A car stopped abruptly in front of the house, and Teddy B pounced out of the back. He had been missing for two days. The last time we saw him was in New Orleans on Bourbon Street -- he was being carried the opposite direction (toward the gay part of town) by the throngs of Mardi Gras revelers. That was Tuesday, or Fat Tuesday as it was called. We all shook off our hangovers and drove back to Atlanta on Wednesday but Teddy B never made it back to the house. He was missing as of that Friday morning... until he stumbled up the front lawn.
Picture a huge sloping lawn in front of a classic southern style mansion. The Grateful Dead's version of Stagger Lee echoed down Fraternity Row. A bunch of us sat on frayed couches on the front porch and drank cans of warm schwill or some sort of Jim Beam and diet Coke combo, which was the the Friday routine to kick off the weekend. As guys and girlfriends got off from class, they migrated to the porch and the vibe of party slowly picked up. I was one of those slackers who ditched classes altogether on Fridays and headed right to the porch after waking up. The house wasn't wired for cable TV, and the internet had yet to take over our lives in Atlanta the early 1990s, so we sat outside, drank, and swapped stories, while we weren't making crude cat calls at female joggers, who were brave enough to run up and down Fraternity Row.
Teddy B stood in front of us with the same clothes he had on when we last saw him, unfurled a wad of cash, and regaled us with his detour at a casino in Biloxi -- how he won almost a grand playing blackjack at a joint called the Biloxi Belle, an actual old school gambling boat just like the ones we used to see in the movies, and he drank for 24 straight hours for free while he played blackjack and shot craps with a couple of pilots, then later met a cocktail waitress named Desire, fingered her in the parking lot of Waffle House, and she gave him a handjob while he devoured a plate of hashbrowns -- scattered, smothered, covered, topped, chunked, and diced. Always diced. That's how Teddy B loved his hashbrowns.
Teddy B was one of the most popular guys at my college, and the coolest guy in the history of my fraternity. I lived next door to Teddy B one year, and everyone thought that was awesome because my roommate and I would get all of Teddy B's spillovers. Which could have been true if we were slick enough, because the trickle down economic theory of horny sorority girls can be manipulated with grain alcohol-infused Jello-O shots.
During my sophomore year, I lived in between two rooms that attracted a cavalcade of soused sorority girls. Sadly, my batting average was rather low, despite the more than optimal circumstances. Teddy B lived to my left and the Brazilian lived across the hall. He was like a suave micro-version of Ricardo Montalban, but maybe that's a little too obscure of a reference, so the Brazilian was more like a younger version of that guy in the Dos Equis commercial, you know, the "most interesting man in the world." The girls in Theta (the sorority with all the hot Southern girls) swooned over the Brazilian, and they loved everything about him, especially his his impeccable neatness because he compulsively wore a white Polo dress shirt, with sleeves rolled one quarter of the way up his forearm and perfectly tucked into a pair of khaki pants. On random afternoons, the Brazilian blasted the soundtrack to Phantom of the Opera and drank an exotic cocktail called a Mojito, which he made with limes and a special bowl and tool that he had brought back from his last trip to Rio de Janeiro. I'd walk down the hallway and peek into his room and he'd be mixing a cocktail in one hand, dragging a Dunhill in the other, as a dozen Thetas somehow squeezed onto his couch and uncontrollably giggling and groping one another. I was perplexed. We were in awe of the Brazilian's ability to attract swarms of gyrating women. A decade later, the Brazilian came out of the closet which explained the fancy cocktails, show tunes, and the fact his room was Mecca for all the Southern fag hags at my school.
On the opposite side was Teddy B's room, which he shared with my good buddy Jerry. If you ever wondered about the location of the pre-party and post-party, all you had to do was show up at Teddy B's room. Teddy B was a definite "face man" is the term that they used to describe guys like him. He even enticed few stuck up hotties from Tri Delt to party down at our house. He was the pussy magnet on campus and one of the biggest gamblers that I've ever known in my life. He sounds larger than life in this entry, and you know what? He was. Everyone knew a guy like Teddy B in high school or college. I was just lucky enough to be a satellite in his universe.
Teddy B was also an early adopter of all things cool. Had anyone else but Teddy told us about Biloxi, we would have dismissed it as a po-dunk town. However, Teddy B's trip report got us all fired up.
I can't remember the first time I gambled in Biloxi, but I had been doing the Atlanta-New Orleans run since I was 18 years old. 420 miles. No joke. As soon as we passed the Georgia-Alabama border, we'd howl with the instant time change as we slipped out of the Eastern time zone and entered Central time.
"An extra hour to gamboooooooooooooool!"
That was our take on the matter of time zones. We loved the fact that the trip should take seven hours, but that extra hour made it six hours. Biloxi was about 30-40 miles east of New Orleans. The name of the town reminded me nothing except random lines from Neil Simon's play Biloxi Blues. It used to be just another town we whizzed through on our way to Mardi Gras or Jazz Fest. I dunno when the state lawmakers permitted casino gambling in Mississippi, but we caught the Biloxi bug as soon as Teddy B told us about his detour.
Atlantic City was too far for us to drive, but a six-hour sojourn to Biloxi to gamble was more than reasonable. We made the Atlanta-New Orleans/Biloxi run over a dozen times. We always made an effort to stop in Biloxi to play a few hands on the way home from New Orleans. When I'd go broke at blackjack, I'd take my last few dollars and play Stud. That was my introduction to casino poker.
By my senior year in college, we made runs to Biloxi and skipped New Orleans all together. That's when we knew we caught the gambling fever. One night, a group of friends ate dinner at Wendy's and toward the end of the meal, one of us suggested that we "go to the boats", which was code for a Biloxi run. We drove to our house, picked up a bag of weed and rolling papers, got back in the car, hit up an ATM, and then got on the highway headed to Mississippi.
The casinos in Biloxi were nothing like I had seen in Atlantic City. The boxed casinos were semi-floating on water (that they assumed at the time were Hurricane-proofed). We parked in a parking lot on land and walked onto the barge or floating gambling hall, but it hardly felt like you were on water. It was a mere technicality. Who cares, right? The legality issues were left up to the used car salesmen cum politicians, and the moralists can debate the evils of gambling all they want. We were there to gamble.
On one of the trips, Gator found out why you should eat a sandwich out of a gas station, especially in Alabama. He took two bites and tossed it out the window as he raced down I-65.
On another trip, Chicago Bob got recognized by a floorman from a previous bender when he shot dice until sunrise. Our entire group got hooked up with a comped meal, and we're not talking Taj's greasy noodle bar. Shit, we were 20 years old and thought we were Gods among mortals because we got a free steak and eggs, including a dessert.
On the way back from Mardi Gras (the year eight of us rented an RV and parked two blocks off Bourbon Street), we drove the RV to Biloxi before returning home to Atlanta. Whatever money I had leftover from Mardi Gras got pissed away at blackjack.
The Casino Magic is one of those places that gives me goose bumps when I hear the name. During one gambling adventure, I played three hands of blackjack simultaneously at a table by myself. It was 5am and went on a heater that to this day has yet to be replicated. I won $1,200 or maybe $1,300 in ninety minutes. At the time, I thought that was all the money in the world and lived off that roll for the summer of 1994.
The blackjack binge at Casino Magic earned me my first comp, which I blew on breakfast for my crew at the adjacent McDonald's. That sausage biscuit never tasted better as the greased rushed through my veins.
I can only imagine how much trouble I'd get in today if I was going to school in 2010, instead of my stint the 1990s when Kurt Cobain was still alive and the first Bush held watch in the the Oval Office. I'm sure all of my buddies would have been addicted to online poker or online casinos like casino.org, and we would have turned the basement of our fraternity house into a casino and sports book, like the kid in Boiler Room. Instead of spontaneous road trips to Biloxi, we'd be more tempted with flights to Vegas, or jetting off to the Bahamas to play in the PCA.
We're all older now with a lot less hair. Most of my friends would never dare withdraw any money without consulting the wife, let alone taking money out to gamble or risk the last of their family's cash and bet it on the turn of a card, or the outcome of a pair of dice dancing on the felt. Yet, that's what we did before more important responsibilities to root and we carved out lives of our own. For a brief period of time, we were fearless young men and I'd take out my last $80 and didn't even think twice about doubling down at a blackjack table in Mississippi, of all places.
You'll never have the set of balls like the ones you had when you were 20, and you sprinted to the edge of the abyss and wanted to see which one of you could get the closest without vanishing into the void.