Press Talk: Poker, bocce and reading!

By Lou Brancaccio, Columbian Editor



So what the heck do I do — I’m often asked — when I’m not editing the paper and dropping literary bombs on politicians who do stupid stuff?

First, keeping track of stupid stuff is more than a full-time job. But when I find a moment here and there, I:

• Play a little low-limit poker up in La Center. Too many of us hang out with the same ol’, same ol’. Mainly because of this column, I get to run into a variety of bright, engaged residents who are not the usual suspects. One of my favorites? Billy the poker dealer. Billy stays informed by reading The Columbian. So do many poker players up there. We have a blast talking politics and community.

• Practice the art of bocce ball. What, you don’t know bocce ball? Worse, you didn’t know it was an art? Why, it’s the sport of Italian princes, I tell ya! I often team up with my wife, Maley — who is better than I am — and provide beat-downs to unsuspecting challengers.

• Read. I don’t often feel I can commit the necessary time to books, so I mainly stick to newspapers and magazines. Having said that, there is one book author I religiously follow:

Randy Wayne White.

Randy is an old friend from my Florida days when we both worked at the News-Press in Fort Myers. He ended up as a New York Times best-selling author. I ended up with Commissioners David Madore and Tom Mielke.

Go figure.

By any measure, Randy has made it. He lives on the exclusive island of Captiva off the southwest Florida coast. He also is connected to three high-end sports bar restaurants that all carry the name Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille. Doc Ford is the main character in his books. And now CBS has put in development a drama project based on this book series.

But Randy — being Randy — didn’t settle comfortably into his Doc Ford treasure. So he created a second series of books around a new main character. Hannah Smith.

Note: I’m going to Hannah Smith’s wedding today — honest! — but I’m pretty sure she’s not the Hannah Smith running around in the Florida backwater surviving escaped primates and raging fires.

Hannah — the one in the book — is a tough young lady who tries to make a living as a fishing guide but picks up a little spare change as a private eye. I had read two previous Hannah Smith books — “Gone” and “Deceived” — and a third book, “Haunted,” is on its way.

Mostly, I’m just like any other Randy fan, waiting in line at the book store to pick it up. But a few days ago, a FedEx package arrived at the office with an “uncorrected proof for limited distribution” copy of “Haunted.”

Inside the note read, “To Lou Brancaccio, Hannah’s pal, mine too.”

Bocce ball, I figured, would have to wait. I pulled up a lawn chair in my backyard and let the imagery take me away.

Randy writes with an attention to detail that brings you to the site. Although his books are fiction, he pushes hard to deliver factual details about the scenes he describes. In “Haunted,” he weaves in Florida’s often-overlooked role in the American Civil War.

But in the end, it’s the characters and the adventures of those characters that make “Haunted” a valued read. And Hannah, trust me, is quite the character.

On his book-signing tours, Randy used to make his way up to the Pacific Northwest, landing in Seattle. But now the guy’s got — let’s say — a few more years under his belt.

I spoke to him the other day and asked him how he liked it up here.

“Loved it,” he said. “But can’t do those coast-to-coast tours and still meet deadlines plus have some fun.”

o o o

On occasion, I find my way back to Florida and hook up with Randy at one of his rum bars. We talk about old times and eat chicken wings. When I arrive back in Vancouver, I try to follow his advice about doing the fun stuff.

Speaking of fun, after this Hannah wedding, who’s up for bocce ball?