Strange situations seem to be the norm for me.
Don’t know why this is, but it is life as I know it, so I just play along with the music.
Such was the case last Thursday morning when I found myself at a Las Vegas blackjack table with five gentlemen. It was an interesting game because I was sitting there playing in the first position as these men who obviously knew each other well played to the left of me. It was a full table with me as the outsider.
The dealer was an engaging black woman of about 50 who spoke with the hint of a Southern accent. She was friendly, kept the game moving at a pace that favored the house and seemed to enjoy the conversation with the men at the table.
This went on for about half an hour. I was playing $10 a hand, which was the table minimum, and basically treading water — not winning, not losing, just pushing chips back and forth with the casino.
Several of the other guys at the table were playing serious blackjack. One of them was betting between $500 and $1,500 a hand.
When I am at a table like that, the rule is to play by the rules. Nothing stupid, hit on 16 or less, stand on 17, split aces and just do what the great book of blackjack tells you to do.
The men were very different from me — most people are. They were all Jewish, which was given away by their headware, yarmulkes worn by each of them.
They also spoke English with an accent that I could not place, though I tried.
One of the men was particularly vocal — and entertaining. He and the dealer carried on an easy conversation that was lively and did not interrupt the flow of the game. It actually made the time move more quickly.
Finally, my curiosity got the better of me. I asked the man on the end — the most talkative of the bunch — where they were from.
“London,” he said.
I guess his curiosity got the better of him, too.
“And you?” he responded.
“Georgia,” was all I said.
His response was quick and knocked me back on my heels.
“Does that make you a redneck?” he asked.
I have been called that before, but never by a Jewish gentleman from England. I had no clue how to respond. I sat there for a second, fumbling with my cards and searching for an answer.
I was just about to answer when the dealer, whom I later found out was born in Louisiana, answered for me.
“That’s offensive,” she said. “That is the same thing as if you had called me the N-word.”
Now, I was back on my heels. I have never looked at the term redneck exactly in that light. A Southern boy raised in Alabama, I have used the term to describe myself and others, at times. I consider the Duck Dynasty cast rednecks.
The game didn’t last much longer as people began to leave the table and the dealer took her break.
I am still not sure what to make of it, but that card game on the Vegas strip has left me thinking about race in a different way. The conversation can start in the strangest ways in the strangest places.