It's seven o'clock on a weekday evening and I'm in the car driving to a Northwest Indiana casino destination. Figure I'll spend several hours there, return home at eleven o'clock, and be up at the crack of dawn to get ready for work.
Am I nuts? Nope. I'm a recreational gambler, a pastime as respectable as any other, perhaps more so.
What about the guy who gets up when it's still dark to make the first tee time, plays 18 holes, and then dashes off to clock in for an eight-hour day at the office? In the mixed bag of entertainment pursuits, golfing is the same variety of nut as gambling.
One thing's for darn sure: The country club isn't going to comp him breakfast at the 19th hole, and he had to bid farewell to Benjamin as soon as he stepped into the clubhouse to pay for green fees and a cart.
Oh, did I forget to introduce you to Benjamin? I take him with me to the casino, too. Benjamin is better known as the $100 United States greenback with a portrait of the founding father whose penchant for flying kites in thunderstorms probably qualifies as a nutty recreation, but that's another story.
I may say good-bye to old Ben at some point during my casino adventure, but certainly not as soon as I walk in the door. What's more, there's a chance he'll have been joined by some friends when I'm ready to leave.
Sure, the golfer in some abstract way gets enjoyment out of whacking a white spheroid around a hole-filled meadow in return for parting ways with Ben.
My enjoyment is playing games of chance (and sometimes skill) while meandering around the casino floor where the only hazards are cold slots and the only traps are video poker games with bad pay tables.
My pal Benjamin makes a quick disappearing act sometimes, but more often than not he sticks with me for a while. When he's still there when it's time to go, better yet in the company of clones and deceased former U.S. presidents, I always celebrate having my cake and eating it, too.
What fortunes will this adventure hold for me? I survey the casino floor from afar and plot my move. I'm drawn to a bank of play-weary Game King machines, you know, the kind where the video screens are a little blurry and the colors are off.
I find a vacant position and sit down girded for battle with Benjamin and the cup of black coffee the cocktail waitress will soon bring me. I select the quarter playing denomination and Double-Double Bonus Poker. Hmmm, a 9/5 pay table -- not the greatest but not the worst.
Benjamin quickly loses a fifth of his value and soon after that nearly half. In the meantime, the player seated next to me has abandoned his machine in disgust, but not before pounding the play buttons with ever increasing urgency. Cold machines will do that to you.
I, too, call retreat and head for another machine. Several full houses keep me alive, but the frustration of drawing three of a kind a couple of times and not completing the quad leaves me gasping with my Benjamin a shadow of his former self.
Something tells me to hunker down. On my next play my first card is an ace and the rest garbage. I hold the ace, toss the rest expecting little, and much to my amazement watch a quartet of fours pop up one by one. The electronic chorus plays until all 800 credits ($200) have registered. I'm back in the game.
Shortly thereafter I'm dealt three aces. In the wake of my earlier disappointments, I hold little hope for the fourth one to pop up in one of the two vacancies I've created. But sure enough, it does. Another 800 credit tune plays. Of course, by this time I'm regretting the fact the fifth card wasn't a "kicker", which would have meant 2,000 credits ($500), the greedy, thankless bum I am.
My new neighbor, who sat down minutes before, looks over and offers her congratulations. Meanwhile, both of us hear a serenade coming from a machine across the way that lasts long enough to mean only one thing: A royal flush. Ahh, the stuff of which video poker playing dreams are made!
It remains a dream for us, my neighbor and me, as she plays her 20 down to nothing and I'm hovering a shade above $400, thanks to my good fortune. Then out of the blue I'm dealt a straight flush in hearts, but all it does is give me ammo to play a while longer before I'm at my cash out target of $400 once again.
I hear Benjamin and his newfound friends cautioning me from my pocket that "a penny saved is a penny earned", but nevertheless I spend my final 45 minutes or so testing some multi-line penny video slot machines to see if I can unleash a monster bonus round. Yeah, right.
I call it an evening with three friends named Ben still intact. Before heading to valet to retrieve my car, I check the points on my player card and discover I have enough for a sandwich in the snack shop. Take my advice, however: A hot dog with the works and an order of fries isn't the best thing to order late in the evening when you have to get up six hours later.
All that entertainment and a positive return on my investment doesn't happen all the time, but when it does it's mighty satisfying. You know the feeling, right? In any event, losing on a casino outing still beats leaving a golf course with your five-iron wrapped around an oak tree.
ELOISE VALADEZ - My Region -My Region: Foodie locales, shrines and a venue