On the Death of a Poker Buddy

A poker buddy from long ago has died and that naturally starts me reminiscing.

In this case, the deceased was also a colleague of mine in the College of Communications at Penn State and a kindred spirit in distance education. His name was Marlowe Froke and he died Feb. 23. He was 82.

Marlowe had many virtues, but one of his strongest was his humility and unassuming manner. He was never loud. He seldom raised his voice when angry, although I did a couple of sharp e-mails from him when he didn’t like something I wrote. But he never mentioned those things at poker.

At poker his unassuming manner served him well. He could play, unassumingly, for hours and lose most of the hands. Sometimes he even raised outrageously—or as outrageously as our nickel-dime-quarter-fifty-cent game allowed—only to show a losing hand, a hand he should have folded sooner.

Then sometime around an hour before closing, he’d do it again and everyone stayed because they knew they had him beat.

Only they didn’t.

He had a great hand and it was, as we like to say, well hidden. That is, you couldn’t tell from the four up cards what his three hole cards were. So he might show two 5s, an 8 and a Jack or two hearts, a club and a spade and then turn over three aces or three hearts for a full boat or a flush. We were all thinking our measly two pair would easily beat him.

And when he won, he just raked in the pot. He didn’t brag. And when we all kept saying “Nice hand, Marlowe,” he would nod and say thank you and almost act embarrassed that he had taken our money and try to change the subject.
As you might imagine, we told a lot of jokes at our games. In fact, we tried to remember the jokes we heard during the month so we could repeat them at the next poker game. Some of us were better joke tellers than others.

Marlowe was unique.

He didn’t tell many jokes, so when he started to tell one we listened.

He would get to about the second line of the joke and start laughing.

By the fourth line he was laughing louder and louder and start to tear up.

By the sixth line, the tears were rolling down his cheeks and we were all laughing.

I don’t remember any of the punch lines from Marlowe’s jokes, but I’ll never forget the way he told them.

It was vintage Marlowe.


Is La Paz About to Bloom?

In The Log from the Sea of Cortez, John Steinbeck said that La Paz had a “home” feeling to it, but he was concerned because a new hotel being built on the water’s edge would mean more tourists and soon the capital of Baja California Sur would “bloom with a Floridian ugliness.” 

That was 1940. If Steinbeck had been with us on a recent one-week vacation with friends, he might have realized his prediction seemed to be on the verge of coming true 70 years later. 

We had gone to La Paz with friends who traded their time share in Cabo San Lucas for one in La Paz. Our research indicated we would be visiting an authentic Mexican town, more like San Miguel Allende than Cabo San Lucas—real people, not tourists.

In that regard, we were not disappointed. We endured friendly natives, uneven sidewalks, potholed streets, unmarked one-way streets, blaring music from stores, sidewalk vendors who served locals, and shops closed during the afternoon for siesta. But we were also concerned by the number of condominiums and resort-marinas being built on the way to the beaches north of town. Homes advertised as selling in the low 400s and an elaborate gated community cut into the hillside overlooking the bay. We saw a Gary Player golf course under construction. Real estate guides are ubiquitous as the seagulls. The big-box stores familiar to anyone in the United States are clustered at the end of town toward the airport. Our tour guide told us that Americans (Canada and United States) and Germans were the dominant expatriates living there.

It wasn’t hard to see what attracts expatriates to La Paz, a city of 200,000, and why it is starting to bloom. In addition to friendly people, the food is excellent and the streets are safe. La Paz is on the eastern side of the Baja Peninsula, but situated along the Bay of La Paz in such a way that we could watch sunsets from an outdoor restaurant while sipping margaritas and beer. The weather when we were there was mild (50 to 78 degrees) and I wore short-sleeve T-shirts day and night and switched from blue jeans to my lightweight travel trousers upon arrival.

Across from our favorite watering hole was the 3.5-mile boardwalk or malecón (recently extended to the condo development north of the city). It is a favorite of the locals, who walk, jog, bike, rollerblade and exercise their dogs there, sometimes not cleaning up after their dogs. The orientation leader at our timeshare described the malecón as “an enjoyment place for everybody.” The street along the malecón is very busy and needs to be carefully negotiated by pedestrians. Jaywalking is not advised. At night, unfortunately, the street is the scene of cruising (and sometimes speeding) cars with loud radios blaring late into the evening, disruptive to those trying to sleep just a block or two in from the boardwalk.

Driving in La Paz took some getting used to because of the number of unmarked one-way streets and four-way stop signs that were suggestions, not absolutes, and ignored at intersections with lighter traffic. Our city tour guide, a native Mexican who once lived in Los Angeles, said the rule was: “You go first—after me.” Drivers would approach an intersection, slow down, and if they calculated that they had arrived first, speed up through the intersection. I saw it as a game of Mexican chicken.

Some of what is best about La Paz is not in the city, but outside and to the north—the beaches and the opportunities in the bay—snorkeling, kayaking, diving, sailing. Before deciding where to swim among the 10 beaches, we drove to each one. The last was Playa Tecolote, which is a launch point for those who want to go to Isla Espiritu Santo, a nearly 24,000-acre home to a variety of sea and bird life. We had a choice of three tour companies and eventually selected the least expensive after failing to negotiate lower prices with the first two. (The price included the 46-peso federal fee to go to the island, which is a protected site.) The company provided snorkeling equipment, including wet suits, for those who wanted it. 

My wife and I were more interested in photographing the sights and I was afraid we’d end up on some beach bored while the others snorkeled. Instead, we were not on some boring beach, but with a colony of sea lions.  Add to that the various birds and fish and we had so much to photograph that I was actually sorry to leave. I understood why Jacques Cousteau called the Sea of Cortez “the world’s aquarium.” Those who snorkeled reported that some sea lions gently nipped them—one showed us sea lion teeth marks on her flippers.

The tour included lunch at another beach on the island and a close look at other parts of the island, which is an unending and ever-changing cornucopia of rock formations on which I trained my cameras. We didn’t get to see as much as advertised because when we were picked up, our pilot, who had come in from another location, reported having seen a whale in the Bay of La Paz and so we diverted on our way to the island in the hope of seeing it. Unfortunately, no whales surfaced.

As for the beaches in the Bay of La Paz, we settled on one in a cove that did not have any food or bar services. It was too shallow for swimming, but great for wading and even better for photography. Pelicans and rock formations were the subjects of our photography on beach day.

We rented a car for $612 (half of which was insurance) and calculated that it paid for itself. For example, had we paid for the Isla Espiritu Santo tour from our hotel, it would have been $100 per person. We drove to the launch site and paid $40 each plus a $15 tip. A beach tour was advertised at $35 a person; we did it ourselves at our leisure and had the option to get out and explore each site. A tour to Todos Santos, a nearby art community on the Pacific Ocean, was $85 each; we drove ourselves. We did pay $25 a person for the city tour, which was extremely informative and took us to places we would have never gone in our car. The driving tips alone were worth paying for. 

Whether or not La Paz can sustain the growth implied in the construction we saw remains to be seen. Water is a problem and we purchased a 5-gallon bottle for drinking. The sewer system, according to a sign in one store, is so old that it stops up easily, although we received no such warning at our timeshare and had no problems.

We’d like to go back with our grandchildren and hope we can do that before  things change too much.


Think, Sarah, Think

Before watching the science fiction movie District 9 on On Demand the other night, we first watched Sarah Palin’s speech at the Tea Party convention in Nashville. Nothing she said changed my mind about her.

My wife and I were John McCain supporters in the Republican primary, but questioned our decision when he picked Palin as his running mate and we realized that McCain had lost his groove. And as the campaign continued and Palin spoke out more and more, we decided McPalin wasn’t for us.

You can pick your favorite Palin statements, from her claim to having foreign policy experience because she could see Russia from her front porch to her inability to answer a softball question about what periodicals she read. (I had to answer that question for a three-officer review panel when as an enlisted man in the Navy I was applying for a college program, so I could never understand why it flummoxed Palin, who as a candidate for vice president was in a pay grade much higher than mine.)

The most revealing part of Palin’s Nashville performance came not during her speech, but in an interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News, whose Fox News Sunday I watch faithfully, even during football season. Frankly, I had to watch it twice and then read about before I understood what she was really saying.

Turns out, Palin is advocating a war with Iran. When I realized what she was saying, I was stunned. This is a politician who belongs to the party of the president who got us into a war over weapons of mass destruction that have yet to be uncovered, a president who never really went after Osama Bin Laden, but instead mired us in Afghanistan. And now she wants the United States in a third war!

Palin made my old hero Barry Goldwater sound like a pacifist.

Which part of a military stretched thin doesn’t she understand? Which part of an astronomical federal debt doesn’t she understand?

Palin also told Wallace that she’s getting daily e-mail briefings from people in Washington. Instead, she ought to start reading periodicals so she knows what’s really going on in the world.

And then she needs to think, not talk. The more she talks the deeper she digs herself into a hole.

On second thought, talk, Sarah, talk.