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Saturday, January 13, 2007

Otis and the Magic Door

I was odd to be alone in a place so big. The Atlantis Resort and Casino on Paradise Island in the Bahamas is a sprawling mini-city. It reeks of such opulence and excess that one often will find himself simultaneously wishing for riches and hoping that bastard billionaire's yacht will sink under the weight of his wife's fake breasts.

I'm told the Bahamians view people like me (read: white, average-looking Americans) as all wealthy, and by extension, worthy of a disdain. Taking the non-scenic routes from the Nassau airport to the Paradise Island bridge will help most people understand. A great deal of Nassasu looks like a Third World shantytown. Wrecked cars sit in dirty lots next to Junkanoo floats left over from the last parade.

It's a messed up dynamic. The island survives on tourism dollars. The island's people resent the riches of the people who spend the tourism dollars. The people spending the tourism dollars resent the resentment.

The circle of resentment makes for tightlipped smiles as the waitresses serve your drinks and food that is never really served in a timely fashion. It also, like other island nations I've visited, makes one feel like they are being watched everywhere they go.

And when a large, dark, Bahamian man confronts you when you're alone, the first thing you do is swallow your balls out of your throat and remember you're actually in what at least reports itself as a five-star resort. Chances are you're not about to get rolled.

***

It was one of those nights that are all too common for the media on the poker circuit. The job, by it nature, requires you to witness all that happens and then report on it. Unlike those people who enjoy day's end when the day, in fact, ends, the poker media often spend another couple of hours in some hotel conference room, editing tape, trying to find a new way to write the same old story, or convincing their bosses that they are, in fact, doing all they can do. I'm not even part of the traditional poker media (which means, by and large, I'm viewed with suspicion and, sometimes, animosity). That said, my hours are the same and I often end up in the same bars with the bleary-eyed souls who spend their lives on the road.

You look around the booths and bar stools and you see the same faces you've seen in different parts of the world. There is the guy who always drinks too much, the guy who refues to drink at all, the guy who is showing off pictures of his wife and family, the guy who is cheating on his wife, and the whole assortment of people who have, either by choice or by circumstance, ended up in the traveling circus that is the professional poker circuit.

The people have been around. We've all been around. We've dodged the hookers, hustled the hustlers, listened to the lies, and told a few ourselves. We're the real outsiders here. We're not from the island, we're not rich tourists, and we're not the people fighting for the $1.5 million first prize.

I was on my way to the bar after another 15-hour workday. It was way past the witching hour and I only wanted to remember which of the hallways to take to make it to the casino bar. That's when an previously unseen door opeened and the huge Bahamian came out of nowhere.

"Taxi?" he asked.

I looked around. I was the only one there. And I was nowhere near the taxi stand.

"Not me," I said, assuming someone had called for a cab and this guy was here to pick them up. I kept my pace as I put him behind me.

"Partying?" I heard from behind me.

Now I knew what was up. This guy may have been a cabbie, but he was more. He was one of countless people in places like this who can get you want. A simple query of "partying?" is a quick and subtle way of asking if you need drugs--weed, coke, or whatever else you might want to put in your body.

"Nah," I muttered and gave the guy a goodbye wave. I've been offered drugs from Dead shows, to New Orleans, to Las Vegas. This was nothing new.

I'd made it just to the edge of earshot when I heard the guy's final appeal.

"Titty bar?"

I turned around, said nothing, and then walked away.

No way in hell, sir.

***

This is how people get themselves in trouble. In resort towns, especially those with casinos, people walk around with large amounts of cash in their pockets. I am rarely an exception. It gets to the point that you forget you're carrying more money in your pocket than most people you see will make that month. You lose a little bit of that street sense that has kept you from getting in trouble your entire life.

I remember one night in Las Vegas. I had about $3,000 in my pocket and was bored out of my mind. I'd been staying at the Rio for several weeks and was getting claustrophobic. I decided to take a walk. Before I realized it, I was walking toward the Las Vegas Strip, a walk that would force me to hump 3/4 of a mile through some very unlit areas. The lightbulb eventually lit up in my head with a simple "What in the hell are you doing?" I turned around and walked back to my hotel.

That said, the Atlantis is not a place where you feel unsafe. Despite offers of drug-addled taxi rides to the strip club across the bridge, the chances of getting jumped for your roll are are pretty slim. Even the Bahamian taxi guy didn't spook me. It's just a product of money and vice being in close proximity.

***

As I walked toward the casino bar, I tried to imagine who would have accepted the offer I'd just received. I'd later learn that my wife--already about six drinks ahead of me--had run into the same guy. He'd only offered her the taxi or drugs. Regardless, that meant the dude had been working the same door for the past couple of hours.

So, who then? And what would become of them? I figured the average person walking around this 937-strong poker players convention was walking around with $3000-$4000 in their pocket. If only one of them signed up for the ride, it would make the taxi guy's night. The taxi ride mimght seem cheap at first. And maybe even the drugs would be cheap. But once across the bridge and into the darker corners of downtown Nassau, the price would certainly go up. And by how much? I've never been to a strip club in a foreign country, but my assumption is that they are somewhat less safe than the clubs in America (which, frankly, is not saying much).

The only thing I knew for sure was that going anywhere with that guy--especially alone--would likely end up with me broke in a foreign country and walking back across the Paradise Island bridge...if I could walk at all.

***

My counterparts at the bar were way ahead of me and playing a game based on the American pronounciation of the world "herb." The Brits hate that we drop the "h" and were being none-too-quiet about the audacity of Americans.

I related my tale of the one quiet place in Atlantis where a man would offer you a taxi, drugs, and a titty bar in one short conversation. Suddenly, the Brits were quiet.

"Pray tell, where is this magic door?"

And then they laughed. Because even drunk Brits who pronounced shallot as "shallOUGHT" aren't dumb enough to go across the bridge.

Titty bar or not.

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Rapid Eye Reality is the personal blog of writer Brad Willis, aka Otis.
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