Thursday, 28 May 2009

Whatcha talkin 'bout Willits

Willits, California is not somewhere I’d recommend to the casual tourist. But for the road tripper, I feel the experience was a vital rite of passage. My companion and I left Oakland late and drove for around three hours before hitting our destination. On the way we’d stopped for a classic roadtrip burger from In and Out, a place in America that is after my own heart by having only about five items on the menu. One thing that I’ve begun to hate in the US is choice for food and drink. Just give me a few options and I’ll decide, don’t give me infinite choice – my British brain just gets all confused and hurty.

Arriving in Willits the action was slow. It seemed there wouldn’t be any tourist sights to view the next morning and we soon found a road with about ten motels on. With such a range of options some might decide to go for quality and which one looked the best, some might go for a chain that they’d heard of which would hopefully provide some kind of basic standards. We chose the one with the biggest neon sign. The Lark. And let me tell you, at midnight to a tired road tripper, that sign looked mighty impressive. What sealed the deal was a picture of Shiva hung behind the desk at the counter.

We rang the bell on the front window three times but with no answer and were about to give up when a yawning elderly Indian lady (EIL) emerged from the door and gave us a glare which conveyed the message “I can’t believe you weird looking fuckers have just woken me up, you bastards.” We then negotiated the booking of the room through a glass panel of the kind you get at late night petrol stations. Communication proved tricky with the EIL and eventually when most of the details were completed we gave her our booking card and she passed us the key. No have a nice stay, no good evening, no thank you - just supreme indifference. When we asked if that was ok, if we were good, she merely waved her hand at us with a dismissive contempt. Her total anti-customer service attitude was one I’d encountered before in Poland and in this nation of ‘Have a nice day’, I actually almost respected her commitment to sheer hatred of the customer.

And what a treat we were in for - Grandma sheets, holes in the curtains and an ancient TV. Still it did seem pretty clean if you don’t count the dead wasp on the bathroom windowsill, but I got the feeling that a horrific murder had occurred there sometime previously. On a business card pinned to the mirror, the motel billed itself as ‘Willits finest’, something that I didn’t entirely believe was true unless it was claiming Willits’ finest dead wasp.

The next morning we were awoken at 8am by a Harley Davidson revving loudly and persistently and the woman next door screaming “Shut the fuck up”. She had windchimes outside her room and was clearly a more permanent resident. I wasn’t planning to meet her so we soon bid a hasty retreat and got on the road.

Chip dumping

*Warning if you don’t want to know what happens in toilets in Las Vegas at 4am then you better stop reading now.

A lot of people have asked me if I am playing the World Series of Poker this year, as it is taking place whilst I am in America. My answer to this question is no. In truth I am a bit over Vegas right now and the thought of going there in the stifling temperatures of late may or early June is something that doesn’t excite me one bit. Though naturally, I would like to visit the pinball museum again.

My epiphany, my Vegas nadir if you will, came one Friday last October, at around 4:30am, in the toilets of Harrah’s hotel and casino. I was playing in a pretty crazy poker game. There was a Frenchman who had all the money despite not knowing how to play. He had over $1500 on the table and he was willing to gamble and go all in on a whim. Two kids were randomly going in blind for $100 at a time and a couple of other players who weren’t too hot including one who’s catchphrase everytime the action passed to him was “what can I do again?” Like I say, it was a good game. Possibly the best 1-2 no limit game going on at that moment in the whole of the city and I was in it.

But I was stuck. After being down three buy ins (-$600), I had clawed about $250 back. The truth is that I was dead tired and felt I wasn’t playing my best. At any other time I would have gone to bed, but there was no way I was going to leave that game whilst the Frenchman was there with over a grand and a half in front of him. A good hand was all I needed. It was a waiting game.

I had adjourned to a nearby restroom to use the facilities and freshen up. I knew I had to be alert to try and get a read the next time I had a hand and the Frenchman decided to play a big pot. In his bad English he liked to talk and I was sure I could have a good inkling as to what he had if I was observant enough.

As I stepped up to the urinal, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Now, it was hot in Vegas, even in late October, so I was wearing sandals. This meant that extra concentration was needed on my aim. Male readers will know I’m talking about the splashback…

Therefore at first, I didn’t notice the voice in the background…

Then suddenly I hear “I know you are there, I can hear you pissing”. Silence again and then “can you help me?” I looked around and there was nobody there. I continued with my refreshing urination. And again “help me”… “I’m in the stall” And then a loud anguished wail.

OK, well I’m a nice guy, so I craned my neck slightly to look under the door of the stall. In retrospect this was probably a mistake. What I saw there was something that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

In the space of around half a second I saw the following things. The floor was covered in poo. Why I hadn’t smelt it on the way in I’m not sure, but I was probably focused on how I’d just got sucked out on in a hand. Again.

Then I noticed that like me, the man in the toilet was wearing sandals. Then I noticed he had poo all over his sandals. Then I noticed that there were blue $1 casino chips mixed in with the poo.

This was a disturbing vision and after processing it in my mind for a few seconds I did something that I still can’t quite explain. I craned my head and looked again, this time for longer and this time the vision was even more disturbing. In amongst the poo and casino chips I saw two fat trembling hands searching through the excrement seeking to recover those now brown $1 chips. And let me tell you, these chips weren’t just resting on the top. Oh no. There was a chip poo casserole going on there down on the floor of the bathroom stall.

My question to you my dear readers is this… How high would the denomination of casino chips have to be for you to pick them out of your own poo? (Feel free to write a figure in the comments box)

On the way out of the bathroom to look for assistance from I have no idea who, I passed two casino security guys making their way towards the door. One of them was putting on some rubber gloves.

Tough break, fellas.

I later bumped into Mr Poo Chips’ brother and asked if the guy was ok. In return I got some raised eyebrows and a ‘what can you do?’ shrug, which indicated that this wasn’t the first time that his sibling had got drunk and rolled around in his own feces.

And the poker game? Well I won a little back but still ended up down for the night when the game broke at about 6am, about one millisecond after the Frenchman left the table with over $2,000.

I went back the next day and he was there again, but this time with just $100 in front of him and a new word in his English language repertoire. Fold. He was going home later that day and had his trip paid for and profit locked in, so he wasn’t doing anything stupid and there were no crazy all ins. I knew the feeling as I had done this myself the previous year on the last day.

Much like going all in blind with five two off suit, searching around in your own poo for $1 casino chips is something that probably seems like a better idea at 4am than in the cold light of day.