One in a 100

28 Mar

WHO: Amtrak Holiday Party
WHAT: Poker Dealer
WHERE: Emeryville
HOW MUCH: $20/hour
WHY: Money

STORY: It was a chilly Friday night during Winter Holidays 2011, and one Bart ride and Emeryville Go Around bus trip later, I was in what seemed like corporate wasteland. Those who’ve visited the teeny city know what I mean (buildings, clean streets, no people). I spotted one such building lit romantically with dim chandeliers and bustling with smartly dressed middle-agers. This was one of my first gigs and also the first time I’d be dealing poker. I walked in defiantly, if not a bit nervous.

At a meager 5’2″, I had some difficulty wading through the crowd of high-heeled redwoods to locate the “game room” at the back, tucked behind purple velvet curtains (mmhmm, purple velvet). I found John, the man who hired me, an amiable big-bellied fellow who looked descended from a long line of van-driving entertainment men. He pointed me to my table and handed me a new deck of cards. “Just hang out for awhile,  we’ll get started in a few minutes,” he said. I eagerly settled into my dealer’s seat, unwrapped the cards, and spread them meticulously on the table, face up to show the players all the cards were there.

Another 20, and they opened up the velvet curtains to the party goers. A range of salt-and-peppered gentlemen and pungently perfumed ladies filtered in. “Oh my god! This is SO fun!” “I don’t know how to play! Can you teach me how to play! I DON’T KNOW HOW TO PLAY!” “They have a wheel? Now that’s a game I can play!”


How to Deal Hold ‘Em… Sort of

Everyone got one gold coin, which they could exchange for “$1,000” worth of chips to play craps, black jack, or no-limit hold em. At the end of the night, the person with the most chips got a grand prize (an apple iPad!)

The first to sit at my table was a friendly couple, I’ll call them Jill and Jack; Jill, a thick white woman who worked for the company and Jack, a close-shaved black man who “banged nails for a living.” We quickly struck up a conversation and Jill told me about all the properties the company owned, including the neighboring Amtrak station. We also celebrated her recently obtained bachelor’s degree. Cheers!

After the table filled up, I began to distribute chips in exchange for gold coins. A young, Justin Timberlake type sat down and cooly engaged me in poker talk — the local card clubs he frequented, what games were good, what limits he played. He complimented me on my chip-handling skills. Well, thanks. He then turned to his friend for more poker small talk, and knocked over his fresh cranberry vodka all over the felt, including on the beautiful spread of cards. Never good to be too cocky at a poker table, IMO.

Several apologies and paper towels later we were back on track. Hands were dealt, people began playing (badly, of course), and all was fun and well in amateur poker hour. And then Scrooge showed up. Scrooge (not his real name, obviously), was a wiry and mean-spirited older white man. He raised every hand, gloated every win, and violently splashed the pot every bet (a poker no-no). I’m all for aggression at the poker table, but this man wasn’t there for fun. He was there to humiliate his opponents.

After about an hour, Jill had lost all her chips, while Jack was still hanging on with a few hundred. Jill wished her honey good luck, and got up to peruse the other games. As people busted and as attention spans waned, the table began to empty. Jack got up to find another beer and, I presumed, to play a different game. About 30 minutes later, Jack returned, and to our great surprise exclaimed, “Hey! Where are my chips?”

“I thought you were gone,” Scrooge mumbled. “Here!” Scrooge threw some chips back to Jack.

“YOU TOOK HIS CHIPS?” I gasped.

“I thought he was done playing,” Scrooge defended. “Besides, that’s more than what you originally had. I’m giving you like a hundred more.”

Lo and behold, Scrooge had slid Jack’s chips over to his own stack after he got up while no one was looking. WTF. NEVER do you take someone else’s chips at a poker table. In fact, it’s illegal to give your chips away even if you wanted to.

Jack, though perturbed, took it surprisingly well, and sat down to play. Thanks to some intel from a couple of players, we found out Scrooge was an extremely wealthy accountant. Of course, with all the dialogue of class and ethics happening at the time, this was a painfully obvious metaphor of the 1 and the 99. And this one was a total jerk.

Eventually, the MC called an end to the night, Jill returned to the table to fetch Jack, and both of them shook my hand and thanked me for dealing a good game. Satisfyingly, Scrooge, tho deep-stacked, was not among the top winners of the night. I cleaned up my table, took my rack back to John, and waited outside for the last Go-Around. Scrooge shuffled by me, head down, and gruffly wished me a good night. Even more than I despised him, I felt sad for this man who was going home alone, unattractive, and probably unhappy. I realized riches come in all forms, but no amount of money can rival the value of an honest man.


Geraldine performs the theme song to “Creepy Poker Video”

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