Stay informed with the
NEW Casino City Times newsletter!
Best of Ryan McLane
Waiting for the day the President would release my Iraq-bound military unit from the boring fiefdom that is Hattiesburg Mississippi, it was only natural that I would visit New Orleans and try to squeeze in one last crazy game of poker before I left for war.
It was the beautiful fall of 2004. New Orleans was at its pre-Katrina apex, an inviting mix of fun and culture that seemed the perfect way for me to get my mind off the impending trip to soldier's hell.
I had a fistful of government-sponsored-pay (thank you President Bush), a hankering for Bourbon Street, and a notion that this might be my last chance for some real casino poker for quite some time.
(My mother would interject here and say that's a good thing, taking the casino lure away from my life for a while, but poker doesn't kill people ma - guns do).
We loaded into our rental cars like sardines in a can and headed for the Big Easy.
I did well that crazy night at the $2-$4 limit hold'em table, earning 400 one dollar chips in a little under six hours of drunken play; Not bad considering the booze.
Besides the slam-your-head-into-the-table hangover I possessed the next morning, I felt content, storing a good memory of solid stateside poker to bring with me on my trip.
A month later sergeants dragged me kicking and screaming onto a military plane.
Deep inside our little Iraqi-air-raid bunker, my fellow soldiers and I shared memories from the crazy New Orleans trip to help pass the time. We dreamed of the day when we could cross the ocean again and try our best at a repeat performance.
Unknown to our superiors, we played a few home games overseas. They were entertainment at best, boasting payouts of minimal proportions and adding only minute figures to my nearly stagnant bankroll.
Online poker was also severely restricted by those in charge - something about allowing soldiers who carry guns to become stressed out by poker-induced debt. In retrospect, it was probably a good rule.
Seeing as we had little poker, or alcohol for that matter, we resolved that New Orleans would be one of our first stateside destinations - Harrah's poker room being the first attraction we visited.
Then the hurricane came.
Needless to say, watching from the desert as the drama of the New Orleans hurricane season unfolded, we were glued to our TV, putting aside our selfish desires to party in order to pray for those affected.
For months I had saved up my extra pay, planning a return to America that centered around a wild weekend of poker and plenty of sinful activity on Bourbon Street.
After Katrina, the party plans didn't matter much. We took our party funds and sent them to those who needed it more; we sent it to the relief organizations in New Orleans.
Eventually my tour came to a close. I made it back to the states in November 2005, complete with all my appendages; however, I was armed with the knowledge that there would be no special return weekend.
Tourism in New Orleans was gone and sadness prevailed.
My boys and I made the obligatory trek down to the bayou, an ill planned venture that took place in the wee hours of the morning.
The city wasn't the same. It was half closed, the streets were empty of people, and policemen on horses angrily who informed us that we were in violation of the new curfew.
Imagine…New Orleans with a curfew.
We tried to make the best of it, finding a seedy riverboat poker room and playing a couple hands of hold'em, but the play there was a little weird, and the clientele a little weirder.
An odd fellow in stained white t-shirt and little to no teeth was quick to point out that I was a Yankee and a damn fool for trying to play southern poker style poker on the Mississippi River.
Mr. Teeth and I bantered back and forth, but his disdain for my collared shirt was unrelenting and eventually I left the game.
Quite simply, it wasn't the same.
The money earmarked for my return party eventually found a home in the unfortunate realm of maturity. I bought a house (lame). I invested some money (lamer). And I thought about buying a washer and dryer (lamest).
New Orleans II just wasn't meant to be.
Or was it?
Reviewing the news for column material this week I was delighted to see that Harrah's is opening again, for me, a true sign that New Orleans is coming back to life.
As a prominent jewel of the once tourist filled city, Harrah's boasts some of the best play in the nation for us amateurs, especially considering once you're busted, there's plenty of other area activities to help you forget about your losses.
There was a time when people considered abandoning the once great city, allowing the flood waters of Katrina to kill the jazzy spirit of one of the world's greatest venues.
Now, poker players and gamblers alike will return to the center of the devastation, breathing life back into a city that defines the American idea of a melting pot.
Although I have a mortgage now, and – gasp - a job, I think there will be a visit to the dirty south sometime soon, a chance for this Yankee to fulfill a dream that consumed my thoughts while on patrol in some of the rougher spots on the planet.
To those who share my enthusiasm for both good poker and good times - it's more than worth it to head down to New Orleans for some good poker at Harrah's.
I bet the gambit of emotions inside their beautiful poker room will be enough to convince you of my point – nothing beats a crazy game of poker, especially if the game's been out of reach for awhile.
Ryan McLane tries his best to write in complete sentences. He is currently being paid by Casino City to report on the poker industry and he thinks that's pretty cool. Email your comments and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org .