In Hot Water

by Matt Crosson - Date: 2009-05-30 - Word Count: 949 Share This!

I was a 30-year-old journalist, who, like many professional scribes in the current market, found myself out of a job. Freelance work in San Diego was keeping me busy, but wasn't quite paying the bills.

The job listings online were growing thinner and thinner, as most publications were cutting staff rather than adding. And the ones that were hiring could have their pick of the litter, which would likely rule out a 30-year-old with just two years experience at a now-defunct small newspaper.

I didn't have many options.

That is how I ended up in Cathedral City at The Desert Princess - an oasis in the middle of an otherwise unremarkable neighborhood - working for my family's property management company.

With three golf courses, tennis courts and a plethora of swimming pools (much needed in the unforgiving desert heat), it's a middle-aged vacationer's dream.

But therein lay the problem for me. I love swimming and golf as much as the next guy, but being a relatively young man, I was looking for a little more action.

After a full day of running to the locksmith for a new set of keys, helping set up Internet modems for some of the more technologically deficient tenants and basically being a slave to the whim of our gracious renters, I needed to blow off a little steam.

During one of my nightly ventures to a local restaurant (most likely Del Taco) for a solitary dinner, I saw it.
It rose from the flat desert landscape like a beacon of hope - a monolith of a building with glowing letters emblazoned at the top.

The letters spelled out "Agua Caliente." After a full day of being a servant to demanding geriatrics I could do with getting into a little hot water.

As I strode through the casino door I was reminded of the first time I visited Las Vegas on my 21st birthday. The cool casino air, the smell of cigarette smoke and the synthesized sound of slot machines - I was home again.

As I did in Vegas, I immediately made my way to the Black Jack tables. It seems like such a simple game, and so easy to win. I burned through my first $100 so fast I barely finished half of my Heineken. I was a little more successful with my next $100, as I quickly won $75 on two consecutive 21's.

Thinking I should probably quit while I was only $25 down and remembering the advice of a gambling-savvy friend who always told me: "Black Jack is a sucker's game," I picked up my chips and went on my way.

A few failed attempts at the slots and several Heinekens later, I found myself at the place in a casino where you have the most control of your own fate - the poker room.

I consider myself a seasoned poker player, having learned from my father at a young age and cutting my teeth playing Texas Hold'em at the Indian Reservation casinos that dot San Diego County.

As with most places I'd visited in the greater-Palm Desert area I found the Agua Caliente poker crowd to be decidedly older than most I had come across. And unfortunately for me, the players' advanced ages echoed in their mastery of a game I once thought I excelled at.

I was down $300 before I even knew what hit me. Not wanting my elder opponents to think me a fly-by-night novice, I bought in for another $200.

To my delight, although I showed none, I was dealt the Ace and King of Hearts - one of the best starting hands in Hold'em - on the first deal. I raised to $50, forcing every player at the table to fold save one - a clean-shaven 60-something man with a full head of coifed white hair.

"Heads up," said the dealer as he dealt out the three community flop cards. I peered down at the board, where, to my elation, although again I didn't show it, were three heart cards - the 10, the five and the two. I had hit the high flush! But I had to play it cool. Instead of betting my monster hand, I checked, putting the onus on my adversary, who also checked.

I barely looked at the fourth community card - which incidentally was the eight of clubs - before betting out $75. Surprisingly, my antagonist called the bet. "This is going to be a big hand," I thought to myself.

The dealer laid down the fifth and final community card - the two of spades - and without hesitation I pushed my remaining $125 in chips into the pot. "All in," I said solemnly.

My opponent paused for a moment then shot me a look that sent a shiver up my spine. "I call," he said with a wry smile, then uttered those horrible words. "I've got a full house." The smug older gentlemen turned over his cards to reveal two 10's. He had hit three-of-a-kind on "the flop" and filled up with the second two on "the river." Realizing I was beat, I flashed an uncomfortable smile and flicked my once-unbeatable cards into the muck.

The walk out of the poker room was probably the longest 50 feet of my life. But with the amount of adrenaline I had pumping through my body, together with a belly full of fine Dutch-made beer; I knew I couldn't leave the casino just yet.

So I found an empty bar stool to sit on and reflect on the night. I ordered an ice water from the seemingly annoyed bartender and thought to myself, "Maybe I was better off with nothing to do." Just then, a flash of light from below interrupted my pity party. It was a video poker machine.

"This place is awesome," I thought as I crammed my last $20 bill into the slot.

Matt Crosson is a professional journalist, who holds a bachelor's degree from Cal State Northridge and has written for publications in the Los Angeles and San Diego areas. He is currently a freelance sportswriter splitting his time between San Diego and Palm Springs. In Palm Springs he enjoys staying at the Desert Princess Country Clubn
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