Monday, July 27, 2009

Iraq – Nothing Spectacular Thank Goodness

I’ve been on this journey for a week now and there’s not been a lot of blog-worthy post material.  It’s been busy and that is a blessing.  boredom and loneliness are the enemies.  As long as I can avoid them the time will pass quickly, I’ll get a good amount of work done and I’ll leave feeling it was all worth it.

My roommate and replacee left yesterday leaving me in my own CHU (hut, bunk, whatever).  It’s not home, but it’s better.  The days here are 12 hours of work and meals, a few hours of recreation and/or relaxation, and sleep, rinse, repeat.  It is a grind but like I said, it helps to make the days go by quickly.

Unlike last year, I’ve got wireless internet.  That means that I have connectivity in the office and the bunk with a wide open connection.  It gives me enough bandwidth to make a Skype call and slow web pages.  And posting to the blog, of course.  Most everything else is just how I remembered it – Hot, dusty, dry, and hot.  Did I mention hot?  Most days are running 110 to 115 in the shade.  Thankfully the air at work and the bunk works pretty well so comfort isn’t a big deal

I made a poker contact yesterday.  Come to fine out there are games 3 nights a week.  I’ll check out my first real action tomorrow night.  I’m not sure how much poker I’ll be able to handle with the compressed sleep schedule.  I’m thinking 2 nights might be doable.  I’ll know by Wednesday.

Time to get back to work.  Thanks for stopping by.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The President Comments

So the President admits that he knows none of the details about the arrest of H.L. Gates, Jr.,  but comments about the actions of the police officer anyway.  Just how often does he make decisions without knowing what he is talking about.  Do you really want this guy running your car company?  Health care plan? You son’s military unit?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Stalled in Transit

If you were reading this blog last year, you might remember that I arrived in Baghdad on time, but my luggage didn’t make it until 3 days later.  Well this time neither me nor my luggage has made it to Baghdad as yet.

My trip started off well enough.  Dr. K dropped me off at the Charlotte airport in plenty of time to get something to eat before my flight.  While there, I ran into T from our poker home game.  She was on her way to a “professional conference” in Las Vegas.  That’s lucky right there.  I hope she is doing well at the tables.

My flights from CLT and Dullas both departed on time and arrived early.  Due to problems with my paperwork, I knew that I would spend a day at the hotel airport until the issue got resolved.  In talking to the gate agent for my Kuwait to Baghdad airline, he pointed out that the passport number on my paperwork didn’t match the number on my passport.  Great, a second problem.

They called the hotel and get me an escort and bus ride over to the hotel. The two advantages to this hotel are that I don’t have to officially enter Kuwait to stay there and it is cheap.  My first shock came when I learned that I would not be getting my bags at the hotel.  They would have to stay at the airport.  I had meds, a t-shirt and change of underware, so I could handle this for one night. Next was the size of the room.  I’ve owned bigger closets.  I knew right then that I’d only be in this hotel one night.  I’d be one my way to somewhere else the next day, whether that was Baghdad or a better hotel or the streets of Kuwait City.100_0418

Due to the time zone and timing of the flights, it was pie-in-the-sky thinking that this paperwork would come through on time for me to fly on Monday.  Luckily, my contact in Baghdad got me in touch with Mandy, a local employee of the company we are working for.  She told me that they have apartments set up like dorms that are used for just this type of layover.  I got myself back to the airport, got a visa to enter Kuwait, tracked down my bags and escaped the airport.100_0423 

I had to hang out at the Caribou Coffee just outside of the official airport for about 90 minutes until Mandy could come pick me up.   I must say this apartment is really nice.  I have access to food, a big screen TV, Internet, and a pool table.  There are a couple other guys staying here right now.  It is nice to have someone to chat with and just be around.  Loneliness is my mortal enemy for the next 4 weeks.  This place really helps on that score.

The apartment in in a high-rise right on the Persian Gulf.  Attached are a few views from the windows.


I’m still waiting to hear from my project manager on my paperwork, but I have to believe that it will come through today (Tuesday).  I’m currently schedule to fly to Baghdad on Wednesday evening.  If I don’t get it by 11 pm or so, I’m going to miss the guy I’m replacing and not get any real introduction to the project.  It will be a big disadvantage to my start on this project.  It could also mean that I’ll take a military flight into camp.  That sounds like a bit more adventurous though maybe not Dr. K approved.

There isn’t anything I can do about any of this.  It is all in the hands of the project management and the Army.  My attitude is to be patient, do what I need to do first and what else I can do second and to keep my cool at all times.  So far I’m good on those points.

Steve Streater

Steve Streater was a star on the UNC football team when I arrived on campus in 1979.  Two images of Steve will always be with me. 

The first was on the field when he was the punter.  Steve was All-ACC when he kicked the ball.  He was even better when he ran with it.  I remember Steve taking a snap, bolting around the line, through the defense and into the end zone as 45,000 fans cheered wildly.

The second image was probably on the same day.  I lived in Ehringhaus dorm where most of the football team also lived.  The walkways on each floor face each other.  When Steve arrived back at the dorm after the game, the walkways were full of students cheering and chanting “Streat, Streat, Streat.”  he just waved his appreciation and went into his room.

The rest of the story is a sad one if looked at from a perspective of what could have been.  On the way back to Chapel Hill after signing a contract to play for the Washington Redskins, Steve’s car hit some standing water, flipped and broke his spine.

I met Steve a few years later while working in Wilmington for a local TV station.  Steve spoke to high school kids about wearing seatbelts.  I produced an interview with him after the speech.  He was nice and easy to talk to.  He seemed as happy with his lot as about anyone.  I heard no regrets.

Steve passed last month.  I just read about it here.  My condolences to his family and friends.  Thanks for the memories, Steve.

Monday, July 20, 2009

An Accident That May Save a Life

The Iraq 2009 adventure has begun and not on the best of notes.  I’m currently in Kuwait trying to get the proper paperwork to allow me to get to Baghdad.  It might happen by tonight, but I’m not counting on it.  I’ll post more details about that later.

This post is about an incident that happened last week and will continue to play out over the next two.  While I was in Texas, Dr. K’s car got side-swiped while it sat parked on the street in front of our house.  We have a house in a very old part of the Queen City and ours does not have a driveway or garage.  We’ve been parking on the street without anything worse than an occasional break-in for over a decade now.

That changed on Wednesday morning when my wife saw the damage to her car.  She did the right thing and called the police.  While the police were there, the couple from next door came out and the woman said that she had seen the accident around 8:30 the evening before (still light in NC).  She gave a description of the car and how the driver had stopped briefly after the impact and then sped away.  Dr. K was a little dumbfounded that this neighbor failed to call the police or call our house or at least knock on the door but we weren't there and don’t know what may have distracted her.  The police estimated the bent sheet metal, scratches, broken mirror and ruined molding would cost about $1200 to fix.  In other words, the damage was significant but wasn’t horrible.

Dr. K left me a message explaining what had happened so that I didn’t worry when I saw the damage.  When I did get home that night we talked about all that had happened, but we knew that there was probably no way to catch the person at this point.

Fast forward to the next afternoon as I arrive home from work.  Another neighbor, this one is the nice lady from down the street, calls my name and hurries up to my house.  What she had to tell me was almost unbelievable.  She had seen and heard enough to know who hit my wife’s car.  It was the friend of a teenager that lived at the end of our block.  Nice lady remembered the car from the girl’s birthday when the friends decorated it with condoms among other things. Kids these days!

A few minutes later, Dr. K and I are headed down to the house on our block just in time to see the girl get into her car preparing to leave.  We stop her and have a chat with her.  The poor little girl starts shaking like a leaf and basically spills the beans on her friend giving up her name and cell phone number.  The last name is very uncommon so we take that back and before I can warm my seat back up, I’ve got her father Googled, identified, and on the phone.  The girl does not live with her father so he didn’t know anything about an accident.  I was about to finish my conversation with him when there came a knock on our door. 

It was the girl, the hit-and-run driver, come to confess to the crime of which she had already been caught.  To her credit, she didn’t try to explain it away except to say that she was on her cell phone and wasn’t paying attention to driving.  She took responsibility and offered to do what she could to make it right.  She too was shaking and about to cry a couple of times but she held it together and Dr. K and I did our best to keep her calm.  We told her how impressed we were that she had come forward.  She’s just a kid and we had nothing to gain by chastising her.

After she left, I told Dr. K that I’m not upset with her in the least as I probably would have done the same thing back in my youth.  The Dr. told me that she was a little angry and that leaving the scene would never have crossed her mind.  I believe her.  That’s still how she is.  What would you have done?  It’s an interesting question that require some personal honesty.

Well, the estimates look more like $1600 and there will be charges for a rental car for a week or more, so the total damage to this young lady’s bank account will be somewhere around $2000.  It won’t feel like it to her, but that is still pretty cheap for such a big lesson.  If it causes her to put down the phone while she drives, this accident may have just saved her life.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Okie Vegas 2009

The only bad part about the great weekend I just had is the let-down when it is all over.  Really, that was the only negative.

It all started with an insanely early departure from my hotel in DC.  Believe it or not, there is a good bit of traffic on the highways around DC at 4 o’clock in the morning.  I got upgraded to first class for both legs of my flight.  My flight departed about five minutes early and we were wheels up for Charlotte before 6 am.

100_0367 For the first time ever, Charlotte’s Douglas International Regional Airport and Car Wash (the pilot’s description) was not the destination, it was a connection on the way to Dallas-Fort Worth.  Flight number two was also right on time taking off so we landed at DFW about 15 minutes early.  Just like clockwork, I breezed past the rental counter, jumped in the Ford Fusion that I was assigned and headed north.  That Fusion now has a lot more than the 128 miles that were showing when I turned the key.

Two and a half hours later I was pulling up to the home of GCox25 in OKC.  I got and quick hug from the man himself, the wife DD, and Katitude (who still blames me for introducing her to BC Powder)  We did a quick turn-around and headed for lunch.

100_0360We dined, if eating with your hands off sheets of paper is dining, at Eischen's Bar, the oldest bar in Oklahoma.  Fired chicken as good as what Mom used to make, fried okra and pitchers of lite beer fueled us for the rest of the afternoon.  Though I’ve met up with these folks no more than 5 times in my life I felt like I was among the oldest and best friends I’ve ever had.  Let the good times roll.

The next stop was the just less than fabulous Lucky Star Casino in El Reno 911,  OK.  Four of us sat at a new 1-2NL table and proceeded to harass the local rocks.  They were actually a fun group save one jerk who didn’t know how to play nor play nice with others.  There was an unnatural amount of 9-2-Face flops.  Greg on 100_0382my right seemed to get a hand of 9-2 every time that 9-2-x did not flop.  It really got comical after about the dozenth time.

Eventually Greg decided to take a break.  The very next hand I get 9s-2s on the button and I decide it couldn’t miss.  Sure enough, 9-2-J hit on the flop.  The jerk that is 2 seats to my left bets out.  I’m not worried about the rainbow flop so I just call.  The turn puts a second spade on the board and Jerk bets $30.  I push for $46 more and he eventually calls.  I don’t turn over as the table speculates about my hand.  I ask “What works at this table?” and then answer “NINE_DOOOOCH”.  The board does not pair.   Jerk flashes his Kings and mucks.  OK, for that hand there were two jerks at the table but all of the Okie Vegas folk loved it.

Dinner time was approaching so we hopped in the cars (OSU hopped on his Harley) and we headed for Lake Okie Vegas (Ft. 100_0413Cobb Lake 51 weeks a year).  The temperature was a warm 108, so OSU’s ride felt like a blast furnace.  It was also warm enough that Greg’s ragtop and AC in his BMW decided to make an appearance.

Dinner of cold fried chicken and cold Foster’s over a friendly cash game rounded out the day and evening.  The arrival of Tragedy and the Mrs. Tragedy the Sequel arrived shortly before bed. (Sequels are better than the original).

Day 2 started with doughnuts and Coke for breakfast (of Champions) and a four-wheeler ride to the lake shore.  OSU’s lady friend joined to party.  We were to find out later that she was part native american and that she claimed that her indian name was Sure-Thing-on-a-Blanket. “ Welcome to Okie Vegas.  You’ll fit right in.”  The party really got going with the arrival of the Smoke-on-the-Water Party Boat.  Capt. KK took us out to the middle of the lake for some swimming and the worst diving exhibitions 100_0357in the history of Okie Vegas.  This all caused a late start to the Annual OKV Poker Tournament, but no one seemed to mind.

I started the tourney hot as a firecracker.  Actually everyone started out hot.  We were on the porch and the temp was well over 100.  The shade and breeze helped some.  No one busted before the first break.  We took the opportunity to move the table indoors where the AC helped moods but not the quality of play.

The first bust out almost took out OOSSUUU.  I don’t remember all of the details,  but the action put OSU all-in preflop with a typical race (A-J vs 44 is what I remember).  The board hit Greg and OSU’s stack slid across the table.  Then Yesbay, who had dealt the flop, turn and river says “wait a minute.”  He looks closer at the board as if we had misread it, flips a card to it’s back and 100_0414explains that he was not the dealer for that hand and the wrong deck had been used. Sure-thing-on-a-blanket was supposed to be dealing.  A misdeal was declared, chips were distributed back to the original owners and OSU was still alive.  Sure-thing became the Gigli shortly thereafter.

I made it to the cash bubble before I ever had to show a hand.  My QQ all-in went up against Yestbay’s A-K and two A's hit the board.  Congrats to Greg, Yestbay, and Kat for cashing.  The rest of  the day and evening was spent just sitting and talking with a lot of laughing – a LOT   of laughing.

Random Memories

  • “No, it’s Special K, not Circle K.  I’m a breakfast cereal, not a damn convenience store.”
  • Wall, chest, chin – That’s all I’m saying about that.  You figure it out.
  • LED shot glasses
  • Dial-a-shots to TripJax, Jordan, Joannada, and several others. Too many went unanswered.
  • “You just let me know what you need and it will get done.”  Tragedy, you are the best.
  • I swear, I did not know!
  • What is in the NASCAR gas pump dispenser, Rum or Whisky?  Who cares, pour me some.
  • Deer steak and rice
  • Sunning in the Okie Vegas pool (Picture to be inserted below)

100_0409Sunday meant packing up and moving on to my next stop.  All that were left at the lake were GCox, Kat, and TC.  I said my goodbyes and pointed the Fusion south toward Killeen, TX and Fort Hood.  To each of you who make Okie Vegas 2009 a special time as we toasted Saturday, “May all of our thoughts of you turn into your good fortune.”  Hope to see you all in the real Vegas in December.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Back on the Road = Back on the Blog

It was a nice week at home.  I made time to spend with the wife, the dogs, the poker friends and to just relax.  There will not be much of those for the next 7 weeks or so.

I spent the best part of this past week getting ready for the big road trip that has now arrived.  There are a million and one things to do, and all of them never go smoothly.  This time it was only 5 sets of training that I no longer have permissions for.  When I contact the person who needs to help me clear this up, there is no reply.  It almost always works out, but waiting for that to happens is not my strongest skill.

There was plenty of poker to partake in.  We had a special HORSE tourney at Casa de Falstaff.  I wasn’t able to play in the tourney, but I showed up in time to play a few hours of cash game.  It was mostly short-handed.  I started out strong and then my cards dried up like spit on a sham-wow.  I really couldn’t do a thing for about 2.5 hours but watch my chip stack shrink on the blinds and cheap calls.  I made up some ground during the O8 portion of the night, but I still ended the night down 50.

Friday night was the return of Poker at the Warehouse.  We had a full table with The Knife, Little Nick, Falstaff, Brian the Red (from sunburn this night), T, Nate, and TomTom.  A few good hands early followed by hours of crap made this night feel exactly like the night before.  However, when the cards turned, they really turned in my favor. KK gave me a big pot against Nate just one hand before NLH ended.  I had one or two other good scoops in the O8 rounds and a huge scoop late to seal a profit for the night.  That hand had me flop an open-ended straight draw and a decent low with a board of 348 rainbow with me holding 5h6hA???.  A good bet from me (button) drove out a few of the 5 remaining players leaving me, Nate, and the Knife.  The turn was a beautiful 7 giving me the nuts.  I bet something like 20 and get two calls.  The river was a J (no pair and no 3-suit on the board) and I fired 120 since I still had the nuts.  We had discussed that move earlier in the night so I tried it.  It was about this time that I saw that I didn’t have the nuts.  9ine-Ten now made a higher straight.  If anyone had drawn to a top straight, it would have been Nate or Jim.  Jim called with with what I don’t remember, but not 9T and I scooped that pot. (I feel about 60% sure I messed up something about that hand, but you get the picture).

July 4 was Saturday.  Dr. K and I returned to Mama C’s place for a party/picnic that was excellent.  The evening was quiet with a drink or two and the NASCAR race.  Great finish with K-Y Bush spinning and Tony the Tiger taking the win.  Any race that ends with bush spinning is a good race.

Now it is time to get back to work and a lot of work there is to do.  I’m in DC through Thursday.  Before the the sun rises on Friday I will be on my way to DFW via CLT where I will drive up to OKC and Oki-Vegas.  Poker, drinking, and fun will ensue.  On Sunday I drive down to the Ft. Hood area where I spend the week getting final approval to go back to Baghdad, Iraq where, if successful, I will work from mid-July to mid-August.

The prospect of being away from home for so long makes me nervous and a bit depressed.  I’m happy to serve and hope that I can make a valuable contribution to the troops, but it’s not fun.  It will be hot and dusty.  Living conditions will be cramped.  I’ll have to travel walk or ride for most of my meals and the toilet and showers are more than 100 yards away (really sucks in the middle of the night).  So it’s one day at a time from me.  I’ll do my best to do my job.  I’ll enjoy what there is to enjoy and get back safe and sound when the time comes.  I’ll be keeping this space updated with stories and pictures as I can.

Time to get started.  See ya.