"You call it work. I call it destroying people."
Luck is a key part of my work. It doesn't matter how hard you try, how many people in need of a cab, or how far you go. Without a sizable dollop of luck, you'll go home a poor and miserable bastard. The next night, you come back, hoping, no, certain that tonight's the night. Tonight is when it all turns around and you hit the jackpot. Or at least break even.
Which leads us to tonight's topic: gamblers.
Much like drinking, or doing drugs, gambling has a special niche in the human experience; you spend money on something that is thrilling, addictive, and ultimately very destructive. And much like alcohol, gambling is a legal (if extremely heavily regulated) way for an adult person to exchange money for a few hours of blissful escape into endorphin-laced joy. Of course, the more likely result is that you end up with a massive headache and empty pockets.
Thus, the local casino (owned and operated by the State) is a common destination for us cabbies. Every night, a sizable amount of the city's population head over to spread their money around. And of course we're happy to help. Gamblers tend to fall in a few categories; there's the Big Man, who is usually accompanied by his girlfriend/date. He will insist on paying for the cab and tipping big, whether or not he can afford it. His plan is to roll high and spend big; win or lose, he's gonna take home the jackpot.
Then there's the Young Rollers. Not much to say about them; they're young, they're drunk, they're stupid, and want to party like the Big People. Much like the poor saps who will spend half the evening standing in line to get into a club, they're only doing it because they don't know better.
But by far, the most common are the chronic cases. The people who don't indulge, partake, or dabble: they're not in it for the fun. They're in it, because they can't stand the idea of being out of it. Mostly those trips are silent, and grim. They know they're going to be losing a lot of money. Despite this, they cling to that tiny sliver of hope; Tonight it's my turn. Tonight it's my number. Tonight is the last time.
I remember a particular chronic case. A woman in her early fifties; thin and unkempt. The kind you'd probably find living in a trailer park, if Sweden had trailer parks.
"So," I said. "what do you play?"
"Well that's good," I said. "Takes skill for that."
"I also play the slots."
"Yeah, but I'm thinking about quitting."
"I think they've rigged the game," she said in a low, confidential tone.
I was at a loss. "Well... that's..."
"You see," she said. "the slots in the room I play pay out a lot less than the slots in the next room."
Rather than suggest that she changed rooms, I said: "Well... it's a casino. Isn't the whole point of a casino to take more money than they give?"
"But its not fair," she insisted.
No shit lady, I thought. It's a goddamn casino, not a social services.
Another chronic case I remembered straddled the line between chronic case and Young Roller.
I picked him up outside the casino. We were heading toward Sheriff's Yard, and back.
"I need to pick up more cash," he explained.
He was young. Like has-just-recently-started-shaving young. Feeling just a little catty, I asked him:
"If you're out of cash, maybe that's a sign."
"Nah, man," he laughed. "I'm rolling in it. What's another 5000, huh?"
What indeed? That's five nights work for me. But fine.
A silence settled over the cab.
"Oh man," he said with a laugh that seemed a bit too pleased to be genuine. "I'm gonna have to get a job soon."
Well fucking duh. "Really?" I said. "Even if you're rolling in cash?"
"Nah, its for tax reasons. I make my living playing poker. 15 000 a night. All cash. But if I don't get a job, the government might wonder where all my money comes from."
I encounter a lot of stupid people. I can bitch about them. I can bitch at them. Sometimes I even yell. But rarely do I actually feel the need to punish such stupidity with unrelenting and excessive violence.
See, this kid wasn't just being snotty. He was being an utter idiot. Let's break it down:
1. Doing your taxes means the government can see how much money you're making. It means that either you declare the money you make gambling (which will NOT jell with the amount you make at your job). So either you make your minimum wage, and hide your winnings in the mattress (meaning that your job is meaningless, since that's what you're doing anyway).
2. This is the most important. And it is this: the casino is OWNED AND OPERATED BY THE STATE. This means that they know the money that flows in and out of it. They know who has been there. There's nothing problematic about your winnings. The government has already taken their chunk out of it.
Finally, "professional poker player" is a really shitty thing to put down on your resumé. Granted, if you can maintain that edge and keep living off of it for the rest of your life, more power to you. Money is money and however you earn it is your business. But what's offensive about this is that this guy (and those like him) prance through life, making their money by playing a game. A game that isn't (as is the case of sports) entertaining for anyone except the fellow players. You think need to get a job in order to avoid government scrutiny? Well lucky you; the rest of us need to get jobs in order to avoid starvation.
I said nothing, of course. This guy may have offended all my sensibilities, but his stupidity was ultimately beneficial: (stupid kid with no respect for money) + (long trip to sheriff's yard) + (return trip) = $$$
When the trip was over, I had enough money to quit early.