Five Years And Going Strong

Today is the 5-year anniversary of me waking up at 5AM in Prairie Village, Kan., shoveling away the seven inches of snow around my moving truck tires, and rolling out of town to Las Vegas.

I had a great 17-year run in Kansas City. I moved seamlessly from the UMKC athletics department to the now-defunct Kansas City Blades to Metro Sports to owning my own business. I lived in Independence, Overland Park, Merriam, KCK (Kansas City, Kan.), and owned homes in Waldo and Brookside.

I met some wonderful people and made many new friends.

By 2010, I was ready to break away from the cold and snow and head to the desert.

The first five years in Las Vegas have been amazing. I went to poker school and got a job immediately. I was a manager by 18 months. I jumped from my first job in the suburbs to the world-famous Las Vegas Strip earlier this year.

I have made a slew of new friends. I had a son. We live in a great house in Henderson with a huge backyard and a pool.

There was one significant loss. Pirate, my beloved German shepherd mix, passed away after almost 12 years together. I still miss him.

Overall, however, Las Vegas has been very good to me.

This is how deep the snow was the day I left for Vegas. It had snowed 7 inches overnight.
This is how deep the snow was the day I left for Vegas. It had snowed 7 inches overnight. I miss Pirate. He enjoyed his retirement to Las Vegas.
Heading out on Interstate 70 across Kansas.
Heading out on Interstate 70 across Kansas.
No, I don't think I will.
No, I don’t think I will.
The next stop after six hours across Kansas.
The next stop after six hours across Kansas.
I spent the night on the Colorado/Utah border, then headed out the next morning to complete my trip.
I spent the night on the Colorado/Utah border, then headed out the next morning to complete my trip.
Utah is pretty nice.
Utah is pretty nice.
Out of Utah -- and briefly Arizona -- and about to enter Mesquite, Nev.
Out of Utah — and briefly Arizona — and about to enter Mesquite, Nev.
a.k.a. The Las Vegas Strip.
a.k.a. The Las Vegas Strip.
Pirate and I posing at the Welcome to Las Vegas sign.
Pirate and I posing at the Welcome to Las Vegas sign.

Make 2014 A Better Year

I have heard and overheard a number of people say recently, “2013 was the worst year of my life”, “I can’t wait for this year to be over”, “this has been a terrible year” or some variation of such.

I also feel this way. Personally, 2013 has been a terrible challenging year. Maybe its the 1-3 at the end of the year. That unlucky number 13. However, I came into 2013 expecting and hoping for a big year. It did not work out.

The lowlights:

Three different women broke up with me (on a positive note: three different women dated me!)

I completely bombed in the World Series of Poker. No cashes, finished 39th in the $2,000 qualifier to the Main Event when I needed a top 20 finish to get in. In one memorable live game I lasted three hands, losing $200 with Q-Q on a board of 6-4-6-2-4. I had raised preflop, my opponent called with 8-6 offsuit.

In October, my loyal German shepherd companion Pirate had to be put down 10 days shy of his 12th birthday.

I was told by my employer that if I didn’t shorten my vacation it would not be approved. This was a vacation to the Philippines I had been planning for six months. I caved, and shortened my vacation by seven days. It didn’t help, as my employer laid me off five days before I was to leave on vacation. (Another positive note: I went on vacation to Boracay and Manila in the Philippines).

Upon arriving in the Philippines my (ex) girlfriend informed me via text that I was going to be a first-time dad at age 44. Currently, me and the mom-to-be of my July 2014 baby are not in a relationship. (Obvious positive note: I’m going to be a father!).

As 2013 wraps up I am unemployed, without insurance and going to be a father.

I don’t want to come off as negative because I don’t feel that way. I know three-fourths of the world’s population lives on less than $2 per day while I live in a suburban house with a backyard and an in-ground pool.

A majority of the world walks, or rides animals/bicycles to get places. I drive a very nice car, which I love. I will probably have to sell it and find something more affordable and baby-friendly, but for now I am enjoying it.

I am generally healthy, though I could shed a few (ok, 40) pounds.

I am writing a blog on a nice Mac computer while watching a football game on a 55-inch TV.

I live in Las Vegas, my favorite city in the entire world.

My life isn’t that bad.

2014-Numbers-Happy-2014-Wallpaper-New-Year-ImageFor reasons good and bad, we all need to put 2013 behind us and look forward to a great 2014. There is no doubt I am finishing up the worst year of my life. But I am going to choose to be positive and move forward in 2014. We all need to try to make sure each new year is better than the year before. And we can do this by taking stock of ourselves and leaning on each other.

Here are a few ideas:

Read More/Watch Less. Yes, I am watching a football game while I am writing this. I like the noise more than I care about this bowl game. But I’ve also rediscovered the joy of turning off the television and embracing the written word this year. I’ve alway loved books, but I don’t take enough time to read. This year I tackled “Quitter” by Jon Acuff, Andy Andrews’ “The Traveler’s Gift” and “When The Mob Ran Vegas” by Steve Fischer. They were all excellent. I love great story-telling and thoughtful prose. Do you really need to know what the Kardashians are doing when there are so many great books unread?

Save More/Spend Less. I’ve always struggled with saving and budgeting. I like things too much. I’m an early adopter of new technologies. All of this has led to being a 44-year old man with not enough savings or retirement. No more. I know I can’t get a handle on my money without some professional help. I am turning that part of my life over to Dave Ramsey. I recently met a person who has completely reworked his finances over 18 months by following Dave’s plans. I am taking my first class next week and am looking forward to the journey.

Be Kind. Be Grateful. Each day be grateful for what you have and be kind to someone else. That positive energy is good for the heart and good for the soul. Say hello to a passing stranger. Smile while waiting in line at the post office. Tell a woman you love her shoes. Let someone who seems to be in a bigger hurry than you cut in front of you in line at the grocery store.

Be The CEO of You. I can’t take credit for relocating to Las Vegas or buying this great house if I don’t also take blame for being laid off. You are the CEO of you. Take all the credit for the great things you have your life. But take the blame when things are going South. Show some personal responsibility.

I read an article at Christmastime about consumers who were at odds with UPS for not delivering their Christmas presents on time. It seems UPS was overwhelmed by the amount of packages shipped and just didn’t get the job done despite extra shifts, extra planes and extra personnel. Consumers were taking to Twitter and to Facebook saying UPS ruined their Christmas. Christmas is not about material objects. It’s a religious holiday that is also celebrated by non-religious people as a season of giving — of presents, yes, but also of time, donations to charity and kindness to others. Therefore, UPS could not ruin Christmas. You ruined your own Christmas by believing the only thing that mattered was the timeliness of your gift delivery. Has anyone ever been mad about receiving a gift December 26th instead of the 25th?

We are all works in progress. I am far from perfect, and know I will never reach perfection. But I am going to keep trying to better, to be kinder, to save more and to grow my mind and strengthen my body. I hope you will, as well.

Good riddance, 2013. Happy New Year 2014.

Pirate’s Last Day

I have experienced some sadness in my life, the loss of my mother to cancer when I was 19, the loss of my grandparents, broken relationships, disappointing results on an athletic field or poker table.

But this sadness is different. As I write this blog at Noon Friday I already know that my beloved dog Pirate will no longer be with me at Noon tomorrow. Pirate is living with a tennis ball-sized mass on his liver, and his liver is shutting down. Although he wants to eat he does it sparingly because he can barely go to the bathroom. He’s lost 18 pounds in three weeks. Rather than risk him having major surgery at the advanced age of 11 (he would be 12 years old in 10 days), I have decided the most unselfish thing I can do is send him to the great big dog park in the sky.

With all due respect to Kevin Hawn, who I have known since second grade, or Jim Nelson, my friend since college, or Ben Devlin, my confidant and amigo here in Las Vegas, Pirate has been my best friend the past 12 years.

At this first vet visit, Pirate was just 9 pounds -- almost alll of it head!
At this first vet visit, Pirate was just 9 pounds — almost alll of it head!

I adopted Pirate when he was three months old. He came from Wayside Waifs in Kansas City, one of the last puppies adopted out of a litter of 10. For someone who’s never really had a pet, I fell in love with this guy immediately.

Pirate came to my house with a purpose. When I adopted him in 2001 my house has been burglarized twice over a three-month period. I was living in the Waldo area of Kansas City, which is not a bad neighborhood. I was also working as a producer and anchor of a live television show in Kansas City. Therefore, if you knew where I lived, and you knew I was on TV at the moment, you knew I wasn’t at home.

Pirate’s job was to protect our house, and he was a champ at it. Though he would prove to be a big softie who loved everyone and just wanted attention, he was blessed with a massive bark. To prepare for Pirate I had a privacy fence put around my house. Once Pirate was added, no one dared break into my house again. The sound of the dog you couldn’t see behind that fence was a warning to would-be criminals — stay out!

The big secret, however, was the Pirate wouldn’t hurt a soul. He was beloved by neighbors, the postal carriers/UPS drivers who came to my door and by everyone who met him. All he asked of anyone who visited the house was a belly rub for as long as you could.

When Pirate was still young and small, Kansas City was hit with a huge ice storm. The impact felled trees and knocked out power across the city. Pirate and I had to move in with friends in Overland Park while our house was without power for eight days. There he shared a house with two cats, Jordan and Skyy. Pirate never chased them or barked at them, and he generally stayed out of their way.

Pirate and I moved to the Brookside neighborhood of Kansas City in 2004. There he had a huge yard with a picket fence on the corner of a fairly busy intersection. Pirate loved to patrol that yard. He wore a way a strip of grass the width of a dog just inside the fence line the entire 300-foot length of that fence. He loved to chase bunnies and squirrels out of the yard. But his favorite past time was to go down to the far corner of the fence, nearest the stoplight of the intersection. He would stand there whenever a city bus was at the light, ready to make a left and go up the hill past our house. As soon as that bus started up the hill, Pirate would sprint along the fence line stride for stride with that bus, barking the entire way, before screeching to a halt just before smashing into the south corner of the fence. He loved chasing those buses.

Pirate loved his Brookside home, even in the snow.
Pirate loved his Brookside home, even in the snow.

In our Brookside house he grew to be 80 pounds. He loved our weekly poker game, with 10 guys coming over to play cards, watch sports and feed him the occasional pizza crust or bratwurst. He was friends with all the dogs in the neighborhood, especially Max, Lucy and Buddy. All three of those dogs were much smaller than Pirate, but he was always a gentle giant with them. They never feared him. He just wanted to get along.

He loved our neighbor’s rose bushes, and she loved him coming over to smell them and hang out. One time I inadvertently left the front gate of the fence open. Pirate went outside a little later, walked out the front gate, across the street and right into a neighbor’s house. He was a curious and friendly guy.

We stayed in that house for five years. By then, Pirate was famous. He had been on television several times from my days as a sportscaster for Metro Sports. He made an appearance in the Benedictine College yearbook one year. He even modeled a Benedictine College handkerchief in a marketing flyer sent out to all the alumni. Even before I was on Facebook and other social media, it seemed like everyone knew Pirate. He would spend holidays at friend’s houses when I was out of town and meet their families.

Pirate loved Christmas at the Brentano house, hanging out with his best friend Espn (right), Wrigley, Skyy and Jordan.
Christmas at the Brentano house, hanging out with his best friend Espn (right), Wrigley, Skyy and Jordan.

His favorite family to visit was The Brentano family. Pirate spent several Thanksgivings and Christmas Days with them while I was traveling to Las Vegas. They loved him, and he loved being there. Jordan and Skyy even began to accept him because he would never chase them. Plus he knew his jobs at the Brentano house. He was assigned to eat up all the cat food the cats dropped on the floor (because they wouldn’t) and to chase all the geese out of the backyard and into the pond. He loved those jobs.

When Espn and Wrigley would come along later, the dogs of Matt Brentano and Kelly Brentano, respectively, Pirate would become their big brother and best friend.

Pirate was never much of a toy dog. He would have a few that he would squeak or walk around with from time to time. But eventually he would get tired of them. Espn and Wrigley were much more into toys, and Pirate would often give his old toys to those two dogs, or just leave them at the Brentano house when he left. Those dogs loved his toys.

Pirate also had a special relationship with his Grandpa Al. My brother and two sisters all have children, but I never have. Pirate was my child. To my dad, Pirate was another grandchild. Grandpa Al loved to visit Pirate, get down on the floor and wrestle with him. In turn, Pirate would jump and snort and bark and love every minute of it.

The hardest phone call I had to make was to call my Dad and tell him I am putting Pirate down. Even though he hasn’t seen Pirate in two years, he was devastated.

In 2010, Pirate and I moved to Las Vegas. I joked that Pirate was “retiring” to Las Vegas. We struggled together living in an apartment for nine months before finding a house to rent. Eventually, I purchased a house in Henderson. When I was house shopping I was thinking about Pirate as much as myself. I found the perfect house for him. It has a pool and a huge backyard, which is rare in Vegas. When Pirate was younger he loved to swim whether it was in our neighbor’s pool or the lake at Shawnee Mission Park. In the past year, he didn’t swim much as his hips started to bother him. I did coax him into the water a couple of times this last summer when his friends Shane, Luke and Gavin came to visit. He loved those boys, and wanted to be in the water with them.

Give_me_that_breadstick
Even if they weren’t with him, Gavin, Luke and Shane would think of Pirate…and save him a bit of a breadstick.

That was probably Pirate’s greatest trait, his love of children. Even at 11, he still could conjure up the excitement of a puppy when kids are around. When he was younger he had Brynn and Colton, the two children of my brother Dave and his wife, Julie. I would bring Pirate to my grandmother’s house where he would let those kids call out his name a thousand times, crawl on him, hug him, chase him around. He didn’t care. He loved being with kids.

Pirate was happy every single day of his life. He had the run of the house. He knew the whole backyard belonged to him. He knew he had hundreds of friends that cared for him and loved him.

When I quit my job at Metro Sports suddenly I didn’t feel like I was alone because he was there. When I was battling some depression in my life he would lay by my side and comfort me. There have been many times in my life when a relationship had ended and I walked though the door and said, “Pirate, it looks like it just you and me again.” He always responded with a lick to the face.

He spent his last day with nothing but happiness. Friday night he had a dinner of brisket, a little piece of filet mignon topped with cheese and ketchup. That meal last about 12 seconds in his bowl. We went for a walk around the neighborhood. He has slowed, and even a short walk is a hard for him. But he finished up on the little patch of grass in our front yard, marking his territory one more time.

This morning I made a trip to Starbucks, and Pirate got to enjoy as much of my coffee cake as I did. We went on a car ride in my convertible. He always loved those rides. Pirate asked this his last meal be a bacon cheeseburger and fries from Jack In The Box. We took the food to the park and he woofed it right down.

Pirate came into my life when I needed him, and he has been a blessing every single day since then.

I love you, Pirate, with all my heart. Thank you for every minute I got to spend with you. You touched a lot of peoples lives. And you forever changed mine.

No New Year’s Resolutions

The headline is a little misleading because I am vowing to contribute to my blog/website more often in 2012. But I don’t consider that a New Year’s resolution as much as I consider simply paying more attention to the people, places and things that are important to me.

I am coming up on my two-year anniversary in Las Vegas — January 7, 2010, was the day I packed a 24-foot truck and departed cold and snowy Kansas City for sunny and warm Las Vegas.

In just two short years my life has changed immeasurably. Some of the people that came into my life when I first arrived in Sin City are only casual acquaintances now. Others are not even a speck in my rearview mirror.

In the meantime I have met a number of good friends, purchased a house, been promoted a few times and am looking hopefully toward 2012.

A few things I have learned along the way…

…Don’t give up on your dreams. No matter how frustrated you feel about not achieving all that you want don’t give up. Don’t let others dissuade you. If you are surrounding yourself with people who think your dreams are dumb or not attainable, you need to rid yourself of those people.

…Begin anywhere. This comes via my friend Lori in Kansas City. It’s so easy to get caught up in things that have happened to you in the past. Those bad experiences can eat at you and make you doubt yourself. Leave the past in the past and move forward. Learn your lesson and keep your foot on the accelerator.

…It’s better to burn out than fade away. I know it’s cliche…and a cheesy song lyric, but I believe it. If you are going to fail, fail spectacularly. Go out with a bang! Right before I moved to Las Vegas I lost $50,000 on a business endeavor in just six months. Trying to start a small business as the economy was failing and aligning myself with people that didn’t share the same amount of passion or investment that I had was a terrible idea. I failed spectacularly! But I would rather have tried and failed than live my whole life with the regret of never trying.

…Pack lightly. When I moved to Las Vegas I packed all my essentials in a 24-foot truck and drove across the plains of Kansas, the Rocky Mountains and south central Utah to my new apartment in Las Vegas. Then I had to fly home, get my car and my beloved dog, Pirate, and drive out again. After I finally bought a house 20 months later, I had to have another truck bring out my non-essentials from a storage unit in Kansas City.

I have learned an agonizing lesson in for being one guy with one dog (no spouse, no kids), I have way too much crap that I am hauling around: outsized and outdated clothes, old board games I will never play again, dozens of books, knick knacks, DVDs, electrical cords, artwork, sports equipment, etc. Get this excess stuff out of your life. No hoarding! Stop hanging on those two racquetball racquets because you used to play 10 years ago! When was the last time you actually hung up that piece of art you bought from somebody else’s garage sale? Are you really going to use your old dishes again someday?

Have a garage sale and dump this crap on somebody else (and put a few bucks in your own pocket). Give to Goodwill or a homeless shelter. Advertise it on craigslist. Or just put it out at the curb with a big sign that says FREE! I have been in my house since May and I am still working on getting excess stuff out of my life…especially baseball cards and electric football teams!

Happy New Year 2012 to all of you!