Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Welcome to Canada, Where 1971 Lives Forever!

Monday morning Dave and I began our journey toward Toronto with the intent of seeing our Detroit Tigers play the Toronto Blue Jays in the Jays’ home opener, followed by a trip to the Brantford Charity Casino in an outlying town.

I haven’t even been to Windsor in more than ten years, right across the border from Detroit, and it’s been about fifteen since I was in Toronto. So, most of my impressions of Canada were new-formed.

The overwhelming impression was quaintness. Taken as a whole, Canada resembled nothing so much as the United States 30 to 50 years ago. Rural areas were still completely rural, and family farms still seemed to be in operation: the barns we could see from the freeway were not dilapidated or collapsed, like they are where corporations have taken over the farms. The smaller towns were mostly not Wal-Mart–ized, having much the character that US towns did until the 1970s. And Toronto itself had a vibrant center city, of the sort that very few large American cities do anymore, with lots and lots of residents actually downtown. All of these things are double-edged: They sound nice, but there are very good reasons why all of these things changed in the US, and these things’ survival in Canada is evidence of the inefficiency of Canada’s markets.

This quaintness manifested itself other ways, too. At the poker table I got to see one of Canada’s new C$100 bills. Its overall color was sort of a drab brown, which I am in favor of (money should look conservative). But where the validation strip thingy woven into US currency is invisible under normal light, Canada’s new C$100 bill has a stripe down the left side which looks like nothing so much as tinfoil. (The link above doesn't seem to show this strip.) The fellow who showed me the bill was also proud of the watermark, where one can hold a bill up to the light and see a second portrait reveal itself. Of course, US currency has had this watermark since our currency redesign fifteen years ago. Another reference by one of the dealers to her shopping trip made it clear that Canada is just a bit behind the times: “Oh, yeah, and have you used those new self-checkout lanes yet?”

The Canadian accent is a source of amusement for many Americans. At the poker tables one would hear, “You bet awoot a-gayne? What’s that aboot, eh?” But I’ve never found a Canadian accent to actually be impenetrable until the Toronto sports show we were listening to on the radio received a call from—I don’t know where from, some godforsaken place—from there, and the guy was clearly speaking Canadian English, but neither Dave nor I could understand more than about every third word of what he said. Are Canadians now talking in code?

One feature of Toronto is sadly similar to many large American cities. Fortunately, I live in a medium-sized American city, so it’s not so bad here, but Detroit has it, Chicago has it ... it’s thoroughly horrid traffic. The baseball game was scheduled to start at 1:05, but with the opening-day ceremonies the first pitch wasn’t until about 1:20. We were within walking distance of the stadium by 12:35, on the Gardiner Expressway (PR-2) preparing to exit onto Spadina Ave. (map). We were there until about 1:10. At 1:30, we were on Spadina Ave. just north of this same expressway. And for the next half-hour, we circled downtown past lot after lot marked FULL in bold letters, attempting to find a place to put the car as we watched the damned game. We ended up finding an undeveloped parcel of land basically under the freeway a few more blocks west of Spadina, but by the time we got to our seats, it was the fourth inning. And we got to the stadium 45 minutes early. This burned any future plans I have of visiting Toronto.

Detroit Tigers 7 @ Toronto Blue Jays 0

Fortunately, once we got there we were treated to a pretty good game. We missed what I understand was a masterful performance in the early innings by Toronto’s starter, Roy Halliday, and a good performance by the Tigers’ starter, Jason Johnson. By the time we'd got there, Carlos Peña had hit a solo shot into the Tigers’ bullpen, and Johnson looked a bit shaky. Johnson continued to record outs, though, even if there were a lot of long fly ball hits that were just foul. We got to see further home runs by Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez and Fernando Viña, and a ridiculous fielder’s choice–error combination that scored two runs for Bobby Higginson (who happens to be precisely one day younger than I am). That was it for Halliday, who won the Cy Young award in 2003 but gave up six earned runs in 6-2/3 innings this game. The Jays’ relievers gave up a couple more hits but no more runs, but the damage was done.

The Tigers, on the other hand, looked great—but I noticed a few issues. Johnson didn't look nearly as good as his line indicates, clearly not dominating Toronto’s hitters. Reliever Al Levine, another free-agent pickup, somehow escaped scoreless from giving up a leadoff triple, but also looked shaky. And Esteban Yan, who because of injuries acted as closer in this game, gave up two hits in his single inning of work. Rodriguez did hit a home run, but in his next at-bat he seemed way too aggressive and ended up striking out on a check swing. (He also had a passed ball behind the plate, but let’s not hold that against him.)

The Tigers won their first opening day since 2000, and the first by shutout since 1970 (over the Washington Senators). The Jays, on the other hand, had never before been shutout in their home opener. I don’t know what bookies have as the over-under for Detroit’s wins this season, but if it didn’t change a lot after yesterday, I’d be surprised.

Poker: The Way the Evening Should Be Spent

Hmm, that’s a good headline.

After the game, we fought traffic for about three-quarters of the way back to Brantford, Ontario, maybe 40 or 45 miles back from Toronto. This is a small casino, reminiscent of the riverboat casinos I’ve seen around here (actually, the Lake Michigan–boat casinos), despite being a fixed-site land casino.

The poker room is nice, though. On their nine tables they deal C$5/C$10, C$10/C$20, C$20/C$40, and C$50/C$100 holdem, exclusively: The ubiquitous single stud table, often aptly named “death’s waiting room,” was completely missing. The room was run smoothly, and the dealers I saw were all experienced and well-trained.

My live-game bankroll being a little short lately, I buy into the C$5/C$10 game for US$200, which buys me C$258 in chips. Despite my Detroit Tigers cap and jersey, I’m not picked for an American until I start talking about how some of the things at the game surprise me.

One easy way to tell you’re in hockey-mad Canada: It’s not a dealer “button,” it’s a dealer “puck.’ What can you say? It is shaped like a hockey puck. And here, it’s not even small and white—it’s large and black.

Surprisingly, the dealers didn’t drop the rake from each hand (5% to C$5) into any sort of box under the table, but rather it went directly into their trays, much like players’ losses do at the blackjack tables. This confused me for a while, because I didn’t see the drop go into their tray, but I saw tokes go into what I took for the drop.

The table itself is about half good players and half new players, with some gradation at the middle. One fellow was at least my equal, another seemed to spend a lot of time there but was losing, and a third was winning but I couldn't get a handle on his play. I won a pot from him, and lost a pot to him, without quite being able to definitively put him on hands. It’s one thing to ask, “What would I have if I had bet it this way?” It’s quite another to ask, “What does he have if he’s betting this way?” I didn’t reach that point with him. In fact, all of the plays from that session where I question my play are hands in which I actually had a stronger hand than I believed I did, because I had difficulty in putting the poorer players on hands.

I basically double up, running my stack to C$520, in a bit less than four hours. But while the casino will buy US dollars for C$1.29 each, they will sell them to you for C$1.33 each. After my exchange losses, I end up booking a US$191 win.

It's nice to have a trip like this paid for.