"Six seconds left on the clock, and the North Carolina Tar Heels are up by one point," the announcer yelled as the Oregon Ducks waddled their way back into winning position.
"A North Carolina player has just been fouled and will head to the line," the announcer updates.
UNC was in the 2017 Final Four game during a wild March Madness drive in the NCAA Tournament. They needed to hold on to that lead if they wanted to play in the national title game.
"And he misses both free throws," not good if you're a Tar Heel. Oregon can definitely score again in six seconds.
"UNC is fouled again! Joel Berry will head to the line," good, we have a chance to end this stress fest.
"And he misses both of those!" Lawd Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
"But UNC gets the ball back! The clock runs out! They're going to...THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP!"
And this is where I nearly rip my shirt off and run into the streets of Los Angeles.
A few noise complaints later from the neighbors, my best friend, Elliott, suggests that we should put some money down on a bet since #1 Theo Pinson scored the last point to put the #1 UNC ranked team up by one point. I guess you could say we were going to probably bet on the number one.
"It's good juju, man. We gotta do this!" He grabbed me by the shoulders and yelled. "Now pray to Buddha!"
My friend, Elliott
I'm sorry, what?
"You need the juju! Sit down. Look at the juju king," my spiritual friend started to light incense and play flute music while he sat down in front of this Buddha tapestry he bought off the street. I can't make this shit up.
"I'm not doing this. This is dumb," I said, jaded.
"You gotta man, or you're gonna lose the bet!"
"Yeah bro!" My friend, Rob, chimed in. "You need the juju!"
I couldn't tell if he was mocking Elliott or if he was serious. I walked away and started searching for the nearest casino.
"I found one!" I said, after calling nearly 10 casinos looking for one with a roulette table. "But it's almost two hours away..."
"Fook it. We're going." Elliott said in his best Irish accent.
So we look up the Uber, and it estimated $150 each way to get us to this casino. I glance at Elliott and he's unfazed.
Rob threw his hands up, "put it all on red. LET'S DO THIS."
My friend, Rob
I already started to shake with adrenaline.
We hopped in the car and told the driver we're going all the way to this casino just to place one bet. If he wanted to make stacks tonight, he better wait there. Because we weren't sure we'd be able to get another Uber to come out that far.
"How much you betting?" Our driver asked in a heavy Egyptian accent. I can't really describe what that sounds like, he just told us that's where he was from.
"I don't know," I said, "probably like 10 or a hundred bucks." I had to have a one in the number. Ya know, juju and all that.
"Fook it." Elliott chimed in. "We're going big!"
I looked back, "what if I bet like a thousand? Like just balls to the wall, just went all in for a bet that ended all my betting for a while?"
Elliott's eyes got real big. It didn't help that he had a few shots of whiskey before our adventure.
I said it. I was in for a grand.
I looked forward at the oncoming headlights contemplating if my bank account could handle the potential loss. The only thing that would hurt more at this point would be to imagine what this could feel like, then back out. I was all in.
We arrived at the casino, and asked our driver to wait outside.
"Oh hell no, if you're betting a grand," he said as he got out of the car, "I definitely gotta see this!"
My adrenaline levels were spiking like they never have before. I walked into the casino pushing the doors open like I owned the fucking place. Flanked on either side with my best friends, looking like a true goon squad, and followed by our (technically) private driver. I channeled my inner Mark Wahlberg.
Photo of Mark Wahlberg from the movie "The Gambler"
"I gotta find an ATM, guys," I said, looking around, "I only have like $8 in my wallet."
"Gotcha, BillCo," Rob said, pointing at a row of them.
I stepped up to the first to make a withdraw. My hands were shaking as I slid my card into the machine. The most I could take out at once was $250, so I had to do multiple transactions and take some cash advances to get a grand in $20 bills.
As if the universe was trying to say, "this might not be a good idea."
Problem is, every time I looked at Elliott, his Irish red eyebrows and big smug smile said, "you're a bitch if you back out now."
I had so much cash in my hand it wouldn't fit in my wallet or pockets. I had to carry it like a sandwich in front of me.
Fuck. I am nervous.
"Which table should we hit?" Rob asked.
I didn't want to get to superstitious so I just walked up to the nearest one, keeping my cash sandwich hidden below the table.
"What's the max bet here?" I asked.
"Why, how much you trying to put down?" The dealer replied.
"This much." I said as I dropped my leafy green sandwich down and spread all the 20's out until they covered most of the damn table.
"Holy fuck." The lady sitting next to us said as she stared at all the cash.
Pit bosses circled around the table, eager to make a move if anything sketchy happened.
It's important to note that while I had $1,000 on a table, I didn't really have $1,000 to lose. I'm in no way a high roller, nor do I make a lot of money (this was the majority of my paycheck). But I just wanted to see what it felt like to take a big risk. Even though I was motivated by a basketball game and an Irish friend of mine, I had been feeling pretty stagnant in life lately, and needed to do something to feel alive.
Background: I was working a desk job for the government. I sat in an office five days a week, answered emails, and attended meetings for almost 100% of my work day. My room had no windows, no wifi, no cell service, and no color. This roulette bet was the reminder that life is unpredictable and wild and scary but sometimes you just have to say, "fook it" and make a move that scares you.
"This is a thousand dollars. What would you like to do with it?" The dealer asked.
"Put $900 on red, and $100 on the number one." I said.
"We each are dropping another $100 on the number one," my entourage said from behind me, as 12 more 20's hit the table.
Other tables had paused. This wasn't a super packed casino, and we all arrived wearing my team colors of light blue. So naturally, eyes were drawn to the show.
The air stopped moving around me, and a ringing in my right ear got louder and sharper. Beads of sweat trickled down my forehead as the dealer placed the ball on the inside of the roulette wheel. My hands gripped the side of the table as I tried to keep my heart from beating out of my chest.
The dealer swirled the ball around the wheel as my eyes tried to follow it, as if I might have some influence on where it would land. The crowd around us froze. The ball bounced and popped in and out of reds and blacks. Blood and more adrenaline shot through my system with every bounce that went in a black before it bounced out.
I lost sight of the ball, and leaned over to see which space it landed on.
Green. Double zeros.
Everyone looked at me. I stared at the wheel to make sure I wasn't colorblind. My friends put their hands on their head.
Elliott tapped me on the shoulder, "look next to you boss," he whispered.
On the table right next to us, at the exact time, their ball landed on red one.
Las Vegas, the first place I played Roulette
Rob clenched his hands over his mouth. We were all speechless. I had just lost a thousand dollars in four seconds.
"I guess we read the juju wrong. We should have gone one table over from this one. We missed a 'one'," Elliott said.
Even though I missed the chance to walk away with a lot of money, that adrenaline shock lasted for hours. The tingling sensation that I was brave (or dumb) enough to take a risk like that made it feel like life's rules didn't hold me back.
Sometimes it's not always about making the smartest decision. It's about making the one that gives your life meaning, feeling, and excitement.
"Somehow," I said as I got up from the table to walk away, "I'm going to turn this story into a thousand dollars. And when we get it back, we're coming here to do this again, because that was amazing."
The taste of risk was delicious. I wasn't going to order more at the moment, but it was a nice change from the usual plates of routine I had been getting served at my job.
Elliott looked up at me as we got back into the $150 Uber ride home, "fook yes," he said, "I'm in."
"ALL ON RED." Rob shouted.