Eight months after I finished college I was working as a waiter at an O'Charlie's restaurant in Knoxville. I dressed like a professional, with dark shoes and a pressed white shirt, then covered it with a long maroon apron, which I could never keep clean. I wasn't good at my job either. It's odd, knowing you're not good enough to succed at one job, but are destined for something more challenging. It was after a long shift slinging yeast rolls and "salads," that I made a phone call that changed my life.
By comparison, television is easy. I've gotten pretty good at the business lately, good enough to get by, but I never forget how it started.
THE BRADOWEEN OPEN
Back when my obsession was frolf, not poker, I used to tease my card slinging friends. They'd invite me to this monthly game, dealer's choice, with a few guys from the station. "Now, why would I do that?" I'd ask, meaning to sound insulting. "Why give away the money I earn?" Well, folks, the times have changed.
One night, about 2 years ago, I joined a tournament at Otis' house. Oddly enough, I finished 2nd. A few weeks later, I won. By mid-summer, I played as often as I could. I played the Bradoween tournament, and had a great shot at beating a wide-open field, but then as now, I enjoy people and parties even more than poker. I quit the tourney and got my drink on. Oddly enough, I was having mild success at poker... but I was a horrible player.
I think that's the night I met Badblood. We were both at the final table. Within a year he and Otis had made a player out of me.
I knew Tony through a friend of a friend. After the gig at a radio station, I'd sent my demo tape to a few places in town, but they weren't down with my vibe. This family friend knew Tony was a News Director at some station in Tennessee. A friend of his was an old news photographer who shot weddings for a living. So, I made them both a deal.
For $500, I paid them to help me LOOK like a TV reporter. We took a single page of the local newspaper, found 3 likely stories, and I reported on them. We shot 3 stories in one day, with me changing clothes in the bathroom during each shoot.
It wasn't long after I met Badblood, that we became a traveling poker roadshow. Our chance meeting, he came to Bradoween just to meet Otis, led to us spending every Thursday night at a game. We started with $30 NL ring, which very quickly moved to $50. One year later, we'll spend Monday at $200 NL, Wednesday at a $20 tourney, Thursday at $50 NL, Friday at TheMark, and Saturday wherever we find a game. It's sick really.
Sometimes experience is our greatest teacher. Blood was already a good player, but he's gotten better since we've met. I'm not even playing the same game anymore. I think I always had an affinity and aptitude for poker, Otis always said that, but it took that random meeting at Bradoween to really get me involved.
Thursday night, I won 6 buy-ins. I felt good about my play from the very first hand. I found black Queens, and got all-in against big slick. He caught a K on the flop and I turned another Q. It was just that kind of night. Once I was up a buy-in, right at the beginning, I played with confidence all night. Badblood donked a major hand to me later. I appreciated that. He's still a better player.
Those fake TV stories became what we call a "resume tape." In the news world, we send a paper resume just like all of you, but the tape is what really matters. I sent mine to the first 2 stations I could find with openings. Both of them offered me a job. The bigger market, the 101st largest out of about 212 nationwide, was in Hastings, Nebraska. I accepted the job by phone. I had no idea where it was.
I took the next flight, and rented a car in Lincoln. (By sheer coincidence, I didn't know him until years later, CJ was already working at a station in the same market.) It's a 90 mile drive from the airport to Hastings, through some of the most God-forsaken land on the planet. Interstate 80 could be driven with a broomstick and a rope, while I napped in the back seat. Every road in the state breaks off at a right angle from that one highway, or runs parallel on a grid. It's easy to drive in a place unburdened by trees, hills, or human life.
The station was a one story brick house nearly 10 miles from the town itself, surrounded on all sides by cornfields. The main lobby was smaller than a generous cublicle and led to a single hallway. On the left was the sales and management wing, which was really another long hallway leading to the station's only real room. Our two salesmen were in that hallway, with an electric typewriter between them. The GM, Mussolini, kept his door closed.
The right side of the station took you past the control room and into the studio. My new boss, Dennis, took me there first. We kept walking into the giant garage, which held all the cameras, editing equipment, 4 Dodge Neons, and my desk.
"You'll need 4 Packages and 2 vo-sots today," he said with a straight face.
The entire staff, to whom I hadn't been introduced, laughed. He was telling me I had to turn 6 stories but I was too new and stupid to understand.
Lately I've started wondering if maybe I'm starting to suck slightly less at poker. I'm not good, that much I'm sure of. But perhaps I've turned a corner in my play. I still donk off big piles of chips when I get bored or tired but my "A" game is less crappy than before. But now that I have an idea or two about the game, I realize how lucky and stupid I've always been.
You know that frustrating bastard, the St. Louis crew, to reference a beating I once took, calls this guy a "brown shirt," that guy who makes stupid plays but catches huge cards for giant pots. That was me. At least, I think it was. I've taken my share of monster 3 outers from Badblood, and he's been good enough to not obviously hate me for it. I've been very lucky to have the opportunity, and the bankroll, to play anymore. I wonder how many thousands of fish, just like me, never caught that lucky break. They still suck at the great game of poker because they didn't get that lucky start.
I'm still working in TV. I caught a lucky break at first, but I'm not boasting to say I've worked incredibly hard. Am I lucky to have that first shot? No doubt. Am I lucky to still be doing it? Yes, but it's taken a lot more than luck.
I feel the same about poker. I'm getting better, but it's damn hard to improve. I'm lucky to have the friends, bloggers and the locals, who are willing to help me learn. I'm still one of the weakest players in the room, but the gap is smaller now.
I'm playing bigger limits at home and online, but my online game is still a weakness. One step at a time. I need a lucky break. Actually, more than anything I'd like to win that trip to the Caribbean. The WPT thing.
I ramble at times...
If you, dear reader, would like to join me... I'm GRobman at Stars.