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|Read this on a bigger screen. I like buckets of apples. They look bucolic.|
|The last time I was at the Super Billiards Expo was in 2010. That trip was an interesting experience.|
|I figured it would be nice to visit some East Coast friends I generally only saw on Facebook and/or during internet forum wars.|
|Plus, Allen Hopkins, Jr. had offered me a media pass the event (muchas gracias).|
|And so, I made the trip to see the Super Billiards Expo in its new venue|
I stretched everything I could and got on a redeye flight to PHL. Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip to the 2012 Super Billiards Expo held at The Greater Philadelphia Expo Center at Oaks.
I took a redeye flight Thursday night to arrive Friday morning. Extra time at work, combined with other regular commitments I could not change, meant that I did not practice at all during the week and was dangerously fatigued when I touched down in the 33-degree City of Brotherly Love. But, this was all right. I would find a way to handle it.
Fortunately, a friend arriving at the same time was getting a rental car. This would save me the cost of a shuttle ride to the hotel and possibly back to the airport. The savings of $60ish were quite considerable to my wallet which had been a moth motel for quite some time. Unfortunately, when I got to my hotel at around 11 a.m. or so, they did not have a room available for my early check-in. If I came back at noon, the front desk clerk said I would have a better chance at an available room. My friend wanted to get something to eat. That sounded like a good idea. We could eat and then perhaps I could check in and get that nap I had been needing for the past 96 hours.
My friend and I went on a three-hour tour of the Pennsylvania countryside in search of a “mom and pop diner”. This tour, while lovely, was the complete opposite of a good idea for me. But, I thought I could handle it. This was a deja vu of the ill-planned, ill-executed, all-around clusterf#ck known as “let’s go find some Five Guys Burgers because they’re the best in the world” safari from the last time I attended the Super Billiards Expo. Unfortunately, I learned nothing from the last time because I let history repeat itself.
By the time I was checked into the hotel and able to take my nap, it was past 3:00 p.m. and I would have to be up by 5:00 p.m at the latest to ensure I would make it to the mandatory players meeting at 6:00 p.m. Well, nothing to do now but try and get some sleep.
It was painful to wake up. You have all felt that way at least once in your life, I am sure. That moment when you MUST wake up but it literally hurts you to do so. Also, I had overslept. Gah.
I rushed downstairs to catch the shuttle to the convention center. According to a sign at the front desk, shuttles were scheduled to leave every half-hour. I had made it with five minutes to spare. I looked around the front of the hotel for the shuttle but saw nothing. I went to the front desk and asked the lady working there where the shuttle would pick up. She said the front of the hotel. Okay.
I waited there for a while but no shuttle arrived. Perhaps it was late. I went back in and asked the same lady again if she was sure it picked up at the front of the hotel. She was irritated and affirmed again that it did pick up from the front of the hotel. I walked back towards the doors but then a thought crossed my mind. I turned back and asked the lady what the shuttle looked like. She said it was a school bus.
I had seen a school bus take off several minutes before from the parking lot. It had been NOWHERE near the front of the hotel.
I went back in and told the lady that the school bus had been waiting across the parking lot and it had already left several minutes before. She immediately said she had nothing to do with the shuttle. She said she didn’t know anything about it and was not responsible for anything. I said she was responsible for giving me wrong information when she “didn’t know anything” and she said that was not her problem. I pointed out that saying she didn’t know would have been better than to just give me incorrect information. She reiterated that was not her problem. This incredibly unhelpful — lady — didn’t even attempt to offer any sort of solution. She just kept saying it had nothing to do with her and it was too bad for me. Unbelievable. Seriously, she was one of THE WORST employees I have EVER come across in any situation. She refused to help me further and at this point, I was out of time.
I went into the space between the lobby and outside and tossed my cue case on a chair. I was DONE. Exhausted beyond all belief, sanity frayed beyond measure, and I might forfeit my only match in a single-elimination tournament because some unhelpful bitch at the front desk was more concerned I understand that it was too bad she chose to give me wrong information.
“You have to go somewhere?” This was the guy at the hotel’s airport shuttle desk.
“YES! I missed the shuttle because that lady in there told me to stand at the wrong spot and then it turned out she didn’t know anything at all! I can’t f#cking believe it!”
“I could call you a cab?”
“Okay, let’s do that. But how long would that take?”
“Maybe 20 minutes for them to get here.”
“Twenty minutes before they even get here?! There’s no way I’m going to make it. I’ll be out of time before then. F#ck it.”
I had already tried texting my friend with the car but there had been no answer. Taking a deep breath, I tried to resign myself to my fate. It’s one thing to lose, but another thing entirely to forfeit a match by not showing up.
“You know what, I’ll take you there.”
“Yeah, I– I think it will be okay. We can make it.”
|And so, Hakeem (that was this gentleman’s name) and I peeled out of the lot in a stylish purple van decorated with a giant Wheel of Fortune decal.|
|There was quite a bit of traffic. I didn’t know if the players meeting was actually mandatory, but I did know it was never a good idea to assume it wasn’t. At the rate we were going in some spots, I stood to miss not just the meeting, but my match itself.|
|The sun began to set as we drove along the highway. I took my camera out. Hakeem looked puzzled.|
“I might come all the way out here just to forfeit my match, but it’s not going to stop me from appreciating the beauty of a sunset.” He chuckled. “I know — I have some messed up values.”
I got to the convention center in time. I’m pretty sure Hakeem wasn’t supposed to use his airport-only shuttle to ferry an angry little Asian girl to a pool tournament, but he did and I am forever grateful to him for doing so. I commended him to his manager and if you should ever be helped by Hakeem at the Radisson Valley Forge, I hope you will find him as nice as I did and tip him extra if you can.
Getting here was half the battle. Unfortunately, that was only the first half and it is the second half that counts. Because that’s where we find out who wins and who dies.
When you don’t play well enough to win, you lose. And that’s all there is to it. I traveled thousands of miles and strained my resources to the limit only to do absolutely nothing. Actually, it was less than nothing since I did not break even. But, that’s how it goes sometimes.
There were some good things that did happen. No idiot morons came up to say anything and I met one of the readers of my blog, the Billiard Traveler after my match. He had knowledge of where good food was to be found. This was excellent.
|Good pasta, enough pinot noir to fill a kiddie pool, and interesting conversation with fellow billiards enthusiasts will help you through the grieving process of playing, and losing, like a donkey.|
|I had occasional Tourette’s-like four-letter-word outbursts of overwhelming annoyance but they eventually died down after sufficient food and wine therapy.|
The next day, I was still tired but when I woke up, I couldn’t get back to sleep. Time to go to the Expo, then. This time, I knew what the “shuttle” looked like and found others that were also waiting for it.
the distinguished chariot of the car-less • the interiors were much more comfortable than the vehicles of my childhood
The school bus is a large vehicle for so few people and I never did see it fill up. They could have used a shorter bus, but then the jokes would be far too easy.
I had never been to the professional players’ event at the Expo, so that’s where I decided I would go first today. After an interesting exchange with one of the guys working the door of the arena regarding my media pass, I was allowed to enter.
As you may have heard, the new venue (The Greater Philadelphia Expo Center at Oaks) is slightly less swanky than the old one (Radisson Valley Forge).
grand foyer of the pro arena • someone said the new venue reminded them of Costco
Much has been said about the hardness of the concrete floors but I don’t see the big hullaballo. The floor at the Radisson was uncarpeted and tiled with linoleum. I feel the concrete floors of the new venue, aside from looking more industrial, were about the same hardness as the floors from the Radisson. You really felt a difference when you stood on the carpet that had been brought in for the booths or other special areas, though.
Hey look — the professionals get to play on carpet. I’ll put that down as another reason to improve my game. (We amateurs in played in the general cow palace area and had no carpeting, just concrete.)
|click to embiggen|
|my standard jigsaw panorama of the pro arena • the support columns were camouflaged with vinyl/plastic drapery|
The table set at a different angle than the rest is the livestream table. I didn’t go any further than the vicinity of the front table during the time I was in the pro arena so I don’t have pictures from different angles. It was very cold in there (to me) and when I’m cold, I get cranky and I want to sit and do nothing. Here is an accurate picture of my situation:
|“Get off my lawn.”|
After watching a match, I mustered up enough calories to go a-wandering through the rest of the venue.
Here is a little-known fact: this cavernous venue used to be a Firestone tire factory back in the day. The expo and its tournaments took up a lot of space, but there was actually still more space in the venue.
vendor area • the light from the heavens shine down warmly upon your various wooden swords
I was in a tired haze for most of this event. I had overextended myself by trying to do too much with too little in recent weeks. I was “butter scraped over too much bread”. (Kudos if you know where that’s from.)
I missed having decent on-site restaurants at the venue. As someone without a car, I would have been limited to the choices at the venue (ha! choices!) for the entire time. It’s good to know people with cars. And not to piss them off until after the event. 😀
Ye Olde Foode Court • there was only one victuals dispensary and this was it
One of the fun things about the Expo is the variety of events going on. The best known events to us west coasties are the amateur 9-ball and the professional 10-ball tournaments. There is also TAP League, the World Pool Association’s World Artistic Pool Championships (trickshots!), Professor Q-Ball’s Champion of Champions 3-Cushion Invitational and the 14.1 Challenge. They really should throw in snooker next year and then we’ll have almost all the major disciplines represented.
TAP league had its “Rally in the Valley”.
tap dancers • arrr, matey
If the Rally is not in the Valley, is it still a Rally? Rally in the Alley? OMG. They should totally have it on a cruise ship decked out in a pirate theme. Rally in Ye Olde Galley would be the shizzlenit.
I forgot to try the 14.1 challenge. I was too busy yawning all the time. (Sorry, peoples who faces I yawned in. Couldn’t help it.)
14.1 challenge • 5 tries for $20, which is a better deal than the 3 tries for $20 when I tried this thing out at the BCAPL Championships in Vegas
When I left on Sunday, the final four in the men’s division of the 14.1 challenge were Ralph Eckert vs Mika Immonen and John Schmidt vs Charlie Williams.
Below we have the Artistic Pool Championships arena. I did not get to watch this as much as I liked. If I were to sit, I would not be able to see anything (that’s what I get for being short) and if I stood still too long, the chill and my own tiredness made me go into hibernation mode.
the artists at work
I did stand around to watch the youngest competitor, Ignacio “Nacho” Block from Argentina do some masse shots. And then I left feeling vaguely unaccomplished. Visit his YouTube channel if you want to see more of this kid.
Action is what puts the “SUPER” in “SUPER Billiards Expo!!”
the action pit/area/foyer doing brisk business
Yeah, okay — I just made that up. Whatever. But seriously serious, the action pit/area/foyer has always been one of the great attractions of the Expo.
this is one of the two “main” action tables • this table, along with the one next to it, often hosted the better players and had higher wagers
The action seemed to stay around two tables and it came and went in waves. Sometimes, there were just a couple of people playing and watching (like pictured above) while other times, the line was many people long and the watching crowd stood three to four deep (like pictured below).
this is the same table pictured previously — what a difference an additional “0” makes • the bet at this time was $100 per rack, hence the strong caliber of players waiting and watching in line
Obviously, a big part of the amount of money being wagered and the number of people watching depended on the skill level and reputation of the players involved. It was mentioned to me by several players of the entire range of skill levels (hack to professional) that the lack of action (as compared to previous years) may have been due to the absence of one Scooter Goodman, action-provoker extraordinaire.
Mr. Goodman’s shoes were probably filled by the dude in blue plaid on the right. I do not know who he is and when I asked, I was told he is “Kenny From Philadelphia”. Mr. Kenny was a very vocal bettor (same way Scooter is) and did his best to goad the players into playing and the crowd into betting. Sometimes he bet on the racker or the breaker, if he knew their games. Other times, he would yell, “I will bet on the racker OR the breaker! RACKER OR BREAKER!” just to get money moving. Highly entertaining. I noted that he color-coordinated his shirt with his shoes (Nike Air Maxes).
|There were less tables in previous years, I believe, and a less comfortable setup for playing and/or watching.|
|Some professionals were in the action area at times. The one I saw most often playing was John Morra. I heard Ryan McCreesh played a set or two there as well. I did not see any big sets this time around, just a lot of per-game King of the Hill stuff and the average on the high-limit table might have been $40 a game.|
I think the lack of professionals moving from the 10-ball event to action on the small tables may have been due to the top-heavy payouts at the professional event. The professional event paid $20,000 for first place and $7,000 for second — a whopping $13,000 difference. The bottom money was 17th-24th place and it paid $750. After a $500 entry fee and expenses, those in the bottom money were probably still in the red and the prize money served more to recoup expenses rather than pad a bankroll for gambling. There might be more action as the upper-level finishers got their more substantial checks.
In the meantime, I was in need of substantial sustenance. I sent out a message via social media asking if anyone had a car and felt like eating fried chicken. Ask and ye shall receive…
|The place we went to was called “Fingers, Wings, and Other Things”, also known as “FWOT”. It wasn’t exactly fried chicken, but it was very close and my dinner buddy assured me their chicken fingers were the best he’d ever had.|
|FWOT had a bar table, but it was in terrible condition. I was told they would lean it against the wall, vertically, once or twice a week in order to make room for an in-house poker tournament.|
|This place was Seriously Serious about their food: you could order 50 chicken fingers or 100 chicken wings at a time. I thought I could finish eight chicken fingers myself, but I was mistaken. They were, however, the best chicken fingers I had ever had. They were not dry at all and delicious.|
YESH • better than the “hamburgers” from the Expo Food Court
After the FWOT operation, I returned to the expo. I watched another professional match and then left to roam around the expo floor because I was still too cold.
crickets • vendor area after hours
The action area was still buzzing with activity.
the party is over here • how exciting
The same two tables were still hosting action. The main table had $40 a rack ten-ball, but it was the table behind it that drew the biggest crowd. I snuck in between some spectators to see what all the fuss was about. The fuss was a game I had not seen, nor heard of before: one-ball, one pocket.
|A single ball is frozen to the middle of the bottom rail. One player gets the lower right pocket and the other player gets the upper left pocket (the pockets in play are diagonally across from each other). You start with the cue ball behind the line and keep trying shots until someone is successful. Also, fouling on the object ball is not loss of game — I believe the object ball is merely spotted back at the starting point.|
|From what I could gather, the Dominican players’ corporation was behind this fascinating new game. The kid in the red in the photo was the main player (believe he was known as “Shorty” from New York). If you wanted to try, it was a $100 a pop.|
I saw more sidebetting on this table than at any other table. The handfuls of green in the photo are a mere fraction of what was changing hands. I believe the Dominicans had the best of it.
|I just wanted to point out that the gentleman on the left here has the same style as the previously mentioned Mr. Kenny: Nike Air Max shoes color-coordinated with clothes. I often saw them at the same table as well. Perhaps they are members of the same crew?|
|I don’t have his face in this photo, but the neatest thing about this orange gentlemen was not his shoes, nor even his nifty “1 POCKET” jacket — it was the fact that he looked like a young Steve Martin. 🙂|
|I am a fan (and owner) of Nike Air Max shoes — I think I may adopt this style. It’s so very gangsta. Imma slap some Hello Kitty decals on mine, though.|
I didn’t play any action myself, but did have some interesting discussions with the better players around. One player’s main complaint was that there wasn’t enough tables and the long lines didn’t justify the bets. No one wanted to lose because if you were playing King of the Hill style, you might have to wait another hour, even on a $20 table. Of course, the advice most simple hacks had was: “Don’t lose.” But most will admit, in these shark-infested, concrete-floored waters, that’s easier said than done.
|Eventually, I found my way back to those fun forum parties.|
|The legendary “Jeeves” parties were before my time but apparently, it was resurrected this year (although at only as shadow of its former magnificence, I am told). Upon hearing that it was held just a bit away from the Army Party, I went and crashed it.|
|I was welcomed with a red plastic Solo cup filled with some (presumably) alcoholic fruity slush — and a handful of Pop Rocks. I was told to have Pop Rocks and slush at the same time. I did, and I will report that it was definitely a singular experience. Very fun. And kind of explosive — but in a sugary sort of way.|
I floated back to the Army Party and enjoyed hours of good conversation regarding cues, pre-shot routines, cat collecting, and other seriously scientific topics.
When I woke, it was the day I would go home.
I was relieved by this, which was unusual since I am a billiards die-hard like no other. But, sh#t. After the shenanigans (including those resulting from my inability to be firm with my friends) of this trip and the fact that I never felt rested enough to enjoy everything, I was F#CKING ready to go home.
but not before more delish PA food and wine • the pizza was AWESOME
I killed some time by helping a friend get autographs from the pro players. Warm fuzzies. I wish I was still that enthusiastic about the game.
Mercedes Gonzales • the lone female competitor in the three-cushion event
Although my flight did not leave until late (I always schedule travel with the belief that I am going to win it all), my friend with the car needed to leave because he had an earlier flight. I wanted to stay later to watch the finals of the pro event but I was unable to finagle a ride from anyone else. Also, it would have been expensive to take a shuttle.
the future of pool
So, off I went to the airport.
When I checked in, I got the best roll of the trip: I was given the option of taking an earlier flight back, one which I was EXTREMELY happy to take.
On the flight back, I was stuck sitting in a Goddammit Seat between a convict and a lumber salesman. They became the best of friends over many alcoholic drinks. Unfortunately, I missed all their stories because I was too busy sleeping.
thoughts from a hack
For the first time in a new venue, I think this event went off fairly well. You never know what changes need to be made until you actually go through it one time, you know? The Radisson had hosted the Super Billiards Expo so many years in a row that all the bugs had been squashed by the time I started going. Expos don’t get dress rehearsals so this is pretty good.
Here are my own, personal observations — your mileage/thoughts/opinions may vary. I was not able to enjoy this event in its entirety since I was freaking tired the whole time. So, take my thoughts with a salt mine of salt.
Lighting for the tournament tables. I do not know if they could improve the tournament lighting since additional lights would have to be installed/suspended from the ceilings and that looks like it could be a complicated job. The triple shadows on the tables suck ass, though.
Shuttle service. More specific information regarding shuttle service would be nice. Also, it would be nice if they were on time.
Your own car is a good idea. I, as a car-less person playing in the tournament, truly felt the loss of being able to walk downstairs from the hotel to the expo. However, this cannot be helped since the Radisson will never again be an option, even after renovation. If I were to play this event again, I would seriously consider staying as close as possible so that I may walk to the venue, even though the closest hotel is a mile away.
I do not think I will play this event in the near future. As a West Coastie, if I cannot swing that extra day off (Thursday) before the tournament and the liberal cost of my own transportation (shuttles, taxis, etc.), I will not play in the tournament again. I will treat this event as a vacation and not as a competition. That does not mean it would be any less enjoyable, just enjoyable in a different way.
|t h a n k s|
|EMCA | GOJPA | LWSCA | Allen Hopkins, Jr. | Chris Kurzweil of Kurzweil’s Country Meats | Murray Tucker of Tucker Cue Works | Eric Crisp of Sugartree Cues|
|first time hello & hello again|
|the Army (FatBo, Deek-A-Mon, RThomas82, jersey jer, Patrick, Timberly, Koop & Audrey, Catscradle, Thomas, Icon of Sin, CMD, Eric. & Suzy, Hierovision, cyrex, Cuaba) | buddha & monkey | Billiard Traveler (he’s got a neat blog) | Brian & Jill (the F.W.O.T. team) | cleary & derekdisco | Angel Levine (spiffy shirt) | Erica & Paul (congratulations!) | Jeeves (thanks for letting me visit your party) | d_lewis|