I took Tuesday off from work to run errands so I could free up a few hours on Saturday. I balanced my checkbook for the last three weeks, gave the bathroom a good cleaning, picked-up my dry cleaning, got an oil change, and then headed over to Standee’s for a quick lunch.
When I got to there, I saw a bunch of cabbies at the counter drinking coffee and lying. I knew they were lying because their lips were moving. Now, there’s three types of people in this world that I never believe a word they say. Lawyers, Consultants and Cabbies. Cabbies from Western Africa all claim to be princes, doctors of some sort or that they’re from Jamaica. Cabbies from the old eastern bloc all claim to be ex-special forces, doctors of some sort or a fringe member of the Russian Mafia. Whatever.
One cabbie I’ve got to know from riding to O’Hare or Midway is Daniel, from Ghana. He’s a good guy, with a family and a mortgage. I’ve met his wife and kids at the cleaners and they seem like the typical American family. Anyway, the guys were busting Daniel’s chops because his idea of gambling is playing scratch-off tickets. These assholes were trying to pass themselves off as Johnny Chan, talking about being comp’d at the boats and going to Vegas a couple of times a year, yada, yada, and I could tell that Daniel was getting uncomfortable with them. So, me being me, I chimed in and asked these high rollers why they were still driving cabs fifteen hours a day, when they were all card sharks. Nobody wanted to fuck with the big dude (me), so the conversation ended with my question.
So, I sat down and waved Daniel over to sit and have some coffee with me. We talked about this and that, and eventually got back to gambling. Daniel said that while he couldn’t afford to go to a boat or Vegas, he wouldn’t mind playing bingo sometime, but about half of his fares came in the evening when bingo games were being played. I told him about a place in Little Saigon that had an illegal bingo game during all hours of the day. He asked if we could go sometime and I said that I was off all day and we could go now if he wanted to, which he did.
We took the red line down to Argyle and walked over to the place, on Broadway. It’s cover is a Vietnamese restaurant, but everyone in the neighborhood knows what goes on the basement. Now, Daniel hadn’t had much interaction with Vietnamese or Thai because they never take cabs. Never. So, he was rather taken aback when they talked, or should I say talked really fucking loud. This is not a racist statement because they do talk really fucking loud.
Behind the door, we found two old women selling the cards and markers, plus a small entry fee. Both of them were about 5’ and 80 lbs, with Virginia Slims dangling from their lips and the smell of Pho Bo hovering around them. The guy working the microphone in the back looked like he was about 120 years old and mean as hell, like a West Virginian coal miner. If he were 90 years younger, he’d be an MMA fighter or Henry Rollins’ killer. Sorry Henry.
Anyway, I hadn’t been to this place since I lived there about fifteen years ago and I had forgotten something that maybe I should have mentioned to Daniel. The old guy doesn’t just speak into the mike, he screams as though he’s re-living his glory days at the Hanoi Hilton. “ATEE (18)!, ATEE! or NYE (9)!, NYE!”. This scared the living shit out of both of us. I felt like screaming out “Charlie’s in the wire!” and diving for cover, but my seventh sense took over before the words came out of my mouth. My seventh sense is the one that’s kept a few whiskey bottles from shattering the back of my skull on more than one occasion I’m sure.
So, we played for about thirty or forty minutes, winning nothing, of course. Daniel said he had played (and obviously heard) enough and asked if we could leave, which I said sure. But, when we got up and started walking towards the door, the old guy stopped screaming and said something to his comrade seated next to him, who in turn, ran back to the Pho Bo ladies and said something, soto voce, to them. It wasn’t just me and Daniel who saw this. Everybody in the fucking basement seemed to be in on what was about to happen but us.
Comrade came up to us with a wad of cash in his hand, “Everything good, yes?”. Heh? I guess he thought we were five-o or something, like we had been staking out the place for a raid. I told him everything was fine, we just had to get back to work. But neither Comrade, nor the old women, seemed to buy that line, so he said “We happy, yes?”. Comrade just kept pushing it. It being nothing because he never really came out and said “Here, take this money”. Needless to say, now I’m waiting for Bolo Yeung or somebody to pop out from behind a curtain and start kung-fu fighting us. So, we just kept pressing ourselves towards the door, one foot at a time, and eventually got out of there in one piece. Daniel couldn’t get to the L fast enough. In fact, I think he would have broken the one mile run record straight up Broadway if a car would have backfired.