Saturday, February 26, 2011

Lost in the Slots

Can you believe it? Here I am, somewhere on the upside of maturity, however old that is, and I've never even seen the inside of a gambling casino. Not unless you count Oceans 11, Rain Man, Leaving Las Vegas, and Viva Las Vegas (on television, that is), and I'm not sure that counts for much. Now, this may not sound like anything to be concerned about, except I've got friends who're younger than me by at least three or four centuries and they've all boldly gone where I've never gone before.

Metaphorically, I've hung around Vegas on numerous occasions, since having been both a minister and a psychotherapist, I'm privy to confessional secrets. You know, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas? In other words, whatever you do while you're here, your secret is safe with us. Sounds confessional to me, more or less. Anyway, that and the movies are as close as I've gotten to the real thing until this past Wednesday.

No, I didn't hop a quick flight west after my last patient and gamble the night away, only to show up at my preceptor's office on Thursday, bleary eyed and broke. What I did was drive up to Bangor to see some friends from medical school who are on rotations at Eastern Maine Medical Center and stopped by Hollywood Slots, a real live gambling casino on the edge of downtown. It seemed like a perfect opportunity to take a look at what for some, has been the River of No Return.

The first thing I discovered was, it's difficult to just look because the place is an experience in sensory overload. Walking through the glass entry doors, the sound of slot machines clicking over their tumblers dominates all else. Naturally, there was music, a nondescript form of contemporary rock and roll, but no one was dancing like they show in the movies. The gamblers, almost all of them retired persons, were far too busy doing what they came there to do and, besides, the Muzak wasn't likely their cup of tea, anyway.

The next thing I noticed was the lights. Lights from the machines, from fixtures in the ceiling, bright enough to avoid tripping, but not so bright as to take your attention away from the all important one-armed bandits which, it turns out, don't have arms anymore. I suppose that's more of a throwback to the original Oceans 11 with Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack, still worth renting for a date night at home. The "bandits" they use now are like computer games and operate with the touch of a button.

It rather reminded me of Percy Jackson and the Lightening Thief, though there weren't any pretty girls in skimpy skirts and low-cut blouses offering me magic mushrooms -- talk about bad luck. There were waitresses serving drinks all right, but their uniforms were unremarkable. Either the casino owners assumed male gamblers would be too busy to notice or too old to do anything about it if they did. Curiously, there were no windows in the gambling area, nothing to mark the natural passing of time. A person could get lost in the slots for days and until their money ran out or they fell asleep, they'd never realize what had happened.

As I walked around row upon row of slot machines, I noticed that's all there was. No cigar smoke-filled room with high stakes poker players, no classy roulette table with a tuxedoed James Bond and gorgeous babes hanging on both arms. Maybe I'd misunderstood, but that was my conception of a gambling casino. Slot machines for the low-risk, low return gambler, and gaming tables for the high rollers. I was disappointed. Not that I expected James might call me over and ask if I'd hold his place, using his chips, while he slipped off to the loo -- any winnings were mine to keep -- but stranger things have happened.

At one point, I stopped walking and stood still, listening. At first all the sounds blended together like coffee, chocolate, milk, and sugar in a gigantic Mocha. But then, one by one, first chocolate, then milk, and sugar were flung out of the swirl and I could hear them individually, against the undertone of the machines -- about an A above Middle C on the musical scale. The stereo was three dimensional and the only word I know to describe it is hypnotic. The sound throws the mind's gearshift into neutral, turns off the switch, and drops the key into its pocket, not yours. One instant you're reaching for the key and the next, you're wondering why you wanted to in the first place. And that's how it happens. That's how you forget where you are.

It almost happened to me. My tour had brought me back round near the entry and like someone who's had too much to drink, I fairly staggered out the doors and up the stairs to my car, hoping I had the presence of mind to locate the exit. I headed for Tim Hortons, two doors down, for a bracing dose of sugar and caffeine to clear my head. The pastries tasted better than magic mushrooms and the coffee was all of 92 octane. With scarcely an instant of regret over the thousands of refined sugar calories I was consuming, I slugged down the Joe and drove off into the sunset, though not, unfortunately, like Percy Jackson and his friends, in a "borrowed" Maserati. I guess you can't have everything.

(Creative Commons image by L. A. Nolan via Flickr)
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...