When I wake up, it is morning, and we are about to land in Barcelona. I meet up with 10K-in-Clay, whose real name is Dan, and his girlfriend, Danielle (Dan and Danielle… cute, but maybe a little too cute). Dan is a 19-year old Canadian about to play his first live event. This is only my second one, but I try to share a few things I learned from my first one. Danielle is his age, friendly but quiet. They knew each other from high school but now go to different colleges. I’m quite sure that no teenage daughter of mine would be jetting off to Spain with her poker-playing boyfriend, but I hear Canada is a pretty liberal country, so more power to them.
After collecting our bags, we pass through customs without so much as turning a head and go to find the cab stand. I had heard that precipitation on the Iberian peninsula is localized primarily in the flatlands, but no sooner have we gotten in the cab than the sky opens up and pours down rain drops the size of golf balls onto our little vehicle. The driver, who seems not to speak English, is on his cell phone and has his window cracked. Since his cab is moving forward, the rain is coming in at an angle, landing not on him, but on the seat behind him, where yours truly happens to be sitting. I have no idea how to communicate this to him, and don’t want to distract him further from the road, which already seems not to be his top priority, so I just sit there and get wet.
It’s not yet 9AM when we arrive at the hotel, and we’re a little worried, as check-in isn’t supposed to be until 2PM. But obviously we’re tired and have a lot of bags with us, so hopefully the Hilton Diagonal Mar will let us in early. I get to the registration desk first and check-in with no difficulty, stopping on my way up to my room just long enough to tell Dan the room number so that he’ll know how to reach me.
The room is pretty neat, decorated in a sort of modern style with interestingly designed furniture and a nice view of the Mediterranean. I’ve got two single beds, but they are on rollers, so it seems I can push them together and not have to worry about how to fit three Catalan hookers and my fat ass into just one of them. I lie down for a quick nap and roll a good three feet. I sit up, and roll two feet in the opposite direction. I roll over, and the bed rolls right along with me. Hmmm, it seems the beds could be pushed together, as long as one didn’t try to engage in any strenuous physical activity in them. But really what are the odds that someone would want to do anything like that in a bed in a hotel room with an ocean view?
I can’t get to sleep, so I shower, look over my guide books, and wait for the rain to let up.
New Vocabulary Acquired: “Infrequently” – Though it looks quite similar to an English word meaning rarely, it seems the Catalan word “infrequently “ can actually be translated as “every day of your vacation.” My guide book gives an example of how this word might be used in a sentence:
“Thankfully, it rains infrequently in Barcelona.”
Finally, I decide I can at least go across the street and see what a Spanish mall looks like, now that I’m finished seeing the sights of a Spanish hotel room. It is still drizzling, but no longer pouring. The elevator deposits me in the hotel lobby, and I can see through the revolving doors that in the time it took to traverse 21 floors, the heavy downpour has resumed.
Also, Dan and Danielle are sitting in the lobby, looking bored, tired, and a little pissed. “Room still isn’t ready,” Dan tell me. “They didn’t have any rooms with king beds ready. They said it would be about an hour.” I look at my watch and see that it’s been nearly two hours since we’ve arrived. Bad beat. I’d still rather be in his shoes, waiting to get a room with a king bed that I’ll be sharing with my girlfriend rather than already unpacked in a room with two single beds that I’d be sharing with a bottle of Jack Daniels.
I also see that a Poker Stars welcome desk has been set up, so I give them my name. Apparently I have to go to some party tonight at the casino in order to get my t-shirt. Also, I am supposed to register and sign a TV waiver there. I am able to get a schedule for the tournament at the Poker Stars desk, and OMFGWTF WE DON’T START PLAY UNTIL 5 PM?!?!?!?! At the WSOP, I felt like I played great during the first 10 hours of play, but really lost it during the last two. I am just not an evening person. And this event is basically going to run all night, and for three nights straight, if I final table it. Puke.
Pissed, I step outside to wait for a lull in the rain so I can dash out the door. I’m wearing a Poker Stars windbreaker (the only thing with a hood that I brought with me), so while I’m waiting the guy from the Poker Stars desk, who has ducked outside for a smoke, starts chatting with me. He’s a Brit named John, and seems like a cool guy. He’s an internet player who makes money on the side doing customer support for Stars. I compliment him on the great support they have, and we take turns cracking jokes about Party Poker support.
He has to get back inside, so I decide just to go for it and dash across the street to the mall. It’s pretty boring, seems a hell of a lot like an American mall, though probably with better food. There is a pretty crazy psychedelic playground thing inside, but otherwise not much of interest. The rain lets up, the sun comes out, and I step outside to wander.
I’m getting hungry, but I’m very nervous/self-conscious about not speaking any Spanish or Catalan. I walk around the same block several times, trying to decide which pastry shop is least intimidating. Finally, I select one with a friendly-looking young woman behind the counter who smiles politely as I mangle her native language and point awkwardly at the spot on the glass display that vaguely corresponds with the chocolate-filled delicacy I desire.
As I’m walking and eating, I spot a subway station and decide I will just take it somewhere, get off, and wander around. The subway in Barcelona was easily one of my favorite things about the city, and one of the best public transit systems I’ve experienced. I don’t think I ever waited more than five minutes for a train, the ticket machines were easy to operate (even without any knowledge of Catalan), and there was even a display telling me exactly, to the second, how long the wait would be for the next train. One complaint: although I didn’t encounter especially many stinky Spaniards, well over half of the cars I was in reeked of body odor.
I disembark at a station called Jaume I (pronounced jowm pree-may) and do my best to follow a self-guided walking tour of the Bari Gotique, or Gothic Quarter, the oldest part of the city. It’s got a great feel to it, full of ancient buildings with beautiful balconies and windows and stonework, and now housing a lot of restaurants and pastry shops and boutiques that can be accessed via dozens of narrow, winding streets. Unfortunately, following these streets, many of which have names that are not posted anywhere but assumed by my guide book, proves difficult. Fortunately, I am not in a hurry to get anywhere in particular and am enjoying just walking around.
It takes me a while, but eventually I find a restaurant called L’Academia that is supposed to be good.
Cultural Fact 3: Barcelona operates on a strange schedule. A normal work day is from 8AM-2PM, then 4PM-8PM. They like to take long lunches and/or short naps in the afternoon. Lunch is generally a multi-course affair, and dinner is not eaten until 9:30 PM or later.
This does provide a possible solution to my quandary regarding the tournament schedule: I can wake up early, eat breakfast at the hotel buffet, see a bit of the city, take a siesta, and be relatively well-rested for the tournament at 5 PM. I generally suck at napping, but if I get myself in the habit during the next two days, I might be able to pull it off. SIESTA!
New Vocabulary Acquired: “Menu del Dia” – A fixed price lunch menu offered by most restaurants in Barcelona. For 8-12 Euros, you get a choice of several appetizers, several entrees, several desserts, and a beverage.
At the table adjacent to mine are six British girls traveling around Europe on their gap year. Based on their conversation, they are the continental equivalent of US “valley girls” but their accents make them sound more sophisticated and intelligent. Eavesdropping provides entertainment during my meal, which consists of salmon stuffed with tomato and mozzarella and baked in olive oil. It’s extraordinary.
Cultural Fact 4: Service is pretty good in Barcelona restaurants, except when it comes time for them to bring you the bill.
I guess the Catalans like to linger or whatever at their meals, but I am by myself and trying to see as much of the city as I can in the next two days, as I will hopefully be playing poker every day thereafter. “El compte, si plau,” I enunciate to the waitress as she walks past. She stares at me like I have two heads. “L’addition?” I try in French, pointing to the table and hoping this will trigger some shared Romantic root for my Catalan server. No such luck. Finally, she says some gibberish to me, and it is my turn to stare blankly at her. She leaves and returns about ten minutes later with my check.
Cultural Fact 5: Barcelona doesn’t do tips. My guide book recommends leaving $.15 as a token, but in the US, that would be more insulting than leaving nothing. I leave 1 Euro, which is still less than 10%, and feel cheap doing it, but the waitress calls out “Gracies!” as I am leaving, so I guess she liked it. Or thought I had a nice ass.
Having slept only four hours on the plane, I’m nearly falling asleep in my train seat, but I force my eyes to stay open. After all, there are THIEVES EVERYWHERE! Jealously clutching my possessions close, I make it safely back to the Hilton and successfully siesta.
Tits, Spics, and Turks
A phone call from Dan wakes me a few minutes before my alarm would have gone off. We arrange to take the second of two Poker Stars shuttles to the casino. We arrive only to learn that non-Europeans must present their passports to be admitted. Driver’s licenses from non-EU countries will not be accepted, no exceptions. Dan has his passport, and gets in no problem, but I don’t have mine. The woman from Poker Stars who is with us is apologetic that we weren’t told this ahead of time but not very helpful. “Did the shuttle leave?” ask the several of us whose passports are still in our rooms.
“Quite possibly,” she says sheepishly. “If you all split two cabs, it wouldn’t be that much.”
“You mean Poker Stars would have no problem springing for a few cabs for us?” I stare her down with my best thug mug, but she gets the better of me. She reaches into her pocket as though she were going to hand me some bills, but instead tosses a handful of sand into my eyes. While I am distracted, she snatches a decorative epee off of the casino wall and rushes at me. Bitch!
I unsheathe my own sword, parry her first thrust, and deftly duck the second. Wasting no time, she bullrushes me, but I step to the side and let her momentum carry her past me. Before she can turn, I plunge my blade into the small of her back and keep pushing until I see the tip protrude from her stomach. I release the weapon, allowing her to collapse on the polished floor, then quickly frisk her limp body. She’s not carrying much cash, but it should be enough for a few cabs. I pocket the bills and toss the wallet dismissively onto her corpse.
Outside, an Asian guy from Canada whom I later learn is named Terrance has managed to stop the shuttle driver from leaving (he speaks Spanish quite well). We pile in and ride back to the Hilton. I dash upstairs to my room (this guy is only waiting 5 minutes), insert the key card, and curse as the door flashes red at me. [censored], this is not a good time. I try again, and it opens. Phew. Grab the passport, run back to the elevator, make it back to the shuttle just in time.
Except we are not going anywhere in a hurry. The driver explains to Terrance that some guy from Portugal just got in and is going to drop his stuff off in his room, so we are waiting for him. I get to know a middle-aged American woman sitting across from me whose Brazilian husband is playing the event. She seems like an interesting person, sells foreclosed homes for a living but is also an advocate for affordable housing.
Some guy rushes out of the hotel onto the shuttle, and we drive off. He sits near me, so we get to talking. I tell him I’m from Boston, and he says, “We’re neighbors.”
“I am from Connecticut.”
“Wait you are not the guy from Portugal we have been waiting for?”
“No, no, I am Portuguese, but I live in Connecticut now. Just flew in from Portugal.”
“Phew. No need to turn the shuttle around.”
Once I’m registered with the casino, I go downstairs and meet Dan in the disco. Contrary to rumors I’ve heard, there is a bit of food available and free beer, so it’s not so bad. There’s a crowd around Hachem, so we ignore him and go sit with two kids from Sweden. The tall one is here to play, the short dark-skinned one is just his friend.
Dan and the tall one are talking poker when the short one interjects, “What do you guys think of the women out here?” I start to answer, but he takes care of that for me. “They are beautiful! Most amazing I have seen!”
“Aren’t you from Sweden?”
“Yeah, the girls have pretty faces, but Spanish women have nice titties! Swedish women all have [censored] beestings.”
I nod and try to get into Dan and the tall one’s conversation. They are talking about pros who may be playing in this event. “I saw Humberto Brenes in the hotel lobby,” I tell them.
“I hope that spic loses,” the short one interjects. Awkward silence. “Oh come on, it is a joke! You Americans take this stuff too seriously.”
“We take racism too seriously?”
“It’s just joking. Black people call each other [censored] all the time.”
“Yeah, this is an analogous situation.”
“See, I wouldn’t care if someone called me a terrorist.”
“Is that a common stereotype about Swedes?”
“I am Turkish, man. I just live in Sweden.” That explains the dark skin.
“I’m just saying, you need to know someone kind of well before you tell jokes like that.”
“Pfft. You want a beer?”
The Turk comes back empty-handed. “Bar’s closed. Let’s get out of here. You guys are cool, you wanna get [censored] wasted?”
“Not really. Good to meet you though.”
Dan and I pick up our bags and go outside to wait for the shuttle. We sit down on a bench to check out the stuff Stars has given us. There’s a backpack with wheels and an extendable handle, and inside are several EPT Barcelona shirts and a Poker Stars hat. Nice.
Two Americans stagger over to us. One of them is probably kind of drunk, but this is overshadowed by how massively drunk his friend is. The less drunk one is carrying a Poker Stars backpack.
“Hey where are you guys going?” the real drunk one asks.
“Same place as you.”
“The Hilton? Diagonal whatever?” he slurs.
“Alriiiight! Lesh follow these guysh! They know whashup. Washurname?”
“I’m Joel. Where you from?”
“Cool, cool. Man, lesh go somewhere. Get [censored]’ drunk, find some [censored]’ women.”
“I have to play tomorrow, man,” the less drunk one tells him.
“What abou’ you guysh? You wanna get some [censored]’ beers?”
“No thank you.”
The shuttle shows up, they sit in the front, we sit in the back.
I go upstairs to my room, but it is only like 11, and I am trying to stay up late so I can get on a siesta schedule. After determining that CNBC and CNN are still the only English-language stations available to me, I decide to see if anything is going on at the hotel bar. Joel is sitting over there by himself, so I decide to keep him company.
“Heeeeey!” he cries as I sit down near him, leaving one stool between us. “Whashurname?”
“Where you from, man?”
The bartender, whose nametag says Pablo, comes over and I order a local beer. He shows me two different-sized glasses, and I tell him, “Grande.”
When Joel sees what beer I am drinking (it’s the same kind he’s got in a nearly full glass in front of him), he warns me, “Thish beersh terrible. I can’ drink it.”
“Tastes alright to me.”
“Here, ishall you.” He shoves his glass towards me and asks the bartender what kind of bottles he has. Pablo rattles off a long list, and Joel’s face lights up at the mention of Bud Light. After taking a swig, he announces, “I love to chug [censored]’ beersh. Where you from?”
“Alriiiiiiight. Lesh chug some [censored]’ beersh. Lesh get drunk!”
“I don’t think I could catch up with you if I tried.”
He laughs sloppily. “How about shotsh?”
“What do you want?”
“Whatever.” He orders two Yagermeisters, and is saddened to learn they don’t have it.
He looks at me again. “What do you want?”
“Dos Cuervos!” he orders proudly. “No wait, wait, traish! Traish! You drink with us Pablo?”
“I cannot, while I am working.”
“I am sorry, I cannot.”
“Ah, c’monnn. No one will know.”
“Really, I cannot.”
He pours two shots, and we down them quickly. Joel moves onto the stool next to me and grabs me in a headlock. “You’re great, man. Where you from?”
“Cool. I’m from Ohio.”
“Oh. Um, Cedar Point is cool.”
“Yeah, thash all we’ve got. You can talk [censored] to me all night, Boshton ish a cool place.”
“I like it.”
Joel stares at the counter for a moment. “How about more shotsh?” He can barely keep his ass on his stool at this point.
“Maybe you should slow down.”
“Nah, I go to OSU. We know how to drink.”
“OK, well I still have two beers in front of me, so I’m not going to have another shot.”
“Dos Cuervos!” he calls to Pablo.
I shake my head. “Just uno.”
“Uno?” Pablo asks.
“No, dos!” Joel insists.
“I am not drinking another one,” I tell them both.
“Dos!” Pablo pours two, and Joel sloshes one towards me. I push it back. “Ah, man,” he groans. “Pablo? You drink with me?”
“I cannot. I have to work.”
“Believe me, I would like to. But I cannot.”
“At 2AM, I will drink anything you want.”
“What time ish it now?”
Joel tries to pass me the shot glass again, and I pass it back. Finally, he gets a European businessman sitting alone at the other end of the bar to drink with him.
He looks at me seriously. “Where are you from, man?”
“Cool.” A moment later, he gets up and walks off without saying anything.
Pablo looks at me. “Is he leaving?” I shrug, and he looks a little annoyed. Hey, I didn’t tell you to let his drunk ass run up a tab. I wouldn’t have kept pouring shots for him, either.
A few minutes later, Joel comes into sight again. Pablo rushes out from behind the bar, and at first I am thinking he is going to apprehend Joel to be sure he pays his tab. But actually, he is just trying to stop the kid from walking out an emergency exit. Too late. An alarm blares, but stops quickly.
They return to the bar, and Joel tries to order another beer. “I’m sorry, my friend, I have to be serious for a moment. OK?” Pablo asks.
Joel stares blankly at him.
“I am not going to serve you anymore, you just walked out of an emergency exit. That is good, though, yes, my friend? You had a good time?” Pablo is a pro.
Joel keeps staring. “You serious?”
“I’m very serious. OK, my friend?”
“Oh, man,” Joel groans but accepts his fate. Pablo hands him a bill, and Joel produces a credit card. A minute later, Pablo returns. “I am sorry, your card was declined. Do you want to use a different one?”
“Cool,” Joel says, putting the card back into his pocket and turning to talk to me. “Where you from?”
“My friend,” Pablo gets his attention again. “Your card was not accepted. Do you have another one, or do you want to charge it to your room?” Joel finally gets it and produces another card, which works.
I ask for my bill as well, and am a little annoyed that a single pint cost me 10 Euros. Once you factor in the second beer and the shot that Joel paid for, though, it’s not such a bad price. I thank Pablo, bid Joel farewell (he insists on another headlock), and ride the elevator upstairs to go to sleep. …Next: Part 4