I was met with misfortune before I drew my first tile, having to compete in the shadow of uncertainty. Even though I left work at the last possible moment on Saturday morning, about 10:15 AM, I still left work on what had been declared, late Friday, a mandatory work Saturday. But I never agreed to put my life on hold indefinitely, and I certainly wasn't about to give up a month's worth of studying 4s because of bad planning on the part of management. It wasn't a hard choice, really, Scrabble over work.
A quick stop at the ATM, where some guy was eyeing me like I was some common criminal, and I was speeding west on 635 by 12:30 and then not speeding on I-35 for the everpresent traffic. I lost a few minutes when I screwed up my obligatory Starbucks pit stop due to bad signage and had to double-back across the highway. But once I cleared Denton and a contruction zone, I was able to make up quite a bit of time, and by the time I reached the Oklahoma border I had about 30 minutes to drive 29 miles to the wrong exit--easily done.
I drove the 29 miles in under 20 minutes. My car didn't even shake much when I pushed it towards 110 for one stretch to catch the vehicle I was pacing. But, as I wrote earlier, I arrived at the wrong exit, which meant that all the time I had made up was lost as I drove around trying to find the resort, first into Ardmore and back, and then down 77S, behind a driver who didn't understand the concept of pulling to the side to let a faster vehicle pass. Perhaps he figured that since we were in a park and heading towards a resort, there was no hurry. Clearly he did not understand the world of Scrabble.
I should have asked Steve Glass for directions at club on Thursday, but I trusted the location plotted by Microsoft Streets and Trips. After failing to get through to Steve or Mary on my phone, it finally occurred to me to call the resort itself for directions, but I didn't hear everything the receptionist said before I lost the signal in the thick woods. But she did confirm that I was heading in the right direction, so I continued following Mr. Slowpoke, and eventually arrived at the turn in for the resort, where I had to slow down even further, and drive aaaall the way to the end of the road to reach the building where I guessed the tournament would be held. I changed out of my shorts, and decided on some fresh socks and even a fresh shirt for this special occassion.
But as far as I know, no Scrabble tournament has ever started on time, and this one was no exception. So I had time to calm down and do some last-minute studying. I picked one of the top bingo stems that I hadn't yet studied, EINRST, and noticed that ENTIRES is a word. Then the pairings were posted, and my first game was against Sallie Gilmore from just up the highway in Kansas City. I was a little annoyed by the chants of some apparent cult also sharing the facilities, but I tuned it out, not realize I could have simply closed the door. But I tend to focus well despite distractions, and what did I find on my rack on my second turn but EINRST + E = ENTIRES for 79. But Sallie immediately, jumped ahead of me with OUTLEAP, which I challenged, and lost. On my 8th turn, I missed AROUSEd, AROUSEs, and cAROUSE. I can't believe a perpetual horn-dog like me missed any variant of AROUSE!!! That's like Joel Sherman missing MUCOIDS. Meanwhile, solid scoring, despite no further bingos, on her part, and my failure to stick her with the Q, ended up making me feel like a JERKS/SUQ (for 33) and Igby goes down (381-396).
Next up was Laura Landsbaum, with whom I had a serious beef. She had placed ahead of me at the club tournament in Houston despite my having beaten her, and then she defeated me soundly in Lampasas. So I needed a win badly to assuage my manly ego. But it was tough, as she kept pulling premium tiles at the right time and managed to lead all through the second half up until the last turn, when my last-minute rack managment paid off and I pulled the right tiles to go with my high-probability leave for SEAGIRT to bingo out and win, despite her best efforts to block my bingo aisles.
But there would be no such joy against Ms. Nees who, like my first two opponents, also outdrew me. 10 premium tiles out of 30 so far. But I thought I had her when I made use of the one blank for SEEpING, and immediately after that drew into REFRACT. It's good I saw REFRACT, because I was trying to play CRAFTER* somewhere until the REFT hook came through. I wasn't sure about REFT, not having gotten to my 4-letter Rs yet, but I took a chance and it paid off. But Joy immediately INSERTS herself back into the game, and the little bit of luck I had been having would soon OUTLIVE its usefulness. I still could have won, had it not been she to draw the D hook onto OUTLIVE to hit the TWS with a K for 43 points and a lead I could not surmount in the few turns remaining, and Igby goes down! I took consolation in the fact that with a 1-2 record, my spread was only ZERO.
Since Joy played pretty quickly, we finished with time to spare, so I rushed out to try and find some fast food, stopping to ask Randy (not his real name) the Handyman for directions to I-35. But once again I was led astray by bad signage, and well more than two miles later I decided I was not heading out towards the interstate and turned around. I settled for an overpriced apple from the Lakeside Grocery. At least the two cashiers were cute.
My luck was no better in my next game against Jean McArthur, who has never eaten a fast-food hamburger, and whom I had been looking forward to playing since her dramatic start in Lampasas, and for no other reason than her strength as a Scrabble player, I assure you. But while she drew seven premiums, she had also lost her first three games, so I had confidence on my side. Which might explain why she let me get away with HEE*, a word that I've had challenged off the board before. And later, VSET*, which I am thoroughly ashamed about, especially after having had Bruce Shuman challenge my transposed DRWON* off the board in a club game earlier that week, after which I vowed to look at my play before hitting the clock. But I guess I had a poker face, because Jean thought it was some freaky word she hadn't studied and let it go. But I guess she got fed up with the phonies and finally decided to challenge--the wrong word--WAST. Add to that my MAULInG her with my one blank her rating would suffer further EROSION as I scored a solid 87-point win to get my spread back to a more competitive level.
My next opponent, Dave Rubin, was of course still in the middle of his game, so I had some time to sit and study and catch up on how my man Tiger was doing in Augusta. He was even par, just like my 2-2 record, so I felt we had something in common besides our colored ethnicity.
I felt confident against Dave Rubin, whom I had had pretty good success beating in club. And I had a grudge to settle, as he had taken 3rd place ahead of me in Salado despite my having beated him in our game. And after I challenged his attempt to hook an E to my opening KAT, I felt even more confident. I even took a chance by playing OXID with the X above the DWS, figuring that I could either pick up that double-X myself, or if Dave beat me to it, I could then use the OXIDE hook for as many points. I wonder, though, if I should have gambled by playing OXIDE and hoping to draw the S for the hook unto the TWS. As it turned out, he played the E, and I played MITER right under OXIDE for 47 points. A couple of turns later, he exchanged three successive times to finally draw I bingo, I felt I still had the psychological advantage (and the lead) even though I had only scored 57 points in those four turns to his 70. But I let him get away with LEZBO* for 62, and that cost me the game. My immediate reaction was that the word was no good, but I chickened out and paid the price, and Igby goes down!!
So I found myself down 2-3 and playing 798-rated Tracy Bowman, a single from Chicago, and rather than being filled with confidence, I was worried that I might lose some serious ratings points from this encounter. Not a healthy attitude. But my opening rack contains a blank, and my thoughts shift to cursing my luck for drawing well against a low-rated player when I needed those tiles against my stronger opponents. I miss MYELOMA, which I don't think I've ever seen, but I bingo with SPaNNED on my second turn, chancing the S hook on HALMS. But I don't think I should have grumbled over getting that blank so early, because the Scrabble gods must have heard me and punished me with two successive racks of AIRE + 3 vowels, which I dink away for 23 points. Meanwhile, she draws into a triple JOGS for 44 and is starting to catch up, and I'm getting worried. I decided to exchange, and draw three more vowels! She plays for 49 points and the lead. I need points, so I play HAJ for 17, and end up once again with R + 6 vowels and feel my game evaporating. But then I manage to pick up 22 points, and then 32 points with DUIT, which she challenges, and I start to feel better as I recover the lead. Finally my AIE rack pays off with BANTIES for a 91-point lead with the game almost over, and I relax. Final score, 408-327. But I was worried there for a while.
That apple hadn't done much to sate my hunger, so I bolted out of there so I could find some food and still make it to Oklahoma City while it was early. I took the correct route to I-35 this time, but I can hardly drive any distance without a mishap, and this was no exception. I began to change into my shorts for the long, air conditioning-less drive. I removed my socks and laid them on my dashboard along with two other pairs of socks, and as I arranged them I guess I let the car drift a little too close to the line, and the oncoming car, which I could not clearly see because of the sun in my face and my dirty windshield, happened to be a trooper. It was kind of cool, actually, how he peformed a hard break and spun the car around on that two-lane road, kicking up dust with his tires. Of course I didn't even wait for the lights--I just pulled over and waited patiently. As luck would have it, he thought I was just cleaning my windshield, and told me to pull over when I did that, and I just let him believe that, rather than explain the truth, that I was arranging my socks on the dashboard so that they would bake more properly. Because he would surely have asked me what this baking thing was all about, and whether I was a little half-baked myself, and I didn't really want to explain that, being homeless, I didn't have ready access to a washing machine, and that letting socks heat up and air out was an alternative to washing them, at least in the short term. As it was, he let me go with a stiff suggestion to pull over before cleaning my windshield, and I used the time while I was waiting to actually clean my windshield, so it turned out all right.
Once I reached the interstate, traffic was moving at a fast clip, and I became so engrossed in finding a car to pace and jotting some notes down for my log that I completely forgot about food. By the time a hunger pang hit and I realize I was getting a headache, I figured I might as well just drive on into OKC and get some Chick-fil-a. Plus, I didn't want to give up the car I was pacing at some 90 MPH.
A bit after 7:00 PM, I finally, through the wind whipping around my car, heard my phone beeping that I had a message, and sure enough, it was my manager, wondering when I had vanished. I left him a message saying I would have to fix those bugs Sunday night.
I was able to maintain a good clip, in part inspired by the Christian music stations, which seemed to be on all the dials as I approached OKC, and by the time I reached the city limits, it was still daylight, and despite the heavier traffic I was able to reach this cool new Starbucks while a little light remained for a Starbucks. According to the manager, the design of the building was patterned after a Phillips 66 gas station that used to grace this corner long ago. And I managed to come away with a cool "Waking Up Oklahoma" t-shirt.
I then went to Chick-fil-a, and while on my way I got the call. It was my manager, who asked if I was indeed in Oklahoma, and when I replied in the affirmative, told me that I could pick up my things on Monday. I said I would do that, and that was that. Truth be told, I was more disappointed that I couldn't find a machine that sold Coke cans for 50 cents to go with my Chick-fil-a sandwich.
I went to Penn Square Mall, where I called some old high school classmates who had married and moved up to OKC a while back. Myloe had IM'ed me recently and we had been chatting. I told her I would call if I made it up to OKC after Saturday's games to see if David felt well enough for a visit after minor surgery. But he wasn't up to it, and I would have to catch up with them next time. But there was a new Starbucks in the mall, and I was able to get a DoubleShot to save for the morning, so it's not like the trip was a waste. Security, by the way, was plentiful throughout the mall.
It was till early, and I thought about going to a club, or maybe getting a massage, but after a few minutes at Barnes & Noble, I just felt tired and decide to start driving back. I camped out for the night at the rest area not too far north of Ardmore, and I slept quite well. Thankfully, I had refilled my vinte water at Starbucks, because the fountain at the rest area was broken.
I got up a little after 8:00 AM, drove down to Ardmore for breakfast and studying at Burger King, and then arrived back at the tournament site shortly before 9:30 AM. Play began not long thereafter.
First up was Beulah Cooper, the top player in Division 3, and I was expecting a tough game. But after the first six games, in which I drew 23 of 60 premium tiles, it was time for my luck to turn, and it did against Beulah. She was correct when she said she did well to hold me to 40 points since I picked up both blanks, 3 eses, the J, and the X.
Meanwhile, the weather was absolutely lovely, not quite hot yet, sunny, and spent every moment I could between games outside.
My next game was against Gene Roop. There's a pun in there somewhere, but I can't seem to find it. I started off slow, and he jumped to a 47-point lead with QUIZ, but after I bingoed with ARGENTS/COTE, I was able to maintain a healthy lead for the duration. One interesting thing was that neither one of us could go out in this game--that has rarely happened to me.
Doris Ponteau, my next opponent, was unrated, which made me a little nervous after the two drubbings I had received from unrated Barbara Howitt in Lubbock. But she exchanged to open, and I started feeling better. I jumped to a quick lead with JATO, and two turns later I got some turnover by playing ABELE, which I still remembered from when I began studying the 5-letter As, back before I realize there had to be a better order in which to study 5s. But Doris was scoring steadily, and despite my GUInEAS, she eventually came within 1 point with no bingos, making good use of her Q and Z, and I began to sweat. Having mistracked didn't help. But I was able to pull out a healthy win nonetheless.
By my 10th game, against Wowo Pickens, I realized that Dave Rubin's spread was going to be a threat--he had run up the score against two players and was about 200-300 spread points ahead of those just under him, and he even had a higher spread than one of the players with more wins. So I didn't just need to win my next two games, but I needed to win big. So even though I had a healthy lead in this game, when we got to turn 11, and I counted 11 tiles remaining, I spent about 5 minutes figuring out what might happen with the Q, and whether I needed to exchange it at that point. I did exchange it, and I spent a few minutes on each turn, running down my clock, calculating feverishly. But it paid off, and I was able to stick Wowo, who had not been tracking, with the Q for a 127-point victory.
Meanwhile, I spoke with a friend from Dallas whose girlfriend thought her uncle might have some work for me.
Now came the king-of-the-hill round, and I was at 7 games, with Ellen Johnson already untouchable at 9 games. So I needed her to beat Dave Rubin (8-2) by a lot of points, or I needed to make up about 150 spread points against Craig Mobley (8-2). Needing a big win, I challenged Craig's first word, GALLANTS (hooked to my GUT), and lost. Not good. 71-point lead for Craig now. But I scored healthily, and drew well, and by the 7th turn, I was TRUsTInG that my luck was turning. But his lead was still 58, and both blanks were now out. But a 46-point J play brought me within 20. Then a 30-point play brought me within 6. And then DARNING gave me the lead. And then the last U came out, and the Q calculations began. At least on my end of the board, because it turned out that Craig had already scratched off the Q. Mistake for him. I went for turnover to try and draw that Q to my U, while at the same time blocking places where he might play it, and score points as well. Not an easy job. But besides mistracking, Craig helped me along by challenging FIVER and allowing me to go out for a 146-point victory, which brough my spread to 605, exactly the same as Dave Rubin's. So as long as he didn't tie, I had second place.
But just like in Salado, my placement was out of my hands. All I could do was walk past his game surreptitiously and try to catch a glance at the scoresheets. It was a tough wait, but worth it, as Dave lost, and I had my second place!
But let's give myself a bit of the credit. Studying those fours payed off. Knowledge of words like WAST YODH HALM DUIT KATE* CERO OXID VAIR COTE WOAD and JATO surely tilted the balance in more than one game.
I didn't have to wait long for the awards ceremony, and when it was my turn to walk up for my prize, I took great pride in announcing that I had sacrificed my job for this victory, and that it was totally worth it.
Tournament over, I was mighty hungry and a little disappointed that Tiger hadn't done better in Augusta. I scooted on out of there and raced down I-35 to my favorite Colombian restaurant, and thus endeth this Scrabble adventure.