Denied! (or Attack of the Shaftazoid)

February 3, 2004


As soon as I saw that my estimated new rating would surpass 1500, I began thinking about playing up to the expert division in Salado. When I returned from California and arrived at work on Monday, one of the first thing's I did was to verify that the cutoff for Division 1 was indeed 1600, and then to e-mail Mike Willis and explain how I'd worked out that I would be above 1500 and ask if I could play Division 1. I received a reply on Tuesday telling me that I'd have to ask the tournament director, Richard Johnson, and I immediately dispatched an e-mail. I was told that if a new rating reflecting 1500 wasn't published by the weekend, I could still play Division 1, but not if it made the division uneven. And since walk-ins would be accepted, it would be impossible to tell until the last minute. So I had to decide whether it was worth risking my new rating in Division 2 just to extend my streak to 18 tournaments.

I e-mailed Joe Edley and asked whether the Newport Beach results would be factored into the Feb. ratings, even though NB had technically taken place on February 1st. He replied that they might or might not be--there was another factor involved.

I also e-mailed Gary Moss, and he told me he had sent the results in Sunday evening. Yes--a chance!

The Simple Life

While US Airways didn't seem to have a problem with my beat-up old duffel bag, the Delta representative from three weeks prior had insisted on wrapping it in tape, because it did not zip up completely, and this past weekend I had to tape up the bag again in order to fly on American Airlines. So I decided it was finally time to spring for a new bag. I stopped at Wal-Mart on the way to club Tuesday night and went for the cheapest, at about thirteen bucks.

I noticed that this Wal-Mart had added self-checkout registers. I like these devices, because they eliminate jobs that humans should not be doing. Unfortunately, the devices do not always have the most intuitive of human interfaces, and when combined with a person that is a complete idiot, they can lead to delays. The lady ahead of me was one such idiot, and she could not seem to get anything right. She didn't even understand the concept of an optical reader, thinking that she had to press the UPC code down against the glass as she ran it across. I had already suggested to her that she pay for the items she had already scanned in case she decided she didn't really need those last few items that were given her so much trouble. But she was determined to get everything as she pleaded with one of the cashiers to help her. Finally, when everything was scanned in, she couldn't find her money. Then she couldn't get the machine to accept the fifty. I wanted to throttle her, or at least say something rude and condesceding, but I held my tongue as I gave her the evil eye. At the end of it, she remarked that she was going back to the 50s when things were simpler. I was thinking "Please do!" When things were simpler, and blacks couldn't vote, and women CEOs were unheard of, and abortion was illegal, and airplane flights were polluted by cigarette smoke. Yeah, simpler.

I, on the other hand, had no trouble with my items, and was out of there in a flash, cursing at the precious minutes of my mortal life that this lady had cost me.

February 4

I made the hour plus drive to the Philadelphia club again. While there, I overheard talk about the Atlantic City ratings, and how they had a reputation for being turned in late. Up until that moment, I had assumed that Edley had received the AC results a week earlier, and that NB would be the only issue. I started to lose hope that my correct rating would be published by Friday.

February 5

Bad News

I logged on while picking up my morning coffee and noticed that the Feb. 1st ratings had been posted. Aarrghh! No only did they not include Newport Beach, but they didn't include Atlantic City either.

Further "Negotiations"

I e-mailed Richard again for a clarification of his process, and he explained that if Division 1 was uneven, he would try to convince a player from Division 2 to move up, starting at the top. Who was at the top could change up until the start of the tournament, but at the moment, I was #2, and Richard speculated that the #1 player would decline to play up.

I had been e-mailing Siri Killeteratne in Calagary about his tournament, and since he had a Thursday entry deadline and would know how the divisions looked, I decided to call him and find out. He explained that there was already 12 people in Division 1 and only 8 in Division 2, which would not make it feasible to move me up without grumling from other players. He was, however, willing to contact Joe Edley and see if he could get a new rating for me.

Meanwhile, I went back to Travelocity to check on the price for a last-minute special to Calgary, and it was more expensive than I thought--$500, possibly more when I checked out of the hotel because it was intended for double-occupancy. And the hotel wouldn't be necessary, because the Calgary folk are friendly and let visiting players stay at there houses. So I decided it just wasn't worth the expense and called Siri back to say I was taking my chances on Salado so he wouldn't have Edley compute a new rating for nothing. Still, I decided to e-mail Edley anyway and point out that my rating would surpass 1500 after Newport Beach without Atlantic City and suggest that the NSA offer the service of computing ratings on demand. He said he would be rating the tournaments in order (gee, great time to start doing that) and wouldn't be doing any more ratings until the following week due to other deadlines or something. Rats!

So I needed to decide whether I was willing to fly down there on the hopes of getting into Division 1. And if I didn't, whether I would play Division 2 or take off instead for south Texas to visit a couple of new Starbucks. I told Richard he could start a pool on whether I'd end up playing or not.


After a few hours, the Scrabble addicition kicked in and I decided to go for it. I went back to Travelocity and found it the Austin flight had sold out. Crap. And the San Antonio one wouldn't bring me back on Sunday evening. Crap. After looking through options, I finally decided on a flight to Houston on Friday affternoon and a return early Monday morning. At least since I wasn't leaving right away I had more time to pack this time.

February 6

Inevitable Delays

It was a good thing I left work at 11:00 instead of 11:30 like I had planned, because, as usual, it took me longer than expect to stop at the grocery store, and then I got a call from my auto insurance saying I hadn't made my payment. Oops! Had to stop at the post office, where a blue-hair, probably not a Scrabble player, cut in front of me and then took a long time at the counter.

I had decided to take advantage of my flight into Houston to drop off the TV I wasn't using and other items I had accumulated. Less bulk would make the eventual drive back to Texas easier, since I'd be living out of the car for a few days (or weeks). The box was heavy, and I wanted to avoid carrying it back from economy parking. I talked the police officer on duty into letting me leave my car there for a few minutes, but as the US Airways attendant was checking me in, I realized I had left the tape to seal up the box back in the car, and then I learned he wouldn't let me check in the box, and then my bag--had to check them both in at once. So I abandoned that plan and headed out to park the car.

A pilot, a homely, yet cute, looking lady, and myself became increasingly frustrateds as 20 minutes rolled by waiting for the shuttle to the terminal, and then as three different shuttle buses passed us by. The pilot was about to chase that last one down before he noticed another one coming. I had plenty of time before my flight still, but the thing was I was waiting for a call about a possible job in San Antonio, and I wanted to be waiting at the gate already when it came. The call came while I was on the shuttle, and I told the manager I'd have to call him back when I got past security.

I got to talk with the manager for about 20 minutes before they called for boarding, and I hoped to chat a bit more while on the plane, but I got tagged for an additional inspecting at the gate. A heavyset lady was also being inspected, and she looked frustrated and pissed off as the TSA agent patted every part of her outfit that beeped and started looking in the inseam of her pants.

The flight was longer than I expected, about four hours, but not even half full, allowing me to move from my assigned seat to an aisle, and then to a row of three empty seats where I could close my eyes. As good as first class, but much cheaper! Though we arrived late, everything went smoothly through baggage claim and the Avis car rental, and I was soon on my way to the house, unsure if I mother had left for work yet. I wanted to try and say hello at least before leaving for Salado.

Family and the Familiar

After four months away, it felt good to be back in Texas. And in Houston even, though, in spite of, or perhaps because of, having grown up there, I don't rank it anywhere near the top of my favorite cities.

It was rush hour, but I hardly noticed the delays because I was continuing my interview with the manager from San Antonio. We made plans to meet the next morning at a Starbucks in San Antonion, which meant I'd have to get up really early. But it's generally better to actually meet in person somebody you'll be working for. I soon arrived at the Buffalo Grille, my favorite restaurant for biscuits in Houston. Until recently, it would not have been open at night, but sometime in the past few years it acquired a liquor license and started offering dinner.

My mother wouldn't leave for work until 10:00, so we had time to catch up. As usual, whenever she saw me after an absence of more than a few months, she noticed, or thought she noticed, something different. This time, my longer hair.

While calculating the distance to the Starbucks I needed to visit in SA, I discovered an error in my database application that had led me to believe I had a total of eight new stores to visit in the Austin/SA area. It turned out I only had 2 in SA, 1 in New Braunfels, and none in Austin. That discovered relieved some of the time pressure I'd face in the morning.

Cheating and the Cheating Cheaters Who Cheat Us

When I went upstairs to check my mail, I noticed the list of 2 and 3-letter words provided by the NSA sitting next to the family computer, and I shook my head. Lying, cheating people are likely to never change, and my sister is no exception. She had been playing on ISC for several weeks, and there was no reason for the list to be there still.

I often have my most vivid dreams when I combine sleep deprivation with caffeine intake. Despite neither of those two factors being present, I had several vivid and realistic dreams that night. In one, my sister had decided to play in the Salado tournament, and I was trying desperately to avoid her, to avoid having anyone find out she was related to me. In another, I had arrived in Salado, and many of the experts were late. While waiting to see if I would end up in Division 1, I played in this sort of early bird in which all of us, more than four players, were playing on the same board. I had JOURNEY + VO, nine tiles, on my rack, and I was looking through the rules trying to figure out what to do. When it came to my turn, I had to pass as I continued looking through the rules. Then, in a final dream, a recruiter was badgering me about some sample code, or a sample project, I needed to get done before my interview in San Antonio. The funny thing is, the manager I'd be meeting had e-mailed me about providing a code sample, but I had not yet seen that e-mail before I had the dream. Weird.

February 7

I Guess I Used Up all My Luck Getting There

I had gotten distracted while setting the alarm on my phone, and so it was just sheer chance that I woke up at 5:16, one minute after the time I had intended to set my alarm to. And one minute was all I could spare, if I was to make it to San Antonio in time to meet the manager and photograph the two new Starbucks.

My mother's shift had been cancelled, so she got up and made me some pancakes. She never manages to get them quite the way I like them, but I couldn't exactly turn them down after she'd gotten up so early. Best I could manage was to turn down the flame so they wouldn't turn out so dark, and to add some more milk to the batter so they'd be softer.

I saw no delays along the 200-mile drive to SA, and I arrived early enough to visit the North Star Mall Starbucks before meeting the manager at another new Starbucks just down the block from the mall. As he described the job in greater detail, it became apparent that it would consume too much time, more than 40-hours a week, and interfere with my Scrabble progress. I pretty much made up my mind right there to pass on the job, but I still had to be polite and listen to his spiel and answer his questions, because I had to think about future employment opportunities after the Nationals.

By the time I was able to pull away, get my obligatory coffee from the new store, and take a photo, I was in a rush to make it to Salado. Since I expected seven games with no brake, I had to stop and get some breakfast, and some fruit and a power bar to last until dinner. And finally, to visit the new Starbucks in New Braunfels. So by the time I got back on the freeway, it was past 10:30 and 97 miles to the Salado exit. Now that's the type of challenge I like!

I broke every law in the book, and some not yet written, in order to reach Salado on time. Richard knew I was coming, but I wasn't sure if cut-off for registration was 11:45 or noon. But at 90+ MPH, one can make up a lot of time, and that's exactly what I did. Thankfully, traffic through Austin didn't slow me down too much. But even more important was that I avoided getting pulled over twice when I spotted the troopers up ahead.

Return to Salado

I amazed myself by reaching the Stagecoach Inn by 11:45. Even though I had called ahead to confirm the exit, I saved a few minutes because I already knew the place, because I had attended this tournament in 2003. In fact, this was my first repeat visit to a tournament, which made it a special event for me. But what would make it even more special would be to jump from Division 3 to Division 1.

As I pulled into the parking lot, I spotted Chris Cree leaving the restaurant. Besides a better chance for a ratings increase, I wanted to be in Division 1 so I would have the opportunity to face off against players like him, Iffy, Day, and others I would not otherwise have a chance to play.

It was good to see friendly Texas faces again, but before I could make the rounds, I had to go up to see Richard and ask what the verdict was, if any. As I suspected, there was none yet, because he was still waiting on some experts to show. So I went around saying hello to people I hadn't seen in months, but my thoughts were preoccupied wondering whether I'd make it into the expert division.

The Verdict

Finally, the scorecards were handed out, and it was with trepidation that I looked at my number. 201! Rats! John Dalton happened to be standing next to me and asked if I had made it into Division 1. I complained that I hadn't, and that I would have to win more than 9 games to make any gains. He told me to just stomp all over my opposition, and I replied that all it took was a bad tournament to screw my rating.

I looked at the pairing for Division 1 and noticed that the player who Richard suspected would decline to play up decided to go for it. I tried not to be mad at her, since she was only acting in the best interests of her rating, but I still felt that given that my true rating, which I had spent months working on, was higher, and I that I had traveled all this distance, that she should have let me take that Division 1 spot.

"El Shafto"

My fears were realized in my first game against TA Sanders, as she proceeded to draw all the good stuff. She jumped to an early lead with easy J and Q scores, and I was starting to worry. Then she tried BUnKIES*, and even though I challenged it off, I could see where the game was going. Not being able to block both the EGO and UP hooks, I needed to get a couple of 30+ scores to match her eventual bingo. But all I could draw were low-point tiles, except for the X, which I lost to an overdraw, and she later played for 38 points. I lost the BRUNETs challenge, but the game was still in reach if I could just get a bingo down. By the time I got a good rack, she was out of bingo range--even if I had found the bingo in EICDSS? + I, I would have lost.

So it began, the theme for the entire weekend--the shaft! Or in Spanish, "el shafto".

As a general rule, I don't wish my opponents good luck before a game, because I find it disingenuous. I honestly don't want them to have good luck, and I don't believe for a second that they are really wishing it on me. But I broke my rule and wished Kristina Simon good luck before our game (at her urging) on account of her recently deceased father. The draw in our game was more even, but the it was the timing that got me. No, that's not entire true. While there was nothing I could have done when she took a chance hanging IOTA next to the triple column and later pulled JOBS for 70, my OUtRANCE/N was not the best bingo. Even though, as I hoped, it drew the challenge, it opened up a couple of triples, neither of which I could touch for decent points, and thus she got. Actually, OUtCAPER/P would probably have a drawn a challenge too and been a safer play. So forget complaining--I just screwed up with the wrong bingo.

Back racks or bad play, either way, it looked like I was in for a bad tournament, and I really didn't want to stay. There were Starbucks in south Texas with my name on them. I cursed the accepted policy of not allowing players to withdraw from tournaments.

I finally got a win, against Michael Chitwood, but it didn't come easy. That would be the general pattern for the weekend--either easy wins for my opponents, or tough wins for me. In spite of my win, I continued to wish I had not played.


Something about that Mark Palumbo guy really bugs me, and I really wanted to beat him. But not only did I draw poorly, I was letting myself get flummoxed by my tiles and making mistakes. I thought I'd improve my balance with KETOL, and had somehow become convinced that it didn't take an S. So when Palumbo played STRUT on the triple row, as I had hoped he would, I jumped to the challenge. And I lost. Later, I got fixated on using the triple row he had opened, and balancing my rack at the same time, so I tried MUNN, confusing it with MUGG, MUMM, and MURR. I kinda suspected it was phony, but I was hoping he wouldn't challenge for only 18 points. Mistake. With his extra turn I slipped beyond bingo range, and the rest of the game was just waiting on the inevitable death to come.

It didn't help that I was distracted during my games thinking about how I shouldn't have gambled on being in Division 1, how I shouldn't have agreed to play in Division 2, and how tournaments should allow players to drop out and cut their losses.

Meanwhile, every time I saw Geoff Thevenot I bristled, with jealousy, because I had beaten him in Lafayette when he was only in the 1100s, and since then that punk had surpassed me and gotten to 1540. Only 20 points ahead of my estimated 1540, but published, thus ensuring him a Division 1 spot. I wanted to be in Division 1 even more, if only to beat him again. Don't get me wrong--I kinda like the guy, and respect his quick rise in ranking. But I still thought I could beat his punk ass.

A Brief Respite from Loserville

My game against Carl Davis was grueling, but I have to admit I might have actually enjoyed a moment or two towards the end. It started out close until I got down FORGERs. I managed to extend my lead such that when he got down his bingo I was still up by close to 50 with a tight board. But I screwed up and gave him a 51-point play and a 1-point lead. The rest of the game came down to the Q. I managed to get myself a 27-point lead with small plays, and then I decided it was safe to pass. Carl passed, and so did I. Then he worked out that he was going to lose, and had to play, trying to set himself up for QAID on the triple line. Thankfully, I had one vowel left, or I would have been screwed. I played PROD for 21, and then he hooked TI to the P. With no vowels, I became really worried about what I could do until I though of PIRN, which didn't allow him to play the QAT that he was setting up, and that was the game.

After the tournament it occurred to me if I had played OD instead of PROD, it would have assured his being stuck with the Q. I can't say for certain which would have worked out better, but what's important is that I failed to consider the entire range of endgame possibilities, including my opponent's counterplays. This is a critical skill to develop.

I finally evened out, against Jan Asuquo, but just barely. I opened with the blank, AAEIBJ?, but I couldn't find hooks for the only two bingo racks I had, AEEIBK? and EIIGLN?. Finally when I draw AIIOOU?, I exchanged, and get eNGAGED, but it only gets me four points ahead of Jan, who has been having a good old time scoring. Then more crap, until the moment of truth, QUZ on my rack but no place to play the Q. With the scores even, I had to choose between exchanging and letting Jan take the triple, or blocking and hoping I could play my QU later. I decided to exchange, keeping the ZU, and let Jan take the open triple for 43. Thankfully, she drew the Q I had just dumped. Otherwise she could have passed on her 43-point lead and forced me to draw it. I still have no idea which was the theoretical best move.

Pepper wasn't too peppy in our game as I got my first really good draw of the tournament. Still, I could have blown it big time as, first, I couldn't remember if AGIO took an S. I risked it anyway, because I wanted to get my spread back into the positive. But, but, but--I called an S instead of an N, playing STRIsGY. Bryan didn't notice, however. I don't know if he was kicking himself, but I sure was. Stupid, stupid mistake. Fortunately, I continued to draw well while he struggled, and I drew the second blank and was finally able to get another bingo down after Brian opened up the board, as he had to do to have any hope of catching up. With the D on the board and a SATIRE+? rack, I had plenty of bingos to choose from. I choise DIsASTER as a tribute to poor Bryan's crappy draw. My first easy game.

As I waited for a couple of players to finish so we could have dinner, drama ensued at the end of a game as the player going, call her Player A, out forgot to neutralize her clock before they went up to the computer to adjudicate a challenge. When they returned, they noticed her clock had elapsed. They had to call Richard over, who was directing his first tournament. He first ruled in favor of Player B, but after further considering of the rules reversed himself. The tension in the air was as palpable as my growing hunger.

Meanwhile, a curious kitten came over to ask what I was working on, and I told her I wrote about all the tournaments. She wanted to read what I had written about our game, but I had to say, "No, no, no--nobody reads anything until I upload it."

The situation was finally resolved. Player B was fairly upset, though I suspect nobody was happy with the situation, as everyone concerned were friends. I waited until they left the room so they wouldn't notice I was writing about the situation and get upset.

In all the excitement, my Dallas cohorts apparently forgot to invite me to dinner with them. Never wanting to play the role of the tagalong kid, I didn't say anything, and decided to drive down to Threadgill's in Austin. Poor Winter--has to eat dinner all alone. That's okay though, because it felt good to be back in Austin with a few spare hours to kill. It had been much too long since I spent any decent amount of time in the city, my favorite in Texas.

Down at Threadgill's, the Janet Jackson Superbowl fiasco refused to die as a group of students discussed the incident.


I had sped through Austin too fast to really enjoy what was playing on one of my favorite radio stations KGSR, but I did hear that Trish Murphy was playing at the Iron Cactus at 9:00 for only 5 bucks. Before I headed over there, I went up to Starbucks to check my mail and get a DoubleShot for the next. While at the counter I noticed my driver's license wasn't in my wallet. Oh shit! Without ID I wouldn't be allowed to board the plane back to Jersey. After thinking back to when I last saw it, I remembered that I had to hand it to the guard before leaving the Avis lot with the rental car. Did she give it back? Was it lost somewhere in the car? Well, there was nothing I could do then--it would be easier to examine the car during daylight, as well as to speak to a manager at Avis to see if they had my license.

So I went back to making an update to my web site and discovered I had exceeded my disk quota. I couldn't understand how, and I needed to call my web hosting company OLM, but I didn't feel like doing it then. The drive back to Houston would be a good time for that.

A Brief Respite from Scrabble

Nearby at the Iron Cactus, Trish Murphy was already playing, but for 5 bucks I didn't care about missing a few songs. The Iron Cactus was a little too trendy for my tastes, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover the establishment offered free Wi Fi, allowing me to look up Trish's site and find out about her new album. Around 10:15 she took a break, and by the time she came back on it was almost 11:00. I only listened to a few more songs before leaving, in the hopes that more sleep would help my performance the next day.

One of the things about sleeping in a car is the plethora of choices available. The rest area? The Wal-Mart Supercenter? I chose the back of the 24 Hour Fitness because it was close to the Iron Cactus and the Austin Diner, where I expected to breakfast in the morning. My left hip and left didn't hurt as bad as the previous weekend, so I slept better. Plus, in the Corolla I was renting, I discovered that if I moved the front seat up all the way I could stretch my legs and rest my feet on the door panel.

February 8

I set my alarm for 7:28 so I would have time to stop at the Austin Diner for a proper (yet quick) breakfast. I discovered the place while working in Austin for 6 months in 2000-2001, and it was called Laura's Bluebonnet Diner back then. The home fries are still good under the current management, but the biscuits were better back then. If I ever move back to Austin, I'll have to find someplace that makes better biscuits.


My luck remains just as crappy on day 2 as I proceed to draw zilch against Michelle Davis. I start off with AEIOFLP to her YARNED. I want to dump two vowels, but FOP gets me the most points, and it's still early. But I draw AEEIILR and think "Here I go again". I manage to get down AERIE for 22, but end up with AEEIOUL--notice the rapidly decreasing number of consonants? I get down LOUIE for 16, and my reward is AAAEIIO. Ridiculous. You can't tell me I was doing the wrong thing by dumping playing those vowels for some points, and yet I was getting screwed. I have to exchange, and I finally get some tiles that allow me to score, but now Michelle has found her bingo with the first blank. Two turns later she get s her bingo with the second blank. Still, I'm only down 67, and any of a number of things could have turned the game around. If I had drawn the X instead of the Q, or if I had drawn the AT to follow up the QUIP that I had set up, I could have won. But she got the 36-point QAT, and that was the game. I guess I was getting paid back for the three Q sticks I had avoided the previous day.

My draw against Martha Bedford wasn't as bad, but the game was agonizing nonetheless. She seemed to have an answer for every play. When I score 48 for ZIT/ZEK, she of course has the S for a 32-point counterplay. Then, when face with an UGLYEIO, I chance ZITI/IGLU to score some points and get a better rack, and she has another S to play FUDS for 24. Finally I draw some blanks, but both together--what a waste. Then she finds the natural RECANTER/R--I challenge, it's good, and we are even. The rest of the game is all about avoiding the Q. With seven tiles left in the bag, I dump it back in, falling behind by 32. I need to score, and my best scoring plays all require that precious T I hold. There's another in the bag, so I throw my hands up and pray for some luck, taking 18 points with TEA/YET/BASE as a precaution against her playing YEW/BASE/WE? for 27 or 29 points. And zing--I draw the Q. Two tiles left in the bag. Martha risks taking them both, and that's it--no T, and no way to get rid of the Q. Some days you gamble and win--some days you gamble and lose.

What's happening is the very reason I didn't want to play Division 2. I'm getting nothing out of this deal. At least if I were losing in the expert division, I'd be feeling that I was beaten by better players, and I'd be learning lots of new words in the process. But getting stomped by players who haven't been studying as much and are just getting lucky is a complete waste of time. There is no value in it whatsoever. If I didn't feel the need to play so much I would have held back from playing any tournaments until my 1520 was published (in March!) and got me a top division placement.

Meanwhile, at the Burger King, I try to salvage what would otherwise be a complete loss by flirting with the 16-year-old at the register.

I should have just stayed at the Burger King, because back the Stagecoach Inn, the shaftage continued, against Nancy Scott this time, as I opened with MAILED and immediately draw the blank, but then face miserable racks for the duration of the game. I had bingos, but ones as easy as Nancy's natural TAENIAS. The ones I missed where WHoRTLE, SOJOuRN, and ScISSOR, plus WHiSTLER or WHiTTLER through an I. Maybe easy for some to see, but not me. Then towards the end I drew the other blank, but by then there isn't a single hook left on the board, and I can't draw the simple tiles (A, T, R) to open it up. What's it take to get an easy game around here?

Keeping the Bleeding to a Minimum

I won against Carole Miller, but still no easy game. She drew both blanks, the Q, X, and Z. I made do with a natural INOSITE (finally an easy bingo) to her her dINETTE, and then with a really, really tight board.

Another tough win, by a mere 8 points against Jim Hughes, in our first game ever. He almost caught me, though, with a clever out play, GUSSET. I'm glad it was the out play, because I challenge, and if I had lost it could have been the game.

I won my rematch against Michael Chitwood, but it was another grueling one. After missing HATPINS, TISSUAL, and ENSNARED, I finally got down CONGERS, a word I didn't even know I knew. In fact, I have no idea from what deep dark recesses of my bowels I drew that word, but it got me far enough ahead that Chitwood wasn't able to catch up despite my miserable post bingo racks like--AAIIUUD, AAIUUYD, AIIIUUW (I played the W to kill a triple), AAIIIIUU, and UUIIIL to finish.

So 7-6, and my rating slipped below 1500--back to chumpville. Yes, everyone has bad tournaments, but even if I had only won a couple of games in Division 1 my rating wouldn't have slipped so much, and 3 games would have been enough to stay about the same level. I know I could have won 2 or 3. Of all my Scrabbling gambles so far, this was the worst.

I rushed out after my final game, as I had an early flight back. I stopped at Jason's Deli for some grub. Yes, it's corporate, but I sorta like it, and I can't get up on the east coast. While waiting to order, a little rugrat stumbled/ran and grabbed onto my leg. I heard his parents exclaim, "No, no, you don't know that man." and they pulled him away. Damn right--I ain't even ready to have no kids clinging to me, if ever.

February 9

High Drama on I-45

It was about 5:30 AM and I was making good time to the airport as I cleared downtown Houston on I-45. Suddenly, just two lanes to my right, a black suburban came around the curve, skidded around, and then, to my amazement, rolled over several times into the grassy embankment. Sparks flew as the metal scraped against the concrete. I was shaken up by how close the vehicle had come to involving me in the wreck. I had witness a few skids and accidents over the years, but this was by far the most dramatic. I was in the left lane and moving too quickly to pull over to try to help--the best I could do was call 911. I'm glad I wasn't involved in the collision and injured, because it took the first dispatcher way too long to put me through to an ambulance dispatcher, and then it took her way too long to locate the scene of the accident. In the end, she reported that another dispatcher was already handling the call.

As I drove on, my concern for the possibly injured turned into anger at the driver for losing control of his vehicle on a curve that wasn't sharp, a road that wasn't wet, and with only moderate traffic to occupy his attention. Actually, I was angry at him because he was just two lanes over from me when he began to skid, and had I not been in the left lane he might have involved me in his mess. And had I not gotten up at 4:58 but instead waited for my alarm to go off at 5:09, I might have been delayed by a traffic backup when emergency vehicles arrived.

If I am remembered in the future, it might be for a number of things, but an overabundance of sympathy will not be one of them.

On the other hand, I did hope that at least there weren't any kids in the car at that early hour.

I got a row to myself on the near-empty flight back to Houston, and for once I actually got plenty of sleep. I hoped that I would only be so luck on my flight to Tokyo.

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