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One-Way Ticket To Nowhere

by Nathan Gamble |  Published: Jun 02, 2021

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After losing the bulk of my bankroll on Full Tilt playing beyond my means, I floated aimlessly throughout college much like any other student. I would go to classes, chase girls, and hit the mountains for a weekend (or the more than occasional weekday) snowboarding trip. I didn’t have a job anymore, no real way of making money, and just lived a carefree lifestyle.

Any real money I had would instantly be plowed into an online account in hopes of reclaiming the glory and riches of yonder year. Much like a high school quarterback reminiscing on the glory days, there was little hope of ever reclaiming my fortune. I was destined to play endless hours and pay for the experience. Until…

One Saturday, I had amassed a couple hundred dollars on Ultimate Bet and took a shot at their Saturday $215 pot-limit Omaha event. Sadly, any game outside of hold’em doesn’t get more than a relative handful of players, so there was only a few thousand up top. But ultimately, that’s what I claimed as I finished on the podium holding gold.

It was roughly $6,000. I wasn’t one for waiting around, and as soon as the money was in my pocket, I instantly started researching warm and balmy locations to spend my Spring Break. After several hours of research, Costa Rica stood out for having good weather, lots of beaches, cheap flights, and a great exchange rate. I located a great hotel, booked a shuttle, and went online to find myself a reasonable flight.

I typed in San Juan, Costa Rica, and the system spat out a pop-up saying, “Do you mean airport code SJU?” I shrugged my shoulders and clicked yes. Before long, my flight was booked and my bags were packed.

I had a connecting flight, going from Denver down to Houston. As I was hauling my backpack over to the new gate, I heard an announcement stating that the next gate was for Puerto Rico. In the moment, it didn’t register as anything unusual as I assumed they were talking about another gate down the way from me. That is until I got closer and kept hearing “Puerto Rico” over the loudspeaker.

I looked up at my gate to see in terror the sign clearing saying it was the 1114 flight to Puerto Rico. My quick-witted readers will undoubtedly have noted that I thought I had booked a ticket to San Juan, Costa Rica, but in reality, it should have been San Jose. I had mixed up two entirely different cities, and the algorithm decided instead that I had messed up the country I wanted to fly to and it switched that instead.

The gate agent confirmed exactly where the plane was flying, and it wasn’t where I wanted to go. Keep in mind that this was before everyone was walking around with a cell phone, and even if you did have one, you weren’t using it for much other than calls. There was no such thing as jumping online to check out your options or rebook a hotel; what you had was what you had.

I made my way to the help desk and they politely told me that they could put me on a one-way flight to Costa Rica in the morning for the small price of $3,200. After internally reeling at the prospect of spending so much money with no guarantee of a return flight, I declined and jumped on a flight to Puerto Rico with no knowledge, no plans, and no support system. Seemed like it was time to take an adventure.

Shortly before taking my seat on the flight, I decided it would be a really good idea to let someone know exactly where I was going in case I never came back. I gave a short phone call to my dad. He was surprised at my willingness to jump on the plane, but thankful that I had at least let him know. He did as much research as possible and managed to book me one night at a hotel near the airport. It gave me a jumping off point in order to do some research of the area and try to scrounge together some more money by cancelling all of my Costa Rica bookings.

Upon arrival, I tucked myself into a tiny hotel room that was big enough for the bed, a small table, and a small bathroom. It wasn’t luxury living by any stretch of the imagination and had airplanes roaring overhead every couple of minutes, but at least it was a bit of a respite from the craziness of the journey.

I quickly learned that everything that had been booked for Costa Rica was non-refundable, given I was already supposed to be there. As such, I was left short on funds as the majority of my net worth was either in colon (Costa Rican currency) in my bag or loaded online on my Ultimate Bet account. I had roughly $80 a night for a hotel room, $10 per day for food, and $400 for emergencies or transportation.

Knowing there was little wiggle room on the activities I’d be able to do while in Puerto Rico, I booked a tiny beach side hotel room figuring it would give me access to free activities throughout the day. Upon arrival I ran into a couple of locals who suggested I go up the street a bit as there was the best burritos on the island right around the corner. They cost just under $9 each and as such I survived off of one burrito a day, with beach time lounging to entertain myself.

After a few days of this life, I was wandering up the beach when I stumbled across a beach side casino with a poker room squished into the corner. Not much about my time there stands out in my memory, other than deciding to pull out my $400 emergency money. With the intention of teaching the locals how to play poker, I left with zero dollars after running my pocket nines into another player’s pocket nines, and sadly a third players pocket queens.

I was broke, destitute, and far from home.

Ultimately, I floated around the island getting a massive sunburn, overloading myself on burritos, and even attended a relief concert for Haiti that was entirely in Spanish. I didn’t understand a word of it, but the people were nice and the drinks were free so I couldn’t complain. At weeks end, I happily jumped on a plane after the longest “vacation” I’d ever had.

Always double check your plane tickets, folks. Always.

I write these types of stories to share in the fun adventures that I’ve had, but also to remind everyone that no matter who you are or who someone appears to be we’ve all arrived at this point through smart decisions, as well as mistakes. We are all making this up as we go, and there isn’t a perfect answer for everything in life. Make mistakes, get sloppy, mess up from time to time but just remember to learn along the way. ♠

Nathan Gamble is a native of Texas where he learned to play Texas hold’em from his father. He is a two-time WSOP bracelet winner, the first coming in the 2017 WSOP $1,500 pot limit Omaha Eight-Or-Better Event, the second in the 2020 Online WSOP $600 PLO8/b event. A fixture of the mid-stakes, mix game community, he can often be found playing $80-$160 mix games at the Wynn since moving to Las Vegas in 2019. He is active on Twitter under the username Surfbum4life and streams mixed game content regularly on Twitch under his username Surfbum4lyfe.