Saturday, June 29, 2013

Goodbye, and Good Luck

"There's a trick to the 'graceful exit.' It begins with the vision to recognize when a job, a life stage, or a relationship is over -- and let it go. It means leaving what's over without denying its validity or its past importance to our lives. It involves a sense of future, a belief that every exit line is an entry, that we are moving up, rather than out."
-- Ellen Goodman

I remember when I loved living in Las Vegas, when I honestly couldn't dream of living anywhere else. I think back to my one year of exile and the number of hours I spent during that year dreaming of my return to the place I considered home, Las Vegas.

I try and pinpoint the exact moment when I knew my love affair with Vegas ended, but it's hard. I see no single event, no single point in my past, when I woke and decided I no longer wanted to be in Vegas. Perhaps my discontent started when I stopped dealing and started babysitting every night. Perhaps it was more recent. Maybe the urge to move started to grow when the large corporation took over and the culture started to change. Maybe it really was as simple as visiting the islands I left nearly twenty years ago and have always wanted to return to.

In the end, I suppose it doesn't matter when I first thought of leaving Vegas. I knew when I moved here that it was inevitable I would leave. When we rolled into the valley nearly ten years ago, with no plans and seemingly no future, The Wife and I made one vow to each other - that no matter what we ended up doing, we would only do it until it stopped being fun.

I stopped having fun in Vegas a while ago. Vegas changed, or maybe it really didn't. Maybe it was us that changed, that grew tired of what Vegas is and has to offer. Either way, I have to say it's been a great run.

Vegas brought The Wife and I closer together. We've never been happier, or had as much fun, as when we were basically homeless and didn't know what we were going to do to survive. 

Vegas made me more human. I wouldn't go so far as to say I actually like people, but I tolerate people a lot more than I used to. I've even learned, for the most part, to deal with the severity of my Type-A asshole side and refrain from freaking out when things don't go the "right" way - read that as "the way I would do it" or "the way I think it should go."

"The trick of retiring well may be the trick of living well. It's hard to recognize that life isn't a holding action, but a process. It's hard to learn that we don't leave the best parts of ourselves behind, back in the dugout or the office. We own what we learned back there. The experiences and the growth are grafted onto our lives. And when we exit, we can take ourselves along -- quite gracefully."
-- Ellen Goodman

I'm lucky, blessed even, that I get to exit on my terms. Vegas has been good to us, but it's time to let it go. We'll make our exit and move on to our next adventure. To twist some famous words, "Goodbye, and good luck."

***

This is definitely the final post I'll make here. Similarly, the Twitter account I set up over 4 years ago - @pkrdlr - is pretty much defunct at this point as well.  Of course, I'm not dropping out completely - though I admit I harbor some thoughts of a reclusive life somewhere along the lines of Las Palmas or other quasi-remote coastal city, but I digress.

I have a new Twitter account, @LahainaHaole and a new blog with the same name. I hope that part of my new adventure includes a lot more writing than I currently manage. Maybe I'll even get the first post for the new blog written in the next few days. I'm still trying to come to grips with being unemployed ;)

Monday, June 17, 2013

Blackout

I enjoy the open-mouthed stares of shock I get when people realize I'm quitting my job a full three months before I plan to leave Vegas. I never bother to elaborate as to my reasons. No, I get far more enjoyment from watching people shake their heads as they try to figure out why, or how, someone might be unemployed for three months, by choice.

You see, here's the thing. Casinos publish a list of blackout dates at the beginning of the year. No employee is allowed to request time off during on said blackout dates. Due to the HPO tournament we're holding at the end of this month, the last week in June is blacked out. As such, I wouldn't be able to request time off. This isn't a bad thing and I'm not bashing the casinos or the policy. Blackout dates are simply a fact of life one must deal with if they want to work in a casino.

So, contrary to rumor, I'm not leaving my job three months early because I dislike my job. I still like working where I do. I don't, however, like it so much as to chose the job over The Wife.

The Wife leaves Vegas July 3. I won't see her for three months. I plan to spend the last week she is in town hanging out with her and enjoying what time we have before she leaves. So, due to the blackout dates at the end of the month, I faced two options - call in sick and get double the attendance points, ending up getting fired after the weekend, or tender my resignation and leave on good terms.

Thus, I will be unemployed seven days from now.

Sure, it's a gamble. The sale of the house could fall through. The blood tests for the puppies could come back with a result that precludes them, and therefore us as well, from moving to Hawaii. What happens, happens, and we deal with it.

In the meantime, I'll have plenty of free time - maybe too much. I'll either get a ton of hiking done in the next three months, or I'll wear the carpet thin pacing from the boredom. I actually think I am going to try and find a part-time job for the next three months. No clue where, or doing what, but I doubt I can simply sit still in an empty house for three months!

Maybe my next post will address everyone's favorite question: "What are you going to do in Hawaii?" ;)

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Escalation

It all started with a fairly innocent query, dashed off in a moment of uncertainty, to a man who knows of these things. The Powers That Be repeatedly tell us that there are no plans to close our poker room. They then do things that lead me to believe that isn't true. To be fair, they also do things that would reinforce the idea that the poker room isn't closing. It's a business, a large corporation, and even if I buy into what The Powers That Be tell me 100%, there are Bigger Powers That Be above them who might have a different agenda.

So, to cover my bases as it were, I sent my query to the realtor we worked with for the last two houses we've lived in here in Vegas. "What if," I asked, "I were to lose my job in short order, say July, what might I expect to get if I have you list the house?" His answer made me feel safe, made me no longer fear losing my job because the numbers he suggested provided a hell of a safety net. The problem with that though, is my brain never rests.

My brain mulled over the numbers day and night. The first few nights after reading that email, I woke frequently in the middle of the night with financial scenarios playing out in my head. I tried to put it aside, to think of selling the house as only a possible option should things take an unfortunate turn with regard to my employment. I tried, and I failed.

Things escalated rather quickly. The first visit to the vet to start the process of moving the dogs to Hawaii went well. The vet assured us we would have no problems exporting either dog to the islands. The moment she announced that, my brain started an internal 120-day countdown timer.

The next day, an offer from CarMax that exceeded my expectations meant the sale of the Toaster became a reality. Being a one-car family meant The Wife needed to stop working. The purge commenced the next day, resulting in this weekend's massive garage sale. The house is already half empty. Packing the remainder takes priority over the next few weeks.

The house gets listed Monday. Errands must be run Monday, but should we get them accomplished there will be no reason to not start shopping for airfare for The Wife. Lucky her, she should be island bound by the end of the month. I'll miss her, but I've packed the house without her before ;)

Should all go swimmingly, come late September we convene in Utah - The Wife from Hawaii, Mom & a couple friends of our from back east, and me - for a 5-night kayak trip down the Green River in Utah. Upon return from that trip, after seeing everyone off for their return flights home, we leave Vegas in early October for the last time.

Tuesday, the pups return to the vet for another visit. The 120-day countdown officially starts that day.

Here's to hoping our run-good continues...

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Shoes are overrated

It's time to say goodbye, but I think goodbyes are sad and I'd much rather say hello. Hello to a new adventure. -- Ernie Harwell
This time around, I created the impetus that would lead to this day.

I think back on the last ten years with no regrets. Living without regret is only one of the many things I've learned in the last ten years. My friend, Coach, and I had this conversation in the comments section of one of his blog posts - I'm still not sure if he believes me - but I have no regrets. I'd do nothing in my past any differently. Every decision I have made is what has led me here, and here is somewhere I want to be. Even that year of exile I spent in New Mexico, though it wasn't where I wanted to be, gave me nothing to be regretted.

New Mexico. Funny story, that, but a story for later. Suffice it to say, I find it quite ironic that most of the things I hated about New Mexico are exactly the things that draw me to Hawaii. Go figure.

Ten years ago, I needed an escape. I left behind the corporate world, dismissed any thought of what other people thought was important for me, and moved to Vegas. Tired of hearing everyone with an opinion tell me that I was ruining my life by not finishing school, tired of hearing everyone tell me I needed to be working on a career, tired of trying to be what other people expected me to be, I dropped out.

I had no clue then what I wanted to be when I grew up, only that it didn't involve corporate ladders and being something someone else told me I was supposed to be. In my fifteen years spent in the I.T. industry, I had become a person few liked. Unsurprisingly, I didn't like me either. I needed to make a change, and Vegas beckoned through the screen of my TV.

We left everything behind and drove west. Our future looked...fuzzy. With no job prospects and only the generosity of The Wife's grandmother allowing us the use of a spare bedroom to look forward to, we drove across country and never looked back. Three months later, I pitched my first card in a live game at the Pink Chicken.

We moved into our first Vegas home three months after that. With only a couple lawn chairs grabbed from a thrift store and an air mattress to our name, we spent most days sitting on the patio under the mist spraying from a leaky apparatus attached to the awning and watched the three dogs romp in the backyard. We had never lived with so little - possessions or money - and we'd never been happier.

The early Vegas years were rough. Blond Dog lost her eyesight and became Blind Dog. I let an orthopedic guy take a Dremel to the vertebra in my neck to remove some bone growth pushing into my spinal column. I, for no reason that I can explain, still lug the post surgery x-rays around showing the metal plate and four screws that hold my neck together ;)

We built a great life over our first four years in Vegas. A series of events eventually led The Wife to decide that our time in Vegas had come to an end. I became a Vegas expatriate. We landed in New Mexico, where we were absolutely miserable. We migrated to Colorado in search of something better. Finally, we knew we needed to return to Vegas, that what we were looking for didn't exist outside of Vegas. We moved back.

Four years ago, when I successfully landed what was then one of the best jobs in the valley, I settled into old routines and the Vegas life. Working graveyard, spending our days hanging out poolside or hiking, the next four years looked a lot like the first four years we had spent in Vegas. We pondered why the hell we had ever left the valley to begin with.

Something happened over those four years, though. Everything I hated about that distant memory of life back east slowly started creeping in to take over. Corporations took over and destroyed most of what we enjoyed about working in Vegas. One by one, all of our closest Vegas friends moved away - in fact, there's only one left in the valley but we rarely see MN Bob these days.

Four years after returning to the valley, I find the thought of spending any more time in Vegas depressing. It's time for a new adventure.

Recently, The Wife lost her grandmother. While sad, the change in our lives proved to be the catalyst I needed. We no longer had any real ties keeping us in Vegas. On a whim, I dashed off an email to our realtor to ask what he thought we might be able to sell the house for. The number shocked me. Obviously, there's no guarantee we will get that number for the house, but try as I might I simply could not ignore the prospect of getting that number.

Almost a year ago, I took The Wife to Maui for a couple weeks. She spent a dozen years of our marriage asking for that trip, and having lived there for nearly eighteen months when I was younger, I jokingly told her I would never take her because it was a one-way trip. Within hours of stepping off the plane onto the island, I knew I wanted that to be true.

We made plans, most revolving around becoming debt free, and planned to move some time in 2015. Reading the response from our realtor and doing some quick math showed me I could drastically accelerate that timeline. We also hesitated to push a months long quarantine on our two dogs. A little research taught me we can basically do the "quarantine" here in Vegas using the 5-day-or-less program. I still hesitated but my path started to look clearer.

Now we have vet visits scheduled, vaccines to be administered, doggy blood work to be sent off to Kansas State University, travelling crates to buy, etc. We started inventorying the house, identifying the stuff that will make the cross-ocean trip - it's going to be a very short list - and I keep researching and making plans. I have no real timeframe in mind, but I'd be surprised if I experience another March Madness in Vegas ;)

Of course, there is always the chance that the house doesn't sell, or won't bring the number the realtor thinks it will. Should that happen, we stay and work harder towards our goal. Either way, our dreams will be filled with shoeless walks along sandy shores. Shoes really are overrated.

So, anyone want to buy a house?

Sunday, May 05, 2013

It's tangible

To be honest, I expected mildly good things from changes we've recently made to the room. Results have beat my personal expectations. Granted, my intended goal for what we're currently doing lies far down the road. I hesitate to even say we've turned a corner, but that perfectly describes the attitude in the room over the weekend. The effects of our recent changes were tangible.

Players and dealers alike seemed positively upbeat over the weekend. Friday night ended up being the most successful night the room has had financially in over three months. Players expressed how much they like the new progressive high hand promotions. Last week, we paid them a mere $25 if they managed to get four-of-a-kind. This weekend? The values of each high hand jackpot rose $25 a day.

The $3/hr comp thing? It seems to be drawing in some business.

Email blasts telling people what we're doing bring people in too. No less than three people approached the podium the last few days to let me know they were thrilled to be receiving emails about the poker room, especially since a couple of them previously assumed the room had long ago been closed down.

The powers that be, seeing recent results, seem cautiously optimistic. On a note more noticeable to those who play in the room, wholesale changes in front-line management seem to be producing some results as well. Our floor staff is basically entirely new. Nobody who worked the floor a year ago on a regular basis works the floor today. We now have a team I feel confident in, a team focused on running a tight ship and giving customers a great place to play.

Not all is utopian in the room, obviously. Some changes that positively impacted one group of players negatively impacted others. Giving the cash game players $3/hr comps necessitated we stop giving the $1/hr we have so long given to the tournament players. To say the least, that wasn't our ideal scenario. Unfortunately, a technical issue with software on the backend makes it so that we currently cannot assign different comp rates to different types of games. We're working on it, though, and the $1/hr will come back as soon as the tech guys figure out how to deal with it.

We added an optional $10 staff appreciation bonus to every tournament. Most players seem to like it. A few, unfortunately very vocal, others tell anyone who will listen how we are screwing the tournament players over. Apparently, the meaning of the optional eludes some members of society.

Sure, we have a long way to go. Still, seeing the renewed enthusiasm from the majority of the staff and hearing so many positive comments from players this weekend gives me hope that we will make it.

***

If only this weren't necessary:
The views expressed above are strictly my own and reflect only the official opinions of the voices in my head. The opinions of those voices sometimes change. When they do, anything expressed before that time might no longer be the same, or even similar to, the current mood of said voices. Enjoy the ride!

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Growing Pains

Change sucks. Inevitable, sometimes necessary, but never pleasant, change sucks.

Actually, change is good. Without change, there can never be growth. Change doesn't suck. Managing change, dealing with change, trying to bring others along - usually reluctantly - on a journey of change, these are the things that suck.

Nothing happens fast in a large organization, especially change. Many people refer to the struggles they experience related to change as growing pains. I suppose the term is applicable to what I currently struggle with every day.

On AVP, someone pointed out that running a poker room without a poker room manager is chaotic and messy. I agree, but I don't believe it means the room can't be run well. I've been in rooms that were well run and had no poker room manager. The biggest keys, to me, are communication and unity.

If the powers that be and the front-line supervisory staff communicate well, agree on a direction the room needs to go, and support each other in their efforts to move the room in that direction, things run smoothly.

Reaching accord doesn't happen overnight. Even when angels descend, harp music plays, and everyone agrees with everyone else, hurdles still exist. Legal issues may prevent immediate staffing changes that might be best for the room. Procedural issues might drag progress to something that looks like stagnancy. Just because the powers that be decree something to be a good idea doesn't mean said something is implemented immediately, etc.

My belief is that we have one shot, and one shot only. The changes we are putting in place are good but will take time to take effect. Many more changes need to be addressed. As I mentioned in my last post, it's a long road we face. The biggest worry I dwell on currently is one of perception.

To most people, perception is reality. It matters little if we make all the right changes behind the scenes and a returning guest looks at the room and perceives something different. Appearances matter. If a guest had a bad experience in the past and decides to give us another shot, walks into the room just to look around, and sees the exact same environment - staff, players, etc. - that led to the previous bad experience, that guest might simply perceive that nothing has changed.

My perception from the inside looking out could be that we are making great progress while your perception from the outside looking in could be that nothing has changed, that management has not seriously bought into wholesale changes necessary to rebuild the room.

As alluded to above, I believe we get one shot. Those that left due to bad experiences might choose to give us another try. We get one shot to show them we truly intend to change. If they come back and have the same negative experience they remember from before, we will not get another chance at earning their business. One shot - I hope it's a good one.

May is going to be a very long month.

***

As always:

The views expressed above are strictly my own and reflect only the official opinions of the voices in my head. The opinions of those voices sometimes change. When they do, anything expressed before that time might no longer be the same, or even similar to, the current mood of said voices. Enjoy the ride!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

A long row to hoe

As evidenced by the discussion here and the comments on my friend Rob's post here, our room has a lot of work to do. I always liked a challenge. I've apparently volunteered to help tackle a big one.

I'd like to say that I firmly believe that management is behind us 100%. I do actually believe that more today than I did even last week, but I can't say I've completely bought that story yet. The powers that be seem to be open to suggestion, within reason, and they've been very supportive of ideas that the dealers and I have put forth recently.

I know that our parent company wants to be a player in the poker scene. The HPO brand is something they want to build upon. With early successes despite a few stumbling blocks, it looks like the HPO brand will be around for a while. As such, it makes sense that the pressure is on to rebuild our room into something more than it currently is, something more befitting of hosting a yearly championship tournament such as we will be hosting in June.

I personally sense that we might not be finished with our personnel changes - we might see people in new roles, etc. I also sense that management is open to doing something big and splashy at some point down the road. The immediate focus, however, is on reviving our cash game business.

The first step we're taking is upping our comps. For May, and possibly June, we will be giving $3/hr comps for live play in the poker room. All day, every day. Hopefully that will draw a few people back. I know the powers that be hope for more from this single change, but personally I would be thrilled to see just one or two more games per day than we currently get. It would be something to build on.

Our high hand jackpots will be changing. Their values should climb faster than they currently do. We also will stop limiting players by eliminating the rule that says each jackpot can only be hit once per day.

Our Four-Flush Friday promotion, which has been fairly popular, will now also be a progressive jackpot. I believe it will run every day starting in May, but my age-addled brain currently struggles to recall the specifics discussed before I took a couple days off work ;)

One last change, one that I struggle to believe will have an impact, is that we will offer a NL game with no jackpot rake for those who want it. I know there are some in the locals market that pay zero attention to promotions and don't care if they ever get paid a jackpot for hitting quads so long as they get paid off by the other players. I doubt, however, that simply offering the option to play without a jackpot rake will cause them to play in our room. Maybe they'll prove me wrong...

As much as I've railed against change in the past - being a creature of severe habit, I despise change - I actually believe recent changes can only be good for the room. As I recently mentioned to the powers that be, were we to continue doing the same thing we've always done and were we to expect different results, we'd have to be insane.


***


Here we go with that disclaimer thing again...

The views expressed above are strictly my own and reflect only the official opinions of the voices in my head. The opinions of those voices sometimes change. When they do, anything expressed before that time might no longer be the same, or even similar, to the current mood of said voices. Enjoy the ride!