Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Travel Report: 2012 LAPT Punta del Este, Departure

Clouds over South AmericaAm writing this post somewhere over South America, finally winding my way back after an unplanned for extra night in Uruguay. Listening to Judee Sill’s first album, an appropriate soundtrack for looking out the window at the soft, cotton-like carpet of clouds extending into the distance. Kind of sight makes it hard to avoid lapsing into those quiet, pensive ruminations that tend to sneak up on us in such spots.

You know what I mean. The what’s-it-all-about applesauce we never have time for except in these moments when we’re neither here nor there, but somewhere in between. And free to think. Or damned to.

I say finally coming home because after a week’s worth of run good for your humble scribbler, our group encountered a hiccup on Monday that suddenly halted our progress homeward, thereby lengthening our stay.

Our colleague F-Train escaped on an earlier midday flight without incident. Meanwhile our group of five -- myself, Mickey, Will, Josh, and Lynn -- all had tickets aboard a later one departing early evening. From Montevideo to Miami we’d go, at which point we’d split into our individual paths onward, eventually to reunite in Las Vegas at the WSOP.

Those four will all be back on the floor of the Amazon Room in the Rio by week’s end. For me, I’ll have a bit of extra time until I’m due once again to climb into one of these magical metal tubes, ascend above the clouds, and eventually join back with my friends to watch and report on still more groups of people playing cards.

The beach at Punta del EsteMonday started out quite relaxing, with a morning walk on the beach, not unlike I did the last time I was in Punta del Este and about to leave. By early afternoon Josh, Will, Mickey, and myself passed some time playing PokerStars home games for play money (natch), although we did wager a few bucks on the side.

Had one memorable hand versus Josh in which we got all of his chips in preflop with him holding pocket nines to my A-K. The A-2-2 flop appeared nearly to seal it for me, but the turn and river brought two more deuces to create an improbable chop and our little sit-n-go continued.

We would joke later that the hand was symbolic, unexpectedly prolonging our tourney much as would happen with our trip. Let me explain.

Our shuttle taking us from Punta del Este to Montevideo arrived on time, and about an hour-and-a-half later we were at the American Airlines desk checking in about three hours early. Passed the time having dinner in the terminal and playing more card games -- among them nine-card Omaha and Golf. Soon came the announcement that we’d be boarding in 15 minutes, and we all began to contemplate how we had just a couple of steps more left to go before returning stateside.

Or so we thought.

Alas, just a few minutes later came a different announcement that we’d be 20 minutes late departing. Soon that was followed by another that the delay would be two hours, the explanation accompanied by two words most air travelers don’t care much to hear -- mechanical problems.

Then, even before the announcements in both Spanish and English came, we noticed our flight listed as cancelled on the screens up above. We’d be spending another night in Uruguay, our flight having been rescheduled to noon Tuesday.

Adding an extra wrinkle of anxiety was the fact that while I’d taken a moment to chat via Skype with Vera a little while before, the man sitting next to me saw my headphone case (with my iPod inside) sitting under my chair, and for some reason decided he’d deliver it to the desk rather than see if it belonged to anyone nearby. That led to a bit of extra running around -- the case was ultimately handed off to airport security as an unattended item -- before I got it back.

More linesDidn’t seem like a big deal at the time, although when the others chose to wait the few extra minutes with me to get my case and iPod back, we necessarily found ourselves in the back of the long line to go back through customs, get back our luggage, then get a taxi to the hotel where we’d be staying.

We’re probably talking a little after 10 p.m. when we first learned our flight was cancelled. Took until at least 11 or so to get through customs and secure our luggage. And it wasn’t until after midnight we were finally in taxis heading to the hotel where we were being sent, located nearly a half-hour from the airport and strangely named the After Hotel.

Got there about quarter ’til 1 a.m. and found ourselves in another, agonizing line as the single desk jockey needed around 10 minutes per person in order to get anyone checked in. We waited a full hour-and-a-half there, then, incredibly, at about 2:15 a.m. we were informed they were out of available rooms.

That’s right. American Airlines sent us to a hotel without ensuring there were rooms available first.

I studied that name -- “After” -- etched in the glass doors that kept automatically sliding open and closed whenever we edged too close to the electric eye. As in “After all this, you’re telling me what?”

We briefly considered just getting taxis back to the airport and waiting it out there, but before we could collectively muster the combination of surrender and resolve needed to make the move, we were told that rooms were available at the hotel across the street, less weirdly-named the Palladium.

Off the coast of MontevideoMore incidental madness ensued at that check-in before finally the night culminated with getting to sleep around 3:30, the alarm set for 7:30 a.m. so as to be able to get a shower and eat something before getting rides back to the airport. Did get to see some more of the picturesque coast on that trip back, of which I snapped a photo or three. So did Will with my phone, who I think took this one.

This time we didn’t breeze through to the terminal, but were forced to wait in line a solid two hours as AA only had a single person checking all of us non-priority people with connecting flights. Spent part of the time chatting with a neighbor in line, a friendly fellow from San Francisco who plays a little poker and was thus intrigued to hear about the tournament we’d just covered.

Among the things I told him about the event, I shared the story of that wild hand involving Angel Guillen, Vladimir Dobrovolskiy, and Leandro Rubinsztain -- the one I mentioned here a couple of days ago in which Rubinsztain flopped a straight versus Guillen’s pocket kings and Dobrovolskiy’s pocket aces, but running cards on the turn and river gave the hand to Guillen. I brought it up in the context of his having correctly noted that even though poker requires skill, players -- good and bad -- still get lucky.

As I was nodding in agreement, I thought about our situation, one in which we’d both run into some pretty bad luck. And somewhat improbably, too. I certainly hadn’t had a poker-related trip go as badly as this in terms of travel woes were concerned. Lynn said she hadn’t either, despite having flown over 200 times all over the globe. (She and the others are looking at perhaps spending yet another extra night in Miami, while I may be able to catch a late one to my final destination.)

Josh Cahlik waiting in Montevideo airportMeanwhile, this was Josh’s very first international trip -- poker or otherwise -- and he’d been dealt a bad hand right away. That’s him on the left in line this morning,

But Josh is a good player. Despite his relative newness at the traveling reporter game, Josh sent out a wise tweet sometime around 3 a.m. noting how the ordeal was a lot easier to handle given that we were experiencing it together.

Josh hit upon it, I think, just as squarely as that fourth deuce hit on the river in our sit-n-go, surprising us as we realized we were both playing the board.

’Cos well, that is what it’s all about. I’m talking about these trips and all the rest of it, too. It’s the companionship, the joining up with fellow travelers, the bonding and camaraderie and sharing what it means to hurtle ourselves around through this life as we do. And helping each other out along the way, too, when needed.

Have reached the end of that Judee Sill album, the last track of which (“Abracadabra”) begins with the line “Here’s to the man who forgot his way home, who silently narrates the confusion of his fight.” One of many by Sill that feature characters, all based on herself no doubt, seeking some sort of clarity about existence.

Think I’ll start the album over. And look out the window a little more. And maybe try to work out some things.

Postscript: Looks like I’m getting one more night to indulge in such pondering, as my American Airlines flight from Miami home was cancelled as well. More tomorrow.

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