ป๊อกเด้ง ไฮโล

No one gets around San Francisco in a car better than my buddy Alex. He does not hesitate. If there’s a gap, he shoots it. If there’s a jam up, he skirts it. And when it comes to parking, Alex is the self-proclaimed King. He plays it smart, like poker, weighing the risks and rewards of each action, isolating variables and narrowing their values, and coming up with the best play.

Here’s what you can expect the first time going to a movie in San Francisco with Alex. You get in his car and drive two blocks to buy a newspaper to see what is showing where. Alex slams to a stop in front of a hydrant, eight feet from a corner store. He’s back in 30 seconds with a paper. You glance at the listings and agree on a movie. Trouble is, the movie starts in 15 minutes and the theater is 20 minutes away. But that’s not really what bothers you. It’s the other thing. The parking.

You know that on average it’s 20 minutes to find street parking that is on average ten-minutes walk from the theater. That’s half an hour. Far too long. Or you can pay $10 to park in a garage that is three blocks from the theater. From there it takes 10 minutes to get parked and to the theater. So for five bucks each, you can buy 20 minutes. But it’s still hopeless. No way you can make it to the theater on time. It’d be a good fold.

You suggest to Alex to wait for a later showing of the ป๊อกเด้ง ไฮโล movie. But it’s too late because you are already in his car and it is already moving. Alex gears down for launch onto Oak Street, a four-lane, one-way, 40 miles-per-hour autoduct. He accelerates through a right-turn-on-red, into a void 17 inches longer than his car. There’s a honk. Alex gestures. You put your seatbelt on.

Nine minutes later, you approach the familiar parking garage. You know it is long odds against finding a closer, quicker place to park. You suggest splitting the cost of the garage, five bucks each, and can we just get out of the car now, please?

Alex ignores you while he wins a battle of nerves with a cable car. Then he makes a centripetally disorienting u-turn across five lanes on Van Ness. He reverse jerks against traffic for 10 lengths and slices into an illegal white-curb parking spot. The theater door is 30 feet away. You’ve got time to get popcorn and even see a preview or two.

You ask, “Alex? Aren’t you worried about getting a parking ticket?”

Here’s where it gets confusing and beautiful. Alex says, “This spot costs only $5, half as much as the garage. Go ahead and give me the five bucks you were ready to give up anyway, and you come out even.” He grins.

Baffled into obedience, you give Alex a five-dollar bill. Through the popcorn line, into the theater, seated, the movie starts, and all thoughts of parking are put on hold.

Movie over, you walk out of the theater. Alex instantly glances toward the car and says, “Cool. No parking ticket.”

You: “So what about my five bucks?! You gonna keep it?”

Alex: “Sure I am. If there had been a parking ticket, I would have paid the whole thing. Don’t you see it yet?”

Alex explains, “A parking ticket here costs $25. The chance of getting a ticket parked in this spot for an hour and a half is one-in-five. So it costs only $5 to park here, on average, plus, it was close enough to give us time to relax.”

You open the car door and think, relax?

Alex continues, “Even if I had got a parking ticket, I would have theoretically parked for free because you paid my half of the $5. I was getting a freeroll on a ten-to-one to five-to-one overlay — plus time gained!” His voice picks up as the car stabs the traffic, “I am — the king — of parking in San Francisco!”

Next time at the poker table, you realize that all of your betting decisions at poker are just like parking in The City with Alex. His parking computations contain variables. For each event, some variables have absolute values and some don’t. The cost of the parking ticket was an absolute. The duration of the parking was an absolute. The time saved was an absolute. But the chance of getting a ticket, that was the essential variable in the parking equation, and who can say what that chance really was? Only someone with experience and savvy at the parking game.

Let’s say it’s on the river in a limit hold’em game and you have nothing and your opponent checks and you have to decide whether to bluff or not. The amount of money in the pot, that’s an absolute. The amount it costs to bluff, that’s an absolute. The likelihood that your opponent will fold? — that’s the secret to good parking. Go ask Alex. I think he’ll know.