Spring break generally happened in mid March at Radford. The weather in town was usually horrible around this time of year; Rainy...still pretty cold. Most people were from towns or cities nearby, so they would just go home for a week. My sophomore year I couldn't afford to fly home to San Diego or to go down to Panama City and party it up, so I just decided to hang out in town.
The town (city technically) of Radford is built around the University and its students. During breaks, the area is literally deserted, except for the locals and a few students like me that have nowhere to go. A few of my friends were in a similar situation, so we got together on the first Saturday preceding the week off to drink excessively and think up something fun to do. Somewhere between two and three sheets, I had the bright idea of driving us all up to Atlantic City. None of us had ever been. The idea was almost instantly agreed upon.
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I figured it would only take us 8 hours or so to get up there. It was the off season, so I found us a hotel room at the Trump Taj Mahal for $40 a night. I even got my parents to give me an early birthday present and deposit some money in my bank account... the balance of which was somewhere around $21 or so. The next morning me, Jason Hughes, Shane McBreen, and Mike Darling hopped into my Volkswagen and hit the road. I stopped at the ATM on the way out of town and withdrew the $300 my parents had given me; by far the largest cash gift I had ever received. The weight of the 15 bills felt good in my wallet.
Aside from traffic around the DC Beltway, we made pretty good time and rolled into Atlantic City at about 8 PM. When you exit the AC expressway onto Missouri Ave it looks like a nice town...for about a block or two. Then I took a left onto Atlantic Avenue, and saw what kind of neighborhood I was really in. There was a "Cash 4 Gold" sign on every block. Some had more than one. Most of these pawn shops were directly next to a liquor store and it wasn't uncommon to see someone exit the former and immediately enter the latter. There was literally a line of people waiting for soup in front of a Church, and every other block had men standing around empty oil barrels or trash cans that had been made into makeshift fire pits, warming their hands. I shifted my gaze up towards a large building in the distance. It looked like it had once been a resort hotel, but now was completely gutted. Most of the windows had been smashed. There were trash can fires burning on multiple levels of the 20 story building. People lived up there. I came to a stop at a red light and was instantly approached by a sketchy looking dude that had been milling around on the corner. I locked the doors. He saw this and was somehow offended by my precaution. "Fuck you whiteboy mothafucka!" as he went back to his corner. My guess is that he was 1) a pimp 2) a drug dealer 3) just looking for a handout.
"Atlantic Shitty," I said out loud. My friends laughed. It stuck. We referred to the town that way for the entire week, and even years to come. The weather was just as miserable here. It seemed evident that we would likely not leave the hotel for the duration of the trip. We got checked in and into our room. It seemed nice enough. I was anxious to hit the poker room, as I had heard this was the best place to play in town. The others went off to find some slot machines and blackjack.
At this point in my life I thought I knew something about poker because I had read a few books, I had seen "Rounders", and I even made a little money in the home games at school. I went downstairs to the poker room and sat down at a low stakes Texas hold-em game. I proceeded to lose $100 fairly quickly. I got up for a little bit to think about whether I wanted to blow every dime I had on me... and end up in the soup line out in front of the church. I decided I would buy another $100 worth of chips, and if I lost it then that was it. I would just not gamble for the rest of the trip and spend the remaining money on food and drinks.
I sat back down and bought another $100. After a few rounds my stack had dwindled down to about $20 and I started to mumble about what I was going to do if I went broke. Just as I said that, the woman sitting next to me put her hand on my leg and said, "You'll be ok... just stay here and sit with me for a little bit longer...things will turn up, I promise." She smiled. It took me a moment to recognize what might be going on... and even then I wasn't sure. It became more clear when as I lost my last chip the woman bought another rack and placed it in front of me. "Keep playing. You'll win eventually." So I kept playing. I took a glance at her. She was definitely in her late 40s or early 50's. She was wearing rings on almost every finger so it was tough to tell if she was married. Did she want me to "repay" her somehow, or was she just being generous? And I did win a pot here and there. But what I didn't realize is that I was horrible at this game. Everyone knew when I had a hand and when I didn't. Even if I got a on a really lucky streak, I was just outmatched. I would lose it back eventually. Sure enough, I was down to my last few chips again. She bought another rack and put it in front of me. She started chatting me up...asking questions about me. Where was I from? What was I doing here? I was starting to feel a bit uncomfortable. Then... it finally happened. I got a huge hand and won a gigantic pot. I had won back the $200 she had given me plus a little bit. I was happy and excited. When I sat back down she put her hand back on my thigh and leaned over and whispered in my ear, "Are you hard right now?" and then moved her hand to find out for herself.
Whoa. Am I being propositioned? She stayed close to my ear and whispered again, "Whaddya you say we take that money and go get some room service and bottle of champagne..." Uhhh, yep. I was being propositioned. I was clueless as to how to handle the situation. I just started stammering. "Um, well, uh, I can't see because I have to meet my friends, we are out here and supposed to meet up for dinner..." It was 3 am, and a bit late for dinner. I left her $200 on the table and took the $130 that belonged to me and hauled ass.
I didn't return to the poker room for the rest of that week, for fear that she might be in there and continue the unwanted advances. I still wonder if I would had to sleep with her if I had lost the money... doubtful but still a scary thought.
So the next day, it was off to play craps instead, where skill doesn't play as big a part in winning or losing. In fact, sometimes, if you play very stupidly, you can win a lot of money. I placed my first bet on the pass line, barely knowing what that meant. I just saw everyone else doing it so I followed suit. The shooter rolled a 7 and the dealer put another two $5 chips next to the ones I had just placed there. I didn't know if I had won or what so I did nothing. He asked me, "Do you wanna press it?" I also didn't know what that meant but found myself casually saying, "Yes, let's press it. He stacked the new chips on top of the old ones. The shooter rolled again. Another 7. Four more more chips. Again I just sort of stood there, hands folded in front of me. "Press again?" I nodded. He stacked them on top of one another. The shooter rolls. It was a 10 this time. Now the dealer asks me a new and even more confusing question. "You want odds on that?" Not wanting to appear confused I said "Sure!" He shrugged at me. "How much?" he asked. "I don't know," I replied. "What would you recommend?" He appeared annoyed. "You can go up to 5 times the bet. You bet $40, so you can put any where from $40 to $200 in $40 increments." I only had brought the $130 so I had exactly $120 left and put it all on the "odds"... whatever that meant. I watched as the guy with the dice rolled a bunch of other numbers. Other people were winning and losing money but my chips just sat there....until the shooter rolled double fives. Everyone at the table shouted in excitement. "10! Winner! Pay the line!" exclaimed the guy in the middle with the stick. I looked down and the dealer was stacking and re-stacking and adding all kinds of chips to my pile. They were all splayed out. Finally a guy next to me leans over and says, "You know... that's your money down there. You won it. You can pick it up anytime you want." Relieved, I gathered up the chips. The dealer looked at me and said, "Not gonna press it this time?" with a wry smile. I decided it was time to go. I brought the chips over to the cashier and she counted me out 4 crisp $100 bills and two $20s.
Wow. It might have been the most money I had even won gambling. I met up with my friends and we went to dinner. I offered to pay for the horrible buffet food we had just eaten. After dinner we headed off to try some blackjack.... more on that later.