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I CAN'T BELIEVE I ATE THE WHOLE THING
23 May 2006
Imagine this room filled with people. Imagine that you start at the Chinese food section and work your way through the Japanese section, the Italian section, the taco bar, the breakfast section (pancakes, waffles, french toast, hash browns, eggs, sausage, scalloped potatoes, etc.), the "carvery" section, the salad section down to the dessert section (and I'm sure I've missed several sections here). Imagine all you can eat shrimp and dungness crab.
This is the brunch at the Thunder Valley Casino which has this absolutely fabulous array of food. When you subtract the Senior Discount, the price ain't half bad ($15 for all you can eat). And the food....my word. You expect buffet food to be ok, but this was perhaps the best buffet that I've ever experienced. Everything was fresh, juicy, flavorful. I went back twice for plates and once for dessert. I had a plate piled high with crab, a lamb chop, standard breakfast fare, some excellent chinese food, and a couple of desserts. Lemrel went back three times for plates and once for dessert. We definitely got our money's worth, even if I couldn't walk afterwards.
The trip to the casino was a given. Lemrel is a gambler. A big time gambler. She bought her house in the hills of Los Angeles and her car with cash she won at a casino. I've watched her win and lose thousands of dollars in the horseracing section of a casino in Las Vegas. She hoped to win enough to buy a new computer today. It answered the question of "what will I do with her all day?" since her plane didn't leave until 6. As we approached the Indian casino, about an hour's drive from here, she absolutely beamed.
She entered the doors of the place like someone who was coming home. She was on her own turf and she was in charge. I don't gamble (once lost my entire fortune -- all 24 cents of it -- in penny machines at Lake Tahoe and decided I was not meant to be a gambler).
While I was finishing my dessert at the buffet, she was antsy to hit the machines and told me roughly in which area she would be playing. I was going to watch her, but had no intention of playing.
After a trip to the bathroom, I did a turn of the casino and couldn't find her anywhere. It's not surprising. It's a huge place and not exactly symmetrical. I wondered how many of the gamblers actually look UP to see the beautiful artwork on the ceiling.
I wandered around looking at the various games. There seemed to be mostly slot machines -- no roulette or craps or other games, though there were tables of Pai Gow, which seemed very popular. My friend Olivia is very good at Pai Gow and once left a playing parlor with enough cash in hand to go to a computer show and buy herself a fancy new computer.
You are aware of this constant din. I used to hate casinos because of the constant sound of handles being pulled, tumblers rolling, and coins falling. Now the old fashioned "pull the handle" type of slot machines have been replaced with new computers, but still there is the electronic sound of the particular game, bells ringing, and just this noise that won't stop.
"Wheel. Of. FORTUNE!" came the recording from what seemed to be the most popular machines. There was nobody at the "Reel 'Em In" machines, which were based on fishing (I'm not sure how). I watched some people play a "Cleopatra" game and decided that without the coins rolling down into a waiting tray, I didn't even know what constituted a "win" or how you tell what is going on. People all seem hypnotized, expressionless whether they win or lose. They play with cards inserted into the machines, like credit cards and the wins are recorded electronically--and it's easier to forget how much money you are actually spending. There is a heavy cord attached to the machine to which you can attach your purse so you don't have to worry about someone stealing it. Give your total concentration to the game at hand.
I passed a poker table where everything was electric--no cards. The "dealer," a young man in a suit, "dealt" the cards electronically...you could see them flying across the table to the players. Later, I passed the same table and the dealer was a woman in a skimpy bathing suit. I wondered if the players got to decide whether they wanted a female or a male dealer.
The sound finally got to me and I was feeling claustrophobic, so I went outside (there is also no place to sit inside that isn't in front of a gaming machine or in a restaurant). It was raining, but I found a bench that was sheltered and settled in with my book to read until Lemrel was finished. Fortunately we had our cell phones with us. I sent her a text message that I would meet her outside at 4 p.m. That gave me 3 hours to kill. I really should have driven across the highway to visit my friend Jeri, but I didn't.
I felt like Forrest Gump, sitting on the bench with a box of chocolates. The person to my left kept changing when I wasn't aware of it. There was a grandmother with a walker who was reading a book called "Hitchhiking Grandma," and then when I next looked up, there was a very large man wearing a turban. Next time I looked there was a guy who looked like Kenny Rogers on a good day.
It was getting cold outside, so I decided to do another turn through the casino...
...but again no Lemrel.
It was three hours...and it had started raining...before she finally turned up. She had been up, she said, about $700 at one point, but that was chicken feed--she was hoping for >$2,000 and kept playing, but ultimately all she won was enough to cover our brunch. Yet, she had a great time and says she would definitely return to the casino. I would definitely return to the buffet!
PHOTO OF THE DAY