The door opens, letting nicotine fumes escape. Under fluorescent lights, a visitor sees resin-filled balls bounce off green velvet-lined walls.
This is Side Pockets Billiards, an off-the-road billiards room on Paducah’s south side. On its walls, framed pictures detail the rise of billiards from the 1961 film, "The Hustler," to its peak in the 1980s when national champions and soon-to-be-legends of the game frequented the room. On the tables, a solitary game with a rich base of characters gives birth to an unlikely family that extends beyond the room.
Dickie Todd, 62, has owned and operated Side Pockets for 22 years. A former U.S. Amateur Champion, Dickie is Side Pockets’ fourth owner in its 48-year history. His son, Dusty, 39, helps him.
“We’ve been family-oriented since day one,” Dickie says. “I plan to pass it on to my son eventually.”
One member of the Side Pockets family is Stacee Young, 35. She started playing at Side Pockets at age 10, following in her father’s footsteps. “My dad would eventually just drop me off and leave me here to practice,” she says.
In an era when billiards rooms in Paducah didn’t encourage women, Stacee was accepted by players at Side Pockets.
“They wouldn’t let anything happen to me because they knew I was his daughter,” she says. “My mom would always say that I was safer here than anywhere else.”
Corey Martin, 39, another regular, also found a family at Side Pockets. Corey began playing pool when he was 15. Though his father was a known pool shark in the area, his physical and emotional distance prevented Corey from immediately inheriting the game.
He picked up the game on his own and began making a name for himself in his early 20s. Winning a local tournament brought him to his father’s attention.
“My dad was always rough on me, yelling at me for missing shots,” Corey says. “Dickie Todd would always take his time with me and show me how to fix my mistakes.”
Corey still finds that sense of family at Side Pockets after his short reunion with his father. “Sometimes you look around this room and see a bunch of lonely old men,” says Corey. “I don’t want to be that lonely. We look out for each other here.”