The Saga Continues


January 16, 2004

F-f-f-fiendin'

Having failed to reach 1600 within a year, there was no reason to continue competing at such an agressive pace. Nope, no reason at all, except for the fact that I had become a full-blown addict. But I wasn't just addicted to Scrabble, mind you. Had that been the case, I could have satisfied those cravings online or in club. No, I was addicted specifically to tournament Scrabble, and the associated ratings boost that came with victory. I was addicted to the butterflies in my stomach and the trembling in my hands that came with close games. I was addicted to the look of disappointment that came over my opponents' faces when I eked out a win in close game.

So despite having already decided to take a break in the week between Bayside and Atlantic City, as soon as I got to work on Monday morning I couldn't help but look around for bargain fares to Reno, Texas, or Melbourne (FL). Finally, on Tuesday, the entry deadline, I found a $265 airfare/car package Tampa, only a couple of hours from Melbourne (or so I thought) . I'd be able to visit the Starbucks I had skipped two weeks prior and extend my tournament streak.


Scrutinized!

I left work early on Thursday in order to try and get as much sleep as possible before getting up at the obscene hour of 2:15 AM. But I just wasn't tired enough to fall asleep at 6:30, and I tossed and turned for hours. Still, when my alarm yanked me from my blissful sleep, I felt fine. At least until I headed out to the airport. The car started, but just barely, and just as I had feared, the engine promptly stopped. I started the engine again and managed to keep it going. As I pulled out of the driveway, the car was making sounds like it was extremely unhappy that I was making it work in such temperatures.

Despite seeing the squad car next to me, and looking around the intersection, I still managed to miss both signs prohibiting a left turn, and I the next thing I knew I was explaining myself to the cop. Actually, I'm not at all sure there were signs posted as the officer claimed. For all I know he was just looking for an excuse to pull me over and put me under his microscope. He did not ticket me, but I did have to wait while he verified I wans't an escaped criminal, and the spare time I had alloted continued to evaporate.

By the time I got to the Delta counter, the cut-off for check-in had passed, and I missed my 5:30 flight. Luckily, for an extra $25 I was able to get booked onto a 6:15 flight going through Cincinnati and scheduled to arrive in Tampa at roughly the same time. Still if I had checked-in the previous night and slept in the waiting area, I would have ended up better off even paying for an extra day in the long-term parking lot.

Counterintuitively, during my previous two flights, on small US Airways Express jets or turboprop planes, I was allowed to carry on my bag (although it was stored in the back fo the plane). But on the larger Delta jet I'd be flying, my bag had to be checked. But it actually turned out better for me, because if I had taken it through security, I would have had to wait in irritation as they unpacked all my belongings. As I approached the checkpoint, I was given a yellow card, the stated purpose of which was to measure how long it took to get through the security. I didn't believe it for a second. And I was right--the card was to flag me for further scrutiny. I was compelled to sit in the brown chair like a school child and lift up my feet, and then stand in the pretty yellow foot-shaped markings on the floor (like dance lessons) with my arms out. And I just know that TSA bastard was enjoying himself.


Fortune and Misfortune

I got a lucky break in Cincinnati--we arrived at gate B24, and my connecting flight was departing out of gate B23. I only had 10 minutes though, and I was hungry, but the two bagel places had lines, and I didn't want to risk missing my flight again, so I toughed it out. Besides, I had eaten breakfast around 2:45 AM--I really shouldn't have been so hungry. On the other hand, when I'm at work I'm typically ready for lunch about three to four hours after breakfast, but I always figured that was mostly a desire to get away from work.

The flight to Tampa was miserable. After five consecutive flights during which I had a two or three seats to myself, this time I was stuck between two other passengers. I don't understand why I can sleep like a baby in a car, but not on a plane. The guy to my left was feeling just fine, however, expressedly glad to be away from Bangor, ME, where the governor had declare a state of emergency because of windchills between 30 and 40 below. In Princeton and Philly the temperature was considerably "warmer", just above freezing, but I, too, was looking forward to t-shirt weather in Florida.

We arrived in Tampa ahead of schedule, but all that time disappeared when I left my coat in the shuttle from the Delta terminal to the baggage claim area. I discovered it was missing before renting the car, but I wasn't allowed back onto the shuttle. The security agent looked and said he couldn't see anything and directed me to airport police which ran the lost and found department. I filed a report, but I didn't expect to recover my very expensive coat. All of a sudden the cost of my trip had increased by and additional 60%.

After a couple of delay-free car rentals, I wasn't expecting such a long line at Hertz, and so I didn't get out of the airport until noon. But I quickly forgot about my delay and started enjoying the weather, absolutely beautiful as I drove up to the nearest new Starbucks. There I received an enthusiastic reception, with the manager and several partners asking to have their photo taken with me and autographed. I had to sit and relax for a moment, because the headache that had begun on the plane (and worsened as I tried to study) was intensifying. Hopefully some food would take car of that, plus my last two pain pills.

At the Chick-fil-a drive-thru I saw something different--ordering and paying were handled by employees standing outside the store. I asked why and was told that this was done during lunchtime to speed things up.


The Kevin Mitnick Approach

At the Citrus Park Mall store, I paid for my coffee, and then I noticed a security guard standing right next to an art installation that I wanted to use in my photo of the Starbucks. So I distracted the guard by asking him about the installation, a type of scultpture depiticing three kids around a fire hydrant with water spraying out. We chatted about my being from out of town, and the weather, and he never said anything about my camera. But in an unusual twist, the manager of the Starbucks had recognized me, as well as another partner, and they sent another to come up and as if I was "the guy". So I went back to the kiosk and had my photo taken with them, and signed an autograph, all after having already paid for my coffee. Ah, the price of fame.

As I headed out to Clearwater on Linebaugh my attention was divided. First, I passed up a starbucks I had visited in 2002 and seemed to recall that the entire area had not been as developed with housing, and I had to lament the never-ending development that despoils our environment. Meanwhile, on a public radio show named Critical Times, the topic was the planned re-development of an older part of Tampa, and the poor residents that it would displace, and poverty in general. As call after call came in, I was frustrated that not a single caller thought to mention that the poor could break their own cycle of poverty by planning their population growth more wisely (if at all). All the while, I had to pay attention to the DOOFUS in the delivery van ahead of me who was following the car ahead too closely and repeatedly hitting his brakes. I, on the other hand, maintained a safe following distance and didn't have to brake at all until we reached a red light, where I noticed the doofus was also talking on a mobile phone.


Suspicious and Otherwise Difficult People

As I photographed Tampa and Culver store one of the baristas came outside and started yelling something across the busy street and beckoning for me to approach. I didn't have time to explain myself, so I yelled back for her to call the manager at a store I had visited earlier, figuring that he would explain and allay her suspicious.

Next was the store in Countryside Mall, and as I left and was thinking that I only had one more store to visit before heading towards Melbourne, I spotted the ubiquitous logo across the street, in an unfamiliar location, and a "now open" sign. Aw, hell, I thought--not another one. Sure enough, it wasn't listed on their web site, and had opened only a month prior. Since I was so close, I went ahead and got it out of the way.

Just before I entered the final store of the day, Woody called to say he had arrived in Orlando. As I waited in line, I was pretty fidgety. One of the baristas noticed, and I guess I made her nervous, because she began giving me a suspicious eye. Then I heard here whisper something to another partner who appeared to be the manager. Thankfully, the angle I needed for the photo put me out of view of the staff, so I didn't have to deal with more suspicion.

On highway 60, the bridge from Clearwater to Tampa, a bleach-blonde bimbi in a black BMW 323i tried to cut me off from a forced merge to the left. I had to merge, so I floored it and managed to force her to change to the left lane, but then a taxi cut in front of me, forcing me to brake hard. The Corolla skidded slightly--I had expected better handling. For the next several miles she seemed determined to stay in front of me. I don't know why someone in a Beemer would even stoop to trying to race a Corolla.


Get Woody

I had been expecting the trip from Tampa to the Orlando area to take around an hour an fifteen minutes, so in spite of leaving Tampa 15 minutes after my projected 3:00 PM, I still expected to meet Woody by 4:30 and be in Melbourne an hour later. But traffic was slow getting to I-4, and the delays didn't seem to let up once on the interstate. When I saw the sign announcing construction on I-4 for the next 35 miles, I knew Woody and I were screwed. I called him and told him if he didn't want to be late to try and rent a car, but nothing suitable was available. Our one saving grace turned out to be an idea that occurred to me while examining the map, that we could save 10-15 minutes by having Woody meet me at the exit I would take to get to the airport, saving me from actually having to go into the airport loading area.

As I crawled along, I decided to make use of the time and continued working on my list of 6s. I wasn't planning on studying them, but I at least wanted to see the words as a measure of defence against a couple of players who stated they would try and use sixes against me. I had recently occurred to me that by writing about my study habits, I was giving potential opponents an advantage, the only defence for which would be to simply learn all the words.

When I reached the airport exit off 417, I spotted Woody right away. I waited at the light, where I was supposed to turn right, but I ignored the sign as Woody waved. So did a taxi driver, who thought Woody was waving him down, and I'm sure he was miffed when Woody jumped into my car instead. Woody had barely closed the door when I floored that sucker, only run into yet another toll plaza, the preponderance of which was becoming really annoying. But we were soon making good time, and I was proud of Woody for not shielding his eyes in panic at my driving.

As we interchanged onto another highway, 528, I spotted a trooper in the rearview. After deciding that he wasn't going to pull me over, I began to curse the trooper for slowing us down from 80+ to around 70. When the trooper finally slowed down to exit the freeway, I noticed he was Orlando PD, and I wondered if he would have been able to ticket me outside the city limits. I have often wondered this when encountering LE outside their jurisdiction, but I've never had the balls to put it to the test.

It wasn't until the end of my first game that I realized that I was #2 in a group that included players as low as 1165. I'd have to win a ton of games to make any ratings progress. I was immediately disappointed and thinking that this trip was going to be a waste of time and money.

After my second game, I had to run out to the car and get some Tylenol to help stave off the headache that would only intensify as I got hungrier and hungrier.

After three games during which I felt confident of a victory throughout, game four against Joan Knobelsdorf had me worried. For five turns I was saddled with multiple Is, and when I finally broke down and exchanged, I drew EUGNNNR (but no I to go with it), and then Joan played EMOTING. But after I ditched most of the rack with RUNNING, things improved, and I was able to even it up with OUTFALl, take a lead with MOXA (which could have been MOXAS/KNEES, but I wasn't sure), and then deliver the killing blow with aSSORTED.

I hadn't started off with four wins since Chicagoland, and, boy, I was relieved! Since I was paired first with the bottom of the division and working my way up, a loss in any of the early games would have really hurt.

Woody rode shotgun as we went in search for food. He was in the mood for Mexican, and that was fine with me. But it was already 10:00 PM, and some place named Fiesta Azteca was closed. So we settled on the Olive Garden because it was still open. Woody shamed me by putting away his entire plate of spaghetti and meatballs, in addition to the calamari appetizer, while I saved half for lunch the next day.

Brian had given me directions to a Wal-Mart Supercenter, but I was so tired when I returned Woody to the Hilton that I decided to look around and see if I could find a suitable place to camp. I was in luck--behind the Hilton was an office building and bank, of course empty on a Friday night. I settled in, and then I realized I had left my phone back the Olive Garden. I was so tired I didn't want to get up, but after a few minutes of deliberation I acknowledged that the longer I waited, the lesser the chances of recovering the phone. As I drove back for it I noted that if I kept losing things, this trip was going to become ridiculously expensive.


January 17

I got up with plenty of time to find a good breakfast place. As I drove around, I realized at some point that I had lost the Starbucks DoubleShot I had placed on my windshield to kept it cool through the night. I had another one, but the loss still sucked because it meant I had to put that Starbucks back on my list, and visit it again when I had the chance. I doubted I would have time on Sunday before my flight. I was amazed at my ability to constantly lose anything that wasn't screwed on. If I could just have lost my virginity as easily, it wouldn't have been so bad.

I spotted one restaurant that looked generic and corporate-owned, but with a local name, and filled with geezers. I kept looking, and I found the Basil Leaf. As soon as I tasted the orange juice, I knew I had made the right choice. I asked the waitress, and she explained the owner bought it fresh-squeezed from some nearby market. Definitely not that bland-tasting Tropicana or Minute Maid that surely would have been served at the other restaurant. Plus, the Basil Leaf served grits. I don't care for them all that much myself, but I nevertheless get a kick when I see them on a menu.

I found a T-Mobile connection at Kinko's before heading back to the Hilton, and I learned that Universal Studios, where Woody was hoping to go that night, would close at 7:00. I gave him the bad news, and later he suggested a casino in Cocoa Beach. Hmm...

Just when I was hoping to break my longest winning streak of seven games, I get the inevitable game that was complete SEWERaGE. That word, the second her three bingos, plus an early natural, MORTISE, plus a DEVIOUs move, the phoney UNFLEX* (for 60) would have given Dorothy Luckey (yes, Luckey!!!) the victory despite my HOPE/OW/PE/SA* mistake. How is UNFLEX* not good, anyway?

Sally's Starr wasn't shining so far this tournament. I managed to frustrated her efforts to get a bingo down, and I beat her to it with my SALTINE. Then I just blocked as best I could and ran out the tiles. After the game, she ran through a list of several no-gos she had throughout the game, and I was relieved that I had played a blocking game.

My game against Ralph King came down to the endgame. He was holding AOODSZ, and I was holding EIOUMXY, and there were plenty of scoring opportunities on the board. But if I played the 53-point OXY/BO/OX/OY combination, he could play ZOO underneath for 44, be left with SODA to go out, and I'd be stuck with MIEU. So I used up all my time, but could not find a combination guaranteed to win. After the game, I had to take a photo of the board. I think this game will be my first experience with Maven.

I got screwed again against Kate Petroczy, and while I shook my head as all the tiles fell into place for her, I had to notice that none of the lower-rated players I had played the previous night had gotten these killer draws against me. And MIC* should be good!

I dropped Woody of at a Mexican restaurant for lunch, while I went off in search of a place to heat up my leftover spaghetti and some utensils. While I ate I tried to look up this casino that Woody mentioned, but I couldn't find anything on the Internet. So I went to pick up Woody, and I felt the manager giving me the evil eye the whole time I was there.

After lunch I got my revenge against Mady Garner, but only barely. I forgot that LOG takes an E, and had she been able to hit the TWS with her J, I would have been hosed. But I won despite getting outblanked, and that's always a good feeling.

Finally, in round 10, I met the top-ranked player in the division, but she wasn't having a very good tournament. Still, beating her was essential, but I almost blew it. After gaining a 56-point lead with WEePIEST, I futzed around with promising but ineffectual racks like EIOUGNT and AEEIONT, scoring only 41 points in four turns. I should have exchanged to draw some intermediate-point tiles, because Pat was quickly catching up with those intermediate plays. She caught up with REDUB, and gained a 26-point lead when I challenged. It was an uphill struggle from that point on, and in the end I used the second blank for QATs/DEANs to score 28 and win by 5.

While waiting for the pairings, I washed off my funk in Woody's room. I felt much better, ready to party down if I did well in the last two games of the day. "Party down", of course, being defined in my own special way.

For the next three rounds, players were divided up into groups of four to all play each other. I had no chance at all in my rematch with Toni Douglas, and she was now looking to move into first. Against Ralph King I once again drew both blanks together to bingo first, but even though it gave me an 83-point lead, I had no confidence that I would win. And sure enough, just like last time, her started zinging me. ZINC/COOLED for 30, BATHS/ZINCS for 58, and then REALISES for 75 to take the lead. I tied it up with JAGG, and then he used the last intermediate-point tile, the V, for 15. I was left with EEOUNTL, and he with AEEONNR. This was a much easier end game than the previous one involving the X and Z, and I was able to find enough points and an out combination, TOKEN and then LUBE, to win by five.

I waited anxiously for Toni and Dorothy to finish their game, hoping Dot would win. She did, which meant the four of us in the top group had all won 1 game, but Tony gained quite a bit of spread of me and moved into second. I also waited for Charlie Alexander to finish his game, because he had bumped me to fourth by a few spread points, and if he won his game he'd still be ahead of me.

Meanwhile, players continued to come up behind me as I wrote and either stare or ask questions. Where's Ms. Manners when you need her?

Charlie accompanied me to a Cuban restaurant I had spotted that morning, El Rincon Criollo. The first thing I noticed when I entered, besides the heavenly smell, was the heavenly creature sitting at a booth to my right. I pointed her out to Charlie, and he thought I was talking about the younger girl. I had to explain that I was referring to the older one, 17 at least, to make sure he didn't get the wrong idea about me.

Since I wasn't going to Orlando with Woody, I drove up to Cocoa to check out a club that had been well-reviewed on the Internet. It was nothing to write home about, and the dancers were seemingly too lazy to work the guys the the room for lap dances. While I waited to see if any would approach, I started looking at my list of -INGS words. Crap--had I challenged Toni's phony SOAPInGS* I could have kept the loss to under 100 points. I had a bad feeling that spread would be a critically decisive factor.

I left pretty quickly, and because the club had been in an out-of-the way part of Cocoa, and on Industrial Rd, I decided to look around for a place to crash, and quickly found a warehouse truck bay.


January 18

Around 6:30 I woke up, and as I tried to get back to sleep it occurred to me that I might have won that first game against Ralph King. If I had played OXY for 53, allowing him to play ZOO for 44, I could have then played ZOOM/MU (or ME or MI) for 20, and he would have needed to find 17 points to go out with ADS in order to win. During dinner, Charlie had stated that those guys like Joel and Marlon think on a whole different level. I agreed, and I lamented that while I could accelerate my progress through intensive word study, I had no idea how to get my brain to start thinking at that elite level.

I crossed the 528 bridge towards Cape Canaveral and got onto the A1A toward Cocoa Beach hoping to find a good place for breakfast. Really, I should have stayed off the A1A, because the name reminds me of "Ice, Ice, Baby" and Vanilla Ice, and nobody wants to remember him. But I found Breakfast at Lily's, a cute little restaurant with tables painted in bright colors and a decorative menu. The juice wasn't fresh squeezed, the biscuit was lame, and the home fries were the stringy variety I dislike. Oh, wait--that's because they were really hash browns! I guess because all the waitresses were young and cute they didn't feel the need to get the orders right.

At first, it looked like the universe was finding balance in my rematch against Dorothy Luckey, as I drew the first blank for TREAsON and then ZIG for 49 to take a 100-point lead. But then my racks turned ugly, and Dot cut the lead with FAInEST. A few turns later I ended up with JQX all on my rack. I noticed that there was only one intermediate-point tile left, the V, and this would make it difficult for her to make up 60 points without a bingo. I did not want to exchange, because I just knew she would draw those high-point tiles and use them against me. But the clunky rack meant that when she set up a hook with YE, I had no way to block it, and she bingoed again with TENANTS to take the lead. With my rack, I was not able to play off the TWS she opened, and so she played VANE for another 21. It was only barely that I managed to eke out an 8 point win. I was glad for the winning, but I really needed more spread to catch Toni if she won her game.

Woody had moved into fourth place, so I played him in round 14. Before the game, I warned him that if he beat me, he'd have to find his own way back to the Orlando airport. I guess he listened, because he let me draw all the good tiles and I was able to recover a good portion of my lost spread. Of course, I did well to find GLOTTiS. On the other hand, I missed the bingo in my opening rack AIDNNRS, and I didn't bingo until my fourth turn, so I shouldn't feel too proud of myself.

I won my 15th game, and the tournament, but my sense of satisfaction was muted by the feeling that I had not deserved the win. I made four readily identifiable mistakes. Challenging REDON*, playing the phony CUDE*, then playing CUD for 6 to set up a 32-point SCUD counterplay, and finally, with the game all but won, failing to block the open AT to stick Ralph with the Q. The game should never have been as close was close until Ralph's STONIER gave him a 62-point lead. I was holding the second blank, so was hopeful. Another player had told me that Ralph fished a lot, and I noticed it during this game. Panic and anger flooded me as I went to retrieve my camera so Woody could take a photo, only to discover it missing. Since I would definitely end up in the money, I had gone out to my car after the fourteenth game to get the camera so I could send a photo to Judy. I left it tucked away in the corner next to my water, so when it wasn't there, I had a hard time seeing how it could have been moved inadvertently. Mady made an announcement, but nobody knew anything. I was cursing my luck, that this tournament had turned out so expensive. I moped and grumbled for a while, and then it occurred to somebody to check under a table. Woody did, and there was the camera. I was relieved, and at the same time mystified, not quite sure how the camera could have moved underneath the table from the corner. drop woody in time sbux in tampa deposit check I would only have needed another hour to visit three more of remaining Starbucks on my list, excluding the one down in Brandenton. But after two recent experiences missing flights, I decided to be cautious and give myself plenty of time. I was running 10 minutes behind schedule when I arrived at the airport to return my car when I realized I had forgotten to fill the tank. Hertz would have charged me over $5 per gallon, which would have totalled to more than the $25 change fee if I missed my flight, so I backed my car out of their and raced to find a gas station, about five miles away. I need not have hurried, because my flight was delayed. As I sat in the waiting area, I groused at having had to skip those Starbucks, and I worried that I would miss my connection in Cincinnati. If that happened, I would have to stay the night at the airport.



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