COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Though a bit dejected by two straight losses in dominoes, Richard Sullivan readily relinquished his spot at the corner booth inside the White Castle on E. 5th Avenue.
“I’ve got to wake up,” said the 67-year-old resident of the Linden neighborhood.
With no one else waiting to play, the newly arrived Bennie Woods slid into the open seat at the table — eager to try his luck against Charles Douglas and Jonathan Mills.
“I’m ready,” said Woods, 81, of the Olde Towne East neighborhood. “I slept in this morning.”
The clock hadn’t yet struck 10?a.m., but the competition — predictably — was already coming and going at the fast-food joint, which stands a stone’s throw from I-71.
“The low man gets up, and someone else sits down,” said Douglas, 80, summing up the “musical chairs” that takes place for hours on end.
The scene, in fact, changes little from day to day.
“We had nothing else to do and were always sitting around drinking coffee,” recalled Douglas, who, like Sullivan and Mills, lives in nearby Linden.
“One day, we decided to start playing dominoes.”
More than 10 years later, the routine continues.
“We enjoy it,” said Mills, 67.
Although just three people compete at once — a single set of dominoes is used — the revolving nature of the play gives the seven or eight regulars multiple turns.
The group favors All Fives, a version of “bones” that allows scoring only when the open ends of the dominoes layout add up to a multiple of five.
A game — typically consisting of several rounds, or hands — ends when a player reaches 250 points. (And then the player with the lowest score makes room for the next challenger.)
The volume of play through the years has taken its toll on more than a few sets of dominoes.
The next set, it seems, will be on Woods, who will soon travel to the Southwest.
“I’m going to buy some new ones when I’m down in Texas,” he promised.
The men, most of them retired by now, go way back.
Many grew up in Flytown (a neighborhood that today encompasses parts of the Arena District and the western sections of Victorian Village) and attended Central High School (the modern site of COSI Columbus).
Like their temperaments, their dominoes skills seem well-balanced.
“One day, I’ll win two games and lose one,” Douglas noted. “Maybe tomorrow I’ll win one and lose two.”
One morning last week, the conversation amid the play centered heavily on sports — the possible next bout for boxer Manny Pacquiao, the controversy involving the Los Angeles Clippers owner, the quarterback prospects for the Cleveland Browns.
Coffee flowed as other players and regular spectators filled seats near the booth.
Terms such as boneyard (the leftover tiles drawn upon when a player has no move) and washing (the shuffling of tiles) came up often.
Raymond Stowe, a 76-year-old Northeast Side resident, walked into the restaurant and promptly began sharing the mini York Peppermint Patties that padded his pockets.
“Here comes the candy man,” said Mills, known to his buddies as “Sergeant” (a nod to his Army background).
Most of the men said they learned to play dominoes at a young age.
Douglas, for example, was taught the game decades ago by fellow Navy sailors while stationed in Kodiak, Alaska.
Mills said the game helped him learn to count.
Math plays a key role in the game, whether it’s used to keep score or to determine what tiles remain in opponents’ hands.
“I know you’ve got two deuces over there,” Woods said to Douglas, prompting a quick comeback.
“Don’t be telling people my business.”
Although the banter grows loud at times, the restaurant staff welcomes the group and the camaraderie.
“They’re my security,” manager Mark Erwin said. “And they bring me lunch every day.”
With only a short break for lunch (some in the group might go to a nearby restaurant; others eat at White Castle), the games typically persist well into the afternoon — until the men generally agree they’ve had their fill.
For Sullivan, the daylong ritual is something to look forward to — win or lose at dominoes.
“They’re good guys,” Sullivan said. “Some of them take it seriously, but it’s all fun to me.”