Hot ‘Lanta, Part 2

October 2nd, 2009

Okay, now – back to my tour of the city.

Not far away from the aquarium is the home of Coca Cola. I guess I had forgotten that headquarters for the world’s most famous drink are right there in Atlanta.

The people at Coke were very friendly, especially the tour guides.

I was hoping to leave the Coca-Cola plant with one of those great-looking red shirts, but they didn’t have them in super-extra-extra small.

I was hoping to leave the Coca-Cola plant with one of those great-looking red shirts, but they didn’t have them in super-extra-extra small.

There’s a big benefit, I guess, to being my size. Lots of people think I’m cute (nudge-nudge, wink-wink), and I’m trying not to spoil that image. Hey, it’s gotten me into lots of places so far, and I like the attention. Bridge people seem to have a lot more fun than they did when I was playing “seriously.”

Don’t you just love that big chicken at the KFC in Marietta? I bet the Atlanta area has the only restaurant that looks like that.

Don’t you just love that big chicken at the KFC in Marietta? I bet the Atlanta area has the only restaurant that looks like that.

I had a great time at The Varsity, an 80-year-old restaurant in Atlanta they call the “Lunching Pad.” I liked the No. 1 Combo at the Varsity – two chili dogs, onion rings and a Coca Cola – but I did have to beg for some Rolaids later on.

There were more stops, including the Fox Theatre and CNN Headquarters. What an eye-opener! I can remember when there wasn’t any television anywhere.

They told me I had to rest up for the Atlanta Sectional Tournament, so I took it easy for a while. One thing about those chili dogs, though – they stay with you.

Yessir – that’s a lot of food. Now you know why I left Atlanta looking to let out the pants. It was worth it, though. Yummy!

Yessir – that’s a lot of food. Now you know why I left Atlanta looking to let out the pants. It was worth it, though. Yummy!

Before departing Atlanta, I must say that bridge in the area is so much more than brick and mortar clubs, or even the one-day-a-week clubs that rent space. What I observed were people who love bridge – especially the directors and managers –working as hard as they can to get other people involved, assisted by players with an inspiring devotion to the game and a willingness to welcome new people. That is one element of bridge that hasn’t changed during my time away.

People who knew me in my heyday might thing I’m getting all soft and “mushy” about this, but my travels have been an eye-opener for me. I can’t wait for the next stop.

Thanks for everything, Dan, and Atlanta bridge!  For more photos of me in Atlanta, have a look at the photo gallery below.


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Hot ‘Lanta

September 25th, 2009

When I started this journey, I didn’t reckon with how much time I was going to be spending in airports. Fortunately, the ones I have seen so far have been very nice.

I was amazed at how busy it is at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (that’s a mouthful, isn’t it?). No doubt that has a lot to do with the fact that it is known as the “busiest” airport in the world based on the number of passengers that go through it.

I must say it was a bit scary making my way to through the terminal – I don’t remember seeing such a high escalator before – you go up after you ride one of those trains that take you from terminal to terminal.

It looked really inviting to get to the top of the escalator and slide down again, but they have these round things every few feet in the middle that keep you from doing that. Oh, well.

I had to go a long way through the airport before Dan Plato – he’s a very entertaining tournament director and club owner – could pick me up. In my day, of course, people could walk right up to your gate and give you a hug right when you got off the plane.

Dan was really great. He took me to the Atlanta Duplicate Bridge Center, where I met the people who run the club – Beatrice Kemp and Dan Papineau.

That's Dan and Beatrice holding me at their club.  Dan was very gentle.

That's Dan and Beatrice holding me at their club. Dan was very gentle.

I overheard Dan Plato talking about me to some people at the club. “Bob,” he said, “arrived in good shape, but he did seem kind of hungry. Maybe we should give him some snacks to take with him before he leaves Atlanta.” Hear, hear!

I blushed a bit when Dan added, “He’s quite darling.” I wasn’t really sure how to take that, but Dan was so nice I didn’t say anything. He even found space for me at his home, and I must say the sock drawer was very comfy. Just the right size.

Atlanta is kind of like Memphis, although it is spread out a lot more and with an amazing amount of traffic. Wow! It’s also pretty hot in the summer with high humidity, but you can’t beat the friendliness of people in the South.

There are lots of things to see in Atlanta. I went one day to the Georgia Aquarium. That was incredible. The displays are really great, and you can get up close and nearly personal – that was plenty good enough for me, to be honest – with lots of interesting creatures. I’m glad that glass in all those tanks is so thick.

I’m not really blue in the face. That’s just the lighting. I loved the Georgia Aquarium.

I’m not really blue in the face. That’s just the lighting. I loved the Georgia Aquarium.

Up to now, I haven’t mentioned this strange method of communication – my blog. If I had said that word in mixed company back when I was young, I would have expected to get into trouble, even if no one knew what it meant. They probably would have just assumed it was naughty. Now it seems like everyone is writing on the Internet. I’ll reserve judgment on the whole thing until after the big tournament this fall.

One very big positive from doing this blog thing as part of my “coming out” is the attention I have received from so many pretty women. I guess I was a bit stuffy back in the day, so I’ll have to say having my image on the cover of the Bridge Bulletin was a good thing. At every bridge club, all the women want to be photographed with me. It’s very flattering, not to mention exciting.

Dan took me around to three really nice bridge clubs in the Atlanta area – Alpharetta Duplicate Bridge Club, Ruff ‘n Sluff in Marietta and the Atlanta Duplicate Center, which I have already mentioned.

I love being photographed with big crowds of bridge players.

I love being photographed with big crowds of bridge players.

All three of the clubs have games every day of the week, and most days there are two games. I also visited games at Roswell Recreation Center, Buckhead Parc and Peachtree Presbyterian Church.

They teach bridge at the big clubs and have lots of games for new players. I was really impressed with the effort to promote bridge – and, boy, do they ever do the food. I might have to visit a tailor somewhere along the line. I tried to resist all the wonderful eats, but I just couldn’t. Between the good-looking women and the food, my will power is about shot.

Check back soon for more about my trip to Atlanta.

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On My Way to Atlanta

September 10th, 2009

My time in Toronto was wonderful, but I knew I would have to say goodbye to Canada at some point.
I was sad to have to leave but happy about my destination – the great city of Atlanta. I had heard a lot about the city and the bridge community there.

It’s not a short trip from Toronto to Atlanta, so I was more or less expecting to have a nice movie on my flight. When I departed Europe to return home after my “retirement” ended, I was surprised to see a screen on the back of the seat in front of me when I sat down in the airplane. I had never heard of or seen such a thing, and it took me some time to work out how to use it – the man in front of me complained about the fact that I was pushing too hard on the touch screen and disturbing him while he was trying to sleep. Eventually, I worked it out. I was intrigued by one of the titles I saw, Kung Fu Panda, and almost didn’t try it, but I did enjoy the film.

So you can see why I was a bit disappointed in the flight to Atlanta – no movie. Even so, I didn’t let it take the edge off the excitement of seeing a new place – and I did discover something I had never heard of – sudoku.

I was always a big fan of crossword puzzles, and when I picked up the in-flight magazine, I noticed there was a puzzle section. Imagine my surprise when I saw the grid where you put all the numbers. It took me some time to figure out what it was all about, but I was hooked.

It’s funny how they tell you all about things on the airplane before you even take off, like the masks that fall out of the overhead if something bad happens.

I can tell, if I thought an emergency was going on, I would be under the seat! The mask wouldn’t do me any good.

The staff on the airplane was very nice. They seemed very interested in me, and they warmed to the challenge of getting my seatbelt to fit soundly – not an easy task.

I was very pleased with the announcements about not smoking on the airplane. In the old days, you had to put up with a lot when you took to the air.

I was surprised to see that one of the flight attendants was a man. In my day, as you can imagine, they were all women and they were all called stewardesses. One thing has remained the same, though – they are all very pleasant.

The pilot talked to us a lot, too, letting us know that we were a bit late leaving Toronto but that he would try to make up the time on the way to Atlanta. I don’t know if he did because I had my eyes closed when we touched down. There was a storm in Atlanta and the airplane was shaking a lot. I was relieved, however, to note that the air things didn’t drop down. I took that to mean it wasn’t a huge emergency – just a bumpy flight.

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More adventures in Toronto

August 28th, 2009

One day, I went north of Toronto to visit the Aurora Bridge Club, where I met Izhar Hague and his lovely wife, Jane. President Olly Smolak introduced me all around and made a big speech about me. I also met Dorothy Street, who hails from Batchewana, near Sault-Sainte-Marie. She and I had both visited Shingwak, so we had an intimate moment about that. When I told Priscilla Hull that I travel by Fed Ex, she told me she likes a man who comes well wrapped up. My head was spinning trying to keep all those unusual names straight.

Izhar Hague, Aurora club manager, Virginia Smereka, Mary Oglanby and club President Olly Smolak

Izhar Hague, Aurora club manager, Virginia Smereka, Mary Oglanby and club President Olly Smolak

I found out that the Aurora Bridge Club is a non-profit community-owned club that will celebrate its 45th anniversary next year. They have over 200 active members and five games a week. When I found out that they offer lessons for beginners and intermediates at all levels, I signed on for their mentorship program and told them I would be back next spring.

The Saturday before I left Toronto, Alex and I went to Casino Rama, located in the Chippewa nation reserve near Rama in Ontario. Unfortunately, I did not have my birth certificate with me, so I got stopped at the door because they weren’t sure I was old enough to gamble. Someone told me later I probably saved a lot of money.

One of my biggest thrills on my tour of Toronto was getting to the top of the CN Tower, which until 2007 was the world’s tallest free-standing structure. I’m told some structure in Dubai is taller, but I doubt I’ll ever see that. Give me CN Tower any day.

That’s me at the magnificent CN Tower.

That’s me at the magnificent CN Tower.

After the CN Tower visit, I had dinner with Barbara and Roger Murray at Ferraro’s, a wonderful Italian restaurant. I ended up with more ribs, but I already knew not to ask for utensils. I just dove right in with my hands. Thank goodness someone brought me a finger bowl and a big bib.

Never mind the knife – I ate with my fingers.

Never mind the knife – I ate with my fingers.

Before I left, I spent Sunday lounging by the pool at Carriage Hills Resort in Oro-Medonte ON. Fed-Ex lost my bathing suit, so I couldn’t go into the pool. What if my suit shrank? As we used to say: Egad! It was very hot that day, but Barbara’s 6-year-old grandson, Justin, cooled me down with his water-pistol.

Among the many interesting people I met was Ray Lee, owner of Master Point Press and, as I discovered, a very shrewd businessman. I told him I like to write and have been considering putting my memoirs together for publication. He paused for a second and said, “Large weather we’re having, eh?” Well, I guess that’s a project that can wait.

Ray and his assistant, Sally Sparrow.

Ray and his assistant, Sally Sparrow.

I mentioned in the previous blog post that I stopped in Partners while in Toronto. Partners is Toronto’s newest bridge club. It is a lovely venue with skylights and a lovely view. They have games and classes and I had a great time visiting with Suzanne Kosky and Joel Shapiro, the owners. The club’s website is at www.partnersbridge.com.

On my way from Toronto to Atlanta, all I could think about was how friendly and pleasant our Canadian bridge players are. I’m sure I will find some Southern hospitality in Atlanta, too. Tara, here I come!

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Adventures in Toronto

August 21st, 2009

Being in Toronto is a lot like being in Europe. It’s very cosmopolitan, just a delightful city. I can tell you now from first-hand experience that the city has some of the friendliest bridge players you could find anywhere.

The first time I went to Toronto, way back when, the airport was called Malton Airport – no mention of “international” at all. When I arrived in mid-August this year, I noticed it is called Toronto Pearson International Airport. Someone told me it was named for the former Prime Minister Lester Pearson, who actually won the Nobel Peace Prize back when I was playing bridge a lot more.

I was greeted by the exquisitely charming Barbara Seagram and her husband, Alex Kornel. Barbara caught up with me at the airport before I could check out the baggage carousels and get myself into trouble. The next few days rushed by so fast I can’t keep everything straight in my mind even now, so if I get something out of order, you’ll know why.

Barbara and Alex

Barbara and Alex

Getting to know Barbara on the way from the airport made me want to go to the bridge table and be nice to someone – heck, everyone. As many of you probably already know, Barbara pioneered the movement called Zero Tolerance, which means, to sum it up, “Be pleasant to your partner and opponents – or go home!” I can tell you, we could have used some ZT when I first started playing. You had to have a really thick skin to survive.

Barbara told me she picked up the idea for ZT while playing in Bermuda, which has an annual tournament that features everyone dressed properly – no bell bottoms, thank goodness – and being very civil. Barbara says that in Bermuda, they pride themselves on being proper in all ways: “Dress better, behave better.” She told me about an experience at her informal club after her visit to Bermuda. Barbara played with a friend who showed up in a suit and tie. “He proceeded to shake hands with each opponent as he sat down and they treated him so well that I couldn’t believe these were the same people.”

Barbara told me she and Alex used to own the largest bridge club in Canada, the Kate Buckman Bridge Studio. Now their club is smaller. Their games are not restricted by masterpoints but by attitude. Everyone has to be nice if they want to play there.

Some new-fangled practices in bridge are better, after all.

At Barbara and Alex’s club, there is a full-time cook. His name is Jimmy, and they tell me the ladies love him. He provides, great food at very inexpensive prices, and all the women want to know if he is married. As I found out, Jimmy makes the best Greek salad in Toronto. While I was there, he gave me a lesson in salad making. Wow!

Bob L and his new favorite cook, Jimmy

Bob L and his new favorite cook, Jimmy

Barbara was nice enough to take me to Hazel Wolpert’s club. It’s called, appropriately enough, Hazel’s Bridge Club.

Barbara and Hazel Wolpert

Barbara and Hazel Wolpert

Hazel was very charming, as well, and I’m told she is also a superb bridge teacher and a good player. Her son is Gavin Wolpert, recently married to Jenny Ryman (Blue Ribbon Pairs champions), both of whom just won big events in Washington. They are expecting their first baby in September. Hazel’s other son, Darren, is also a fine player. Hazel’s mother, Phyllis Bresge, was a highly competitive player in the world of duplicate as well. Hazel is loved and respected through the bridge world. Her large club averages about 30 tables on most afternoons.

We also went to Partners, Toronto’s newest bridge club. It was impressive.

The following was sent to Barbara by Sarah, a new fan of mine. I think it’s quite clever.

“What a doll! Tell BOB L that I don’t even need ONE SPADE to dig him. He has stolen my HEART, and if he promises me a DIAMOND, he can live at our CLUB. We’ll treat him like the KING he is, and play the fun and interesting game of bridge in our midtown REGAL location. A rousing cheer (but NO TRUMPets) for BOB L and his visit to our wonderful city!”

Well, gotta run back to the bridge table….There’s so much more to tell about my adventures in Toronto and the fabulous clubs and people there. Check back soon for more news!  Take a look at the gallery below for lots of photos of me having fun in Toronto.


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Bob in DC!

August 10th, 2009

Did you know there are two Starbucks within a few feet of each other at the Memphis International Airport? Well, now you do. I was tempted to get one of those fancy drinks — mokey macky something — but it looked too big to carry on my way to the gate. Do you suppose they sell coffee-flavored coffee?

I was worried about my luggage — these airplanes are so much bigger than I’m used to — but I had fun at the Washington airport named after Ronald Reagan. I must admit, though, that I got a little dizzy riding around on that carousel waiting for my bag. I nearly got crushed by a set of golf clubs that zoomed out just as I was making a turn. I wonder if all the people at the airport are as grumpy as the man who made me get off the ride.

I loved the Marriott, where they played the big tournament. What a hotel!  It was tough finding my way around on the three levels, but I eventually settled down in my little spot in the Daily Bulletin office, watching all the people come in to talk to the staff. There was an endless variety of topics: new Life Masters, lost sweaters, people wanting directions, former board members showing off their photos. You name it.

My first official function was being introduced at the meeting of the ACBL board. Vicki Campbell, the company’s marketing person, said so many nice things about me that I was blushing. Some of the board members were very friendly, one in particular. I’ll tell you about him later.

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I was invited to the Goodwill Committee reception, and someone put me on the podium where Aileen Osofsky talks to everyone. The stand was slanted, though, so they had to tape me down so I wouldn’t fall off. Talk about a captive audience! Not that I wanted to leave, mind you — Aileen was very charming — but I was looking longingly at the buffet line and the free bar.

 Bob L

As you have been told, my final destination this year is the Fall NABC in San Diego, so I stopped by the Mega Housing booth to make my reservation. I wish everything had been so easy.

After the Goodwill meeting, the very nice board member I was telling you about — Rand Pinsky, from Los Angeles — dropped by to invite me to the evening side game. He was playing with his wife, Kathy Swaine. People were very friendly when they came to the table, and Rand had fun asking new arrivals to the table if they minded kibitzers. People were swinging their heads around looking for a regular-size person, then Rand laughed and told them the spectator was me. It was great fun.

 bobl table

At one point, Kathy had a rather difficult bidding decision, so I got up on her shoulder to check out her hand to see if I could help. She was very nice to me, but she didn’t really need any advice.

bridgetts2

One day, I went for a visit to the Intermediate/Newcomer game, and I met the Bridgettes. They are six women from Long Island who travel together to the NABCs. They were very friendly, but when I inquired about membership, they were a bit hesitant. Apparently, it’s a pretty exclusive club.

Most of the time I was in DC, I stuck to my perch in the Daily Bulletin office — having fun people watching — but midway through the tournament, I was kidnapped!

That’s right, and they even left a ransom note.

I was shocked when I found out later that all they wanted was $10,000! As Jack Benny used to say, “Well. . .!”

My captor was none other than Julie Janiciki, wife of one of the newest board members. She is a really nice lady.

I don’t think she meant me any harm, and she later amended the ransom demand to include some gold points. She told me she had planned to take me out for some sightseeing in the nation’s capital, but she got to feeling poorly,  and she spent the day in her hotel room (I was feeling neglected and pretty bored in her purse).

I was happy to return to the DB office. Ask Barry Rigal some time to tell you the story about the Swedish man and the drug store. It sure made the people in the office laugh in the many times it was told. I saw a lot of Patty Tucker, too. She works with the tournament for young people that I heard so much about. I could have visited there and no one would have known me. It’s nice to lie low sometimes.

Okay, folks. That’s it for now. My next message will come to you from Toronto, assuming I get there in one piece and the baggage carousel at the airport doesn’t go too fast.

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Long hot summer (sort of)

July 17th, 2009

Greetings from the Tropic of . . .well, The Tropics. When Memphians say, “Lord have mercy, it’s hot,” they aren’t kidding (they do say that, you know). 

I stopped in at ACBL Headquarters on my way to Washington for the big tournament. I heard about this amnesty reinstatement program. You come in, pay for three years of membership — and they give you a nice deck of cards (it’s available to anyone). I thought Sandi Abernathy, the nice lady in the Accounting Department who processed my membership, was going to squeeze me breathless. They are friendly around there.

Before I left town, I just had to stop by Graceland, where Elvis lived. You know, I can relate to someone just sort of dropping out, but I did see a brick in the wall around the mansion that had writing in big, white letters: “Elvis has left the building.” Well, I don’t know. Have you seen Men in Black? Makes you think.

I'm going to have to buy some Bermuda shorts.

I'm going to have to buy some Bermuda shorts.

People kept telling me that while I was in Memphis I had to go to the Rendezvous for some ribs. I always thought it was impolite to eat with your hands, but when I asked for a knife and fork, the waiter pursed his lips and seemed to be choking on something, so I gave up on the idea.  At least they have those packets with little towels to clean up afterwards. Very handy.

You can't beat those ribs!

You can't beat those ribs!

I read something in the local newspaper about Hasheem Thabeet, a new player for the Grizzlies — what do bears have to do with Memphis? — so I went over to the FedEx Forum to find him. I was being photographed outside the snazzy new building when a security guard drove up in his golf cart and asked if I was Stephen Colbert (I hope he’s not a scoundrel).  So, I asked, is Hasheem in? This was my day for getting weird reactions, I guess.

Not a Grizzly or a Hasheem in sight.

Not a Grizzly or a Hasheem in sight.

The most interesting part of the trip downtown was the visit to the Peabody Hotel, which has a fountain in the middle of the lobby with ducks swimming around and enjoying the water (they take them back to the roof about 5 p.m.). People kept coming up while I was there and taking photos (they didn’t seem to notice me).  I like the ducks because they are closer to my size.

That's me on Beale Street.

That's me on Beale Street.

That’s it for now. More to come when I get to DC.

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Hello and welcome to my blog!

June 10th, 2009

My name is Bob L. At least that’s what I go by these days. At one time I was a well-known figure in bridge. Successful – had money and influence. I enjoyed everything about the sport, at least at first. But, then, came the dreaded scientists, dreaming up all those exotic conventions like Brozel, Gladiator, Ripstra and the Canary Club. Change started rumbling through the bridge world at an ever-increasing pace, with new bidding methods, new events, more and more Life Masters. All the changes were spinning me around like a top.

I thought I was handling it all okay, but, what finally pushed me over the edge had little to do with the game of bridge. I gave up the game when I sat down to play against a “gentleman” in bell-bottom pants. I was so appalled by his appearance – he also had, ugh, long hair – that I blew two straight deals. After the session, still smarting from those zeroes, I went back to my room, packed my bags and made my great escape from the game. There’s been a lot of water under the bridge since that day.

But, enough about the past – what you need to know right now is: I’M BACK! And, my new friends at the ACBL have talked me into a four-month journey starting in July in Washington DC. I will be going from the Summer NABC – I still want to call these tournaments the Nationals – to San Diego, where the Fall NABC will happen.

I’ll be stopping at clubs and tournaments all along the way, and I’m looking forward to meeting lots of new friends – and maybe raking in a few masterpoints. Just show me to the bracketed KOs! Let’s just hope the players keep their bell-bottoms, if they have them, in their closets – I’m still not ready for that. Anyway, I’ll see you at the table!

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