I try to collect the band and leave Austin at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, March 17—-St. Patrick’s Day—-to drive nine hours to New Orleans. But, before we go, Drummer J. needs breakfast tacos, Fill-In Bassist C. needs Advil, and Singer C. needs fried chicken. She fails to secure it—-Church’s Chicken opens at 10 a.m., but the employees inside, who may not speak English, refuse to open the doors until 10:10 a.m. There is no time to wait. We must leave. Singer C. throws her hands up in disgust.
I pilot the car toward Houston in a Car Talk/Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me-induced daze. There is little conversation. Houston’s labrynthine highways are as confusing as ever. When we pull over for a bathroom break, Singer C. tries to get lunch at Wendy’s, but is stymied by the long line. “I guess I’m not eating today,” she says. “Bitch in front of me has like 10 orders.”
We drive to New Orleans. Nearing the city, we drive I-10 along Lake Pontchartrain—-a vista as beautiful as any in America, including Niagara Falls, the Grand Canyon, and Utah’s salt flats. When I turn to my bandmates to discuss the breathtaking view, they are staring at their smartphones.
On the way to the club, we drive past homes that fell victim to Hurricane Katrina and, six and a half years later, still sport Katrina-themed spraypaint messages, e.g. “Need food” or “People inside.” When we arrive at the club, I have the feeling I’ve played there before. When I ask the owner whether the club used to have a different name, she runs to the bathroom. “Darling, I can’t talk right now,” she says. “I’ve just got sulfurous fumes in my eyes.” I do not see her again for the rest of the night, and do not find out whether the club used to have a different name, or whence the torturous “sulfurous fumes” came. We play to about 20 people and make $90.
After the show, my bandmates go to Bourbon Street to drink alcohol. I drive to Harrah’s New Orleans poker room—-an action-packed Southern gambling mecca where I have never lost, i.e. “booked a loser.” An hour into a 1-2 No Limit hold ‘em game, I realize that my bandmates have left their personal items in our minivan. If they beat me to the place where we are crashing, they will be without their sleeping bags, pajamas, contact lens cases, toothbrushes, dental floss, and deodorant. This is stressful. I text Fill-In Bassist C. about the quandary. “I don’t think it’s a problem?” she texts back. The question mark does not inspire confidence. I continue to worry about the situation while, hand after hand, I fail to flop the nuts. About 45 minutes later, Fill-In Bassist C. texts again. “We are going to bed. Coming back soon?” This second question mark puts me on edge.
A few hands later, I call a $17 pre-flop raise with J-10 offsuit. Five players see the flop. There is about $100 in the pot. I flop an open-ended straight draw. When it’s checked to me, I bet $80, hoping everyone will fold to my semi-bluff. Everyone does, except a player who, I belatedly realize, never folds. The turn pairs the board. My open-ended straight flush no longer looks that great. Yet, tired and frustrated, I shove my remaining chips—-about $150—-into the middle. After considering his options for five minutes while watching John Malkovich shoot prisoners in Con Air which, bizarrely, is playing on one of the poker room’s TVs, my opponent calls. The river card doesn’t help me, and my opponent beats me with bottom pair.
Enraged, I drive through New Orleans in search of the house where the band is staying. I find the house and try to open the door without letting the cat escape. My bandmates are asleep with unbrushed teeth, just as I feared, and still in their clothes. I find an empty couch and lie down. The cat immediately attacks my feet. After battling the cat, I open my laptop to enter my $300 loss into the computer program I’ve used to track my poker statistics since the second Bush administration. I realize I was wrong—-I lost $200 at Harrahs New Orleans on March 21, 2007.