Card Magician Jeff McBride

3 Reading Mistakes That Embarrassed Me in Front of a Great Magician

It took us 6 hours and 27 minutes to get from my driveway to Las Vegas with no pit stops or bathroom breaks. My friend Paul and I were headed to the International Magician’s Convention where the world’s best con artists came together for several days of close-up magic. Think of it as a meetup for all those kids who grew up with sponge balls in their pockets rather than the phone numbers of pretty girls. Sometimes, at these gatherings, you meet your heroes. Unfortunately, I met one of mine.

Paul drove a 1994 Ford Aspire. We were afraid that if we stopped, the desert heat would fry the engine and we’d never get the thing going again. He kept the speed at 65 miles per hour (anything above that made the car vibrate) while I studied a new card trick. I had packed my cards in the trunk and there was no way we were stopping to get them out. But I did have a book called “The Royal Road to Card Magic,” and I assumed that if I studied every word, I’d have the trick ready for the convention. That was my first mistake.

For 6 hours and 27 minutes, I studied the sleight-of-hand for a disgustingly hard trick. To pull this masterpiece off, I’d have to palm cards (which is magician speak for hiding cards in the palm of your hand without people knowing), cut the deck unobserved, and do a mess of other moves my virgin fingers had never explored – but I couldn’t resist.

I read the instructions a hundred times. I studied the images of the author’s hands and how he hid the cards. I took notes in the margins and strategized with Paul as he drove us deeper into the desert towards Sin City. In my head, I had this trick down – what I didn’t have was a deck of cards to practice with. That was my second mistake.

We made it on an empty tank of gas. I don’t know how we did it. We were early, and when Paul pulled into the parking lot – I smacked him on the arm. “Paul, look over there,” I said. I pointed towards a man leaning against the building. He was dressed like a silk-laden gypsy, with dyed-red hair and a top hat. I didn’t understand the fashion, but I didn’t have to, because there was one of the greatest magicians in the world – Jeff McBride.

Paul smashed the brakes. Somewhere under the car, a mechanical bang fired and Jeff (I’ll call him Jeff since he was way too nice to refer to him as “McBride” in an essay) turned to look at the ruin of metal overheating on the pavement. He smiled and walked our way. We just sat in that car, dumbstruck and giddy, as he knocked on the driver’s window.

Jeff asked if we were there for the convention. We said nothing. How could we? Thankfully, Jeff noticed the book in my hand and said, “Looks like you boys are in the right place. My name is Jeff McBride.” The only words I could manage were, “I know.”

Somehow, we got the car parked. I think Jeff was concerned about our well-being. He was so gracious, that he helped us check into the hotel and find our bearings. The lady at the front desk told us it would be 30 minutes before our room was ready, so we turned to Jeff not knowing what to do with ourselves.

“That’s perfect,” he said. “Let’s grab a seat.” He ushered us to a small, circular table and pulled out a deck of cards. Jeff McBride was going to do magic for us. This was insane. Then he said, “Show me a card trick.”

“You want me to do a card trick?” I asked, pointing to myself.

“You’re at a conference for magicians, aren’t you?”

“Well, yeah, but–”

“Good,” Jeff said, putting the deck into my hands. “Let’s have some fun.”

I looked at the woman working the front desk, hoping she’d tell me my room was ready. She smiled and looked back at her computer. Thanks a lot, lady. Jeff’s books and DVDs filled my bookshelves at home. Every trick I knew seemed inferior, and then I remembered the 6 hours and 27 minutes I had spent learning the disgustingly hard trick in the car, and I got an idea. That was my third mistake.

I opened the deck and began. Jeff instantly knew the trick and called it by name. “Oh, I like this one,” he said. “It’s a real knuckle-buster.” Something told me this was a bad idea, but I’d spent so much time studying that my confidence jumped off the cliff and spread its feeble wings. Strap in Eddy, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.

Sweat pooled under my arms and my fingers cramped. Lights from the hotel burned my forehead and cigarette smoke from the casino filled my lungs. Then I dropped the cards. They scattered everywhere. It was so bad that an old man carrying his suitcase slipped and almost fell on them. Luckily, Jeff was there to catch and stabilize the guy – no damage done. I wanted to perform the oldest trick in the book and disappear. Jeff, of course, said all the right things to me. To break the tension, he smiled, told me to keep practicing, and signed my book.

When Jeff left, Paul had one thing to say to me. “Why did you do that trick?” I just shrugged my shoulders.

I learned that day that my love for reading is only half of the equation. A book will give you the knowledge, and sometimes even the pictures, but until you go out into the real world and apply the ideas, you’ve accomplished nothing. You have to get the cards into your hands and do the work.

Until next time, remember to read slowly – take notes – and apply the ideas.


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