This story starts a few years ago when Eldon Brown began working at
Hollywood Park Casino. One of the regular poker players there was a
man by the name of Henry Zitelli. Eldon and Henry hit it off well from the
start and became good friends. They had common interests, mostly
poker, and they went to the track on occasion. Besides sharing some
common interests, they just enjoyed each other’s company. Over the
last few years, they spent many hours together taking about and doing
what people in poker do.
It was the kind of friendship that only people in the poker world would
understand. Yes, they shared the common interest of playing poker, but
other than that, they would seem to outsiders to be the most unlikely of
friends. Henry is a 65-year-old white man with children and
grandchildren. Eldon, on the other hand, is an energetic, handsome, 30-
year-old single black man.
A few months ago Henry became sick. He had developed some major
health problems and the prognosis was not good. Henry is not the kind
of guy to feel sorry for himself. He didn’t burden anyone with his
troubles, and was upbeat. He decided that he wanted to go back to
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to be close to his son and grandchildren.
Henry was told that he should not fly, and since he wanted to get his car
back to Pennsylvania, he had a small problem. So, he explained to Eldon
that he needed help driving such a long distance, and asked Eldon if
would like to take a trip with him back to Pittsburgh. He told Eldon he
would pay the expenses and fly him home after they reached Pittsburgh.
He suggested that they could make one of those once-in-a-lifetime trips.
They could stop at casinos all along the route. They could take their
time, play some poker, and maybe even do a little light partying and just
hang out. Eldon agreed, and got permission to take some time off work
so that he could accompany his friend on the trip.
Both men, coincidentally, are pretty darn good poker players. In fact,
Eldon recently won the opening event at Hollywood Park’s Poker Derby,
and in 2001, Henry won a tournament at The Orleans Hotel in Las Vegas.
Their first stop was in Arizona at Fort McDowell Casino, where Henry hit
a jackpot for a few thousand dollars. Then it was on to San Antonio,
Texas, followed by Harrah’s in New Orleans. In New Orleans, Eldon,
celebrating the fact that both of them were winning at the poker tables,
decided to introduce Henry to a little nightlife. They headed for Bourbon
Street and had a ball. Next, it was Gulfport, then Biloxi, and finally
Tunica. Tunica was their last stop before making the long leg of the trip
to Pittsburgh. It turns out that both Henry and Eldon made money on
the trip, and what is more important is that the trip left both men with
some very happy memories.
When they arrived in Pittsburgh, Henry introduced Eldon to his children
and grandchildren. Henry encouraged Eldon to stay awhile, but Eldon
explained that they had spent a couple of weeks on the road and he
didn’t want to jeopardize his job, so he had to leave. Henry tried to buy
Eldon’s airline ticket back home, but Eldon wouldn’t let him. The trip had
been a great experience and money didn’t have anything to do with
Eldon’s reasons for making it.
I asked Eldon how Henry is doing, and he told me that he still stays in
touch with Henry. He calls him every week or so to shoot the breeze,
and they reminisce about lots of things, but mostly about their trip of a
This story is a perfect example of what real friendship is all about.
Perhaps someday all of us will learn to be more like Eldon and Henry.
For what it’s worth …
A Winning Pair
By Vince Burgio