Trip Report — In Search of Black Tail (Part 2)
V: SINGER ISLAND — IN SEARCH OF BLACK TAIL
With Orlando mercifully in the rear-view mirror, it’s a two-hour drive south to West Palm Beach. The game plan is to relax on the sandy beaches of the coast for a few days and then begin a two-week work assignment, when the WSOP Circuit starts in mid-February.
During my previous visits to the West Palm Beach area, we always stayed on Singer Island, which is an exclusive coastal causeway of ritzy hotels and condos located just north of the city. It’s basically a giant retirement home for people with money. The sad fact is, however — every time I’ve gone onto Singer Island since, there are at least a half a dozen construction cranes destroying what was once an uncrowded pristine beach, turning into another Miami. Now, it’s pretty much wall to wall whitewashed high rises stacked along the ocean side, which makes me sad.
Unfortunately, the hotel prices have gotten so fucking ridiculous on Singer island that I can’t afford to stay there anymore. In the past, it’s always been around$150 a night, for a four-star hotel on the beach. Now, double that as the rack rate. And that’s the rate for a room facing the street on the second floor over the loading dock. It gets worse. Now, these fucking hotels charge you EXTRA for — an ocean view, a pool view, parking, and a refrigerator. Shameless thieves double the prices on the rooms and then try to double whack you with the extras.
During my preparations, I obsessed over a dozen websites looking for good hotel deals, to no avail. My previous favorite was the Hilton Singer Island, which I always thought was a good deal and location during my four previous stays there. This time, they wanted $279 a night plus tax, plus the extras. I figured five nights meant about $1,500, which is way over budget. So, I basically said SCREW THEM, and decided that Marieta and I would instead stay on Juno Beach, which is about four miles due north.
In short, Juno Island is NOW what Singer Island was ten years ago. Which means the greedy bloodsucking developers are eventually going to skull fuck it to death over the next decade until they milk every dollar out of the sand. Then, they’ll move on up to Jupiter, and so forth and so on. That’s how the game works. They call that “progress.”
More to come on the Hilton Singer Island, where I will end up getting some revenge on the bastards.
So, we arrive at Juno Beach and our temporary home — the Holiday Inn Express.
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS.
The hotel of AARP members and traveling insurance salesmen.
And, we’re pulling into the lot in a Crown Victoria. God damn — can we get more boring than this?
But the hotel is very nice, quiet, and exactly one block walk away from a glorious beach — which is nearly deserted. Good. No people. Heaven. As it turns out, Juno Beach is MUCH BETTER than Singer Island. If you want peace, quiet, and privacy, Juno Beach is where it’s at — at least until those prick developers show up and start the skull fucking.
So, let’s get back to trashing Singer Island. During one of the late afternoons, Marieta and I decide to pay a sentimental visit to our old Florida “home away from home” — Hilton Singer Island. This time, we had an unusual reason for wanting to pay a visit.
Put this in the “you’re not going to believe this” file.
Last year when we were staying here, we befriended a sea gull. He was special. Now, I know what you are thinking — that I’m losing it here, making friends out of wild sea birds and the rest of the time walking around cursing out loud to myself. But it’s true.
We named our friendly sea gull “BLACK TAIL.” That’s because his tail was black. Most sea gulls have white tails.
I developed strong affection for Black Tail, which I freely write now giving you at least two punch lines.
Last year, Marieta fed Black Tail all the extra scraps we had and by the end of our visit, he had swelled into the size of a chicken. He had a very unique personality and I think he actually knew who we were as he would come to us before the others and eat from our hands. He was a very special bird. I think Black Tail liked us. And we adored Black Tail.
We wondered — now 12 months later — would Black Tail be there on the beach waiting for us?
En route to Black Tail’s beach area, we pass through the ridiculously overpriced Hilton Singer Island. Lobby is packed — which reminds me of the old line about the busy restaurant that’s so crowded nobody goes there anymore. New Yorkers are everywhere. Yankee shirts. F-bombs. Shitty me-first attitudes. Fat fucks.
We pass through the mob and get to the beach. We wait for about five minutes in search of Black Tail. The thing about sea gulls is, when you give them food, they instinctively start crowing. So, even if one bird catches sight of any food source, the entire flock will soon follow.
In anticipation of this moment, Marieta brought along a sack of food. A few sea gulls make their way toward us. Within seconds, the payoff comes.
It’s Black Tail!
How do I know? Well, I do. I *just know.” Black Tail has a very unique personality and distinct sound that he makes when excited, which made us recognize him instantly.
So, we bonded with Black Tail again and took several pictures. Mission accomplished.
VI: WEST PALM BEACH — ANIMALS, ANIMALS, EVERYWHERE
The next few days, we visit lots of cool places. Lion Country Safari was the highlight. Entry fee is a bargain at $43 a head.
There aren’t many drive-through animals parks around anymore. What this means is, you stay in your car and drive through the different sections of the park. They are careful not to put the predators with the prey. Otherwise, the park might be a little too realistic for most tastes. After all, not too many people want to watch a gazelle being devoured by a mountain lion. I guess they had to shut most of these parks down because idiots would roll down the car windows and put their lives at peril, and then sue the park if animals, you know, did something — like behaving like an animal. The insurance had to be through the roof.
We see lots of cool animals. Just about every animal from Africa is here. The signs everywhere say not to feed the animals, but while no one was around, we manage to roll down the window and let a hungry ostrich scarf down a bag of potato chips. Damn thing must have been starving the way he devoured the whole package. Bird was pretty damn aggressive. I would not want to be caught with that thing in the wild.
The signs all say these animals are on special diets. But they should get a treat every so often, I think.
We also fed some of the other animals with assorted nuts which they seemed to enjoy. When we threw the food out of the window, the animals came closer. So, we got some good pictures. Animals got a treat. We got some good photos. Everyone’s a winner.
VII: WEST PALM BEACH CONVENTION CENTER — TEA TIME
That night, we go to the Palm Beach Convention Center, which is hosting the annual gem and antique show. Now you have to trust me one this one — this convention is unlike anything most of us have ever seen. Picture “Antiques Roadshow” meets “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” Half of the men could have passed for Robin Leach.
Last year when visiting, I got free tickets to the VIP showing through the Visitors and Convention Bureau. It’s basically the VIP showing of the most exclusive collection of artifacts in the country, where you meet with dealers directly, and get to see a lot of overpriced shit that is so preposterously valued, it’s downright comical.
Imagine 300 or so vendors with many of the world’s most precious antiques showing off their wares to high society with silver hair, orange skin, Versace scarfs, and $900 shoes. It’s a people-watching paradise. I hate watching people (give me a book or a newspaper instead), but must admit this is mesmerizing. One crafty dude must be 75 years old, draped a blue blazer with gold buttons, a yellow tie, an ascot, and then a PAIR OF BERMUDA SHORTS with SANDALS. Shorts — with a suit and tie. Only in Palm Beach. Then, there are a large number of flamboyant gay seniors with flaunted wealth, arm in arm with younger men. The women who attend are mostly divorced waifs on their third facelift or overweight Southerners/ex-pat northeasterners with obscene amounts of money and zero class. That’s pretty much “Palm Beach Society.”
They are also pouring champagne (not the cheap stuff, either) to all the guests like is fucking tap water, which makes this experience more than tolerable. I’m not a champagne-kinda’ guy, but as they say…..”When in Rome…..”
A couple of memorable moments come to mind.
One exhibit displays an astounding collection of autographs from famous people in history. I don’t know how much of it is forged, but if even half of it’s genuine, this cat has one of the best exhibits in the show. What impressed me most was several first-run copies of books, autographed by the authors. Things like a first edition of Darwin’s EVOLUTION OF THE SPECIES, signed by The Man himself. That was $75,000. James Joyce’s ULYSSES went for double that — $140,000, which I found surprising since Joyce’s is a novel and the other was arguably the most important scientific work in modern history, moreover at least 50 years older. The seller explains that autographs (and books) and their values are based on many factors — scarcity being the ultimate determinant.
One other thing I learn from the autograph display is how valuable managing an estate can potentially be. I notice the collector/seller has perhaps 100-150 letters from famous people addressed to former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (now deceased). Things like President Bill Clinton signing a letter wishing the former New York senator a happy 70th birthday. Gerald Ford asking for his support with a farm bill while president. Things like that. Most of these letters are going for like $300-600. I’ve heard items from *one famous person to another* tend to be more valuable, as opposed to the “DEAR HARRY, BEST WISHES, RONALD REAGAN” tripe that’s plastered on the wall of just about every office wall in America. I learn that when Sen. Monyihan died, his kids basically emptied out the closets and found thousands of letters in his archives. They pulled out every saved letter from his 40+ years in politics, offering them to collectors. So, even if the kids got a hundred or so a pop for each letter, they were still sitting on big score. Imagine, Grandpa’s old papers fetching six-figures. So, a letter signed by Jimmy Carter to a once-famous U.S. Senator isn’t really that big a deal after all. But anyone that posts one of these on their wall and pays a couple of hundred dollars can display a very tiny part of history.
The night’s most outlandish moment occurs when we pass a busy display area and I see what looks like a tea set. Seems to be made of silver. It’s in a glass case and people are staring at the motherfucker like it’s the hope diamond. I peak inside the case and see a fucking silver tea set that looks like it might fetch $45 at Goodwill.
I mean, what the fuck?
Upon closer inspection, I see a plaque next to the tea set. It says something about it once belonging to Marie Antionette (yeah right, like anyone would fucking know for *sure* — these clowns could have pawed it off the shelves of the local Salvation Army). Some blazer wearing fruitcake that looks like Allistair Cooke with a brown toupee claims that Marie Antoinette used to sip tea from this silver chalice. My more populist perspective is that while the bitch pretty much remained indifferent to millions of her own starving people, she sipped tea from this thing. I’m supposed to be impressed? Hell, give me Hitler’s Mercedes parked over at the old Imperial Palace — at least that fucking car was a beast.
Then, I see the price tag of this ludicrous item.
For a fucking tea set.
I don’t care if the shit used to hold the sweat of Moses and blood of Jesus and the piss of Abraham, I wouldn’t pay $80 for that fucking tea set. And these clowns wearing silk ascots are mulling over an $800,000 price tag? Me thinks you could get Hitler’s car, Darwin’s signed masterpiece, Joyce’s classic book, and the entire beach towel laundry at the Hilton Singer Island for that price. You tell me what’s the best value.
Guess I wasn’t made for this life.
VIII: WEST PALM BEACH — POKER
Wrapping up my stay Florida, it’s now time to actually go to work. Marieta sadly flies home to Las Vegas (always the worst part of any trip for me, symbolizing then end of the fantasy and the onslaught of reality setting in) and I’m suddenly on my own in West Palm Beach for the next 11 days and nights — sans any of the odd distractions. Now, it’s just work and poker.
In an effort to economize, I transfer from the beach side Holiday Inn Express to the Motel 6 at the Palm Beach Airport, located in one of the worst parts of town (yes, there are slums in Palm Bach County).
Instead of Motel 6, they should call this fucking place the Motel 3.
If Tom Bodett was still doing commercials, you WOULDN’T want him to leave the light on.
Maybe you need to know and understand a bit more about Florida for what I am about to try and explain. With the oppressive heat and humidity, if you are not staying in a good hotel, many of the cheaper places have a persistent damp-musty smell. I mean, it’s disgusting. Mold on the tiles. A smell that just wrecks of respiratory problems. Fucking cigarette burns on the carpets IN THE NON-SMOKING ROOM! Then, the air conditioner has to work so hard to keep the sunbaked rooms cool, it roars like an aircraft engine 24 hours a day. Nothing like hearing the fucking fan motor blowing like a 747 at 4 am.
This story is about to get ugly fast. Hide the kids and stop reading now if fearful of medical maladies. I pick up some horrible kind of foot fungus while I am there. Who knows what kind of bacteria are doing backflips in the shower. I first notice this when I remove my shoes after like the third day and two of my toes are black and there’s bumps all over the top part of my foot. Looks like something out of a medical journal. I guess I picked up athletes foot from the shower and then trenchfoot set in with wearing suffocating socks for the next 18 hours while at work two days in a row.
Which brings me to the food.
If you have money (and time) South Florida has some fabulous restaurants — Michelle Bernstein’s is a favorite. Great Italian food, as well — Da Vinci’s in Boynton Beach and Stressa in WPB are outstanding. But if you do not have a rental car, my choices the next 11 days are Burger King (Never!), IHOP (No!), a local fried chicken joint packed with wanna-be rappers, and the dog track (don’t ask what happens to the losing dogs).
Needless to say, I drop four pounds over the next several days.
Call it the PALM BEACH DIET.
Now for some poker. I’ve probably visited as many poker venues around the world as anyone. Not sure if that’s something to brag about. But after two extended visits to South Florida, I am now convinced the worse lowlifes in the poker universe reside in, you guessed it, the Sunshine State.
Which is really saying something if you’ve ever played in Tunica.
Every motherfucker who frequents the Palm Beach Kennel Club poker room seems to have three things in common — 1. They’re originally from the Northeast, 2. They’re assholes, and 3. They believe they are the world’s best poker players.
Of course, this recipe makes for perhaps the best games in the world, at this very moment. I swear, this is true. No doubt, the softest games of any large market in the world right now exist in Florida. Very talkative, aggressive games, full of bombastic pricks. It’s paradise if you can wade through the bullshit. Sort of like diamond mining in a sewer.
Actually, the Palm Beach Kennel Club is a pretty cool place. While the greyhounds are racing day and night, there’s plenty of poker, plus simulcasting (horse racing). I get to meet “Mr. Rooney” for the second year in a row. He owns the track and comes down to make a speech for the WSOP opener. He also owns the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers.
On the first day of the tournament, a riot nearly breaks out. Seriously, a riot. I’m not kidding.
Here’s the preface — I have NO FUCKING SYMPATHY for those who wait until the last minute to register for any of these tournaments. But that’s exactly what 600-700 fools did who showed up on the starting day, only to find the opener was already sold out.
Let me get this straight. Two months ago, we made an official announcement the WSOPC would have a $1 million guarantee on the $500 buy-in opening event. We stated the windows would be open starting in December for early registration. Then, players could also register ONLINE. It was about as easy a tournament to get into as has ever been offered. Two moths of registration time, plus an online option. What do they want, fucking chauffeur service, as well?
Of course, 600-700 people who I suppose do not have access to a PC flood the parking lot at 11:15 am which is 45 minutes prior to the event start time. We pack in 2,607 starters, into an 80–year-old dog track which simply can’t handle another body. As word slowly trickles out that the players hoping to register standing near the back of the line find out there are few if any open seats (alternates only), there is a mad dash for to get to the front of the line BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY. This means trampling old men, pushing women out of the way, and screaming at those who happened to make it into the parking lot 15 minutes quicker. A dozen security officers rush over and the local police are called. FOR A POKER TOURNAMENT!
Several people actually sell off their alternate spots for this tournament. Top price that could be verified was $1,000 (for a $500 seat). Imagine that. Scalping at a poker tournament. Of course, when the people in the back of the line find out there is scalping going on, the situation goes from bad to worse.
I heard there were some arrests.
Once again, I am a hue proponent of doing whatever is necessary to accommodate poker player and those who want to play in a major tournament. It’s just good customer service and the right thing to do. But when several hundred people ignore all the official pronouncements, and then show up a few minutes before a major event starts expecting to get a seat, I have a few words for them…..
Never mind. You can fill in the blanks.
One last observation I’ll make about the differences of this region versus other areas where poker is legal. These are the most talkative games I have ever seen. It’s actually quite refreshing. Imagine poker the way it was years ago, when played between friends across kitchen tables. That’s an oversimplification. One size does not fit all. But these games are much more entertaining that most other places. While Las Vegas poker games have largely been reduced to twenty-something punks plugged into iPods playing on autopilot, the poker tables of South Florida are littered with conversation. Much of what is discussed will be a profanity or contain some reference to “how we used to do it in New York” — or both. But at least there are people in these games instead of robots.
I’m sick of Florida. Time to board and fly away. My next trip report will be from Philadelphia and Atlantic City.
Writer’s Note: This is the second in a five-part series of trip reports (unpublished) from my trip to Florida in February 2012.