Thursday, July 29, 2010

Subway Adventures

"Show me $40, and I'll give you $80!"

My ears perk up and I look down the subway car, searching for the face that belongs to the booming voice filling the car. The crowd shifts and I see a middle-aged fellow sitting about four rows from me, holding a tray in front of him. On the tray (or book or something) sits three green bottle caps (from Sprite bottles, most likely), and the man is busy moving them back and forth, picking them up, sliding them around, spinning the tray occasionally.

I'm confused as to what he's doing until I see a little ball of masking tap rolled up beneath one of the lids, and I realize he is playing one of those test-your-eyesight games thats played on the JumboTron at sports arenas while people wait for the game to begin.

Intrigued, I watch as he tries to lure the passengers around him into playing his game. They aren't having any of it. Smart people.

I can't figure out how this guy is making money. I mean, I'm sure that's what he is doing, but I can't figure out his business model (as no one is taking the bait). So I keep watching. My intent stare must have caught his attention, because he moves the caps around again and then motions across the car for me to pick the correct cap, trying to get me to play. So far it has been really easy and I have guessed the location of the tape every time, so I smile warily and point across the subway at the side of the tray where I know the ball is located.

Oops. I should have known better. He takes this as an invitation and moves to a seat much closer to me. Not what I had intended, though now the fun is much closer to my seat, so I'm not really complaining. He is loud and entertaining, and everyone watches his move down the aidle and his subsequent attempts to get me to play his game.

I decide to amuse him until I can figure out how he is making money. I guess the correct location of the tape ball a couple times. Then he pulls out a wad of $20s (there had to be at least $300 or $400 there) and hands me a few.

I don't know what to do. Why is he handing me money? I mean, I know he isn't just giving it to me for the fun of it.

"There's forty dollars. Now show me forty dollars and it's all yours."

Just show him forty dollars? Like, wave it in front of his face for a second or two? I don't have that kind of cash on me anyway, so I say No thanks! and hand it back. I pretend to just not be interested, but I actually have no idea what is going on yet. Seeing that I'm not going to play, he moves down one seat to prey on the friends I'm with.

My friends and I continue to guess the location of the tape ball correctly. Other people on the car jump in occasionally. Another older man with a portly belly and bad B.O. joins in and lays down forty dollars. He gets it wrong. Shouts and groans erupt around the subway car.

"Nah man! It's the one on the right!"
"The middle one, man!"

This is so entertaining that I can't keep from laughing. The man tries to entice me to play again. Nope. Not happening. The older man who lost $40 previously comes back with another wad of cash.

"I'll put down $100 for $300," he shouts gruffly. Jeers and shouts of appreciation follow.

He picks the wrong one. Again. This time, I think the guy's an idiot. Was he not watching at all when the man was mixing the caps around?

The man moves from friend to friend until he settles on Sona, the soft-hearted one, and Jace, one of the only boys in our group. He mixes around the caps and all, and then hands Sona $80.

"Show me $40, and it's yours."

She shakes her head. We all know the ball is under the middle cap, but we aren't playing.

"Is this your wife?" he asks Jace. We all laugh. The man, thinking he's caught on to something, taunts and teases Jace about being a man and putting up the money and whatnot, until Jace finally caves. Out comes his wallet and two twenty dollar bills.

Sona, looking petrified, picks the middle cap.

The man lifts the middle cap, and ... NO TAPE BALL. Jace loses his $40.

I'm still laughing. What a delightful scam! I'm sure that in the ruckus of pulling out money and whatnot, the man switched the caps around. It wouldn't take much.

We've already missed our stop for South Street, so we get off at the next one. The other guy with bad B.O. who lost all the money previously keeps really encouraging Jace to try and win his money back. "Just one more game!"

Second light bulb moment: That guy is in cahoots with the game host!!!!!! Of course! That's why he was so intent on playing the game and then made such stupid mistakes and didn't seem to mind losing all that money. It was his job to get the game rolling and encourage others to play. Really, not a bad business model when you think about it. And judging by the very large wad of cash in the man's hand, it must be a pretty lucrative job as well. Nothing like cheating an unsuspecting tourist out of large sums of money!

All in all, the most eventful and entertaining subway experience I have had yet. It'll be hard to top.

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... A few thoughts to pass the time...