Saturday, June 11, 2011

Return to Zanzibar's

Back to Zanzibar's for good coffee, chess, and friends.

  I had a crummy, crummy, crummy week. While one customer kept changing their mind on what changes they wanted to a project seconds after I finished, another customer’s project kept having emergencies that got me so stressed out that I’ve been waking up at all hours of the morning checking my emails to see what’s happened now. On top of that, the Yankees got hammered by the Red Sox 3 straight nights to fall out of first place and now Joba Chamberlain is out for the year and probably next also. The Yankees have bounced back nicely to take 2 from the Indians, but without a bullpen, I can’t see them winning a championship, even if the hitting can carry them to the playoffs.

  Different people react to stress in different ways. Some people will drink or do drugs, some people will use their faith to carry them through, and a married Congressman from New York may send suggestive pictures of themselves over Facebook and Twitter to girls half his age that he’s never met in person.

  My faith carries me through many rough patches, but when the going gets tough, my main therapy is to play chess. So I decided to head to Des Moines yesterday morning to meet up with my friend Dan Troxell and his chess playing friends at Zanzibar’s Coffee Adventure on Ingersoll Avenue. Dan has just started his blog, which is called ‘Innocent Bystander, and if you get a chance you should check it out. In my opinion, it is most excellently written. After getting up at my usual time of 4:30 and walking Daisy and Baxter to the Jiffy for their Saturday beef stick treat, my very understanding wife Kathy took over beagle-sitting duties for the day while I headed 55 miles southwest to Zanzibar’s.

Greg (left) contesting a game with Dan.

  I arrived around 7:15. Dan and Mike were there and so was Greg Underwood. Greg wasn’t here the last time I visited Zanzibar’s, but we knew each other when he played in my free tournament in Marshalltown last October, where he won 2 out of 4 games including a win over Tim Crouse, who is rated 100 points higher than me. I ordered a big mug of strong coffee, an everything bagel with cream cheese and $3.72 later, I was ready for action. Greg placed a pawn of each color behind his back and I picked the hand with the black pawn so I was defending.
  Except for almost missing the mate threat, I was happy with my play. I missed very little over the board, defended accurately, and struck hard when the opportunity presented itself. Greg and I went over the game and then I switched tables to play Mike. Mike thoroughly outplayed me the last time we played, but made a mistake in giving up a rook for a knight, which allowed me to win. The tension I’d felt from work and the Yankees had completely evaporated as I got another mug of coffee and sat down to play with the black pieces again, ready for a tough struggle.

Mike and I on the 64 square battleground.

  It was an unexpectedly quick game after managing to catch Mike’s queen all by herself in the crossfire of my bishops, so we decided to play again and this time I had the White pieces.

  Mike was off his game today. He told me that he had also been pretty busy with his job and hadn’t had the time to play chess on Tuesday’s like he normally does. I could relate. Then Dan came over and we all talked for a bit. Since Dan is a Red Sox fan, I thought the subject of this week’s sweep would come up, but we both understand that for teams like the Red Sox and Yankees what happens in June isn’t worth crowing about. Only October matters for winning teams. After a little chit-chat, I got another bagel with cream cheese and a refill of coffee, and Dan and I sat to play. Once again, I drew the black pieces.

Richard Gere (or an amazing lookalike) chatting with an admirer at Zanzibar's. I tried to get a picture for enquiring minds, but I failed just like the rest of the paparazzi.

  A little touch and go, but luckily I had the Qd4 move to keep me from getting checkmated. After this game, Greg left and Dan, Mike, and I just sat for another hour talking about chess, blogging, boxing, and trading stories from our pasts. I think I even spotted Richard Gere at Zanzibar’s. I tried to sneak around to get his picture, but he kept on turning away from me. I figured he was so experienced at avoiding the paparazzi that I had no chance of getting a snapshot, so I took the best picture I could and left it at that. No one else believed I had gotten Richard Gere’s picture, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it! I left around 1, made my way to Half-Price Books across town. I picked up a couple of books and was back in Marshalltown ready for Daisy and Baxter’s afternoon walk for more beef stick treats by 3PM.

  When I checked my work emails to see what new crises had erupted, I was completely stress-free. I’m very grateful for people like Dan, Mike, and Greg who provide a day of respite for chess players like myself to get away from it all in the company of friends.