Tag Archives: #stewartavenue

Stewart Lakewood – Ghosts of Malls Gone By

Crossroads Mall, originally known as Lakewood Center, is by far the most forgotten mall in Atlanta. It is located at the intersection of Metropolitan Parkway (formerly Stewart Avenue) and Perkerson Road next to Langford Parkway (formerly Lakewood Freeway).  Sky City Retail History

In considering Stewart Lakewood Mall you might want to visit Ansley Mall which is its “twin” (more paternal than identical) having been built by the same developer although Stewart Lakewood evolved in phases over time. While Ansley has always been relatively well maintained and has endured the ups and downs of the Atlanta economy over the past 5 decades, the Stewart Lakewood mall (henceforth known as SL Mall because I’m tired of typing out “Stewart Lakewood”) took a commercial dive starting in the late 70s from which it has never really emerged. I mean no disrespect to current tenants of the mall but when at least half of the structure is abandoned and dilapidated it’s difficult for anyone to get excited. The back part could easily be used as a movie set for a post-apocalyptic thriller (Soylent Green – The Reckoning).  In many ways, my decision to document the Stewart Avenue area was motivated by this blog (from which the opening quote was taken) which exists primarily to discuss retail mall space. And here is another blog from someone who grew up in the area though split the scene prior to the general regional decline. You might want to start with these references for some factual background which will also relieve me of the responsibility of having to list all of the shops that once existed at SL Mall many of which provided first jobs for area teenagers.

Before I get much deeper into any of this it is interesting to note that while larger mall installations are experiencing something of a crisis, the standalone / strip mall concept seems to be making a comeback. For example check out the renovation of Toco Hills which has gone retro perhaps as a nod to its past but it’s more likely that the lower maintenance costs of an existing one or two story setup combined with easier parking access might have something to do with the recent attraction to outdoor malls. That some long time tenants are leaving the mall due to pricey rent hikes doesn’t seem to bother the surrounding community or perhaps they aren’t yet aware of what is going on.

S&H Green Stamps were “a thing” back in the day

In the 60s and well into the 70s the SL Mall was quite practical and served the interests of the families still residing in the area. It was easy to drop by Big Star (formerly Colonial) grocery store for supplies or JC Penny’s to pick up some back-to-school clothing. Jacobs offered pharmacy services though my family favored Hays and Weldon over on Sylvan Rd. This was also the era of trading stamps so we would also shop at the Big Apple across from Hays and Weldon which was located next to an S&H store where you could redeem your stamp books for merchandise. The SL Mall had various promotions such as when radio station WQXI hired a helicopter to drop a bunch of ping pong balls marked with various prize names and dollar amounts.  And the movie theater would host “Tubby and Lester” (a local Laurel and Hardy knockoff duo) on the occasional Saturday morning for the kids interested in that kind of thing. At Christmas they would put up a large blowup Santa (always a hit).  Check this blog for some full on Southside / SL Mall photo nostalgia. Opinions vary as to when things started going “down hill” but I would say that by 1975 the exit momentum had been well established and families were leaving the area in an undeniable pattern so it was little surprise that Mall business began to suffer. Once the SL movie theater became one of those “99 cent theaters” in a desperate move to attract customers the writing was on the wall and it became so very clear that money wasn’t flowing into the area.

A 2018 Google Satellite Image of Stewart Lakewood Shopping Center.

One of the businesses that stands out in my memory was the Huddle House which was a classic short order diner perfect for some post rock concert chow – usually on the way back from The Omni or The Fox. The waitresses were loud and brassy with a tendency to  employ words like “honey”, “baby”, “sweetie” (sometimes all in one sentence) as a means to generate better tips. Frankly, such talk always creeped me out. One of the more senior waitresses lived in Blair Village which sounds simple enough to pronounce although in her patois it came out more like,  Blay-a-yer Veal-ij which was then commonly known to locals as a place “where the elite meet to get stabbed” – such was it’s reputation for crime. She seemed the type to have a razor stashed in her bra right next to her cash roll.  She hustled hard for the money (presaging the Donna Summer song by a few years) and flirted aggressively with men, especially truck drivers, who might offer her a better deal than whatever she had going on in that moment. Having seen this pattern a number of times I concluded that being a truck driver must have a form of sex appeal although it was the mobility offered by the job that was the real hook. Many of these short order waitress types liked getting around (in more ways than one) and saw the long haul drivers as a safer alternative to hitchhiking or an interminable Greyhound bus ride across the country. That they might have to give up “some lovin’” was simply part of the deal.

Southern Comfort – A drink long favored by underage drinkers and the women of Stewart Avenue

There was also a collection of girls from the area trailer parks who would congregate outside the Huddle House trying to flirt up some action. Many of them might have been built like Raquel Welch or some prototypical Daisy Duke (long before the show even existed) though I would lose interest after about two minutes of attempted conversation during which I might have asked horribly inappropriate questions (at least from their point of view) such as, “what school do you go to” (they didn’t). In the end I couldn’t talk their language – a point once driven home when a truck driver leaving the Huddle House said, “Hey ladies I just might have some of that Southern Comfort out in the truck” which ended it all right there. I was later told by one such girl that I was “too uppity”.  That became a recurring theme in my early social life – that I was “too north side” for the south side girls but “too south side” for the north side girls. That wasn’t entirely true as there was a girl named Candace I liked whose father “Smitty” used to cut hair at the Barbershop located just next door to the Huddle House. But they split that part of town for a safer setup. In reality I don’t think I ever got a haircut from the barbershop – it was more like an express buzz cut. I was never in the chair for more than 3 minutes. For anyone with an interest in an actual hairstyle you had to go around the corner to The Viking which provided a full on luxury experience complete with a hair wash from a bosomy woman who might have  been the primary attraction for many.

As the 70s progressed SL had its very own “head shop” which offered a rich selection of music much more so than the nearby Woolco or Woolworth who stocked “45” singles and only very few “long playing” albums and then it was “square” stuff like the Osmond Brothers or Pat Boone. But not much at all for a growing music snob with greater interest in groups not routinely featured on the pop radio. There were record stores in the area such as the Record Bar over at Greenbriar who encountered competition in the 70s from Turtles and later Peaches record stores. Of course the head shop also offered les accoutrements  for the budding (no pun intended) marijuana smoker as well as “black light” posters, “underground” magazines, candles, and t-shirts. The clerks did little to hide the fact that they were heads themselves and were happy to entertain various hangers-on of the post-hippy type looking to chat up the cute hip-hugger wearing girls who might wander in  “just to look around”. Much of the shop talk was laced with references to cannabis and general drug use so much so that it became irritating.  I mean yea I get it – you are down, you are hip, you are a freak, we know you “turn on” – but why would you want to promote it? Even then I thought the freak parlance sounded stupid.

This was a horrible album

What I did like about the place was that there were people who could talk intelligently about, for example, the latest album from Nektar and how it compared (or not) to whatever Wishbone Ash had out at the time. The general mood was generally quite mellow though I distinctly recall there being something of a customer backlash when Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music double album came out. Lots of people were eager to buy it thinking that it was gonna be great only to find out that it was, well not what anyone expected – so there was a large scale demand for refunds for what was basically Lou’s big ole “F**k You” to RCA his then record company. Of course, the hipsters today inevitably encounter Metal Machine Music on their way to someone like Stockhausen though refuse to accept the joke and profess great love for this “work” claiming that it was somehow groundbreaking (it should be in the ground). Despite these occasional musical taste disagreements things rarely got out of hand. One benefit to the employees was that if they had the munchies they could go right next door to Orange Julius to get a cool drink.

There are other shops that figure heavily in my memory which I’ll address in a part 2 of this posting (Pet Jungle comes to mind as does the Bakery and Dipper Dan Ice Cream) but I’ll stop here for now. SL Mall also plays a role in the Atlanta Child Murders which was a truly unfortunate period in the town’s history. It’s also important to note that prior to the real estate bubble circa 2006 there was hope that this area would experience revitalization and that the likes of Home Depot would see fit to move into the Mall. After all it remains one of the few in town areas to not be redeveloped but with its proximity to the Belt Line I think it’s only a matter of time before things improve.

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Dee Ford’s – South Side Party Bar

Dee Fords was a night club in the Stewart Lakewood Shopping Center (now “Crossroads Shopping Center“) located next to the Jolly Fox strip bar that was owned (co-owned ?) by Dee’s brother Jerry or so I was told. My dentist, Claude D. had his office located next to the Jolly Fox although he started his practice long before the decline of Southwest Atlanta.  He was generally a good guy but thought anyone with long hair was a dope fiend – an idea confirmed by his refusal to provide a script for pain medications following the difficult removal of an impacted wisdom tooth. To complete the work, he used my forehead as a fulcrum to generate the necessary extraction force but that didn’t work so he broke the impacted tooth in two for easier removal – well at least for him.  I half expected him to ask, Is it safe? This whole scene prompted an inquiry about post extraction analgesics to which he curtly replied, “aspirin should handle it just fine, don’t chew on that side of the mouth for a few days“.  “Wow. Thanks Doc. That never occurred to me. I was gonna go out and eat a T-Bone“. Anyway, he had been liberal with the numbing agent but it wore off a few hours later leaving me with raw pulsing pain the likes of which could motivate a deal with the devil.  I wanted to tell Claude that if I really wanted drugs I could walk out the door and score more quickly than going the whole pharmacy route –  not that I wanted to score anyway. I settled for slamming a couple of Big Mouth Mickeys down at Brothers Three and waiting it out.

You can jail the Revolutionary but you can’t jail the Revolution

Dee Ford’s occupied the spot previously occupied by The Paint Store lounge which itself was previously a Pittsburgh Paints store. A band called “Mighty Joe Young” played at the Paint Store lounge though I was too young to get in but my older friends raved about them. I don’t remember exactly when it turned into Dee Ford’s but almost immediately the club became a seedy destination for 70s party types, would be rock stars, fledgling drug dealers, and the occasional older guy looking to pick up a “foxy chick“. There was also a lot of redneck drama. To wit, there was a sinewy recidivist hick who would go around asking “Who was it that Cain married if not his sister or some very close blood relative?” (An ongoing conundrum for many Christians). Given his Hillbilly background it occurred to me that it might have been an attempt at rationalizing some Jerry Lee Lewis style familial fraternization. And if enough people seemed to accept the idea, hopefully without significant negative reaction, then maybe his conscience could rest a little easier at night.  Then again maybe he just wanted to be viewed as Cell Block D’s most accomplished jail house intellectual. While he had a lot of “wisdom” on offer his flow was suspect. “You can jail the revolutionary but you can’t jail the revolution” followed up by ” The powdered eggs in Fulton County ain’t half bad“. Uh okay…. Wait ! What ?

Let’s go to the Twilight Club and meet some REAL men“.

The women could be scary and sleazy. They weren’t bashful and frequently made the first (and second and third) moves which wasn’t always welcomed as many of them weren’t attractive and well known to get around.  At the time, sexually transmitted diseases were colloquially known to the layman (no pun intended) as “VD” (Venereal Disease) with most people thinking that the only two possibilities were “The Clap” or “The Crabs“.  Many felt such afflictions to be the inevitable result of the promiscuity so common to the 70s. Some of the more extreme felt VD to be evidence of accomplishment like a merit badge or rite of passage. In the early 70s the tenants of the North side Riverbend  apartment complex (featured in the 2002 “Catch Me if You Can Movie”) became well known for its infamous nude pool parties and even more more so for reliance upon penicillin. Condom use was not then prevalent and though we offered them for sale at Bros Three, the only people who bought them were patrons of the street walkers. One guy would walk in and loudly request a pack of “Sultan the Man Protectors” as if he were a compensated spokesperson. However, that didn’t deter most guys. The Silver Ribbon down the street was a Country and Western bar (no one includes the Western anymore since the Bakersfield scene was so long ago).  I was in the parking lot drinking beer with a friend when two massively intoxicated cow girls staggered towards us as one of them let loose with a stream of projectile vomit. She never broke stride. As she wiped her mouth she gave me the once over and told her friend, “Let’s go to the Twilight Club and meet some REAL men“. Guess I wasn’t her type.

Who was it that Cain married if not his sister….”

Dee’s was well known for “Nickel Beer Night” and “Drink and Drown“.  There was usually some violence resulting from unintentional body contact between men whose only way to distinguish themselves was through violence. The women could get in on the action too with crude exhibitions of primal jealousy leading to hair pulling, biting, and drink tossing that in turn triggered more action. It certainly wasn’t always a fight scene but anytime you have that much alcohol someone is going to get upset. The bouncer, a guy named Reed if I recall correctly, could handle things so it was far from being a roadhouse. Any place on The Avenue had a capacity for alcohol fueled fights – it was just part of the scene. The thing for us was to hit Nickel Beer Night and after a few hours of that then stumble over to the “buffet” at the Jolly Fox to scarf down some buffet baloney while we watched the dancers work through their set. They had this one very statuesque blond whom the DJ called “Jean, Jean the Dancing Machine” though as it got later it became “Jean Jean The F*****g Machine“. I recall one night being paralytically drunk while this dancer, “Little Bit“, did her dance for me and misinterpreted my stare as a form of interest. She had a really big “smiling” C-Section scar which I found amusing. After her dance, she came over to see if I was willing to share any money though stalked off in disgust as she realized I was incapable of any movement so there was no way I could open my wallet.

Sylvan Hills, East Point, and College Park had a wide variety of musicians many of whom were good with a few being exceptional if only in a well-rehearsed, copy band kind of way.  Dee hired many of them to grind through sets till 2 a.m. when they might try to work in an original song or two. Dee always wanted to sit in with the band (an imposition I think) and offer up such classics as ”Standing on Shaky Ground” though he developed some originals such as ”I Want to do Beautiful Things to You in the Morning” which, after a night at Dee Ford’s couldn’t have been possible.  One of the better house bands was an ensemble named Glyder fronted by male and female singers which gave them an edge over other bands. I recall the guy singer (Kevin?)  being really short. I’m sure that wouldn’t make him feel good to know that’s how some might remember him. The wildcard was the guitar player Nicky who was a pretty good player who used to drop by Brothers Three in a hearse that the band used to haul around their band gear. This was interesting as I had another friend who interned at a funeral home who also used an older hearse to haul around band gear. Nicky had an unusually optimistic outlook (perhaps chemically assisted) to the extent that we nicknamed him “Mr. Wonderful” – not to be confused with wrestler Paul Orndorff who operated under the same name and could also sometimes could be found in Stewart Avenue bars. When I was too lazy to learn how to play a certain song I would just go to Dee’s, sit at the bar, and cop the chords by watching Nicky (and other guitarists) play. It was dead easy and I probably learned like 90 songs that way. You gotta be a visual learner for this approach to work though.

Note to cover band singers: Dressing like Freddy Mercury will not turn you into Freddy Mercury

Another band that setup shop there periodically was Alien who had a variety of members over time (like many bands) before settling into a configuration in the 80s when they made a serious bid towards getting a record contract although I don’t think it worked out for them at least at the national level. Most bands Dee brought in were pretty solid with some bands being very meticulous to a point of being obsessive. One such group rolled in and the singer wore a leotard similar to the kind favored at the time by Freddie Mercury. I mean he wore it the entire night which was odd because if you saw Queen in concert then you know that Freddy would switch up his wardrobe several times during the show. But the cover band singer was quite comfortable wearing his leotard even if no one else was. In any case, they really nailed the tunes but ran out of songs midway through the second set which was awkward since it meant they had to repeat themselves way too soon in the evening. Oddly, they had no apparent ability to jam or improvise so filling up some time wasn’t a possibility. I noticed that there were several bands back then who couldn’t play outside of the parameters of the song they were covering at least in a way that was interesting. So their careers were pretty much restricted to the cover band circuit since writing songs was probably out of the question.

In the late 70s, Atlanta became overloaded with rock cover bands and it got to be somewhat competitive and, after a certain point, very boring. That’s why I started going to places like 688 since they had bands with original content. And even if some of those bands weren’t that great from a musical standpoint (at least initially) it was still refreshing to hear original music some of which fell into the then “New Wave” category.   There were also places like CW Shaws which hosted a number of straight ahead rock bands on the rise. As would become a pattern I found myself out of step with both the South and North sides of Atlanta since I didn’t blindly accept various bands being offered as the “the best in Atlanta” or  “the best in The South” which was a term bandied about so much then. I mean you could drive 3 hours to Birmingham and see some pretty good bands also. Or take a trip down to Florida.

Anyway – back to Dee’s – a lot of the “action” took place in the parking lot with people going to the car to “burn one” or randy couples looking to engage in some quick backseat action. You should remember that this was the age of large pimp style gas hog automobiles with enough room to host a church barbecue. Some people lived in these cars and even hung curtains or blankets in the windows whereas others didn’t mind being seen. Customized vans were also a big thing then and they always attracted since everyone assumed nefarious activities were taking place therein. This was the era of “If this van’s a rockin’ don’t come a knockin'”. Many Avenue bars had as much action going on in the parking lot as was going on in the club. In fact some nights I might not even go inside if the scene was happening in the parking lot. I mean if the band wasn’t that good then why bother because you knew that there weren’t any pretty girls inside. Plus you could drink out of your own trunk  (everybody had colors of beer in the trunk back then).

I don’t recall exactly when I stopped going to Dee’s nor am I sure when it closed. Maybe somewhere around 82 ? At some point, the City of Atlanta Police started visiting some of the South side bars with teams of menacing cops looking to uncover whatever they could. They would  demand identification, look in the bathrooms for active drug use, and generally come on real strong as a means to intimidate customers as well as the club owners. Then again maybe they were just looking for a payoff. Anyway, they would sometimes find some unlucky soul with an open warrant. I’m not sure that these “raids” accomplished much of anything in terms of reducing city crime. I recall hearing that Dee opened up a club in Columbus at some point. I don’t know if that was actually true but I know that I heard that from more than one person.  There might have even been some overlap between the two locations but once I got busy with other things I just left it all behind and had expanded my game so to speak to include other venues and bars. In any case, from what Google tells me, Dee is apparently still at the bar and music game over in Anniston Alabama still going strong. I don’t know if he still wants to “do beautiful things to you in the morning” but he should get a longevity award for being in the night club business for as long as he has. © 2018 The Stewart Avenue Kid.

“Getting Down” on The Avenue

“Getting Down” – A sports wagering phrase used to describe the act of placing a bet

It has been my experience to know many professional gamblers most of whom worked as hard (or harder) as any young attorney scuttling for recognition in a large, soul-sucking law firm. Unlike the lawyer, a gambler needs a decoy job of some sort to minimize IRS scrutiny and at least two of the guys at Brothers Three Package Store worked there for this purpose. I should note that I’ve encountered lawyers for whom their ostensible occupation was merely a front for lucrative illegal activities so maybe attorneys aren’t the best example but you get the point. Stewart Avenue gamblers were mostly of the football “spread betting” variety although dice games and the occasional multi-day poker matches were also popular. The idea with spread betting is to accurately predict the margin by which a team will win, which is far more interesting and financially rewarding than straight out win/loss betting. For example if the Atlanta Falcons play Seattle then one might reasonably expect the Seahawks to win the game outright. But it might be more interesting for the one accepting the bet (the bookie) to offer a point spread of  7 points to entice bettors to put money on the Falcons – so if Seattle doesn’t win by more than 7 points then the bookie pays off to those with money on Atlanta. If the Bookie knows his trade well then that point spread will result in a predictable betting pattern that can be exploited.

Stockbrokers are Bookies too though they won't admit it

All Stockbrokers can be thought of as Bookies though they would never admit it

So the bettors interact with “Bookies” who establish the spread (aka “the line”) for upcoming professional and college games though some simply republish this information from a more authoritative source.  The act of making the bet is called “getting down” (at least back in the 70s) and the cost of making a bet is the “vigorish” or “vig” for short.  The initial line is established early in the week and can fluctuate in reaction to “the early action” especially if that action becomes one sided suggesting then that the line was perhaps unwisely established. Adjustments are possible and the Bookie himself can “lay off” the action onto other Bookies (and so could a bettor) which is known as hedging one’s bet. Just to say that distributing financial liability is not a concept unique to Wall Street. And if all of this sounds like the basis of a financial market it is – a very big one wherein the potential for profitability is significant. Little surprise then that people of all occupations (postmen, CEOs, mechanics, physicians, cops, salesmen) would be attracted to these potential gains. Even less surprise then that guys would obsess over betting decisions because for many it was the only way to pay for a family vacation or the upcoming Christmas Season.

Bookies could be independent or function as a representative of an organized bookmaking outfit that might employ any number of people to insure a well run “sportsbook”. As bookmaking was illegal (and still is) in Georgia then some payoff to law enforcement might be involved although many law enforcement personnel liked to bet – including the occasional Judge. Sports betting was seen as a “soft vice” and as long as there was no major violence and the money wasn’t mixed with income related to drugs or prostitution then it was usually left alone. Many bookies liked to flash it up with large cars, copius neck and hand jewelry, exposed chest hair, and ostentatious consumption of food and liquor. Track suits and athletic wear were popular clothing choices as most of them were overweight. They attracted a certain type of woman – the fast and loose type that enjoyed having access to quick cash. There was this middle-aged dyspeptic bookie who seemed to belch out every word of a sentence in between drags off a no-filter Camel. He was forever gobbling Rolaids that he would chase down with sips of Scotch. (That alcohol and cigarettes might be contributing to his stomach issues was evidently not a concern for him). Another guy had a shaved head and eyebrows like Ming the Merciless from Flash Gordon which he thought made him look all mean. However, his attempted bad boy image was totally compromised by the out of control nose hair which snaked its way out of each nostril.

Some of the novice bookies with pinky diamond rings and gold necklaces learned the hard way that keeping quiet about winnings was better than being pistol whipped in the parking lot by someone who saw them flash a wad of cash in the bar. On The Avenue, Bookies might take your action in person or at The Fireplace or at one of the many Airport Bars like the Scotch House,  My Brothers Place,  Admiral Benbow, or Modine Gunch’s.  The Moose Lodge overlooking the Silver Ribbon was an active bookie site although one needed to be a member or guest of a member to gain entrance. Some action was taken late at night but that was dangerous as most people, including the bookie, were usually too drunk to think clearly.  Many phoned in their bets which was a ritualistic process not to be interrupted since a guy might be putting down money on 12 or more teams (maybe double that if including college games) thus accuracy during transmission was essential.  In a tone usually reserved for somber occasions such as funerals, a guy would read aloud his picks after which they would be confirmed by the bookie. Once the bet was “down” the tone and mood would lighten considerably.

Super Bookie Allen Hilf took action in Detroit for 40 years !

Legendary Detroit Bookie Allen Hilf aka “The General” aka “Fat Allen”.  He took action for close to 40 years ! Note the athletic wear

Most bettors stuck with football season but one of the Brothers Three guys also bet on basketball and baseball. He also took frequent side trips to the dog track in Florida which is how I first became interested in gambling. Terry brought back a track book containing finish times and place information on each dog. Having “read ahead” at school I pointed out that these kinds of details could be used in a process called regression that could predict a  dog’s finish time given that a number of assumptions were met. A more involved type of regression could help predict if the dog would finish first, second, or third but just being able to generate a finish time was a helpful start. As far as Terry was concerned I was talking another language so it wasn’t until I actually developed some actual predictions that he paid any attention to me. I would work things out using an old accounting-based calculator though would have to write out intermediate results onto a legal pad as I went. This was a tedious process that had to be repeated to verify results since Terry would then take this information into consideration when making bets at the track. The initial predictions were useful and Terry did better than his normal “baseline” (what he would have bet in absence of the generated information). Remember that this was long before cheap personal computers, Excel spreadsheets, and statistical programs that make quick work of this kind of thing.

Maybe a dog's weight (x) influences how fast he rounds the track (y) which you can estimate

It’s possible that a dog’s weight (x) influences how fast he can round the track (y) which we then estimate with a regression line.

The initial period of betting success was due mostly to consistency of conditions at the dog track though I cautioned against aggressive betting as the predictions were aging.  No one ever really knew if a dog was underfed, over fed, or had been given a drug to perform better. And of course new dogs would come onto the scene so the predictions would have to be regenerated. Any scrap of information from a track employee could be helpful, “Oh yea – one of the trainers we had for 10 years up and moved to San Diego” or “we cut our chow budget by 10%”. I didn’t always know how to integrate this information into the model but did what I could and the relative prosperity continued. It was difficult to determine to what extent Terry was using the predictions as gamblers have a certain pride in their own abilities that prevents them from acknowledging others especially if it is coming from “some goddamned formula” which is how he originally characterized my idea. Relative to football he was a natural seeker of information and had assembled a national phone-based network that facilitated the discovery of insider details such as, for example, Oklahoma’s quarterback just got dumped by his girlfriend. This would factor into his bet and unless the bookie was equipped with similar knowledge then Terry would usually come out on top. He had a nose for less obvious factors that might be important but it remained difficult to determine the relative importance of these factors. How much weight should you give a particular variable when making a bet ?  Is playing in snow more important to consider than if playing without the usual starting Center ? That’s where the regression came in handy.

Though I was never specifically acknowledged for my work, I was given a full introduction to the gambling culture which was incredibly entertaining.  No one batted an eye when I showed up at some of these bars – I was clearly underage but no one cared and I got the full brunt of the crazy talk, heavy drinking (though I did not participate  – at least initially), and of course the fast women who, quite frankly, scared me. They could be quite attractive but very aggressive and intimidating with their come-ons. An older woman with freakishly large breasts and spidery eyelashes (note the order in which I presented that information) took a liking to me and offered to “break me in” anytime I so desired. But I couldn’t handle the intensity or speed at which the proposal was made. Nor was I particularly interested in having the world know about what I thought should be a private matter. I failed to mention that she made her offer in front of about twelve other men and women all of whom were looking at me going, “Well ?” before breaking into uproarious laughter. Though these guys lived only for the moment and seemed to focus uniquely on sporting outcomes I’m sure that any of them would have made good stock brokers, financial analysts, or even statisticians as they possessed an instinctive understanding of numbers and could easily spot things that ran counter to an existing trend. So where I might be an analytical gambler they were of the intuitive variety. Modern gamblers seem to be combination of the two.

The book and movie "Moneyball" made pro sports pay attention to stats. Note I don't think Brad Pitt really knows stats but he is going okay nonetheless

The ideas behind “Moneyball” made pro sports teams and gamblers pay close attention to statistics. I don’t think Brad Pitt really knows much about math but then again he doesn’t really have to now does he ?

Later when I studied mathematics formally I started to look at ways to maximize the return on an initial pool of money over a series of bets. This was not anything special as I was sure that other people had considered these applications. My overall thinking about math was why bother with it unless it could be practically applied  ?  Terry would see my calculus text book and took a childish joy in pronouncing the title as “Cal-Koo-Lus” or “Kak-U-Lus”. He liked to chew on cigars and I could tell when he had been thumbing through the book as there would be tobacco juice splotches on various pages. Despite his jokes (and disregard for my book) he respected what the math could do.  The problem at the time was that to apply it to football or baseball games was more involved as getting data could be difficult and generating predictions for many more variables was an exhausting process. I was also struggling with how best to integrate this information into a model. Worse, there were humans involved whose behavior varied more than that of the dogs making it more difficult to predict a weekly score. The death knell to all of this was that eventually word got around that someone was attempting to employ a “system” which no bookmaker likes even though bookies themselves commonly used their own systems. It all really came to an end on a personal level when one bookmaker dropped by with one of his goons to quiz me on the nature of “my system” and to suggest a “collaboration”. I feigned ignorance by claiming  that it was all just a school project that had gotten out of hand. “Besides”, I said, “it doesn’t work so well on team sports” (which was partially true). I’m not sure he believed me but not knowing anything about the mathematics there was no way he could argue. More importantly he knew that my Father was connected to law enforcement which likely tempered any inclination he had of pushing the matter further – at least by using simple intimidation. I was shy then but not fearful and in the bookie’s mind the fact that I had put together some predictions was evidence enough that I had some options so why continue to lean into me ?

Mathematically assisted betting is now very common and thanks to movies like “Moneyball” there is increased awareness of how statistics has been used by professional sports teams to identify under-valued talent. Baseball in particular now has its own branch of analysis called “Sabermetrics”. There are entire conferences where sabermetricians go to present research results on almost every imaginable angle in baseball. Vegas has also invested in data science approaches to insure that their casinos and book making operations remain profitable. So anyone seeking a short cut or simplistic system to beat the odds is in for a rude awakening as odds making outfits have their own guys working against you. Just to say bring your lunch if you want to go head to head with them because you are going to need it. Back to the bookies – one important aspect of their trade that I have yet to mention is that the more successful ones know the habits of their customers quite well which allows them to exploit that knowledge over time. For example if you know that a guy has a weakness for the home field advantage then why not leverage that info against him ? In particular bookies love bets made out of emotionalism since it usually impairs logic. And online betting is no exception. In fact it is easier for them to look at your betting history and use that as input into THEIR models ! But you still have options in that you can use one or more local guys, Vegas, or go to the offshore services. The distillate wisdom is to use all three to leverage differences in point spreads. It’s not like it used to be – that is for certain. The Stewart Avenue Kid © 2016