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My Amazing Race

by Daniel Negreanu |  Published: Nov 20, '10


I was in LA for the NAPT event, and the night before I was planning on driving back to Vegas, my assistant Patty told me that we may have a problem. My passport expires on Dec 5th, but I planned on going to Barcelona for the EPT on Nov 20th for a week, and then on Dec 2nd I have a trip planned to Sydney for the APPT, but more importantly, it's a group trip that I've been looking forward to for quite some time.

The problem is, Patty made a pretty big mistake. My passport was supposed to be renewed quite a while ago, but got returned a few times for some random error. With a week before Barcelona, Patty mailed my current passport, along with my current birth certificate to the passport office in Canada, expecting it to return within a week! That's simply impossible. It takes 4 weeks by mail. Patty thought that was the only option, and didn't realize you could get an emergency passport within 48 hours if you have proof of travel.
So now I was worried that I wouldn't be able to go to Barcelona, and also worried about the Sydney trip.

The race starts out at 2:00am on Friday morning in Marina Del Ray, where I was staying during the NAPT. I took a nap at around 9:00pm since I had woken up really early that day and wanted to get some rest before the drive to Las Vegas. I left the apartment at 2:30am and was on the road home, expecting to get there around 6:30am. I ran into my first problem when the ramp to get on I-10 was closed. I had a navigator in my car and was able to find a detour that would hopefully get me to I-15.

Then, no joke, the ramp to I-15 was closed too! There was a Detour sign that I followed, but my navigator auto corrects and it kept wanting me to make a U-turn and head back to I-15. I followed the navigator back to I-15, but that obviously didn't work. Eventually I ignored the navigator and followed the detour signs and got on to I-60, which eventually led me to the I-15.

When I got onto I-15 there was almost no visibility so I slowed down and followed a car in front of me at a safe distance until we got through that area. If you've ever taken that drive, there is one stretch where sometimes the smog is so bad you can't see 50 feet in front of you. Kind of scary, so I took my time through it.

I stopped off in Barstow to get some gas and noticed that I was feeling pretty tired again. I decided to keep driving, but then about 20 miles out from Baker, I was getting REALLY tired. I'd slap my face a little to stay awake, and then I decided to speak Patua (Jamaican) to myself out loud just to keep my brain occupied until I hit Baker. I would look at the signs and make songs out of them. Just absolutely foolish songs, but whatever it took to wake up. There is a road named Yzzyyx or something like that, and I had a lot of fun chattin' to that one.

I made it to Baker safely and pulled over to where some trucks were, got in the back seat and slept for about an hour. By that time the sun was starting to come up and I woke up a bit chilly and hungry. There wasn't really anything open that early that I'd eat, so I stopped into a gas station, used the restroom finally, and grabbed a bag of chips and headed back on the road.

I got home at 8:00am and immediately got to work on the passport issue. Patty got me a few numbers to call, and since this is a government thing I had to handle it myself, they wouldn't release information to Patty. That's when I found out how screwed I really was. They told me I had no chance of getting to Barcelona and that they won't process my application until Dec 8th, which meant I'd miss Sydney also. I asked them to send me back my documents, figuring I'd miss Barcelona but still be able to use my passport for Sydney, but they informed me that the passport had already been canceled. Even if they sent it back to me, it was no longer valid.

Without a passport or a birth certificate I had nothing to prove I was a Canadian citizen, so I was told I would not be allowed to fly to Canada. Instead, I'd have to fly to a border town, like Seattle for example, rent a car, drive through the border with my U.S. drivers license and green card, and go to a passport office in Vancouver. Once again, I was told there is no chance I'd get that processed in time to make my Barcelona trip, but I was now more concerned with Sydney.

I called border control to confirm they'd let me in the country with a green card and drivers license and they said it would work. So the plan was to transfer my file from the Toronto office to the Vancouver office, and when the passport was ready sometime that week, I'd go pick it up, fly back to Vegas, and make my trip to Sydney. I was content with that, despite really wanting to make it to Barcelona.

I was on MSN with a few "VIPS" if you will, and I explained to them that I'd no longer be able to go to Barcelona, unless they had any ideas. Good news is, they did! They had a contact in Toronto, a guy I also know well, and he said he'd need a bit of time, but he may be able to help me get this passport in time to still make Barcelona! I didn't think there was much of a chance, and I was exhausted, but I threw on some sweats anyway, just in case I needed to make a mad dash somewhere.

He made magic happen and said that I needed to get to the passport office in Vancouver by 4:30pm. It was now 10:30am and it's a 2.5 hour flight to Vancouver. Patty and I looked up flights online, but there was no way I could make a commercial flight and get there in time to make it to the passport office.

The only option was to try and charter a private plane and hope we can get pilots on short notice. Most of the places we called said they couldn't get pilots in time for a 1:00pm departure, they normally need a 3-4 hour window. I couldn't really leave any later, though, because I'd miss the closing time in Vancouver and the passport office was closed on Saturday.

Finally, we found a plane, and pilots that said they'd do it. The fare was reasonable for a private plane, $15,000 one way, and if I came back with them that night they'd only charge me $2500 for the return. You are essentially paying for fuel, and that costs a few thousand an hour, so we decided to book it. It was the ONLY way I could make it to Barcelona, and I promised PokerStars I'd go, and I personally wanted to take another crack at an EPT.

I've flown private before, but this plane wasn't leaving from either of the two airports I normally fly out of. I was almost at the airport, yet still didn't have an address! Patty was dealing with paying for the flight, and the lady still hadn't given her the airport address. I went to both of the ones I knew, one on Las Vegas Blvd and the other one on Tropicana Ave, and Blue Star didn't fly out of either. Finally, Lisa, Patty's fiance, got me the address and it was a tiny road off of Koval called Reno Ave. A really tiny place, but I found it.

When I got there, the pilot was on the phone and seemed to really be taking his time. I was told they'd be ready to go, but he did not look ready at all. When he got off the phone I explained to him my time crunch, and that if they can't get me there in time there was no sense going at all. He got the message, found his co-pilot and started fueling the plane. The other pilot took my I.D. and faxed our info over to Border Patrol in Vancouver, and at about 1:15pm we were on the run way taking off.

All I had with me was a plastic bag with some veggies and a tub of hummus, along with my I-PAD. I was pretty exhausted already, so I took a nap on the plane, and when I woke up we were landing in great time. We touched down on Canadian soil at 3:30pm, which seemed like plenty of time to drive to the passport office. Unfortunately it was raining, and we would have to deal with rush hour traffic. The estimated travel time without traffic was 30 minutes.

We sat in the plane and I was wondering what the hold up was. Well, the Canadian customs people that were supposed to greet us weren't even there, and the pilot said he can't let me off the plane until they arrive.

Well apparently, they messed up protocol. Yes, they faxed over my info, but Canadian law says they were supposed to also verbally tell them the names of the passengers on the plane. They didn't do that, so we sat on the plane waiting. It was close to 4:00pm now and I figured I was doomed. Luckily my contact in Toronto hired a lawyer to go to the passport office and try to keep it open a little longer, just for me. I didn't know how long he could stall them, and still no sign of customs. He tried to get an agent to bring the passport to me, but that wasn't an option.

Then the pilot hit me with something that made me lose my temper. He told me that if we didn't get the passport, he couldn't bring me back to Vegas with just a green card and a drivers license, which means I'd be stuck in Vancouver till Monday! Now, I love Vancouver, but had I known this I NEVER would have taken the chance. I brought my I-PAD, but forgot to add the international plan. I had my blackberry, but didn't have chargers for either. I just dreaded the notion that I'd be stuck in a hotel room until Monday. It was a bit of a nightmare. After paying $15,000 to make this all happen, not only would I not be getting the passport, but I couldn't return home either. No clothes, no laptop, no toothbrush! Ha, obviously I'd make due and buy clothes if necessary, but I just didn't expect this to be a possibility.

Finally at about 4:06pm customs finally showed up and approached the plane. They were nice, I explained my predicament, and they said they'd be as quick as they can. I got off the plane at 4:17pm and jumped in a car that was waiting for me.

The traffic didn't seem bad at all, and despite explaining to the driver that I really needed to get there asap, he was the slowest driver I've ever seen. He never left the far right lane while cars just whizzed passed him. I got to the office at 4:53pm, fully expecting security to not let me in, but he said, "We've been expecting you." I walked into the office and saw Ron (the lawyer) and Tracy (the passport agent) standing there chatting. I couldn't believe I made it!

Sitting in front of her was my precious passport. Two quick signatures and that was it! I got it! It was a pretty surreal feeling to be honest, I went through a roller coaster of ups and downs to make it happen, and in the end I had passport in hand, gave it a kiss, thanked Ron and Tracy 100 times, and was back in the car headed to the airport.

I got back to the airport lounge and the pilot said we might have to make a stop in Seattle because customs in Vegas may be closed already. I didn't even care! I was like, "Whatever man, I don't even care anymore." A far cry from how I felt on my way to Vancouver. I was so relieved, that a delay wasn't going to stress me out at all.

As it turned out, we didn't have to make the stop in Seattle. When we landed in Vegas we waited on U.S. customs for a bit, but nothing crazy. He stamped my brand new passport, and I was back in my car on my way home. I must have been asleep by 10:00pm and woke up at 8:00am Saturday morning.

My flight to Barcelona leaves tonight at 8:00pm which gives me plenty of chill time. I fly to London then Barcelona, and will be playing day 1B of EPT Barcelona. How can I not win that tournament after all that?

Daniel Negreanu is the 2004 CardPlayer Magazine and World Poker Tour Player of the Year. He presents his poker strategies in one-on-one virtual training at and writes a weekly syndicated newspaper column.
Read all of Daniel Negreanu's poker blog and poker articles at Full Contact Poker.

Any views or opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the ownership or management of
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