Boaters from around nation race in 'poker run' fundraiser
BY CAROLINE GRUESKIN
May. 12, 2018
SPRINGFIELD, La. (AP) — At the end of a narrow road off La. 22 sits River Landing, a weathered, wooden marina with a boat-shaped bar decorated with pirate paraphernalia.
Boats slip in and out, but the place really comes to life just once a year when people from across the continent converge here, parking their brightly colored cigarette boats along the docks and setting out on a lively quest to hit eight bars in three days along a 200-mile loop in South Louisiana.
The Tickfaw 200 Poker Run ran during the first week of May.
Billed as Louisiana's largest power boat poker run, the event serves as a fundraiser for local organizations, especially the Livingston Parish Sheriff's Office, and usually draws 300 to 400 boats from as far away as California and Canada, said Casey Harrison, vice president of the Tickfaw 200 organization.
Harrison said the organization donated about $90,000 in equipment to the Livingston Parish Sheriff's Office last year.
Called a poker run, boaters buy a "hand" for $240. In reality, boaters get a card with a list of eight bars in lower Livingston Parish, Slidell, New Orleans and Madisonville. At each stop, they get a punch and at the end of the three days, they turn in their card for as many playing cards as bars they stopped at. Whoever is dealt the best hand wins a jackpot. Whoever draws the worst hand gets their money back, Harrison said.
The annual event dates back to the 1990's and was founded by Charlie Albert, who owned the marina before his death in a motorcycle accident in 2009 at age 54. "Crazy Charlie" was also known for setting two world records speed-racing across the Gulf of Mexico and appearing on the "The Real Gilligan's Island" reality show.
"He was quite the character," Harrison said. Everybody knew him. He had a short fuse with everybody. He told you how it was. But everybody loved him. He cared for the community, and he did a lot for a lot of people down here."
Albert passed the marina on to his close friend Joey Fontenot, under whose watch the event has doubled in size, Harrison said.
The event draws a varied crowd. Some people hire whole crews to haul in their multi-million dollar boats from across the country, while others pull smaller ones behind their pickup trucks or hit the docks behind their homes in lower Livingston.
With few hotels nearby, out-of-towners set up giant recreational vehicles and lounged outside on the morning of May 4, bleary-eyed as they recovered from a party the night before. They made pancakes and readied to spray out their boats for another day along the swampy rivers of Livingston Parish.
Veterans of poker runs held across the country say the Springfield event stands out for being "laid back."
"A lot of poker runs you go to, it's a muscle event. Who's got the biggest, who's got the fastest. And you don't hear that here. Everybody just has a good time," said Todd Campbell, of Greenville, South Carolina, who came for the first time this year.
But laid back doesn't mean no frills.
Campbell, who owns a crane business in Greenville, South Carolina, brought his 57 foot MTI V-Hull boat on a trailer to the event. The boat, which he said is worth about $1.5 to $2 million, carries 456 gallons of fuel and gets .6 miles to the gallon.
Some of the most lavish boats and owners bring along help. Jason Ventura, of Pompano Beach, Florida, owns a business that caters to poker run-goers. He stores some 28 boats at his home and brings them on trailers to events for their owners. At the events, he supplies a crew of people to drive the boats, spray them out and fix them in case of a breakdown.
On Friday morning, Ventura was wiping down a boat named "Dirty Money," an orange 368 Skater with sleek automobile-style motors. (The owners, he said, are in the excavator business.)
He said this poker run is distinguished in part by how many people stay in campers, whereas many others involve fancy hotels and restaurants, which visitors won't find unless they travel to New Orleans.
That's a favorite part for Chris Flenner, who works in the veterinary supplies industry in Nashville. Flenner said he stayed his first couple years in Hammond. But he got to know people at various poker runs around the country, he said, and now they all camp out together.
The group, which includes another man from Kentucky, hosts an annual "stick horse derby" by the wash houses every year, as the party continues into the night along the marina, Flenner said.
Some locals also join in the event, many with strong memories of "Crazy Charlie."
Patrick Canal, who is retired from the lawn mower business, lives on the Tickfaw River and has taken part in the run since 1997. On the morning of May 4, he took off with his 32-foot power boat from his slip dock in Springfield with several friends from Louisiana.
He said the event used to last just one day, and boaters aimed to zip all the way from Springfield to Slidell and back, stopping at several bars along the way. The boats would line up along the La. 22 bridge and "Crazy Charlie" would stand on his boat and allow people to go two at a time. They would race to the Prop Stop, a bar known for its signature drink, "The Worm Bucket."
"It's borderline dangerous," Canal joked.
Canal said he and Albert were friends, even though he would push back on Albert's at times fiery personality. In 2005, Canal said, he drew the winning poker hand — four aces — for a $1,500 jackpot.
"I think by the time I paid for the gas, we drank up the rest," he said.
Information from: The Advocate, http://theadvocate.com