My heart skipped a beat. Luscious. Breathtaking. Right outside my hotel-room door. It was 1997. Schools in my district had opted for single, late-March "Spring Break." Vegas here I come! I flew NWA. I had stopovers in Detroit and MSP. I would be staying two nights at Fitzgeralds: Thurs., Mar. 27 and Fri, March 28.
That first night, I arrived in Vegas about 11 PM. All those changes and layovers reminded me of yet another "Spring Break"; an Odysssey-like trip that took place over thirty years ago. However, in that case, instead of BOS to LAS, it was Boston to Florida. And, instead of meeting up with the Sirens, Calypso, Cyclops, and Scylla & Charybdis, I ran into: Divinity Nut, S.O.B., Gluteus Maximi, Invertebrate Gastropod, "Hoosier Honey," "Incessant Al" and Free State "Bandits". I was then a 21-year-old senior at Boston University.
When I first entered BU in the fall of 1960, I was a relatively poor, live-at-home, inner-city kid. Throughout my undergraduate years, I had always envied my fellow classmates who used their "Spring Break" to visit Florida beaches. I recall that when my friends returned from "Break," they looked like ads for Coppertone. I, on the hand, looked like a washed-out dish rag. Yet, I vowed that I too would make it down to Fort Lauderdale. However, there was one problem: Moola. I had saved up some money, but not nearly enough. Flying to Florida was out of the question. So too was the train. That left me with one option: the bus.
Yet, I was still faced with one other predicament. Do I buy a round-trip or a one-way ticket? If I buy the round-trip ticket, I'm left with "chump change." On the other hand, if I buy the one-way ticket (how could I have even been thinking like this?), I'd have sufficient "cabbage" for drinking, eating and gambling. My thinking behind the latter was that a poker game or a visit to the track would afford me the opportunity to "earn" enough to buy a bus ticket back to Boston.
So, in March of my senior year I buy a one-way ticket to Fort Lauderdale (I had arranged to meet up with my college buddies at their motel). I recall that my bus left Sat. eve. from Park Sq. in Beantown. I was on my way. First stop: NYC. Then, it was on to Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Richmond, VA and then the Carolinas. What I'd remember most about the Carolinas were those ubiquitous Stuckey's Pecan signs. One of Stuckey's treats was called Pecan Divinity. It sounded heavenly.
As we kept pushing deeper and deeper into the Carolinas, I remember seeing signs for Piggly Wiggly supermarkets and also a place called "South of the Border" (SOB) in Dillon, SC (just over the NC line). I recall that my bus whizzed past "South of the Border" as we headed toward Georgia. SOB looked like an amusement park with a Mexican theme.
Sometime after midnight, my bus enters "the Sunshine State." Yet, I've still got several hours to go. Finally, about eight in the morning, I arrive in Fort Lauderdale. I walk toward the beach. I drag my suitcase toward the nearby motel where my college buddies are staying. By chance, I run into one of my college friends in the lobby. He tells me that they've been expecting me, and that they can have a cot brought in (I believe it cost me $5 or $6 a night).
So here I am on a Monday morning in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I had to pinch myself. Up to this point in my life the farthest south I'd ever been was Staten Island, NY. I remember that the beach, the water and the weather were all beautiful. Later that morning, I got some breakfast, checked into the motel, and then went to my room (I shared it with four others) to put on my swim trunks.
By ten o'clock, the beach had turned into a sea of of undergraduate humanity (If you've ever seen the movie: "Where The Boys Are," you'll know what I'm talking about). There was more gluteus maximi than at a convention of Vegas showgirls. There were also hundreds of young men and women who were wearing sweatshirts and tee-shirts that represented colleges from all over the country: Duke, Northwestern, Vassar, Glassboro State, UCLA, Boston University and a host of others. The beach was overflowing with bikini-clad coeds.
That first day was glorious; yet frankly, I was in no shape to enjoy it. I was just happy to have arrived; yet I was totally exhausted. I was so tired I fell asleep on the beach. As my Houston, Texas brother might ask: "Whut tom izit?" I ended up with a pretty good burn on my face. "Well," I thought, "at least I won't have a pale face when I return to Boston."
That evening, I hooked up with a couple guys who were going to the Hollywood Dog Track. I remember winning the first race. I recall thinking, "A couple more like this and I'll have enough for that return ticket." But, such was not the case. That first race was my "high water mark." I would lose, although not substantially, after that. When we returned to Lauderdale, the bunch of us hit one of the "watering holes" and quaffed down several brews. I also tried some conch fritters. Delicious! That night, I "hit the sack" about one in the morning.
Although my cot was not that comfortable, I was so tired I could have just as well been sleeping on a park bench --- it wouldn't have made any difference. The next day, I felt better. More rested. Again, I made for the beach. I remember that I put on my BU tee-shirt (my red face matched the shirt). Oh, about a half-hour later, this attractive co-ed comes up to me and asks, "Are you from Baylor?" I said, "No." I then added, "Is that the college where your roommate's name is "Bubba" and the mascot is the "Mighty Armadillo." She laughed. "Just kidding," I said. I went on to tell her that the BU stood for Boston University.
After talking for a few minutes, I asked my newfound friend to join me on my oversized towel. She proceeded to sit down next to me. She had on this tee-shirt with a big red-letter "I" emblazoned on it. "Let me guess," I said. "Illinois." "No," she said, "but you're close." I then said, "Indiana." "Right," she said. "Where's the college located?" I asked. "Bloomington," she said, "but I'm from Indianapolis," she added. I then said, "Did you ever take in the Indianapolis 500 (the only thing I knew about Indianapolis)?" "Yes," she said, "several times."
Well, we had a very interesting conversation. I found out that she was interested in motorcycles (she called them "sickles," like the scimitar-like blades that are used to cut wheat). I recall we spent alot of time talking about Marlon Brando's character (Johnny) in "The Wild One." About a half-hour later, some of her friends came by. She introduced me to her girlfriends and then she took off.. That would be the last time I'd see my "Hoosier Honey."
That evening, I was looking for a card game. I found a couple, but the stakes were too high. I just couldn't risk running into an early cold spell. So I settled for some beers at the bar. By this time, however, I'm beginning to worry. I'm down to my last $20 or $30 (thankfully, I've pre-paid the three nights for my motel room). I go to bed about one o'clock.
The next morning (Wed.), I again hit the beach. Yet, candidly, I was becoming more anxious by the minute. Most of my friends weren't leaving until Fri. or Sat. Nearly all have flown down. I don't have the gonads to ask them for a loan. I'm feeling financially embarrassed. Yet I'm too proud to reveal that embarrassment. Instead, I hatch a plan. I'll try to again hit the dog track, or latch on to a poker game. They're my only hope. Yet, when evening arrives, no one's going to the track and there are no card games to be found. I'm stymied. I decide to have a "few" beers and then go to my room. I'm alone. It's 11 PM.. I'm done. Tapioca. I've got maybe ten or fifteen dollars left.
What do I do? I'm between a rock and a hard place. I can stay and try to eke out another day, or I can "fold my cards" and begin the trek back to Boston. It's at that moment that I decide to pack my suitcase and duck out of a my motel room. Minutes later, I'm standing with my suitcase on the main drag and thumbing north toward Boston. I get three quick, short-lived rides; the last one's a cop who checks to see if there's an APB out on me (there isn't). He takes me the length of Delray Beach. It's now well after midnight. Cars are whizzing past me at 60 to 70 mph. It's gut-check time. Then, about ten minutes later, a car stops.
As I run toward the car, I'm apprehensive. A year earlier, I had thumbed home from my girlfriend's house. The guy who picked me up --- well, he had other things on his mind; he wouldn't let me out of his car. I finally managed to get out. However, this guy, who had just picked me up (he looked like he was in his 30s), turns out to be a "good ride." He was going to Jacksonville, FL. I quickly find out he's interested in the sport of boxing. We talk about the boxers of that era: Gene Fullmer, Carmen Basilio, Sugar Ray Robinson, Jake LaMotta, Kid Gavilan and a host of others. Several hours later, about 9:00 AM, we arrive in Jacksonville. My "ride" leaves me off in front of the JAX bus terminal.
I recall going into the terminal and getting a cup of coffee and a donut; it's the first food I've had in nearly sixteen hours. As I'm sipping on my coffee, this young guy comes up to me (I remember it like yesterday). He says to me: "You Indian." Now I didn't know if he meant Native American or Indian national. All I can think of was that he might have thought I was an American Indian because of my deep salt-water tan.
It turns out that the guy's an Arab who has a bus ticket to El Paso, TX....but he wants to go to Detroit. Am I interested in the ticket? I tell the guy I'm trying to get back to Boston. He asks, "Will you help me?" I ask him, "What can I do?" He asks if I can hook him up with an Arab man. I think for a second and then remember that there was a Syrian bakery not far from my Boston neighborhood. I thumb through the Jacksonville yellow pages and find the telephone number of a Syrian bakery. As soon as the person on the other end answers, I hand the phone to the Arab kid. That's the last I'd ever see of him.
Meanwhile, I've got my own problem: How do I get back to Boston? I remember that my father's wife (he remarried after my parents divorced) has a younger sister who lives in Jacksonville. I call my father...collect. "Dad." "Walter, you sound far away" (my Dad didn't know of my trip). "I am," I said. "Where are you, son?" my father asks. "Jacksonville, Florida," I say. I then say, "Dad, doesn't Eileen (my Dad's second wife) have a sister in Jacksonville?" "You're right," he says (I can hear my father calling to Eileen: "What's your sister's number in Jacksonville?"). Seconds later, my father gives me a Jacksonville tel. number. I call my father's wife's sister. She can pick me up at the bus terminal in about twenty minutes. I tell her I'm wearing a green winter jacket. I add that I'll be waiting in front of the terminal.
About twenty minutes later, this white station wagon pulls up. "Are you Walter?" she asks. "Yes," I say. I throw my bag in the back and hop into the front seat. I find out that her name is Ruth and that's she's married with two kids. She takes me to her modest ranch home on the outskirts of Jacksonville. Ruth feeds me lunch. I then ask if I can take a nap. "Of course," she says. At that moment I'm feeling like an exhausted Lt. Dunbar (Don Taylor) in "Stalag 17" when he was being interrogated by the Otto Preminger. In any event, I sleep like a babe. I awaken in time for dinner. At dinner, I meet Ruth's husband, Mike.
The next morning, Ruth drives me back to the bus terminal and gives me forty-something dollars for the fare back to Boston. I thank her effusively and then wait to the board the bus that'll get back me back to Beantown. By late morning we're on our way. I'm happy to be heading north. Yet, before I arrive in Boston, two interesting events would take place.
On our way north, we stopped at one of the cities in the Carolinas. This man gets on and sits down next to me. In the next two or three hours, he (I later learn his name is Al) proceeds to tell me his life story: wife, children, parents, uncles, aunts, cousins, etc. Now, I might mention that I minored in psychology, and I usually do have alot of patience, but I couldn't take it any longer. When I got up to go the lav at the back of the bus, I purposely sat in a seat near the rear. No sooner do I get settled then my story-telling friend goes to the lav and spots me. "I was getting worried about you," Al says. He plunks himself down next to me. I look skyward and say to myself, "No!!" Thankfully, the guy gets off at Petersburg, VA.
The other intriguing incident had a gambling twist to it. We had just passed Washington, DC when we stopped briefly at a town in Maryland. I walk into the terminal and what do I see ---- slot machines. I'd heard of them, read of them, but had never seen one "in the flesh." There they were --- reels spinning. I was tempted to start playing, but I had so little money (I needed cash for a snack and the subway ride home). I opted not to play. Yet, it was, nonetheless, an interesting first-time experience.
Finally, I arrive back in Boston. It's early Sat. eve. I catch the subway and then a bus to my mother's apt. I can't wait to tell my younger brother all about my exciting adventure --- "My 'Spring Break' Odyssey." But when I get home, my brother's out with his friends. If this had taken place some thirty-five years later, I'd be saying: "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?" Well, at least I've made it back home to Ithaca...er I mean Boston.
Thursday, March 27, 1997 - Day 1
I arrived in Vegas Thursday night about 11 PM. I had flown NWA to Detroit, MSP, and finally Vegas. I had accommadations for two nights, Thurs., March 27 & Fri., March 28 at Fitzgeralds. The next morning, Fri., I got up about 7:30 AM. A half-hour later I was ready to face the world of casino gambling. I remember walking down toward a bank of elevators at the end of the corridor. It was while waiting for the elevator that I looked out "the Fitz's" picture window. "She" was beautiful. I learned later they called her Mt. Charleston. Snow had fallen near her summit. The peak reminded me of the hot fudge sundaes (with marshmallow) that I had eaten and later served at local Boston drug stores.
Just then, the elevator arrived. I took it down to the second floor. I had decided to try Fitzgeralds' breakfast buffet. Frankly, I was not overly impressed --- either with the food or its presentation. Yet, there was one aspect of the buffet that I did enjoy: the made-to-order omelets. The man in charge asked me what I wanted in the omelet. He mentioned cheese, ham, peppers, mushrooms and several other choices. I can't remember specifically what ingredients I added, but I will say that I enjoyed that omelet very much.
After breakfast, I walked up Fremont St. to Binion's. I like Binion's. It gives me the feel of what Vegas must have been like decades ago. There's nothing snooty or pretentious about the place. That's the way I like it. I immediately headed over to Binion's racebook. The races from back east (three hours ahead) were just getting started. As you might have imagined, I love to play the horses. Give me the Daily Racing Form or a harness racing program, a hot cup of coffee, or a cold beer, and I'm in heaven.
As I'm handicapping the races from Gulfstream Park in southern Florida, I couldn't help but think of another race that I had bet on at Gulfstream, albeit a few years earlier. It involved a dream, a dear departed friend and a horse with three Rs. My friend was a fellow Boston teacher named Bob Barrett. Although Bob had taught for many years, his first love was horse racing. Bob had started playing "the ponies" at Rhode Island's thoroughbred tracks: Lincoln and Narragansett. He would also make his way to Boston's Suffolk Downs and New Hampshire's Rockingham Park. Bob particularly enjoyed the MA fair circuit: Marshfield, Northhampton and Great Barrington. One thing about Bob, he could also be counted on for a hot tip or two.
You may have heard of Shakespeare's " A Midsummer Night's Dream." Well, mine could be called "A Midwinter Night's Dream." I normally don't remember my dreams. But I do remember this one; it stands out because it took place at the racetrack. In my dream, I'm visiting Boston's Suffolk Downs. I recall that I was walking toward a bunch of tellers. Just then..I see my dear, deceased friend Bob (he had died of cancer a few years earlier). I could barely make him out. He appeared enveloped in this shroud. I remember asking: "Bob, do you like anything?" He replied in a voice that was barely audible: "Robbie's Rollicking Robin." At least, that's what it sounded like. Bob's voice was so soft it was hardly hear him. What I did know was that the horse's name had three Rs. Well, just then, Bob disappears. Moments later, I wake up.
The next morning, my friend "Bucko" and I were slated to go the Foxwoods Casino in southeastern CT. However, an ice storm had struck the area over night. Area roads were like skating rinks. Yet, this didn't stop two diehard gamblers (I'd walk over hot embers or shards of broken glass to get to the racetrack or a casino).
As we headed south into RI, the roads began to improve. I remember we had just passed Providence when I happened to mention my dream. Well, "Bucko's" ears perked up like a donkey's in a mule race (he's into anything that deals with the occult). "Tell me about your dream," he said. "Yes, Dr. Freud," I replied. "Do you want me to lie down on the couch, too?" I jokingly added. Anyway, I repeated my "meeting" with Bob at the racetrack. All the while, "Bucko's" listening to me like I'm about to reveal the location of the Treasure of Sierra Madre.. He tells me that when we get to Foxwoods, we must check out the Suffolk Downs form and look for any horse with three Rs in its name.
Well, we eventually arrive at Foxwoods. We shoot craps and play roulette before heading over to the racebook. We buy racing forms and begin to look over the races. "Bucko" immediately thumbs through the Suffolk Downs entries. Just as he's starts, there's an announcement that Suffolk Downs has canceled its live program because of unsafe track conditions. "So much for the three Rs," I say.
Yet, about ten minutes later, as I'm taking my last bites out of a tuna salad sandwich, "Bucko" blurts out: "I've got it!" (It's like Archimedes running through the streets of Syracuse screaming: "Eureka!"). "Got what?" I asked. "The three Rs," "Bucko replies. "It's right here." I take a look. "Bucko's" showing me the sixth race at Gulfstream in south Florida. He's right. There's a horse entered with three Rs in its name: "Rory's Rolls Royce." I look at "Bucko" and say, "This could be it." "Could be!" he replies. "This IS it!" Besides," he adds, "Rory is my niece's husband's name." "Bucko" goes on to say that if I don't bet at least $5 on Rory's Rolls Royce's nose, he'll never speak to me again.
Anyway, the "Rory" race goes off at a little after 3 PM. I put $5 (I shoulda put $50) on the horse's nose. "Bucko" puts down "a sawbuck." As the horses break from the starting gate, Rory's Rolls Royce is lagging behind the field. But, as the field reaches the top of the stretch, Rory's finding his best stride. He's closing like Seabiscuit in his match race with Whirlaway. He's pickin' off horses one by one. In the end, Rory wins. He pays $14 for a $2 wager. I net $30; "Bucko" makes $60.
But that's not the end of it. We had used Rory as the beginning of an exotic wager called a pick-3 (pick winners in three consecutive races). We had picked three horses in the second or middle leg, and two horses in the third and final leg. One of our second-leg horses wins so we're now two-thirds of the way home. In the final leg, we each chose one horse. I took a horse that was piloted by the Peruvian-born jockey, Jorge Chavez. Anyway, in a race that was taken off the turf (grass) and put onto the main track, Chavez's horse (our horse) grabs the early lead from an outside post. Although he's challenged on two or three occasions, but he hangs on for the win. Bucko and I split a "Big G cereal."
It's now about noon. I head over to Binion's snack bar for a sandwich and some chili. Later I return to the racebook to play some more races. I've hit a couple exactas, but I'm still down. I decide to call it quits about 3 PM. I walk back to Fitzgeralds and play Pai Gow poker. It's a game I can "milk." I'm playing conservatively. Yet, I manage to lose $30.
After I leave the Pai Gow table, I decide I'll spend the evening on "The Strip." I catch the CAT bus. About 5 PM, I arrive in front of the newly-opened New York-New York Hotel/Casino. I love this place. I'm particularly enamored with its familiar surroundings: Brooklyn Bridge, the Empire State Building, Staten Island Ferry, and, of course, Central Park. I lived in New York City (E 164th St.) as a boy in the mid-1940s. World War II had just ended. I don't remember much from that era: a ride on the Staten Island Ferry, Grand Central Station and the Bronx Zoo. I would later return to the NYC area in the mid-to-late 1960s as a teacher on Long Island. Only, in those years, it was singles bars, movie theaters, restaurants and the harness tracks: Yonkers and Roosevelt..
I decide to go over to Gonzalez y Gonzalez. I had recently acquired a taste for Mexican food. My son-in-law, who is Cuban (born in Camaguey), had taken me to a couple Mexican places in the Boston area. My son-in-law told me that Cuban food tends to be less spicy than Mexican dishes. He mentioned that rice and/or beans are served with most Cuban meals. He said you haven't lived until you've tried a dessert called 'Mermelada con Queso'. As he puts it," Tan fantastico!"
After much deliberation, I ordered chicken fajita. I recall that it was very good. After dinner, I walked around for awhile and then decided to play Caribbean Stud. I remember that I was about even when I decided to put up $15 as an ante. I was dealt two pair (I also had "the side bet" going); however, the dealer didn't qualify! Rats.
It was then that I started playing some slots on the edge of Central Park. There was a singer with an accompanying band playing at a nearby bandstand. I had just ordered a Miller's Lite ("Good call"). Well, I have to tell you that I was feeling as blissful and relaxed as I had in a long time. I coulda hit a jackpot at that moment and might not have realized it. It seemed at that moment that all my worries and cares had evaporated. Only in Vegas!
After playing the slots (I lost about $30), I walked around the hotel/casino. I remember visiting "The New York Stock Exchange." But now it was close to 10 PM. I had one full day ahead of me. I decided to CAT back to the downtown. I arrived at "the Fitz" around 11 PM. I remember having a Corona with a lime at Fitzgeralds' second-floor bar and then heading up to my room.
Fri, March 28, 1997 -- Day 2
I got up early the next morning. This would be my last full day in Vegas. I decided to have breakfast at Fitzgeralds' buffet. I had tried it the first day. Save for the omelet station, I found it, at best --- adequate. Yet, there's something to be said for convenience.
After breakfast, I headed over to Binion's racebook to play "the ponies." I still had over an hour before the races started back east. I had gotten a coffee from the cocktail waitress and was preparing to study the DRF (Daily Racing Form) when I saw this young guy hunched over in his seat. He was poring over some papers. I was curious as to what he was looking at. My first instinct was to mind my own business, but then --- my curiosity won out.
Well, I recall walking up to the man and saying, "Hi, excuse me, my name's Walter. I see you studying all those figures. Is it some kinda system?" I asked. "Hi," the stranger responded, "my name is Joe." He told me he lived in Vegas but was originally from Syracuse, NY. "Syracuse," I blurted out. "I thought your accent sound familiar," I added. How long ya been in Vegas?" I continued. Then Joe said, "Ya gotta few minutes." I said, "Sure." "Then pull up a chair and sit down," Joe said. I did.
What would transpire would be an interesting tale. Joe proceeded to tell me how he ended up in Vegas. "As a boy," Joe said, "I lived on South McBride Street in Syracuse." "What a small world," I interjected. My maternal grandparents lived on Leon Street. My father's folks lived on Burt Street. "Anyway," Joe went on, "I had graduated from high school and was in my first year at Syracuse University. But there was one problem," he continued, "I couldn't stay focused. He added, "They'd probably call it ADHD."
"I might also mention," he continued, "that I was dating a girl named Maggie. She lived nearby. I had mostly morning classes at SU so I'd be home by noon. Maggie'd be home from high school by 2:30 PM. Her parents both worked so we had her house to ourselves. It all started out innocently. We'd fool around a little bit. But, after awhile, I'd really get into it. Well, one time I didn't take precautions and Maggie became pregnant. We got married about three months later. Our baby girl was born three months after that.
"At first it was O.K. We lived with Maggie's parents. I got a job at Sears on S. Salina. Maggie was able to graduate from high school; she got a parttime secretarial job. Maggie's mom helped out taking care of the baby. But, after four or five months I couldn't take it any more. I felt trapped.
"One day, I just 'hit the wall'. That was it. I told Maggie that my older brother (he lives in Harrisburg, PA) needed my help with a home improvement project. That I'd be away for the weekend. I told her that I was leaving for PA after work on Friday and that I'd be back Sunday night. I lied. I bought a one-way bus ticket to Vegas. It's all a blurnow, but I remember reaching Vegas two or three days later. No one knew where I was, not even my parents. I know what you must be thinking. I'm a coward. A deadbeat. And, you're right. But...
"When I arrived in Vegas, I rented this fleabag apartment. I got a job driving a cab. I've been here over fifteen years," Joe said. I then interjected, "Joe, before I leave, I've got to ask you about all those figures you're looking at. What are they?" "Oh," Joe said, "those are biorhythm charts." I chart the biorhythms of the starting pitchers. The starting pitchers for opening day have been announced and I'm looking over their charts. I check out their birthdays," he continued, "and then I'll check their physical, emotional and intellectual cycles," he added.
Joe continued, "I like Curt Schilling in the Phillies opener against the Dodgers His physical cycle is near its peak. His energy level should be very high," he added But I'll have to take a look at the line." With that, I wished Joe well and returned to my original seat.
I recall spending the rest of the morning playing the races. About noon I checked out of the Fitz, I left my bag with the bell captain. Around one on'clock, I go over Mickey D's for my filet o' fish, fries and a Coke. As I sat there, I got to thinking about another Mickey D.
In the early 1990s, I became intrigued by the game of craps. My interest probably coincided with the opening of Foxwoods in southeastern CT. Whenever I visited Foxwoods, I'd usually play the horses, BJ, roulette and slots. Yet, everytime I walked past the craps tables, I'd linger for a few moments to watch the action. Initially, it seemed so confusing. I'd hear crapsters say: "Press," "Take'm down," Make my forty look like eighty." There were: hardways, horn bets, world bets, even "buffaloes." This craps lingo wa sounding more like a foreign language.
Well, I decided to learn more about the game. I bought some books. I read everything I could. The game began to make more sense. I began to understand the different strategies. Soon, I began shooting craps myself. But, could there be more to this? Then, one day at Foxwoods, I met a man who called himself Mickey D.(he also went by the handle: Yoelevenman). I watched him shoot from "the hook" (the point where the table makes a turn near the top or straightout position). Watching Mickey D was like watching poetry in motion. Such deft. Such skill. Such finesse. It seemed like he could control the dice. In fact, I recall during that morning session, Micky D. held the cubes for 31-straight throws. He'd use (like notches in a gunbelt), white $1 chips to indicate the number in-a-row he'd thrown.. Ten is good. Twenty's outstanding. But thirty-one. Thirty-one-straight is "out of this world!" Can you imagine the kind of money an aggressive crapster can make in thirty-one rolls...before sevening-out! I made hundreds on Micky D's roll. If I had the gonads, it could have been thousands!
I remember taking a break and talking to Mickey D. I asked him the about the secret to his success. How he could hold the dice for such lengthy periods of time? He said, "Walter, you need to practice. Make your own dice rig. It doesn't have to be elaborate," he added. He went on to tell me that he was a carpenter and that he made his own regulation-sized craps table. He told me he practiced constantly. He told me that he set the dice. He told me that he had experimented with different combinations. He finally found the one that worked best for him.
Mickey D. went on to say that dice shooting is alot like carpentry. You need to, as he put it, "square up and stay level." He continued, "Much of dice shooting is in the delivery. The release is very important. Finally, Micky D. said, "Dice setting and shooting is not easily mastered. Everyone has thrown own preference. You have to see what works for you."
Well, I went home and started practicing (I had purchased casino-style dice). I practiced so much that the pips were wearing off. The clackity-clack of the dice got so bad that my wife had to leave the house. After awhile, she said, "Either you stop shooting those dice, or I'm outta here." I stopped shooting the dice. Yet, I'd practiced enough to get a good idea of what might work for me.
A couple weeks later, I went down to Foxwoods in CT. No more exibition games. I'm playing for real. I had decided on what is called a "Flying V" set. The key is to level up the dice and keep them on axis. This is not always easy. There's alot of difficulties involved in keeping dice "on axis." Not the least of which are "egg crates" or "alligator bumps" on both ends of the table. Yet, if you can take even some of the randomness out of shooting craps, you should, theoretically, make money.
I recall that my first attempts were good. Not of the Mickey D. calibre, but solid "hands." The problem is that there may be as many a ten or more players waiting to shoot. It can take upwards of half-hour or more to get the dice back. In that time, you may well lose your rhythm. That's why, if the opportunity presents, I like to shoot in the early-morning hours.
Now, in Vegas, I decide to walk over to Fitzgeralds two craps table. Only one is in use. There are three or four other players. One of the first things I do is:(1) to look at the other players' chips on the rail (alot of chips is a good sign), and (2) to check out the table's consistency (underlayment). Is is too spongy? Is it too hard? Or, as Goldilocks would say: "Just right!"
This table is on the hard side. The cubes are tougher to control. When it's my turn, I get the dice and set them (when a person sets the dice. it's like setting off an alarm bell in most casinos). I remember doing well. Yet, I'm "fighting" the table. The table's hardness make it more difficult to get the results I'm looking for.
In craps, you're looking to land the cubes just right. In other sports, it would be comparable to hitting the bullseye in archery, swishing a foul shoot in basketball or tossing a ringer in horseshoes. Finally, there can be no loss of concentration. Personally, before every throw, I say to myself: "Rembrandt."
As a postscript, some may look at this as a fool's errand. Gobbledygook. To me, setting and throwing the dice makes more sense than simply shaking them ('chicken feeder') and tossing them down the layout. Oh, by the way, I did make money at Fitzgeralds' craps table that afternoon.
Later that afternoon I went upstairs to watch the semifinals of the NCAA hoops tournament. I then returned to Binion's to have dinner at the snack bar and play the harness races from back east. About 8:30 PM I headed back to "the Fitz" to retrieve my bag. The bell captain hailed me a cab. I was soon on my way to McCarran. My 11 PM NWA flight to MSP left on time. After a layover in MSP, it was on to Boston. I arrived early the next morning.
When I finally got home, my wife asked, "What was the highlight of your?" I thought for a moment and then replied, "A 'hot fudge sundae', a cold beer, and Mickey D." My wife then gave me this strange look. Only in Vegas.