Isle of Man: Old friends teach me a lesson
I have an admission I must make: I was wrong about the Isle of Man.
I've had a long association with PokerStars, and when people have asked me what's on the island, my response has always been the same.
"The Isle of Man has three things: sheep, the TT motorcycle race, and PokerStars," I'd say.
In the past week I've learned that's a lot like looking in the sky and saying, "It has a moon."
I don't like to be wrong, but I'm happy to admit when I am. This is one of those times.
Rob, the driver who picked me up from the airport Wednesday night, thought he knew me when I got off the plane.
"Ah, Brad!" he said. "I've picked you up before, I think."
I felt bad telling him he hadn't, but it didn't matter, because we hadn't driven five kilometers before he was treating me like an old friend, sharing golfing stories, and talking about taking his mother shopping the next morning. Twenty-five minutes later, he said, "If you need anything at all, just call me."
I should've known then that I was going to like the Isle of Man.
I'm not a big city guy. I love to visit them. I love action. I love big experiences, but at my heart, I'm a small town guy. I feel at home in places where people know each other.
The Isle of Man has fewer than 84,000 people and only four main areas of commerce. You can drive from one end of the island to another in an hour if you want to. To get here, you have to fly through bumpy air over the Irish Sea in a small prop plane. To be here, you have to want to be here, and the Isle of Man does a very good job of making people like me want to walk its streets.
In the six days I've been in Douglas, I've bought my coffee from the same guy. A bartender recommended a different bar he thought I'd enjoy. A guy I rivered in a cash game approached me at the cage to congratulate me and let me know he was happy for us both winning some money. PokerStars employees loaned me British currency, bought me dinner, and gave me rides around town. Countless more locals offered to show me new things, invited me to their homes, and made me feel less like I was in a foreign place and more like I was coming back home. Much like Rob the taxi driver, it wasn't long before new friends felt like old ones.
This was also my first visit to a UKIPT event. I've written for years about how they are affordable festivals with a big-money feel, but I'd not experienced just how true that was until this week. The festival and its staff are as professional as any $10,000 buy-in series I've seen. I enjoyed the brief time I got to play here, and I'd be exceptionally happy to play some more someday.
I was treated with the same kind of friendly professionalism when I got a chance to visit the PokerStars office. Though I've been writing for the PokerStars Blog since 2005, this was the first time I'd met a lot of longtime PokerStars employees. They made me feel like a celebrity when I was here, which I have to assume is how they treat everybody. I knew they were good people, but I didn't know how good until this week.
That's all a long way of saying, again, I was wrong about this place. Yes, the weather can be ridiculous. Sideways rain isn't an event any more than lunch is. It feels like the wind is always blowing. It's a little chilly, and sometimes downright cold. But, unlike what I might have told people another time, the Isle of Man is a lot more than that. It's real people with genuine hearts who take an understandable and deserved pride in the place they call home.
A week was not nearly long enough to get to know this place properly. There was much I wanted to do and see that I simply couldn't fit in the schedule. The good thing is, I feel like I'd be welcomed back any time.
I have an early flight tomorrow, and I'm looking forward to going home, but I'll have a lot of fond memories from my time here in Douglas, and I hope this event comes back so I can do this again next year.
I'm not sure which cab driver will pick me up in the morning, but I sort of hope it's Rob.
After all, we're old friends now.
Isle of Man: Three feet to stand on
How to get a job at PokerStars (Version: Delicate)
At least you're not dead
In the belly of the beast: The PokerStars Data Center
Fanning the flames of conspiracy
PokerStars' real and virtual bodyguards
Poker evangelist, Lee Jones
When the stars come out in Douglas
Helping Hands at PokerStars
How (not) to play a UKIPT poker tournament
Matthew Robins, PokerStars' watchdog
Brad Willis is the PokerStars Head of Blogging