When I first arrived in Houston, Texas, at 25 years old in 1980, I learned of several 24 hour poolrooms. I loved the idea of cramming as much pool into one day as possible, so these places were very high on my list, and they all had money games taking place. The poolrooms were high quality facilities that were clean and bright, attracting pool players, backers, and recreational players, the pool business was always brisk.
One such room was located in the upscale area of town called Twin Oaks, just north of the Galleria. This area had the homes of Houston’s most successful.
Grand Central Station was the name of this room and had 10 new and pristine 9’ Gold Crowns, was, clean, and held high quality pool playing and action everyday, almost around the clock. I personally loved this room because everything about it was designed classy and uplifted the sport to where I have always felt that it belongs.
Earl Strickland then known as “little Earl” was around the city and about 18 years old, but he mostly stayed at Cassiday’s Billiards off of I-10, another 24 hour Action Room where his backers resided so he seldom ventured over. Plus on his tables at Cassiday’s he was nearly invincible.
Toughened gambling players like James the Sniper Christopher, Buddy Hall, Jersey Red, Flyboy, Jimmy Reid, Rusty Brandemeyer, Handsome Danny Jones, and Bellaire Red, along with a host of shortstops, backers, steer men, and side bettors happily hung inside Grand Central Station.
Another Houston top player, Gabby, was in town too, but he also did not come by much, however many road players would check it out and you never knew who might pop in and play some expensive pool. Star road players like Grady Mathews, Surfer Rod, Jack Cooney, and Richie from the Bronx Ambrose, all were attracted to the higher stakes games, stopped by semi frequently along with others.
Tough action on every table most days, sets of One Pocket, ring games, and tons of 9-Ball. This place was always intense and held interest.
“Flyboy” (Jimmy Spears, an Air Force veteran) was a top player that preferred gambling matches, he would come in to Grand Central Station, match up tough in One Pocket, and play a set for $2000…if he lost he just posted another set and continued, no quit, however chemical warfare was a part of his arsenal and bolstered endurance with keen focus. He would outlast guys who had lesser quality amphetamines. He might play several people over 20-30 hours and he would rest for a few days.
He would then call the poolroom and ask who was there. The employee would share that 5 or 6 of the high stakes players were in house and an assortment of backers and bettors too.
Jimmy would say to the employee that had answered the phone, okay, great, I want you to lock the door and don’t let anyone leave, tell them I’m on my way and want to make a game that everyone will bet against me so that I can bust the entire place at one time. He meant it too.
The owner of the poolroom loved it when Jimmy arrived, often at 2 a.m. (pool players tend to be vampires) because it kept a throng of customers on hand and food and drink sales continued vigorously along with many other pool games.
Jimmy generated action because if you did beat him, you could make a serious score in those days, due to his virtually unlimited bankroll and willingness to engage in super tough games. Nobody was betting higher than “Flyboy” in fact, he only played the toughest guys and bet high. Everyone was attracted to his willingness to be an “old west gunfighter”.
Better pool through chemistry was on full display in that era, yet there was still dignity and respect for the warriors, because they also respected each other and the sport. There was never an embarrassing outburst of childlike poor behavior over any circumstance. Somehow these battles held a special reverence that was inspiring for everyone, and the playing performances were stellar.
He held his own in pool, but likely ultimately lost money, as his income came primarily from an extensive vending business. He did not choose pool games for making money, but to give himself the biggest test possible.
“He has more nerve than a burglar.”- Phil Windham