I got into Biloxi at around 11pm on Day 4, Tuesday night. It would mark the beginning of a dismal 48 hour period of my life where I would experience the full spectrum of gambling emotions: excitement, success, failure, regret, anger, bargaining and finally, acceptance.
I’m not a gambling man even though I started playing poker when I was five years old. The Great Aunt I had visited on Day 2 had tought me five card draw and a laundry list of shuffles, card tricks and slang were soon to follow. It was then and has remained for me a family activity.
Since then I’ve had very limited experience with casinos. My mind has always seen them as the excesses of Las Vegas, showgirls and high rollers. If you want a good reminder of how most of the regular world actually gambles, go to Biloxi.
I chose the Grand Casino, it’s right on the coast and large enough to make you think they’re just handing out cash to anyone who comes in. I found parking and excitedly walked by the first of nearly one million seniors I would see over the next two days.
Old people love to gamble. This is a fact and is as unarguable as the sun rising in the east or Tom Cruise being gayer than a maypole (I know this thanks to Bradley). They get on buses, in cars, trolleys or old-timey horse and buggies just to come see the flashing lights. The obsession makes younger generations’ proclivity for video games seem harmless, fun and educational.
Someone should let Tom Brokaw know that the Greatest Generation is currently sidled up to a Black Jack table and whittling away their retirement drowning in Dewers and soda. All I saw was old people. There isn’t a person under 65 between Biloxi and New Orleans. Even the dealers were old people, which is how I met Roger.
I was wandering around, looking for a place to lose some money when I saw a table completely empty with an older dealer standing around looking bored. It was Three Card Poker, a game I had no idea how to play (along with every other table game in the building). He motioned me over and we struck up a conversation. He taught me how to play and we chit chatted. *excitement*
Over the next few hours I ranged from being up to down to finally breaking even, the black chips that were my buy-in were literally burning a hole in my pocket. Even though I kicked myself for not having gotten out when the getting was good, I realized I’d spent over three hours, getting drunk for free. This is the kind of mentality that most of the retirees have when they’re at the tables. *success* *failure*
“I made it six whole hours and only lost $100.”
I heard similar statements from a lot of old people over the next two days and I began echoing them in my own head. Sure maybe I’d just blown $200, but it took me twelve hours! It’s like going to a firing squad and seeing how long you can dodge the bullets, great mentality right? *bargaining*
Regardless of how well or poorly I did that night I was happy I’d gone just for the conversation I had with Roger. We talked about everything, my trip, casinos, the geriatrics surrounding us, etc. He was a spy plane pilot during Vietnam and we chatted about politics, wars and technology. He filled me in on what to eat in New Orleans and eventually, I took off to find some sleep, but not before throwing away some money on a slot machine. *regret*
In the morning I headed straight to Waffle House again and saw something great. No, not the sandy beaches or beautiful sun, it was a menu, a specials menu to be exact. Featured prominently on its laminated backside was a country singer, somebody named Trent or Travis or something, it was an advertisement for his new album. One of the hit singles’ names was, it was in black letters atop a waving flag, I shit you not, Honkey Tonk Budonkadonk. I laughed all the way to Gulfport.
I hopped on Rte. 90 and headed west. I had all day to make it to New Orleans and I planned on seeing some sights. It was a great drive, buffeted on one side by the Gulf and on the other by beach houses and those great low-hanging trees. Yeah, the same ones from Mobile, which as it turns out, does suck, since they were the only thing going for it.
With all this time to kill and the excitement from the prior night’s gambling experience fresh in my head I made an impulse decision to spend the late morning gambling.
The only thing more depressing than gambling at night in Biloxi is gambling in the morning in Gulfport. There’s even fewer people there and they’re even older and sadder. I played dodge the bullet for a few hours, came up a little behind and left, mad. *anger*
I made it into New Orleans around 3pm and headed straight to my hotel. I’d found a ridiculous deal at a tourist information center and intended to use it. What I got made me truly realize that you get what you pay for.
Down and out at the Empress Hotel.
The Empress Hotel’s rooms are so small it made me homesick for New York. The rules state: You can’t leave with your keys and you’re not allowed to bring home guests. I assumed it’s not that popular during Mardi Gras. I showered, changed and headed off to find some food and a bowling alley (stupid bowling).
Things to Do and Do Not in New Orleans:
Do: Eat one of those Muffaletta sandwiches, they fucking rock.
Do Not: Bowl.
There’s one bowling alley in the whole of New Orleans and it is horrendous. The lanes have this sick grey smear on them from over-use and you can see where the finish has been ripped up to a balsa-wood-esque texture. It’s on the second floor and the foundation has slipped a little in the east causing the ten pin to fall over about half the time.
The only thing that made it bearable was this little kid Chris who came in and tried to hustle me for some smokes and a few dollars. He hung out with me, marking up my scores, asking how to play the game and stuff. I gave him a cigarette and we chatted. When I eventually left in anger over the poor quality of the place he asked me for a few bucks, like it was conversation tax or something.
I let him know that I was from New York and that if he was going to try to hustle me that he should have at least tried to sell me something, like batteries or peanut M&M’s. I decided to head over to the Quarter and do what you’re supposed to do in Nawlins, get drunk.
Day 5.5-6.2: Bourbon Street
Bourbon street is Disneyland on alcohol. That’s really the best way to describe it. I mean, I’m a huge fan of drinking, besides food, clothing and shelter it’s my favorite humany neccessity, but New Orleans just takes it to a little bit of an extreme.
It was a Wednesday night and everyone was hammered by 6pm. It’s like Midtown. Every where has 3 for 1 happy hours and even though I was bar hopping and only doing one or two beers maximum at each place, the bartenders made it out like they were required by law to give me three.
After a brief stop in at a karaoke bar where I saw a blottoed Arkansas couple sing their hearts out to “These Boots Were Made for Walking,” I knew I wasn’t going to meet anyone fun from anywhere cool. So started talking to staff.
Eventually I met Sharon who was a vocalist for a cover band. I started talking to her because I’d already seen her perform, twice, in two different bands. Apparently they mix and match groups down there more than Van Halen and they just fill in time slots wherever possible. I tried to explain to her how they should have a messageboard or something but I think it just came out, “play some Journey.”
I spent the rest of the night hanging with the bartender and his shot girls at some place I decided to forget the name to. We danced and jumped around and laughed at silly people as the tooter girls wrestled acohol down tourist-throat. I think I promised some aspiring rapper guy that I’d show him around New York, ugh. Walking home dead-drunk at 2am in the summer heat was not fun.
The beginning of Day 6, Thursday, sucked a big one. I woke up hungover and sweaty. It was blindingly hot and I stupidly decided to hit another casino before going north to begin my trek home. I lost, not big time mortgage size lost, but I lost money that really didn’t have any business losing. I added a few new emotions to the gambling wheel o’ sadness: *self-pity*, *excessive profanity*, and *steering wheel fists of fury*
As I headed out west over the bayou and started to take in the beautiful scenery around me, soggy trees in waist deep water as far as the eye can see, I began to calm down. While I’d taken an impulsive break from the spirit of this trip to do some really stupid, cheesey and immature stuff, I was happy I’d done it. I’d certainly learned a lot about how something so meaningless as money can be so meaningful when it comes to gambling. I’d learned how no matter where you go there’s always going to be people hustling tourists. I’d also learned that you can hold a shot beaker in some really funny places.
Before heading north through Mississippi, I stopped at the big river that splits this country in half and promised I’d repeat this trip on the other side one of these days. Then I got in the car and started for home. (*acceptance*)