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Meeting sbo Wil

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There was a day when I didn’t “know” someone in Vegas. That spot in southern Nevada was a fairy tale place where no one actually lived. We tripped the light fantastic (not to mention the fandango), rode through the worm holes, and emerged in a land of lights, concentrated sin, and blissful anonymity.
These days, I know people. Not in the “I know people” sense of knowing people. (I know people in St. Louis, though, and they know people, so that has to count for something.) In Vegas, I have familiarities. I figure that is as much as one can ask in sbo a city where relationships are as tenuous as a string of good luck on the video poker machines.
And, yet, so it happened that I came to know someone in Vegas named Wil Wheaton.
It had been three weeks in what I was beginning to think of as the Lost City. I had already seen too much. I’d seen old men, drunk on booze and too many hours at the table, fall to the floor in a heap of old skin and liquor fumes. I’d seen poker mensch Barry Greenstein in a cab line, holding his books like children, and dodging the drunken twenty-somethings on their way to yet another club. I’d seen a guy sitting at a video poker bar at six in the morning and smirking at the poker players across the way like he’d prefer to eat them with BBQ sauce. At first, the way the guy drank coffee, talked to the hookers, and kibitzed with the bartenders, I thought he was a cop. Then, he struck up a conversaton with me and let on that he had been up for two days, had just popped a tab of ecstacy, and was going to stay up and play the next WSOP event in seven hours.
“You play better on x?” I asked, finishing off my beer and looking toward the elevator.
“The decisions are a lot clearer,” he said.
The three weeks had been tough. Though I knew people, I still didn’t know people. My work colleagues were involved in their own work and in bed well before I was done with work. Dr. Pauly was hiding under a massive workload and milking the high life at the Redneck Riviera for all it was worth. Everybody else was playing cards. So, I played cards, or else I slept.
When you’re in Vegas for an extended period of time, it is easy to stop believing in people. Even when you grow up like I did, never being suspicious of people and always believing there is a good side to everybody, you start to see true greed and malevolence where you once believed it couldn’t exist. You find yourself clinging to the faintest shreds of friendship on the hopes that, when it’s all over, you’ll still have an innocent soul. Over the course of those three weeks, I found myself seeking out an odd couple named John and Marie who played $10/$20 almost every night. In the odd hours just before sunrise, they were people who knew my name and always greeted me with a smile.
But that was about it.
***
Looking back over the past 31 years, with the exception of my family, there have only been a few people who have directly and dramatically impacted my life and future. Most of those people have been close friends or people who would go on to be close friends. I think only twice have complete strangers had such an effect.
The first was a guy named Andy.
There was a time when I was stuck in Mississippi, living lakeside in a one bedroom apartment, and staring so deeply into my navel that I eventually convinced myself I had belly button cancer. Andy, who went on to become my boss in TV for six years, took a shot on me when he didn’t really have to. During my tenure under him, I did everything I could to make him proud. And I did, I think. I won a couple big awards and, generally, kicked ass as long as I could before television ate my soul.
When my soul was most of the way through television’s digestive tract, Wil Wheaton came along.
The story has been chronicled here before, so I won’t go deeply into the details. Suffice it to say, Wil is the reason I’m doing what I’m doing today. When he was offered an opportunity, he pointed at me and said, “Give this guy a shot.” That was eight months ago and until earlier this month, we had done no more than exchange a couple of e-mails.
***
I had moved out of the Rio the day before and headed over to the Mirage. The change of scenery, while not necessarily convenient, was welcome.
I was due back at the Rio at 11:30am for a media event my company was hosting. When I arrived, the room was already buzzing with media types and deli sandwiches. In the middle of the room stood John Vorhaus.
I’ve always been a little in awe of John. I may be wrong about this, but I believe he pioneered the concept of “live blogging” a tournament as it is known today. When Wil pointed Stars my way, Mrs. Otis ran to the store and picked up a copy of one of Vorhaus’ books.

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