I woke up late for work yesterday. I was supposed to be in at 11:00 a.m., but I didn’t wake up until 10:10, and it takes me about an hour to drive to work. I knew I was going to be late.

So I rolled out of bed in a stupor, rushed through my shower and tooth-brushing and didn’t bother to do my hair. I was somehow on the freeway at 10:25.

Before I left, I called my shift manager to let him know I was going to be late. I told him straight up that I slept through my alarm, didn’t even attempt to give the typical “traffic” or “car problem” or “I feel like shit” excuse. It was an honest enough mistake to where lying wasn’t necessary.

That, to go along with the fact that I’m an extremely low maintenance employee. It’s amazing how much leverage you can accrue by simply doing your job without complaining. Somewhere deep, at my core, I am always going to be a break-in dealer at a Podunk casino in Coachella. Or at least that’s the fight song I have to trumpet on the inside to keep me on the ground. It takes very little to make me appreciate where I am right now, even if I continue shooting for the stars in the meantime.

The difference between me and many (or most) other dealers is, I don’t expect anything. For six months at the break-in casino I dealt a 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. swing shift — where there are the highest volume of players, theoretically giving the best opportunity to make money — and there were nights I made only $20 or $30 in tips. It was a grind even to separate players from their $1 chips.

So when I made it into the casino I’m currently at, the figures were comically different. Even on day shift, where there is significantly less traffic than on swing, dealers were regularly clearing $150 or $200 a day… and weren’t happy with it. In fact, they’d even complain that it was too slow.

For me it was something of a culture shock, but more so it felt like I was going from somewhere foreign back to my home. I knew the Coachella casino was a stepping stone, and the next one would afford me so many other things that were above my pay grade to even consider while I was there. For many (or most) other dealers, the current year will never be as good as the last, or as good as it was 10 or 15 years ago.

That is ultimately the difference between us. When they started, there was a gold rush for dealers in Southern California. Because the state treated all tipped positions the same, dealers only got taxed on their hourly rate, which is generally minimum wage. So if they made $500 or $700 or $2,000 in tips on a given day, they would pay taxes on their $8.00 per hour wage, and take home every dollar of their tips in cold cash. That’s how you had dealers making $150,000 a year while paying the taxes of a person earning roughly one-fifth of that.

So we might as well be coming from two completely different worlds. By the time I got started the gold rush had long been over. But I was never a part of that world to begin with, so I wasn’t missing out on anything. I only saw it as a good-paying profession that I didn’t need to go back to college to get into. It was that simple.

It was a humble beginning in Coachella, which is a huge part of what made me so good. I spent my nights attempting to pry $1 chips off individuals who otherwise wouldn’t give them up; you really learn how to talk to people, and how people like to be spoken to. As Peter, the guy who taught me how to deal, once told me, “If you can break a bill [$100] a night in Coachella, you can deal anywhere.”

It’s only been 18 months since I worked there. It feels like it’s been a fuck of a lot longer. Now people regularly bet me $5 and $25 chips; I don’t have to put even a fraction of the same effort in my work as I used to.

But, what can I say, I have pride. I still want to be the best dealer in the house. Had I started out at the casino I’m at now, I wouldn’t have found the same drive, or developed the same communication skills with players. I wouldn’t have needed to work so hard for the money, which, in turn, would have made me another lazy, complacent dealer.

To an extent, this is how it’s always going to have to be. The casino in Coachella prepared me for the casino I’ve been at for the last year and a half, and where I’m at now will prepare me for my next venture, and that venture will prepare me for the one after, and so on. No matter where I go it’s just another step up the ladder.

There are results, and there are processes. Right now I’m fine with the results, but I know the process is what will lead me to where I want to be. I’ve dealt enough craps and blackjack to know that results will vary. But if the process is right, I can’t lose.

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