February 28, 2004

At the Dog Track

By Tenzin McGrupp © 2004

Monday 12.29.03… Hollywood, Florida

I've played poker all over the world. I'll play anywhere, any time. My buddy Schanzer told me about the Hollywood Greyhound Track. He went there a few weeks earlier when he was in Miami visiting Jerry. He told me about their poker room and described it as "sketchy".

I arrived just after the room opened at Noon. Located on the second floor, you have to take an escalator to get to the poker which looked like it used to be a banquet hall or something nice. There were twenty tables with new felt, and outer doors facing the actual dog track and plenty of Florida sunshine bursting through, illuminating the already well lit room. There was a cashier that took bets on horse races and the dogs. Several TV screens scattered throughout the room flashed simulcast races from all over America.

Let me set the premise here... everyone that I sat down with was at least double my age. I would say that everyone that I played with at my first Straight $2 Texas Hold'em table was over the age of 65. I had no remorse about the possibility of taking some of their social security money... but hey, they're at the dog track, looking to piss money away, so I figured I'd stop in and see if I could crack that game. I got to play with wise guys by the name of Slow Jimmy, Harry the Greek, and even a guy named Saul. In the movie Ocean’s Eleven (2001), Carl Reiner played a character named Saul. When we are first introduced to him, he was gambling at a Florida dog track. I giggled at the randomness of the guy next to me.

Almost all of these guys were from the Northeast and retired to Miami. They all played the ponies and I got a few random tips (unsolicited of course). Harry the Greek was the craziest.... my man looked like Harvey Keitel at age 82 with a freakin' voice box! Every time he'd yell "Raise!", I'd freak the fuck out!

One guy’s hands would shake so much, at first I thought he had a monster hand and I folded my cards. I realized that his hands shook all the time. He told me that he was a bank president from Ohio. I nicknamed him Shakes the Banker. Another guy was so blind that he had to pull the cards right up to his face to read them. The young female dealer sighed every time she had to read aloud the cards on the table for the Blind Guy.

Twenty minutes into the game, the security guard was called over to our table to prevent a fight. One older Hispanic fellow, who reminded me of Willie Colon, got into an argument with the player next to him. That guy was the oldest man at the table well into his late 80s. By the looks of his frail body, I felt that he should have been in a hospice instead of a poker room. He almost hyperventilated when he got into a pissing match at the table. I forgot why exactly they were arguing, but seeing two old guys on the verge of a fist fight at 12:30 on a Monday afternoon was too much for me to handle.

"I don’t care if you’re a World War I veteran, I’ll still bust you up," snarled the Hispanic man.

"Bring it on buddy, I could use the lawsuit," quickly quipped the old man.

I had to get up from the table because I could not stop laughing. I knocked my stacks of chips over trying to cover up my face. In almost a decade of playing poker in card rooms and casinos, that was the closest I ever say two people come to blows. All over a $2 limit poker game.

It was hard not to have sympathy for those guys. They were just waiting to die. And, yes, I never felt more alive.

Tezin McGrupp is a writer from New York City.

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