Small Town Back Room

I have played in too many places to mention and even a few places that I truly don’t know where I was. I go back to some pretty wild road trips. I remember driving to Susanville for a blackjack tournament with a $7500 guarantee and a $20 buy-in. I was positive they couldn’t get 300 people for a blackjack tournament in Susanville. I made the six hour drive and was rather pleased when only seven players signed up. The tournament would be one 7-handed flight of twenty hands. Everyone starts with 500 in chips and can bet between 5 and 500. The tournament is going to pay four places. 50, 25, 15 and 10%. A nice $750 payday. A $7300 overlay and a EV of over $1000 for each of us. I began trying to work a deal immediately. The house said no. I didn’t care we can play it out and split afterwards. No deal. We can each save $500 and play for the rest. No deal. I hate stupid country folks.

The first hand, three of my opponents attempt suicide by betting everything. Of course the cards won’t let them and they all double up. I continue betting the minimum and being risk adverse, knowing that I am playing properly. I end up fifth and one place outside the money. I would still make the drive given the same circumstances, the deal was just too good to pass up.

I lick my wounds and sign up on the list for hold’em. They do not have enough players and there is not going to be a poker game. They don’t need one, every machine in the place has an old person feeding it $20 bills. I talk to a guy that is waiting for the game and he tells me he is going somewhere else to play. I ask if I can play there and he says, “sure follow me”. I jump in the car and roar off behind him. We are going to go play poker. Nothing else matters. At least for the first 40 minutes of the drive it seemed like a good idea. We have to be taking a back way as these are not highways. Now I wonder if I have enough gas. What little hole in the wall is south of Susanville? I am starting to see the set from Deliverance and I am driving through it, all I lack is a river and a few toothless locals.

We finally arrive at our destination which is a little tavern. Black something or another it is called the exact name escapes me, possibly Black Rock Tavern. We park in the gravel in the back and walk around to the front. We walk into a tavern that is completely empty, minus a few spiders and god knows what other creatures live in the place. There is a door with a knob like you would see in an old house, through that door is the room that holds the poker table. This thing looks like the drinking room in prohibition days, the thing is they didn’t clean it when they moved the bar to the main room. I know there must be a secret knock or something.

I follow my new friend, quickly recounting the days events and realizing he didn’t want to make the deal I proposed. This guy isn’t a friend. I just met him. I jumped off a 500 foot high bridge, I jumped out of a perfectly good airplane, I rode a 1500 pound bull, I caught rattlesnakes with my bare hands and never once was I scared. Why am I feeling the need to run?

As we walk through the door, I am pleased to see people and a poker table. This beats being an involuntary organ donor. As we walk in the lights of the poker room are too bright and my eyes are adjusting to the light. Suddenly, I hear my name. “Victor Shaw, what are you doing here?” Very subtle, I am going to slug him. Oops, it is the dealer that recognized me. I am not sure of his name, I do recognize him and know that he dealt blackjack at Elk Valley a few years ago. Howard or Phillip? I am not sure which it is…I decide I will go with Phillip. I know it is the gay guy. Somehow all my cute nicknames for him seem entirely inappropriate at the moment. I wave and give him my best STFU look.

The game is $2-$4 and it is a good one. The players are ABC and loose passive. Every flop by every player. Any two will do. Being on a pair draw is a reality for these folks. A ten on the river is the gin card and will make them a pair of tens. Only four dollars seems a good enough reason. I wanted to see what you had is reason enough to call when playing the board. This is the worst game I have ever witnessed, as far as player ability and poker strategy.

I carve the game up like it is just natural that they would give me the money. Show the best hand is my theme. I bust a guy and he makes a motion and a rack of chips and a marker or IOU is there in a second. I am winning and winning and nobody is buying chips. They all just sign a slip of paper. I am at $1200, up $1100 when I realize I am not cashing out. This whole tavern isn’t worth $1100. I am scared for the second time. Why can’t I realize these things before it s too late?

I decide a bathroom break is in order. I make it to the bathroom and it is a dirty one holer with a door. I decide to hide my money, not that I can really hide it. I better lock it in the car trunk. I head out the front door. NOPE! Not going to happen. No sneaking out of this place. We are locked in and it looks like I need a key. Funny thing is that these bars never have any windows.

I decide I have a new best friend named Phillip and he is not leaving this place without me. Why couldn’t I be nice to the guy when I came in? If he takes a break, I will try to catch him and speak with him. I better soften him up with some talk about old times. I am doing pretty well chatting him up. I begin to think these players are not even human and the game will go forever. This has to be a nightmare. I decide to try a play on Phillip, “when you get up next time, I need to run to my car and get my pager, my mom is probably starting to worry about me”. He says, “Sure”. When he finally jumps up, he says, “Give me your keys, we are closed, players aren’t allowed to go in and out”. Great!

I tell him to just grab both pagers from the console. I start to tell him which car and he waves me off, “it is the only one I don’t recognize”. Everyone erupts in laughter. Please god, let there be a number on one of those pagers. There has to be a phone in this town somewhere.

I decide I will try plan H, hit the road. I decide to tell Phillip I need to get going. Phillip tells me that I can’t cash out until the end of the game, the boss has to come down to cash everyone out. Why am I not surprised? I tell him I plan to come back and I won’t be gone long. Phillip reiterates that players aren’t allowed to come and go, once I leave I can’t come back in until six in the morning. I am persistent and determined to get out of this building. I get Phillip to let me out. I hear the door slam shut and the dead bolt lock firmly in place. Is the door that heavy to keep people out or to keep people in. I am just happy to be a free man. I feel like I have escaped from prison or at least my own personal hell.

Once inside the car, I start to think I just want to get away from this place. I have enough gas for one try at getting out of purgatory and finding my way back to civilization. Screw the money, I am out of here. I am going to make a run for it. I am imagining the hound dogs coming after me, once they realize I have escaped. This is a cheap lesson if it only costs me $100. I decide that the first sign of civilization I am stopping for directions. Of course, every single business in this little town is closed. I am only slightly afraid to park at the gas station and wait for it to open. No phones anywhere. No signs or directions on how to get back to the rest of the world. I would feel better if a dog would start barking. I am lonely and lost. The mountains look just as tall in every direction. I can’t hear the ocean. What direction should I drive?

I found myself to be in Taylorsville, CA and I too have never heard of such a place. Taylorsville isn’t hell but you can certainly see it from there. I am not sure if it is the last place to turn around before you cross the border. I am just glad I turned around. I knew where I was, I just didn’t know how to get out of there. I know it is a long ways from anywhere.

I drive West, at least I think I am, and I am truly hoping the road will get better before I get too scared to go any further. I can go about 50 miles with the gas that I have, maybe. I decide I will go 25 miles and if I don’t find civilization or a place to steal some gas, I will go back. I should have stolen gas out of the cars at the game before I left. Hind sight.

The fork in the road leaves me debating between Twain and Crescent Mills. These are both towns I have never heard of. Towns may be giving these places too much credit. I am from Crescent City and I have never even heard of Crescent Mills. That place is smaller than small. I have heard of Mark Twain. Twain it is. Robert Frost dancing through my head.

The miles click by and I am only further down the road and no better than I was before. There are a billion stars in the sky and not a light bulb in any direction. A fork in the road and I see a sign that says Quincy. I have heard of Quincy. I just wish it said how far. Sorry Huck and Tom I am heading to Quincy. The road is not much better. State Route 89 has given way to SR 70. How big is Quincy? I don’t think I have ever been there. I think it is the county seat for Plumas County. Plumas County, nice Victor, about 3000 population Plumas County. How big could Quincy be? I think the Feather River runs through there. I read it in the Via magazine that AAA sends out every month.

I made it to Quincy with the last of my gas and there is a Jerry’s Restaurant in Quincy. Sue the waitress and Mark the cook were glad to see me. I was the only customer for a few hours until just before daylight when the locals showed up. The Chevron station opens up at 6 AM and the owner is usually there to open it by about twenty after. Sue is a great girl and I spend too much time chatting her up. She has three kids and a deadbeat husband. I tell her I will give her a ride home and she will give me a map. She doesn’t need it, they have no car and she never leaves town. She has been in Quincy since her eighth grade school field trip. When she kisses me good bye and wishes me good luck I feel like she has taken something from me.

I manage my way back to Susanville and the roads aren’t much better in the day with a map. I spend a few minutes and I feel like I want to go home. I drive home and feel like I will never bad mouth Crescent City again.

A couple weeks later I get an envelope at the podium in the poker pit at Elk Valley and I find a check for $1206. The check is on Phillip’s personal account. I never ask about it and I never call to say thanks.

Thanks, Phillip.


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