In the 1980s a guy named Cliff ran a quasi-legal poker game in the smoky front room of the Westward Ho Lounge on Third Street, the only 18-hour bar in Yamhill County. The place was as drab and listless as the lima-bean sized ice cubes in the bottom of a spent glass of Jack and Coke, peopled by retirees and Coca-Cola cowboys, various local folks, the occasional self-styled poker pro from Reno or Vancouver, sizing up the game with wolf eyes and a fevered sniffle, not knowing the sheer inanity of Grandma and Bud poker would wreck everything they knew about the game.
It went unconquered for a couple of years until one night the owner of rival establishment sat in, drank too much, played wildly aggressive and intimidating poker and stuck the entire table, including one of the self-styled pros from out of town. They both were drinking too much and getting lippy, and finally the out of towner, a skinny guy with a Mike Bellotti mustache, threw a sucker punch. Gary, 6-4 and rangy, decked him in two shots and was asked to leave. He cashed out for around $300, a big win in a couple of hours of $1-$2 poker.
The next morning he decided he’d had enough of the poker game in his town and three blocks from his bar. He called a couple of his buddies on the city council, starting the wagon wheels in motion on the end of vice and iniquity in a sleepy college town.
The night the Yamhill County Sheriff raided it County Commissioner Ted was sitting in the game. He was a regular, quoted in a backpedaling ramble in the News-Register about how the game was harmless and social and really didn’t have any of those “elements.”
The same night they shut down games in Independence and Carlton. A month later, one of the dealers was shot gangland style, left on the boat ramp near Monmouth. He’d cheated some co-conspirators in a money order fraud, cashing the money orders in the floorman’s cash box, but he kept all the take for himself.
A few years later The Cedars, a bar on the West end of town past Linfield that hosted a $5 game with tougher players, burned to the ground. The Sheriff, Tight Teddy, Rocket Carl and Miss Mary and Larry Fanning, who drove over from Salem in a purple Trans Am and a brown leather jacket, were left without a place to play.
A few drifted in to the Westward Ho occasionally looking for a game after things quieted down. But all they found were Millie and Bud and the regulars, nursing Jack and Coke and vodka tonics.
Wells were $2.50. There was a little-used pool table near the front door, and behind and to the left of the empty dealer’s seat was an old-style pinball game, “8-Ball Deluxe.” Amid the bells and whistles the game had a voice, a laconic cowboy in a plaid shirt and curled up white straw hat. “8-Ball Deluxe,” he’d drawl, and then later, “Quit talkin’ and start chalkin’.”
By then he was the only game in town.
In one week the Ducks play college football, a much purer and more exciting game than that drab, ill-fated vinyl-covered poker oval on Third Street. It’s the flop of their young lives, full of possibility. It’s time to quit talkin’ and start chalkin’.