I’m not talking about the historical site in Texas. The Alamo of today’s tale is located in Sparks Nevada. It is a casino attached to a truck stop. However, it is at this casino where we set the stage for this story.
But first we need a little background. My grandfather was equal parts scoundrel and saint. During World War 2, he was a ball turret gunner on a B-24 Liberator. After the war, he married my grandmother and started a family. He became an educator. When he retired, he was a school principle.
When I was in kindergarten I was diagnosed with dyslexia. At the time, dyslexic kids were shoved into special ed classes and neglected. At least in the local school system where I grew up. But grandpa wasn’t having any of that shit. He knew I could learn, they just had to find the right way to teach me.
Grandpa loved to play cards. He’d play any card game known to man. Hell, during his eulogy the priest even commented on how fondly he remembered playing cards with my grandfather. And grandpa used cards to teach me math. Blackjack, poker, rummy, etc. But blackjack was always his favorite to play with me. He even taught me how to “count” cards while admonishing me to never get caught doing it. By the time I was in the 3rd grade, I could run count on a 6 deck shoe.
Grandpa was also my hero growing up. He went out of his way to keep me going while mom and dad did their divorce thing. We did a lot together. Fishing, playing cards, snooker, etc. But there was always a teaching moment built into each activity.
So, it is no exaggeration for me to say sitting down at a blackjack table is a sacred thing. Putting my cash down on the table and getting a stack of chips back is as holy to me as genuflecting at the altar is for a catholic.
Our story takes place not long after I started my legitimate trucking career. I had completed a 4 week school at the end of October and elected to wait until after Thanksgiving to start my over the road time with a trainer. It only took about a week for my trainer, who’s name was David, to decide I was competent enough to not need constant supervision. So we started “team” driving. I’d sleep while he drove and he’d sleep most of the time I drove.
The problem is, when you run too hard you also run out of hours. You are only allowed so many “on duty” hours before you have to take a “reset”. And we ran into our reset at Sparks Nevada. And we parked our truck at the Alamo. It was a decent little truck stop with nice showers and an attached casino. We could have picked a worse place to stop for a reset.
Now would be a good time to mention that David was getting paid for every mile I drove as my trainer. I was getting paid a flat weekly amount. I genuinely liked him. He was a good guy. He knew I was buttering his bread and he wasn’t above returning the favor.
This particular evening, we fueled up, showered and went in and had a nice steak dinner. David paid. He always paid for dinner. Then he decided we were going to hit the tables. He even gave me $20 to play with. Like I said, he was a good guy. I hit an ATM, snagged $30 of my own giving me an even $50 worth of seed money.
You never just sit down at a blackjack table. You size it up first. Are the other players at the table competent? Or are they just muppets throwing away their money one hand at a time? Obviously competent players are preferable. Honestly, an empty table with a bored dealer is ideal.
So, I’m walking around trying to find just the right table. By this point, David is off playing slots and has probably already lost $10. Slots are for suckers. Blackjack is the only game in the house where you stand a decent chance of breaking even. Casinos don’t keep the lights on by letting everyone hit it big.
Then I found what I was looking for. An empty $5 dollar table. With a bored looking dealer. A cute redhead dealer who looked bored. This was going to be a fun evening. I sat dawn at the seat closest to her right hand. If others joined the table, they would be less likely to fuck up my strategy if they weren’t between me and the dealer. I put my $50 on the table and heard those magic words “Changing $50”. She slid me my chips, put the cash in the drop box, made a gesture and said “good luck, sir” and we were off.
I don’t remember how many hands in we were when David found me. He was letting me know he was head back to the truck to get some sleep. I’d already turned my $50 into $100. So I gave him $20 worth of chips and said “there’s your money back, thanks for the loan” without even looking away from the table. The cute redhead and I went back and forth for a good long while. I wasn’t always ahead. But I never ran out of chips either.
I’d probably been playing about 2 hours when this old man comes wandering up to the table. Looked like he was about 10 years older than Moses. Asked if I minded if he sat down. Now that is polite. I nodded him towards a chair and said “It isn’t my casino, I can’t tell ya not to sit here”. He played a few hands before he struck up a conversation.
“My names Pete. You a driver?” He asked.
“I’m Dave, and just getting started. Still out with my trainer.” I said.
“I just retired this afternoon. Sold my rig. I figure after all those years behind the wheel, I ought to have a little fun with the proceeds.” He says.
It should be noted that I don’t normally talk while I’m playing cards. I’m not some savant who can do things automatically. I focus on the business at hand. And when I’ve got money on the table, it is business. But I sat there and shot the shit with Pete for a good 4 hours. I was on a 36 hour reset. I had plenty of time later to sleep. And Pete was a good player.
But I don’t think Pete cared if he won or lost. He just wanted to sit in one place and have an honest to goodness conversation with somebody. Pete didn’t have a family waiting for him. He said it never felt right to tie a woman down then leave her alone. So, here’s a guy who has been doing this longer than I’ve been alive who just wants somebody to bullshit with for a few hours. And I had a few hours to spare. Maybe it was kindness on my part. Maybe I just didn’t want to go back to the truck yet. But it was a fun evening playing blackjack with Pete.
By the time we were done, I was up $300 over the $50 I sat down with. Not bad for playing a $5 table. The cute redhead had been replaced with a hatchet faced older gentleman somewhere along the way.
As I stood to leave, I reached over to shake Pete’s hand one last time and I asked him “Pete, ya got any advice for a rookie?”
Pete thought for a moment and looked me in the eye and said “You keep the front pointed where you need to go and the wheels pointed down. The rest you can figure out as you go. It’s been nice talking to you. You be careful out there.”
Sometimes the best advice you can ever get is advice that leaves you wondering “What the fuck is that even supposed to mean?” It took me a while to figure out Pete’s advice. And I’ll leave you to chew on it for yourself. Because the very best advice means different things to different people.