T"Now when I was a little chap," recalled Joseph Conrad at the beginning of Heart of Darkness, "I had a passion for maps. I would look for hours at South America, or Africa, or Australia, and lose myself in all the glories of exploration. At that time there were many blank spaces on the earth, and when I saw one that looked particularly inviting on a map (but they all look that) I would put my finger on it and say, 'When I grow up I will go there.' "
I was the same way as a boy. I think the Old Dart Coach, Howie Reed, must have also been. I don't know what sparked his wanderlust but I remember the moment I knew I would travel to faraway places.
My parents and some friends (they called themselves the Drink, Dance, Drink Club) had been out partying, as they often did in those days. They were their own little Rat Pack.
Chubby Checker had just burst onto the scene. I remember my mom and dad practicing the Twist barefoot in our living room with towels, like they were drying their backs after a swim, as they also pantomimed tamping out cigarette butts with the tip and heel of their toe. It was funny to watch. But it's sad to remember. Those were good days, so long before both my parents passed.
The next morning there were little presents on the kitchen counter for my siblings and me - small umbrellas from some of my parent's drinks. I don't know what my brother did with his. Probably he taped it to a frog or a snake and set it on fire. Surely my sister saved hers and probably still has it. Girls are like that. Not me. I did with my little parasol just what in later years I did with a golf ball (after I peeled off the rubber bands inside and punctured the rubber bit in the center it squirted something horrible into my eye), small tape recorder, cassette player and most recently my Blackberry. I took it apart.
As I began to investigate the handle I found that it wasn't a small piece of wood or toothpick as it appeared. No, it was mysterious. It was a small, tightly rolled piece of paper. I began to pick away at it, got a hold of a small edge and started to pull, ever so gently. As I unraveled the handle, careful to not tear it, alien writing began to appear - sort of like hieroglyphics.
There was a message! I had discovered something! I went running to my mother.
"It was made in China," she said.
That's when I knew, as Joseph Conrad once did, "When I grow up I will go there."
I collected stamps. I remember the ones from Sri Lanka and Monaco were bright and colorful - and triangular. I sent away for travel brochures. I was the best in my class at memorizing the capitals of countries. I'm still pretty good when this category pops up on Jeopardy. I read about all the old explorers, the Mayans and Incas, tales of pirates, ancient grave robbers and cannibals. I still have my old copy of Heart of Darkness.
Eventually I began to realize my childhood dream. I began to travel the world.
The Old Dart Coach has traveled too. I know he's been to Bangkok, where I was as I began to draft this. He was here just a few months ago and substituted for a couple of league teams, as did I recently. I'm told he got whooped. I did too.
I wonder if he's been to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel? I wonder if he's checked to see if there's a dartboard on the wall in the Author's Lounge in the old wing or in the famous Bamboo Bar in the main wing? I don't know.
But I have and as I write now I can assure you - as spectacular as it would have been to walk to and from the line in the footsteps of history - in either of these two of the most historic bars in the world, there is not a dartboard to be found anywhere among the fancy white rattan (in the Author's Lounge) or rich teak furnishings (of the Bamboo Bar). What a shame.
Still, the Oriental is a place of marvel. Nestled under tall and shady trees against the bank of the meandering Chao Phraya River, for years the hotel has been rated among the top in the world (from 1981 through 1990 it was rated number one). Opened in 1876, it counts among its guests the likes of Neil Armstrong, Lauren Bacall, George Bush, Jacques Chirac, Sean Connery, Mick Jagger, Henry Kissinger, Helmut Kohl, David Beckham, Sophia Loren, Richard Nixon, Pelé, Queen Sofia of Spain, Princess Diana and Prince Charles, Omar Sharif, Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Jackson.
The aptly named Author's Wing has suites named for esteemed authors such as Somerset Maugham, Graham Green, Noel Coward, James Mitchner and of course Joseph Conrad. That's the suite where I holed up. The reason should be obvious. My guess is the Old Dart Coach, world renowned boxing journalist that he has long been, would choose the Ernest Hemingway Suite, but there isn't one.
The heart of the darts scene has been in the Sukhumvit, Soi 22-24 area of the city, mainly around Queen's Park Plaza and Washington Square. But times are changing. Rents are increasing, development (which has begun and supposedly will convert the entire Washington Square area into the tallest high rise in Bangkok) is encroaching and the cozy old-time darts bars are closing down or relocating.
But it's not all bad news, not by a long shot. Thank Vichai Govindani for that.
Friend of the legends, fond of the ladies and bearer of as much jewelry as Bobby George, Govindani has been the main darts macher throughout all Thailand since the 1970s. A couple of years ago, he opened a terrific new establishment called the Singha Darts Club on Asok Road. It's currently (and certain to remain for a long time) the top place to throw in the city. It's a damn nice joint. I say this not only because the other night I missed the bull by a whisker to finish 164. I couldn't be disappointed though since I was actually sitting on 154.
For many years, there was a divide between Govindani and some of his crew - the best of the players in the country and some of the best in the region - and ex-pat newcomers like Johnny Witkowski and Keiran Brown (who deserve credit for encouraging an influx of new blood, and foreigners, into the sport). Just as the Japanese karaoke bars here often deny entry to the Thais, or anyone who is not Japanese for that matter, for many years the Thai players and those who were not rarely welcomed each other in their pubs.
But that's changing too. And as much as anything it's a tribute to Govindani. He's become a mellow fellow. It wasn't always so. Once years ago at the Pattaya Open the Old Dart Coach himself - calm, cool and collected as he always is - threw an uppercut that sent Govindani flying off the stage.
As Howie put it, "I was younger then." But yes, even that's changing.
What remains the same for both Howie and me is our passion for the sport of darts, unbridled wanderlust, and energy to share the wide world of darts with you. So stay tuned. We ain't goin' anywhere but everywhere.
And that's right here.
From the Field,