantic City when you pull up in front of the empty casino sardined in the back of a 20-foot limousine. The bellhops — who haven’t seen a $5 tip in three years — shivering on this deserted Tuesday night see the giant limo pull up and before I can get out of the car, fucking three of them are offloading the luggage like it’s a union job. Of course, I’ve got to mini-fin them. And the two bucks won’t cut it this time. And that”s just to get my fucking bags out the trunk. The next shakedown occurs when the next bag man (another person) wheels your bags up to your hotel room. On trips like this I always start out with a pocketful of ones and fives that pretty much looks like a Broadway bankroll. By night’s end, every service worker has scavenged down my wad like starving vultures. Even the desk clerk got a tener from me with her angle (“I had you on one of the lower floors next to ice machine, Mr. Dalla. But I see you are a SPECIAL guest, so I am going to put you in one of the renovated suites on the upper tower.”) It might have been pure bullshit, but she deserves *something* for potentially saving me 14 nights next to the fucking ice machine. Drunks fucking slamming the ice door all night long and ice fucking crashing into the bin for my entire stay Bottom line — I haven’t even entered the room or placed a bet yet, and I’ve paid more in tokes than the fucking airline ticket cost from West Palm Beach.
Okay, so I got badly sidetracked. Shit happens. Especially to me.
Wednesday night comes and I receive my first text message from a friend. It’s Bruce Kramer. He says, “Let’s go have a drink.” He adds, “I’m buying.” My o’ my. The man does have a way with words.
I’m only too happy to abandon my work, a path which I know from experience will lead from one drink to two, and two hours to three, to a potential all-nighter. There is no such thing as moderation when in the company of Mr. Kramer.
I let Bruce know that I want to stay on property because if I leave Caesars and head over to the Taj Mahal, I KNOW what’s going to happen over there. And of course, it fucking does.
But first, Bruce and I try to get a drink at the Morten’s Steakhouse bar inside Caesars, but for some reason we get totally ignored. We sit there waiting for 20 minutes and can’t get anyone’s attention, to which Bruce and I basically say FUCK THEM!, let’s head to the Taj.
While en route, Bruce reveals he has now turned into a beermeister. Me makes his own brew. I’ll get into that more later. Bruce also informs me that he’s got 2-3 bottles of good wine (i.e. it cost more than $10) that he’s bringing. Now, I KNOW I’m going to be at the Taj for at least 3-4 hours or UNTIL THE WINE is gone — whichever comes first.
Bruce takes me up to the ATLARGE hospitality suite, which is damn cool. Looks more like an apartment, with comfortable furniture and a great atmosphere for conversation. I must admit these are the moments I cherish most about BARGE type events — getting to talk with people. We are extraordinarily lucky on this night as the group in the suite consists of Bruce Kramer, Steve Goldman, Dave Fruchter, and Katie Baxter. Five minutes into the conversation, I’m silently willing to bet anyone I got the lowest SAT score in this group. But I’m also booking Fruchter action on that prop, if anyone is interested (email me).
We didn’t plan it that way, and perhaps that’s what makes these moments so special because they just naturally evolve and take a life all their own, but a half hour turns into an hour, which becomes two hours, and then everyone loses track of time and it’s 2 am. The wine has vanished like water in the heat.
In the meantime, we’ve managed to solve all of the world’s problems — which pretty much means unanimous consent on the motion to kill all Republicans. I enjoyed this group of people in particular because each person contributed something and everyone listened (or were damn good at faking it). It was a rare moment of civility given just about all of the discussion was political — which tends to be divisive. During the conversation I developed a deep respect for Katie, and I’m glad I had the chance to hear more from her (a former university instructor!), which was a fleetingly rare opportunity to listen and learn without the distractions of poker or the wildness of the BARGE circus.
Bruce is perhaps the most practical person I have ever met and I’ve met a shitload of people. His entire philosophy essentially consists of bonfiring every singe moral and tradition, and starting from scratch. Every issue is dissected on the basis of the pragmatic — WHAT WORKS versus WHAT FAILS. Bruce doesn’t give a shit about any of the things that pretty much keep society anchored to inertia and failure. At one point during the discussion he quips, “I would like to see MORE abortions.” Got to hand it to Bruce. He’s not only pro-choice. He’s pro-abortion! Kill the would-be infants! I’m bastardizing his philosophy of course, but it gives some idea of how the discussion progressed over several hours. Maybe you just had to *be* there.
Dave Fruchter was Dave Fruchter which pretty much says it all. Remember the opening word association with “Philadelphia?” Lead smelters? Urban decay. Let’s try the game again. “Dave Fruchter.” What come to mind? Kind of the personification of Philadelphia. Man should be mayor. I’ve been told that when I write something, one of the things that makes the article *genuine* is the reader being able to actually imagine the writer SAYING IT and FEELING IT. I think that’s my way of writing, and it’s also Fruchter’s gift and cruse. Every comment is peppered with that snarly-ass grin, devious head-shake, and a condescending attitude of arrogance. But love the man, I do.
Now, I have an admission.
I have a political fetish for Steven Goldman.
What is astonishing to me is the following. This might SHOCK some readers. But I have some extremely out-of-touch ideas about society and the world. I’ve met some nutjobs out there who I was in line with perhaps 80 to 90 percent of issues. But there would always be one or two major issues where I could not fathom their position, nor reasoning. I have a shitload of strong opinions, just about all of them controversial, and all of them perfectly correct. So, when I meet someone who is in line with me in the 80 percent range, I find that astonishing.
Well, with Goldie — the nut-job meter is at 100 percent. I’m serious. I simply have never found an issue where Goldie (and I’ve secretly searched for nearly a decade) and I disagree on anything, which (trust me on this) is simply so far away from the bell curve that we must have been separated at birth despite having virtually no cultural nor societal similarities.
Well tonight, I think I may have discovered the wrinkle in the Goldie-Dalla political armor of alliances, where we are finally going to disagree.
Incredibly, before I can even bring up the subject, Goldie starts discussing it amongst the group. I will not bastardize his opinions here, but he basically takes the words out of my mouth on an issue where perhaps 1 percent of the American population would agree with us (the subject of a future blog, no doubt).
Another grand evening comes to an end.
XI: DINNER IN ATLANTIC CITY
I’m tired of writing just as much as you are probably wary of reading. So for those of you still with me, I’ll tell a quick story from a restaurant called The Old Waterway Inn, north of Atlantic City.
First of all, the place really rolled out the red carpet. Private party for the entire place. We had the restaurant to ourselves.
Too bad the food was fucking atrocious.
I heard the kitchen had to cook up 120 meals with one cook and one overworked waitress (hire some me fucking staff!) and the results were predictable. Wait was like 2 hours between first meal being served and last entree hitting the table. Fuck any dessert or coffee service. It didn’t cost me a dime so I have no business complaining — but you know I’m going to.
STORY #1: Robert “Action Bob” Hwang sits directly across — always good for a story or two as well as being the pulse of the real poker playing professional. Bruce Kramer is there. More on the bastard in just a moment (see Story #2). Then, there’s Tom Hummel, one of my favorite people. A guy I have great respect for. Others too are at the table, down the line.
Let me start the story of by first giving you the punch line — Bruce Kramer angle fucks me in the ass big time. I can’t believe how much he took advantage of the situation. Now, I am going to call him out on it and expose him for the person he really is. Take notes, people. This could happen to YOU.
During the three hour wait for food, there’s lots of topics wildly discussed. When someone could actually get a word in edgewise between Dave Fruchter’s posturing (he was sitting three seats down and held the entire table in court like fucking Henry the XIIth — it was shameless), someone brought up poker pro Gavin Smith in conversation.
Bruce made an offhand remark that Gavin had actually appeared in a Kentucky Fried Chicken commercial. It even aired on television, according to Bruce.
“Are you fucking telling me Gavin Smith was in a commercial for a major company, which was broadcast?”
Bruce affirms his claim.
“There’s no way. You must have him confused with someone else.”
This is where we enter an odd purgatory of mental requisition. While Bruce is puffing away on his cigar, boldly claiming that Gavin appeared in an ad for a major company, I’m mazing around in my head trying to figure out how in the fuck Bruce would know this information (or believe it) and *I” would be so fucking in the dark and blind and deaf and dumb that he knows more about this topic than I do.
What’s the basis of Bruce’s confusion? Did he read some errant Two Plus Two post? Did he hear a rumor? Is he confusing Gavin with someone else? Has he had too much to drink?
It’s not like I do not know a little bit about this subject. I know Gavin well. I keep very up to date on poker news. I watch TV (where I might stumble across the ad on my own). Oh, and I have a little bit of background in poker media and public relations. And fucking sure-of-himself Kramer is over there across the table from me crowing like a parrot as if he knows more about this stuff than me.
“How much do you want to bet?” Before I can mull over the Damon Runyan parable, those fateful words have departed my mouth.
Of course, Bruce does not do the right thing. He takes full advantage of the situation. He *knows* he is right but pretends to act a little confused. What an act, I wold come to realize later.
I think I have him by the balls, of course. No fucking way Gavin Smith was in a Kentucky Chicken ad. SIDEBAR — I mean, what in the FUCK would Gavin Smith do? Dress as THE CHICKEN? An ad for Bacardi, I GET THAT. Jenny Craig. I get that too. Kentucky Chicken? I don’t fucking get that.
“One hundred dollars.”
Before the zzzzzzzz audible of “dollars” has reached the table’s ears, Bruce has his smart phone out and the page instantly loaded up. I’m not buying it. So, I text Gavin.
NOLAN: Hey Gavin, it Nolan. Bruce Kramer and I made a bet.
GAVIN: (one minute later) Yeah, what is it?
NOLAN: Did you appear in a KFC ad?
I still have to pause and shake my head in disbelief as I type this and reminisce. Bruce gets paid his $100 which I consider blood money for how he acted.
Which now brings this true tale full circle and places a fitting exclamation point on my opening treatise.
So, where is Bruce Kramer from? Where does the scumbag who angleshot me out of a C-note reside?
You guessed it…..Philadelphia.
Writer’s Note: This adventure took place in March 2012. This is the third in a five-part series.