Straightening out: An anecdote about parking and poker

January 12, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 12, 2015

On a recent weeknight, I was participating in a no-cash poker tournament in a town alongside the Hudson River. Thanks to some careless play by others and some good luck on my part, I quickly amass a huge war chest of chips.

This town has parking regulations that are in effect for business hours and overnight, but not from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. The tournament takes a short break around 11 p.m. After dithering for a few minutes, I decide to rush out to my car. I feed a few coins into the nearest parking meter, extract the receipt — good until 11:40 p.m. — and place it face up on the dashboard of my car. I hurry back into the establishment just as play resumes.

Soon enough, the field narrows down to three players: Me, a man whom I’ll continue to call Robin Hood and a fellow I’ll refer to as Ian. Ian is a slender, rather dapper white-haired man who sports what I take to be an Australian accent. Robin Hood has long hair and is a guy I think of as an aging hippie.

We keep playing. I don’t like my hands and get timid, folding repeatedly. My stack shrinks; Ian and Robin accumulate more and more chips relative to me.

At one point, I pull my smart phone out of my pocket and check the time. It’s 11:45 p.m.

I ask the other players if we can pause for a moment so I can visit the meter again. They agree. I hurriedly swaddle myself in warm clothing and rush out into the frigid January night.

It’s extremely cold out — about 18 degrees Fahrenheit. I’m wearing a heavy winter jacket filled with goose down feathers (which inevitably wind up adhering to my sweaters), a goofy hat lined with what I take to be faux fur and leather gloves. The clothes keep me warm, but my face is still exposed to the cool air.

That same air is flowing through my lungs; my mouth and nostrils expel visible gases, as if I’m a car or a dragon. The streets are quiet.

I turn left onto the side street where I’m parked. It’s just a block long. Mine is the only vehicle to be seen.

Except that, almost at the same moment I start walking down the street, a vehicle turns onto the street from the opposite end. This vehicle looks like an enclosed golf cart.

I doff the glove on my right hand and fish a coin out of my pocket.

The cart, or whatever it is, comes to a stop behind my car.

I hold the coin up.

A man gets out of the golf cart.

“I’m here to feed the meter,” I declare.

“What?” the man asks.

“I’m here to feed the meter,” I say. “I’m about five minutes overdue.”

I throw some coins into the machine and pull out the receipt, which will cover me for another half-hour or so. I unlock my car and place the slip of paper on the dash.

The man stands beside the car and looks on the dash until he sees the old receipt.

“OK,” he says, and heads back to his cart.

“Thank you,” I say. I close my car and dash back to the bar.

But it turns out that I don’t need to be there for very long. On what I think is the very first hand, Ian deals me king-seven off-suit.

As the dealer in a three-person game, Ian is the first to act. He folds. On his turn, in the small blind position, Robin goes all in.

I peer at my cards and think. Robin sometimes plays junk. I have the feeling that he’s bluffing right now.

And even if he isn’t bluffing, who’s to say that I won’t get lucky and catch good cards on the board? Two sevens — heck, even one seven — might be all I need to win the hand.

I’m the big blind, and blinds are 5,000 and 10,000. At the moment, I only have 55,000, including my big blind. I’m paying 15,000 in chips — at least! — every time the deal rotates around the table. The more I fold, the less chips and therefore the less leverage I have.

I go all in. Robin, who has more chips than me, takes 10,000 from his stack. If he loses, he’ll still be in the game — but just barely. If I lose, I’m out.

Robin shows his cards: queen and eight, unsuited. I’m ahead, at least for the moment. I start to relax.

Ian deals: Flop, turn, river. Robin doesn’t pair; neither do I. But the board includes a nine, a ten…and a jack. Robin Hood has robbed me with a straight to the queen.

I push back from the table and stand up. It occurs to me that I’d just paid for a half-hour of parking, of which I’d used no more than five minutes. But that’s how it goes sometimes. What can you do?

Actually, I thought of something as I returned to my car. Once I got to my vehicle, I unlocked it and grabbed the latest parking receipt. Then I walked a few paces to the parking machine and tucked the slip of paper into the dispensing slot.

The chances of anyone (a) needing and (b) seeing that slip of paper before it became worthless were slim. But I felt as though I’d at least tried to pay something forward.


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