Driving East with Vladimir

Vladimir came to America in 1998.
“All of my buddies, they gambles”

And tonight he is my Lyft driver.

“You gamble?”
He halfway turns around to look at me, incredulous.
“You never gamble? That’s incredible. Well I got one piece of advice for you. Never believe in beginner’s luck.”

Vladimir is a ginger, stubbled, brick of a Russian man. He begins to tell me about his regular client, who flies in from NY to work in California. This man always stops first in Las Vegas to gamble, then Vladamir drives him to LA. The cosmetic company the man works for is so big, they don’t notice the additional expense.

“One time I drive him. He come to Las Vegas, tell me to take him to the casino. He lose 60K in 40 minutes, Hahahahah!”

For the rest of the ride from West LA to Eagle Rock, Vladimir regails me with his own life story of gambling losses and windfalls.
How he went for days without eating, in order to have cash for the tables.
How he won $7000, and lost it all in one evening.
How he and his buddy split all their winnings, and one night they left Vegas with 10 grand each in their pockets. Vlad told his friend they need to high-tail is out of the city, before they spend it, but his buddy wanted to stop at a bathroom and restaurant. Wouldn’t be a crazy idea, except that in Vegas, there are slot machines, everywhere. Actually everywhere.  The City likes to get its money back.

I’ve only been to Vegas once, and it was only in the airport, but the air was humid with a wash of bells. The moment you step through the tunnel from the airplane into the terminal, you are the honored imperial guest, of the glittering dopamine army. I did one machine. Made a few dollars in quarters. Then I quit. Thankfully, I don’t have the betting gene.

But Vladimir and his buddy do. So Vlad’s friend convinced him to stop by this restaurant. They went in. He didn’t give me the details, but the upshot was they never even got to eating, because by the time they left the restaurant, they only had enough money left to grab dinner at McDonalds.

So I asked if he stopped. Once again, incredulous at my utterance, “Oh no.”
“Did you ever win big?”
“Oh yeah. Real big.”

We were on the East side, by the time he started in on his last tale. The time he and his buddy wen to Vegas with 15k,  and bought a house. They signed the paperwork, but had not paid yet. So of course, they go out partying to celebrate. They eat, drink and gamble away half of their money before they’ve closed the deal. Vlad’s friend begins imploring him to stop, they still have to get the house. Vlad keeps going and going, and he places another $100 bet, when his friend stops him.

“My buddy, he says, ‘hey, you  loose all that money I take you out and sell you. I’m gonna put you out on the street and sell your ass to the first taker.’ And I don’t want him to sell my ass, but I just have feeling about this one you know? I tell him, I have a lot of feelings about this. He say ‘fuck your feelings, I’m gonna sell your ass!’ But I’m so drunk now, and you know, I really have the feeling.”

So Vlad placed that last bet, and he watched graphic of a train, choo-choo across the screen.
He won $975,000.

“My buddy, he begin to kiss me. I say Hey! You know I don’t go like that, even if you were going to sell my ass haha!”
So Vlad and his buddy call up the house seller, at 3am, and tell him they still want the house. And also the other two houses on either side.

I took it in.
“Wow, so that was your windfall.”
“One of a few.”

We pull up to the restaurant.
“Do you ever worry about tapping out completely?”
“No…you can always begin again.”
“I thought you said there’s no beginner’s luck.”
Vlad laughed.
“I’m no beginner.”

He reached into the back seat, and handed me a Casino chip.