Friday, November 17, 2006

Tommy "The Gun"

I had another long wait for an open seat at Valhalla. This is turning into a regular thing. It used to be that I could show up around 1pm on Saturday and get seated within an hour. Now I'm getting there at 12:30pm and waiting 2 hours. Fall-out from the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act? Hardly. I think it's just because the weather is turning lousy and no one wants to be outdoors on the weekend.

On a crowded, busy day with close to 100 on the waiting list, the podium is the center of all attention. Layers on layers of people surround the spot, waiting for their name to be called. The ones closest in are usually near the top of the list or the most fidgety, thinking that the list won't move unless they are personally there to make sure it does.

The next layer of people hang around the tables, watching games. After I finally got a seat, I had 3 guys breathing down my neck for about an hour. I had to hunch over and use my body to block their view. I normally take my time looking at my cards, but with these bozos behind me, I could only afford a split second lift of no more than a quarter of an inch. Fortunately, the floor manager would periodically come by and sweep the lookie-loos away, but it wouldn't be long before they were replaced by others.

The next layer, the majority, is more relaxed. These people take advantage of nearby benches and chairs, the snack room and the bar to relax, read the paper, talk with buddies, or make phone calls. Strangely enough, these are the people I don't want at my table. I'd rather have the fidgety antsy types or the lookie-loos who are so desperate to gamble that they'll watch a game that they have no stake in. The people waiting out in the hall are more dangerous.

Finally, there's a layer scattered around the rest of the room, barely in earshot of the PA, and sometimes, not even able to hear the PA. These are the guys that end up getting called, 2nd called, last called, and then skipped over, only to show up 10 minutes later and demand to be put back at the top of the list. Their excuses are pretty funny; more about those later.

At the center of all these layers, running the podium, is a guy named Tommy. This guy was born for this job. On paper, it doesn't look like much of a job: run the board, update the lists, make announcements on the PA and take names. That's it, all day long. Easy, right? Don't you believe it. I think most people reading this would be wrecked after just one day on this job.

Think about it. On a busy day, you've got 100+ people, some of them crazy gamblers, some of them drunk, some of them not too stable to begin with, forced to wait, and wait, and wait. This does not make for happy people. Most of the time, Tommy has to deal people who are screaming mad, yelling, even throwing things.

But like I said, Tommy was born for this job. First of all, he looks like a gangster. Slick black hair, scarred face, squinty cold steel-blue eyes, and a cool that could make a cuke look sweaty. Just give him a pair of black shades and a 9mm to holster under his coat, and he'd pass for any goodfella you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley. Second of all, he's big. The podium at Valhalla is raised above the floor. That means Tommy looks down on everyone. It's damn intimidating looking up at him looming up there. Third, he's heard it all before. He's been doing this job for over 8 years, and in all those 8 years he's heard it all and seen it all. Nothing throws him off his cool.

He doesn't even laugh when the desperate make their pathetic excuses. One day, when my name was near the top of the list, I moved up to the layer closest to the podium and just listened. I got to hear some of the excuses people come up with to get moved up the list or, if they were skipped, to be put at the top of the list ahead of everyone else. There's the usual, "I was in the bathroom/bar/restaurant," type excuses, of course, but the more interesting ones were these:

Kid: I left my ID in my gym locker at school and I had to go get it.
Tommy: When were you born?
Kid: What?
Tommy: When ... were ... you ... born?
Kid: Uh, 1960 ... no, I mean, 1969 ...
Tommy: Get out of here, kid.

Joe: Hey, did you call me? Where's my name? I'm "Joe".
Tommy: I called Joe 10 minutes ago.
Joe: Well, put me back at the top of the list, man! I didn't hear it.
Tommy puts "Joe" at the end of the list.
Joe: Hey! I said put me at the top! What's the deal?
Tommy: Nice try pal, but I see "Joe" sitting at table 23 right there, ain't that right Joe? [The real original Joe waves at Tommy and smiles.] This exact same scam happens with "Chin", "Bob", "Lee", "JC", etc., etc. Moral of the story, come up with a unique name or set of initials, because people will try to hijack your name if they can get away with it.

Tex: Howdy, pardner. What's it gonna take to get ol' Tex at the top of the list? (Tex discretely shows a $100 bill)
Tommy: A helluva lot more than that (deadpan, no smile).
Tex: (frowning and turning red now) Listen here, boy. You don't know who yer dealin' with. I can buy this place three times over.
Tommy: Sir, there is open seating at the $100/$200 table. I'm sure that game would be more to your liking than $3/$6.

I don't know why people get all up in Tommy's face. That's obviously not the best way to work the list. A much better way was shown to me by Violet. She was right behind me in line waiting to sign up. I put my name in, moved aside and let Violet in.

Tommy recognized her right away and said, "Hullo, Violet. How are you today?

Violet, "I'm just fine, handsome. How are you?" As she said this, she offered Tommy a $5 chip.

Tommy knocked it on the podium twice, smiled (first time I ever saw him do that), and said, "Thank you very much! What are you playing today?"

Violet put in her name on a couple of lists then went to read the paper in the hall. Later, when her name was called, I noticed Tommy spent more than his usual 5 seconds waiting for a reply, called her name 5 times instead of his usual 3, and then went around the podium and checked the hall to see if she was still there. She was actually just coming out of the ladies room. He waived to her, she waived back, and Tommy had a floor manager escort her to her table.

You see, Tex got it all wrong. The security cameras would see a $100 bill as a bribe and Tommy would probably get fired. But a $5 chip is just a tip, right?

From that day on I've been sure to give Tommy a chip or two for a tip. I've never had a problem with getting a seat since, even when some joker tried to grab my seat from me by impersonating me, Tommy backed me up.

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