September 17, 2010
If you ever find yourself in Des Moines, Iowa in a dim-lit, near-vacant 70s-retro dive bar at 1:30 in the morning on a weekday, drinking Schlitz and Tangermeisters* with two Brooklyn gals you picked up at a seedy hotel eight hours earlier, debating whether pet chickens will eat mice while a one-legged grungy neo-hippie reads your aura, it's safe to conclude you have made some poor life choices.
My poor life choices—at least those relevant to this story—began last year when I joined the Twitter Borg. A couple of the poker bloggers I follow—BWoP and F-Train—would occasionally engage in Tweet warfare (Tweetfare?) with a mysterious "RealDawnSummers", a lady smart enough to be a bigshot NYC corporate attorney, dumb enough to be a Patriots fan, witty enough to unleash a good zinger, clumsy enough to blunder into a better zinger, goofy enough to wear Liberace shoes, and nitty enough to uber-tilt. In other words, "Dawn Summers" was eminently qualified to be a friend, foe, foil, and crAAKKer victim, all rolled into a sharp-tongued, angry-fisted package. A few football and poker tweets later, and we were cyber-friends and life-enemies ("cyferlenemies"?).
For the past week, Dawn (a/k/a Stephane "Vanna" Clare) and her friend Mary (a/k/a MadBrooklyn) have been enjoying a whirlwind vacation in the Midwest. Between seeing all the usual sites—Devil's Tower, the Big Rock Heads, the Grotto, the Arch, and the inside of various police cars—Dawn and Mary made an overnight stop in good ol' Des Moines, mostly to see cows and tractors, but also to calm their poker withdrawal shakes. I directed them to "Living History Farms" for a little afternoon farm culture, then picked them up at the murder motel for a night of poker hijinks.
First off was dinner at Jethro's BBQ, in their newly opened location across the street from the Meadows ATM. Of course Dawn (a/k/a "Wilma") made a scene when ordering dinner, complaining that there was no corn on the cob. Now, there was a perfectly tasty jalapeño cream corn side dish, but no, Dawn wanted her corn on the cob! Get used to disappointment. Dawn ended up with BBQ babyback ribs that were, in her own words, "the best ever!", and somehow managed to leave a happy camper.
We then made the arduous three-minute trek to the Meadows ATM for some gamboooling. Because it was Wednesday, the weekly Ladies Night Tournament was under way, with a majority of the players being, well, not ladies. Dawn and Mary passed on my $20 prop bet for entering and final-tabling the tourney, so we had a ten minute wait until a tournament table broke and a new $1/2 NLHE cash game was opened. We passed the time chatting with a nice regular player, Michelle (@chelmc23) who came up and introduced herself as the president of Dawn's Des Moines fan club; yup, Dawn is famous even in Iowa! Apparently, Michelle was searching for online advice on playing Omaha Hi/Lo, and was somehow misdirected to Dawn's blog (well, one of her many, many, blogs). See, Google has flaws.
Once the game started, it was hilarious to watch Mary and Dawn develop whiplash and TMJ disorder from reacting to the incredibly bizarre play at the table. Overbets, underbets, bad bluffs, curious calls, our table had it all. Dawn had a rollercoaster session, making some money when her AA held up, but then stacking off to Mary in a weird hand. It had limped around to me in the big blind, so I made it $17 to go with 77. At least seven of us saw a flop of K-J-T rainbow. I checked, someone bet, Dawn went all-in for ~$125, someone called, Mary pushed (having the table covered), and some other short stack pushed as well. I was shocked—shocked!—when Mary rolled over AQ, possibly her weakest starting hand of the session. Dawn rebought, and I gave her a courtesy double-up when we both flopped flushes, only hers was the nuts. I should've known she had a big hand, since she pulled a reverse-Meat Tank, keeping a leftover rib in the fingers of both hands, while calling my initial flop bet with her palms. I'm such a bad player. Le sigh.
Mary, however, gave a clinic in tight-aggressive play, somehow averaging one hand per hour, yet always having the nuts and getting paid off when she hit, while getting everyone to fold to c-bets even when she missed. Clearly she knows that Jedi mind-trick thing. Early on, she drug a big pot when the flop came out K-8-4 rainbow. When Mary four-bet all-in, the only question in my mind was whether she had a set of 8s or a set of 4s. Her opponent apparently wanted to know as well, calling with AK. It was 88, obv. A couple of orbits later, Mary collected another monsterpotten when she got it all-in preflop with—well, you really don't need me to tell you she had the pocket rockets, do you?
As for me, well, I had an up and down and down session, losing a little by missing a couple of combo-draw semi-bluffs, botching a couple of big hands with bad reads, and generally missing flops with good starting hands (AK, AQ, small pocket pairs, suited connectors ... whiff, whiff, whiff, whiff). I did raise with KQ once, and flopped Broadway, only to chop with Michelle who had made the ridiculous play of calling me with ... KQ. But I did pull out a crAAKKer command performance for Dawn. A guy in between Dawn and Mary opened in middle position for $22. A couple of callers to me in the big blind, and I find the lovely 84 of crubs. Now, I only had a little over $100 behind, so I thought about folding, until I remembered our dinner conversation about Julius Goat and his brilliant poker insights in his Stupid/System. As Mr. Goat notes: "The key of poker is to be the one to call, and thus according to that math guy, to have the hand of greatest strength." That's right, by calling, I could dramatically improve the strength of my hand. Plus, it was crubs, and I clearly had a lot of outs. I was actually a favorite! So, I called, and five of us went to the flop: 8s7c4s. Donkey Kong! It checked to the preflop raiser, who bet $50. Folded to me, and I pushed. Another guy called. Turn was: 4d. Yahtzee! There was irrelevant sidepot action. River was ... who cares, some irrelevant baby card. Preflop raiser bets, other guy folds (spade draw, combo draw ... don't know, don't care, he'd already paid me in full). Preflop raiser shows Kings, like they're any good. I roll over my canoe, and Dawn stares at me, then giggles. She kept on giggling so much, she had to wrap up her head in her hoodie for a few minutes so as not to laugh in the face of the guy I just crAAKKed. Though, in hindsight, I think that would've been pretty sweet.
At some point in the evening's festivities, Dawn mentioned a friend had told her about the "world-famous 80s dance club in Des Moines". Although my days of going out are well behind me, I do hear about hot bars and clubs, and I certainly wasn't aware of any 80s dance clubs. The Dawn says, "It's called the 'High Life' or something like that." I immediately laughed, because the High Life Lounge is about as far from 80s dance club as can be imagined. The High Life Lounge is a retro-60s/70s themed place, looking like someone's old basement brought to life. Dark wood paneling is on the walls, covered with old poorly framed photos and beer paraphenalia from Hamm's, Schlitz, and Miller High Life, natch. Faux-wood Formica on the bar, small black and white TVs behind the bar, and old diner booths, tables, and chairs complete the "look". They also serve lunch and dinner consisting primarily of old school diner food, but with some fun stuff like Velveeta grilled cheese sandwiches, fried chicken gizzards, and Spam and egg sandwiches thrown into the mix. It's actually a fun, inexpensive, and popular local joint. But "world famous"? As I told Dawn, "I don't think 'world famous' means what you think it means."
In any event, Dawn decided she wanted to check out the High Life Lounge, so we racked up around midnight and headed to downtown Des Moines. Now the downtown bar and restaurant district has finally recovered after the flood of 1993, but even so, Wednesday is not exactly a major party night. We arrived at the High Life and found it basically empty, except for a couple of guys at the bar, and the bartender. Since Dawn had never enjoyed a Schlitz—never even heard of it!—I ordered one for her (Mary, as the big winner, actually paid). So, we were peacefully debating the merits of using chickens for rodent control (Dawn does tend to warp conversations in weird directions), when Mary decided to take a picture of Dawn and me. Somehow, the camera kept making my pale skin even more pale, to the point that my face was pretty much just a bright white blob. Here is her best result:
As I posted on Twitter, Mary's camera made me look like a ghost, and made Dawn look like Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost. However, the sig other saw my pictures of Dawn and proclaimed, "She looks like she'd be a hoot!" High praise indeed. And yes, Dawn is a hoot. However, I'll lay even odds Mary murders her in a cornfield if they ever travel together again outside the East Coast.
What about the one-legged grungy neo-hippie? Oh yes, I almost forgot. So, as Mary takes a half dozen pictures, trying to get my face to appear on film (a very difficult task when photographing the soulless), a random guy—about mid-20s, scruffy, shaggy hair rubber-banded in back, flannel shirt—wanders over from the bar to offer some friendly assistance. Turns out, he's not helpful. But, he is entertaining, so I order Dawn a house specialty Tangermeister and we settle in to chat a bit more as the bartender starts putting chairs up on tables and generally uses a great degree of un-subtlety to indicate it's closing time and he resents our presence. Now, when you see someone with a prosthetic leg, you generally have two reactions: a) curiosity as to how they lost their leg, and b) a realization you shouldn't ask. Dawn had only one of those reactions:
One-legged guy: [trying to take picture] "Wow, you really do look like a ghost, dude!"So, as we finished our Tangermeisters, the one-legged guy had me place my hand palm up over the table, and he held his hand palm down above but not touching my hand, in an attempt to "drain my aura" to enable Mary to take my picture. This was uncomfortably close to an exorcism, which would really destroy my poker ability, so I was happy when Mary distracted him with something shiny. Alas, no successful pictures were taken, and we hurriedly finished our drinks and made our escape.
Dawn: "So, how'd you lose your leg?"
One-legged guy: [sitting down in our booth] "Well, it's kind of funny. I mean, you go out to a bunch of bars. You wake up the next day, and you can't remember where you put stuff. I mean, you think, 'I know I had it at that one bar, and I think I had it at the next bar, but then it gets kind of hazy.' "
From their Twitter updates, it appears Dawn and Mary successfully navigated onward to Kansas City and their final destination, St. Louis (pronounced "Saahn Loo-ee"—trust me!). But I am quite happy they stopped by to liven up Des Moines for one evening. And I'm quite pleased they departed before permanently sucking me into their maelstrom of crazy! I'm definitely looking forward to seeing them again in Vegas in December (note to self—bring extra bail money).
* Tangermeisters are comprised of Tang mixed with Jägermeister.