A Date With the Health Inspector
February 10, 2006
Continuing to prove true Scott Adams' assertion that most of us are idiots most of the time, I immediately started hemorrhaging time during my trip to Salado. First, I forgot I needed to stop at a new Starbucks. Well, not exactly new. I was told it had been open since May, but Starbucks had managed to keep its existence secret from me for almost a year. So anyway, I exited onto the wrong freeway, a tollway, and when I reached the toll plaza I entered a lane that was closed, and so denoted by the bright red light above. More time lost, plus a buck and a quarter.
I-10 in Texas was recently voted by truckers as one of the best roads in America. I've no idea how they came to that conclusion, because at 2:00 PM, well before the rush hour, and heading inbound, traffic was slowed to a crawl by construction. The freeway look completely sklorged for miles ahead. I disregarded the old adage about disregarding sunk costs and decided I had already gone too far and was committed to reaching the store. But come to think of it, I should be committed just for thinking I could make it smoothly out of Houston without any delays.
I exited onto surface streets, and they moved about as fast as I could have expected, but they were still much slower than the freeway (should have been), and by the time I left the Starbucks all my spare time had evaporated, and I'd need to average 60 MPH to reach Salado by 5:00, assuming I only spent 7 minutes stopping in Brenham for Starbucks and food (a pie-in-the-sky idea if there ever was one).
60 MPH started looking dubious right away, as the on-ramp to US-290, even at 2:15, was already metered. Why, why, why??? It wasn't even 3:00. Why??? Why can't all these people just die and free up the road for people headed to important destinations. My father had complained in recent years that every time he returned to Houston after one of his contracts the traffic seemed to be worse. Sure looked like it from where I was sitting.
I took a small measure of comfort in the fact that I wasn't getting nearly as stressed out as I used to. Maybe it was because, Scrabble rating aside, life was pretty good.
Thankfully, I was back in Texas, and once the traffic cleared speeds moved up around 80 MPH. I had gotten so used to the lower speeds along the East Coast that it felt refreshing to cruise along at 80 MPH with little fear of being pulled over.
But my burst of speed was short indeed, as, seeming out of nowhere, the entire liquid content of the Gulf of Mexico seemed to pour down over northwest Houston. Visibility was cut sharply. Cars slowed to 30-40 MPH and turned on their hazard lights. I felt myself drifting away from my state of serenity.
Eventually the rain cleared, and I sped on towards Brenham. I approached the Starbucks and chanted my mantra, "three minutes", "three minutes", "three minutes". And who knows, I might have actually made it, had I not hestitated while finding parking. In just a few seconds of driving to one end of the lot and then turning around, a large group poured out of a van and beat me into the store. And of course they ordered the slow drinks.
When I got back to the car it was clear I wasn't going to make it, no way, no how. Figured I might as well go ahead and stop at the KFC across the street, the only marginally decent fast food place in sight, and then I tried to race as fast as possible while trying to avoid spilling food and soda all over myself and the car.
And after all that stressing and racing, I ended up arriving at the Stagecoach Inn with less than three minutes off my clock, so it worked out, and it payed off to not have given up and kept gunning it.
About a week and a half earlier that infamous groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, saw his shadow. The legend says this will bring about six more weeks of winter, but in my case what was predicted was six more weeks of sucky tournaments. Oh, I drew well enough against Judy Newhouse and could hardly have lost, but my hope of pulling out of my slump was short-lived, and all all the effort I expended in making it to the Early Bird turned out to be in vain, as a fifth tournament turned out a disappointment, kind of like the endlessly repeating cycle depicted in the movie. How long before I broke the cycle, I wondered?
Caesar Jaramillo proceeded to thoroughly thump me. In the immediate aftermath, it seemed that his drawing both blanks on a board that made the difference, but once I sat got a chance to pull up my possibly-soon-to-be-useless Maven, I saw that I started off playing like a chump who deserved to be thumped.
But I played better in my other games, giving up an average of 3.9 equity points per turn, much less than my typical average of 6-8 points. But yet I only managed to win one more. Against Glenda Short I felt, even without simulation, that I played it straight like a pelican. There was luck on both sides. DEAREST combined with 47 for VOX helped me keep a lead despite Glenda's ARTISAnS and uNFOILED. I had a 41-point lead going into the endgame when Glenda stumbled across NIPPIEST, and the game was over.
I had no trouble against Lee Brooks, but probably only because she was having a rough time of it all around. Then came the fast-rising Orry Swift. No question about it--he knew his words, and he built up a bingo lead going into the endgame. With only one more chance to bingo, all I saw was sTHENIA, but with two As unseen the A-hook glared at me. Sure enough, Orry knew the word, played GIGA, and won by one point after a recount. Later, those 60 equity points I gave up, though on par with expert-level play, still screamed at me.
It was a short drive down to Austin, because my attention was divided between continuing my simulations and wondering whether my skills had really degraded to the point that I couldn't beat a field rated under 1700, or if luck, and having drawn a meager 3 of 10 blanks, had really been a factor. My mind was further occupied by another puzzle. Now let's be clear about one thing. Only a fool would question the utter vapidity of Beonce's "Check on It". But the philosopher in me had to wonder about the lyric "You think that I'm teasing, but I ain't got no reason.". Does she really believe that? Actually, maybe she does. Maybe she doesn't have the scientific background to realize that women are genetically predisposed to teasing men. It was proven by scientists. Real scientists, not the South Korean variety.
I hung out at Starbucks until 11:00, and then I headed down to the Wal-Mart Supercenter. I passed up the exit and took the next one, and when I was coming back up the freeway I stumbled across a strip club named Joy and popped into the parking lot to see if there was a cover. Okay, that's not true. Of course there would be cover, on a Friday night. But maybe the door girl would have a stroke just as I entered, and I'd be able to get in free. Well, that didn't happen, but strewn across the parking lot were cards advertising that the club was open 'til 4:00, and that from 2:00 to 4:00 dances were only $10. $10 dances!!! That's like 50-cent sodas, almost impossible to pass up. It was very tempting, and if I could have gotten in and out for just $10. But the way my luck was going that day, the club would be one of those where, on top of the cover, I'd have to buy a drink. Not worth it. Better to treat myself to a good breakfast in the morning.
Before my game with Glenda Short the previous night, I drank a DoubleShot. Before I drank it, I said to myself that I shouldn't, because it would make it hard for me to sleep. I should have listened to that voice. I did not get to sleep 'til around 4:00 AM. Despite this, I forced myself up around 8:30 so I could rephotograh several Starbucks around Austin.
I hoped to take a trip down memory lane by having breakfast at the Hickory Street Bar & Grill, but it did not open 'til 11:00. It had been years since I had last been, but I though they opened up earlier. Kerbey Lane Cafe served as a substitute, though it was not a truly nostalgic experience because the location on the Drag did not exist when I was in school. I courted further disappointment by forgetting, for the umpteenth time, that it's very difficult to cut pancakes in a styrofoam tray!!! And to keep syrup off my shirt.
When the KGSR DJ made referece to an upcoming track by the "Dirty Dozen", I had serious doubts that he was referring to the Eminem offshoot group. I was right. I guess the number of fans that the two groups have in common is so small that DJs don't feel the need to specify which is which.
Thoreau. Eighteen days later, when I saw the reference, it took me a while to recall what I was referring to. I wonder if I'll still be able to remember when I'm 80. Oh, that's stupid. I'll be lucky to reach 40, let alone 80.
I'd tried to keep it in the back of my mind all night, that I-35 was closed in Round Rock. Nevertheless, I made the wrong mental calculations, and after nearly 30 minutes getting coffee and getting around the delay, I found myself rushing backto Salado. But as expected, things hadn't gotten started yet, and I had the chance to say hello to some friendly faces who seemed as familiar as if it had just been yesterday that I left Texas. But that's sort of the way my life has been going for the past few years, so fast that it seems like just yesterday I was in Paris, in Tokyo, etc. Driving around Austin on Friday night, I just had the vaguest hint of a feeling that it might have been a long time ago since I last lived in the city.
Stumbling and Bumbling
A couple of clear endgame mistakes hurt me bad against Darryl Day. First, I had the option of playing HAY either to the left or to the right of LEGATO. I played to the left, thinking it was more defensive, and immediately giving Darrell the big QAT. And then I neglected to notice there were 4 Rs in the bag, and I played ORBITAL and drew all four of them to kill all endgame chances. In the hall and the bathroom, Caesar and Iffy asked me how I did in my first game, and I had no choice but to admit that I played poorly.
After my game with Keith Smith, I couldn't immediately see any glaring mistakes. Rather, it seemed like he had had an easier time of it, with bingos ISOBARE followed by hOODIEST, while I had to struggled to find GARBLESS and FrEEMAN. Keith also benefited greatly from a 49-point ZETA made possible because NINJA at N2 was the only play I saw that scored and cleared my rack of 3 Ns (AIFJNNN). Believe me, I didn't want to set Keith up, but neither did I want to keep multiple Ns or give up points by playing defensive with the J.
A Brief Recovery
I finally won a game, against #3 or 4 Ben Withers, but the tiles were so one-sided I can't really take credit.
My relief at winning a game was short-lived because I quickly learned I had been paired with Chris Cree. I figured after the two games I won in Minnesota he was due to beat me big time. But I got a huge break when he burned his blank on MATRONs only to watch me KEITLOAS right through it! That was perhaps my luckiest break of the entire tournament. A couple of turns later I took the lead with TOASTErS, and from that point Chris seemed to draw drek and exchanged three times. With each of his exchanges I breathed a great sigh of relief, though I was not out of the woods with the spectre of the Q hanging over us both. When I finally drew it and played ROQUES, I could almost feel the frustration emanating from across the table.
After beating Chris Cree, to go 3-0 against him, I had to stop and feel a small sense of satisfaction. A 2-2 record against #1, #3, #4, and #7 was probably as good as it was going to get.
Beating Orry Swift, even with great tiles, was very satisfying for two reasons. First, the obvious, revenge. But also because the win put me in a position I had not been in for a good many tournaments, more wins than losses. And since I was the #15 out of 16, I was doing even better relative to the field. The game, incidentally, was weird--I should post it.
The Curse of the Anti-Undefeated (or The Inspector Arrives
Because of my 3-2 position, my loss to Kristina Simon was even more irritating. I had begun to dream big, and a 5-2 first day with the tops seeds out of the way would have put me in a strong position. After the game, the loss became even more irritating, because I learned Kristina had no other wins. I had assumed that with Swiss pairings, even one or two rounds back, that I wouldn't have been paired with someone with no wins. Grrr... I hate losing to the player with no wins.
Okay, that was weird. Before I started against Greg Stone, one of the other players asked to borrow my Chapstick. I figured that with a weekend in close proximity to so many other people, if I was going to catch that Asian flu, it wasn't going to be from Chapstick. Though the thought did cross my mind that maybe the player was trying to poison me by applying arsenic or some other poison to his lips, after having built up a tolerance. Hmmm... during the game, I did develop a headache that intensified throughout the course of the game.
I could blame that headache for my loss to Stone, but there is no need. He was gracious enough to admit he had drawn the tiles.
Meanwhile, in the bathroom, I was struggling on the toilet and watching Without a Trace. In one scene, Anthony LaPaglia's character says to his lady friends, "...that didn't come out the way I wanted it to come out." How appropriate.
I managed to extract myself from the bowels of discomfort in time to catch Geoff before he and some other Austinites went for dinner. I didn't mind hanging with Geoff, because he was no longer the punk. He had long since been replaced by younger, punkier rascals. Kids like Aaron Bader and Dan Fogel. I'll lead Nat Gardenswartz out of that group out of consideration for another player who is quiet taken with the boy. In fact, I might have misheard her, but I could swear she said she would gladly spend some time in prison for one night with the lad. Don't nobody tell him that. We don't want to corrupt the young urchin.
I followed Geoff and Keith over to Cowboy's Barbeque, where we were joined by Michael Early who tried his best to convince me to see a doctor about the vertigo I'd been experiencing. I maintained that it was unlikely to be some disease he had heard about, and that I was probably going to be fine. Famous last words.
Average Equity Loss Per Turn
Includes total equity loss only if all turns were simulated.
1 - 2.3
2 - 8.1
3 - 3.5
4 - 5.0
5 - 4.6 (59.8)
1 - 4.2
2 - 3.3
3 - 4.4
4 - 7.4
5 - 3.5
6 - 9.8
7 - 5.3
8 - 10.1
9 - 3.5
10 - 4.2
11 - 7.6
12 - 5.8
13 - 8.8
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