I'm in a casino and I detest casinos.
I don't like the atmosphere. It's full of desperate hope that goes
unmet quarter after quarter, dollar after dollar. Cigarette smoke
curls and grasps this expectation, darkening it, almost damning it. I
feel heavy with sadness as I look from machine to machine and see
futures going down the slot holes. Ca-Ching. Swirl swirl. Ca-Ching.
Swirl swirl. Ca-Ching. Swirl swirl. Another puff of smoke wafts toward me. Envelopes my hair.
Now I'm sad and I stink. Gambling sucks. My parents called it sinful.
But I'm not in the casino to gamble. I'm in here for a good cause.
It's called boondocking. We're camping in the casino's parking lot
overnight for free. But we still have to register. Inside the casino.
We are near the Oregon Coast for the Whale Week celebration, a time
when a series of docents situate themselves at whale watching spots
along the coast and help visitors spot migrating gray whales. I've
never seen a gray whale in person. I'm excited.
So I volunteer to hop through the Spirit Mountain Casino in Grande
Ronde, OR, to register the RV for the free night of camping.
It's OK, I tell myself. I'm not gambling. I'm just registering my RV
But, the security guy tells me I have to be a casino club member to
park overnight. Membership's free, he says, and points over to what's
called the Coyote Club. It looks like a hotel registration desk. OK. I
can do this.
I run over and stand in line for membership alongside a few
excited people cashing in their winnings. I notice the winners are few
compared to the losers. Or should I say those still trying to win.
When it's my turn at the desk, I must prove I am who I am. So I hand
over my driver's license. I watch appalled as a very nice attendant
scans my personal data into a computer which now has me on file as a
gambler at the Spirit Mountain Casino. I try to act nonchalant. I hate
gambling. I don't want to be on the list as a gambler. But I love
parking overnight for free.
It's OK. I tell myself. I am NOT gambling.
The lady returns my driver's license to me along with a beautiful
membership card of yellow, orange and deep blue with reflective gold
lettering that has my name on it and my membership number. Great. Now I'm a card-carrying gambler.
Then the attendant hops up and yells IT'S YOUR LUCKY DAY! The
computer has randomly selected me to win $5 to use in the club's
beautiful slot machines. She hands me another card telling me how to
redeem the $5 for gambling. No, she says, I can't have the $5. It's
only for gambling.
I turn to go to the security desk to register the RV and DING DING
DING. It's my lucky day again! I've been chosen, the lady tells me,
to take a FREE CHANCE toward winning $1 MILLION DOLLARS! Come this
way! She's waving her arms over her head to get my attention. Just
pull this LUCKY LEVER!
I feel like I'm reading one of those fake e-mails, or, worse yet, like
I'm walking down the midway of a seedy carnival.
I pass. No thanks, I tell her. She tilts her head in confusion.
Evidently NO ONE in a casino should give up a FREE chance at $1 million.
I duck my head, trying to be out of sight, and continue toward
security, where I sign in with my new membership card and hurry back
to Otto, getting as far away from the gambling crowd as possible.
When we are finally set up for the night, Allen, who knows none of the
above events, smiles at me and says, "Since we are at a casino, want
to play some cards?"