The Results of Trivia Bowl XVIII.

The final question involved the category of “Up in Smoke.”

My Street Academy trivia team had 125 points, tied for 10th place among 30 different teams. We were 17 points away from the lead, but needed a lot of luck to claim the big prize. We went all in.

“In what year did Colorado and Washington State become the first states in America to legalize marijuana for home use?”

We narrowed it down to 2012 and 2013, went with 2013. It was 2012. And even if we had said 2012, four other teams had that answer – including the team that won the big prize.

As I watched the winning trivia team, Lynch’s Mob, hoist the Trivial Bowl championship for the fourth time in their long journey, I had a different feeling than in previous Trivia Bowls. My Street Academy trivia team had played well – we got some tough answers right, we talked ourselves out of answers, and in the end we didn’t have the right answer to take the big prize.

But the emotion I felt this time was – well, we did our best. No shame. No tears. No stomping of feet. No rendering of garments. I was proud of my teammates, and we had a great time.

It’s almost as if … I felt a sense of relief afterwards. Not anger. Not disappointment. Not regret. It was simply … peace.

See, I’ve played competitive bar trivia for nearly 20 years. I still remember those Tuesday night games over at the Hooters in Crossgates Mall. I went in there as a distraction – a chance for a change in my life from the humdrum and the routine.

That first night, I walked out with a third-place win and a coupon for free 20 chicken wings.

And I thought to myself … this is nice. I could do this again. It could be a routine. You know, like when someone has Wednesday night as bowling night, or Monday night as mah jongg night.

It was great. Competitive team trivia. Okay, for me it was “Chuck versus the trivia teams,” but it was also a chance to make new friends and enter new friendly relationships. And it worked for a very long time.

All the teams I played against. The different personalities and the different nicknames. The squads that frequented the Hooters at Crossgates Mall – Pork is a Verb, Tres Hombres, ATTAX, all of them. Then the Hooters closed down, and most of the trivia teams moved to the Old Chicago bar on Wolf Road. And new teams arrived. And new teams left. Teams broke up. Teams renamed themselves.

And I kept playing. I moved my home game from Hooters to Old Chicago, and eventually to the Recovery Room near Albany Medical Center. Won a lot there, including a few weeks in a row when I won New York Giants tickets.

I remember the owner of Recovery Room getting pissed off that I was winning there every week, and he banned me from the bar for winning too many times. So I moved my home game to Brown’s Brewing in Troy.

And at Brown’s … I found a different trivia game. Hosted by Ryan West, a really nice guy with a ton of energy and personality. I also acquired my first true trivia teammates – when the category was “Arrested Development,” a show I honestly never watched – two people arrived at my table, said to me, “If you let us join your team, we’ll get every answer correct for you on this question.”

And then I had a trivia team. And in doing so, Jeremy, Alexis and I went back to Recovery Room and won the first-ever “Summer Bowl” trivia tournament. I’ve picked up a few more Summer Bowl championships, as well as two Trivia Bowl championships.

Then came my next trivia team endeavor. One of my blog readers contacted me and asked if I wanted to join HIS squad at the World Tavern Trivia championships in Atlantic City. I’m thinking … hey, a trip to Atlantic City, some time on the beach, a little photography, yeah, I’m thinking that would be fine.

We came in second place that weekend, and walked out with a nice batch of money.

One year later, we claimed our first national championship.

We repeated as champions a year later.

And then I invited Tim and his team to join me at a Summer Bowl tournament – and we won again.

I’ve had great moments playing local bar trivia. I’ve had head-scratching and frustrating moments as well.

Then COVID-19 came. Trivia went from a nightly game somewhere to an online contest. And for me, it just wasn’t the same. I didn’t feel the same excitement as I did at a tavern, eating wings or chomping on mozzarella sticks or downing pitchers of diet cola.

So returning to these big championship tournaments just felt – good.

And now I need to bare my soul about competitive team trivia. It helped me get through some of my darkest moments in life. I survived the emotionally crippling effects of a divorce through the support and encouragement of my trivia buddies and competitors and hosts. It’s one thing when you’re competing for a gift certificate at Brown’s against the super-tough squad A Few Cards Short of a Deck, and then a few days later members of that team are volunteering to help you move your possessions out of Pine Hills and into a new apartment in Green Island. A kindness that means the world.

Or the time I’m sitting in the Elbo Room, feeling like the worst person in the whole wide world, wishing I could walk outside and wait for the next motorist to knock me into the next intersection, and the captain of the trivia team you lost a $1,000 tournament to – the Clay Aiken Skidmarks – yes that’s their name – have a heart-to-heart with you about competition and friendship.

I remember all those trivia games. I don’t care if there were three teams against me or three hundred teams against me. I don’t care if I won or lost or landed in the middle. It just felt good. It felt like I belonged. It felt real.

No matter what horseshit was in my life at the time – medically, emotionally, physically, any sort of -ally – trivia was a go-to and a lifeline for me.

So I might not have walked out of the tournament yesterday with the big bucks and the championship trophy this time.

But in my heart, I know I walked out as a winner. And I’ll go back in there for Summer Bowl later this year.

And I’m definitely good with that.