As proof that I was still essentially waking up when I arrived at the restaurant a little ahead of our scheduled meeting time, I hadn’t even noticed the enormous and alarming billowing ridge of smoke covering the landscape on the other side of South Valley View Boulevard and visible from the restaurant’s parking lot. It wasn’t until after I went in and Dan and Trish mentioned it that I had to go back out and get a look before we ate.
What I was finally seeing after having been cooped up inside the Rio for most of my waking hours during recent days was evidence of the wildfire currently raging on Mt. Charleston located about 35 miles northwest of Las Vegas. Apparently the fire started with a lightning strike on one side of the mountain on July 1, and now more than 15,000 acres have been burnt or are burning with hundreds of the area’s residents now having been evacuated.
So far it has yet to reach any structures and no one has been hurt. But the fire has not been contained. One report I’m reading this morning says officials are estimating July 19 as a date by which they hope to have a handle on it, which means it will continue to burn and fill the sky this way until after all of us here for the WSOP have left.
I’d seen a few photos and had been pointed to some incredible time-lapse videos of the fire, and was thus aware of it. Brad “Otis” Willis -- here at the WSOP now and reporting for the PokerStars blog -- yesterday pointed me and his Twitter followers to this short one yesterday taken by the poker player William Reynolds (@ReynoldsXO) on July 4:
It was a little bit of a shock to walk back out of the restaurant prior to our meal and look at the huge, apocalyptic-looking cloud of smoke eclipsing not only the sunset but nearly half the early evening sky. I snapped a couple of photos, not really seeing until afterwards how the sun was peeping through and appearing ruby red through the haze. (Click the pics to enlarge.)
Dinner was terrific and it was a good time catching up with Dan and meeting Trish. I won’t rehearse all of our various topics of conversation, but there was lots of common ground between all three of us with Dan and my shared history in poker and Trish being an academic teaching at the university level. It was fun hearing their stories and sharing my own. I also can now share Dan’s recommendation of Herbs & Rye as a great getaway for folks searching for good eats and a comfortable ambience without wanting to fight the crowds on the Strip or to travel too far from the Rio.
I got back to the home-away-from-home by nine and didn’t last much beyond that before drifting off again, only checking in on the WSOP coverage briefly including taking note of all the official numbers that were being passed along once late registration closed during yesterday’s third and final Day 1 flight of the Main Event.
The ME ended up drawing 6,352 total, down a couple of hundred from last year. All the stats are being spun this way and that, with the WSOP leading the charge with its early evening press release compiling various records -- some legitimately impressive, others perhaps a little contrived -- for news outlets to cut and paste. I was too tired to think deeply about any of it, although it seems obvious that poker is doing just fine and that the WSOP is again holding steady as it has each of the six years I’ve been here to help report on it.
Ever since I’ve been coming to the WSOP there’s been this worry about the end coming somehow, that all of the many pleasures -- intellectual, emotional, social -- the game provides to so many will in some way be limited or taken away. Such fears sometimes take a concrete shape but are mostly wispy and vague, given greater influence by the uncertainty they introduce.
Soon I was asleep, then woke up this morning thinking again of the smoke and the fire. And about how I’ll probably forget about it in a few hours once I’m on the floor passing between the tables at the WSOP.