Two in the morning, Ramada Express casino, Laughlin, Nevada.
Three more nickels, pull the arm of the bandit, watch and listen. Clang, clang, clang, clang, clang, clang… Six nickels spit into the stainless steel basket at my knees.
Hmmmm. Okay. Three more nickels. Ding, ding , whrrr, whrrr, clunk… Nothing. Again. Three nickels. Six left. Pull the arm, watch and listen. Clang, clang, clang, clang…
The nickels didn’t stop at six this time.
Clang, clang, clang, clang… A woman came running and looked over my shoulder at my ever growing pile of nickels. Clang, clang, clang… It went on, and on. I began to feel self conscious. Claire, looking over my shoulder, was embarrassed. We’d set a limit to bet one dollar each of nickels, and we weren’t accustomed to winning. People stopped playing their machines to watch mine spit nickels at me. Clang, clang, clang, on and on it went, spitting nickels.
So this is why people gamble. Winning. The gratification of winning, the notoriety, the thrill of something for nothing. Well, of course not for nothing, but in the minute or so of clanging, it did seem as if the pot of gold, or pot of nickels, was pouring out just for me.
Finally it stopped at a small bucket full of nickels. With the help of a man pushing a change cart we deciphered the double bars and cherries to mean we had four-hundred and eighty nickels, or twenty-four dollars. It had taken about seventy cents to get $24 worth of nickels. Subtract the $1 in nickels Claire lost and we were up $22.30. Not bad for ten minutes.
So I did what any self-respecting gambler would do. I quit. Then we went walking around the casino to show off our bucket of nickels.
For some reason nobody noticed.
Oh well. So we went to the cash-out window and got our $24 in paper money.
We had one nickel left, and feeling like high rollers, we decided to go looking for another nickel machine. Right beside the $1 machines we found some that had a five on them. Alright.
We put our nickel in the what seemed like an awfully big slot for a nickel. Clang. It went right through and out into the basket. Try again. Clang. Try again. Clang. Again. We heard the nickel stop, but none of the buttons on the machine lit up. It stole our nickel.
We went to find someone to tell about the broken nickel slot-machine. The man who followed us looked puzzled as we led him to our nickel machine. There I pointed. Took our nickel. Didn’t work.
To his credit, the man did not laugh. “This machine is a $5 slot-machine. It won’t take nickels.”
Talk about being embarrassed. It had never occurred to me that anybody would put $5 into a slot-machine. I thought I was being brave risking nickels! We had to stand there while he opened the machine and got it unstuck so he could give us our nickel.
“Sorry,” I said contritely.
“No problem.” he said without a trace of derision. A true professional.
We slunk away from the slot-machines and decided to watch the big boys play with dice and cards.
At the craps table, there was a woman throwing two big red dice at the other end of the table, and several assorted sleepy looking people putting their plastic chips on little squares on the table with strange words in them. Most of the time, a woman employee standing at the side of the table with a long curved stick, scooped up the plastic coins and kept them for herself, or I guess, the casino.
After watching for a long time, we still didn’t have the foggiest idea what was going on. Since the bet minimums didn’t seem to include nickels, we decided to move on.
There was an empty blackjack table with a dealer standing in the military at-ease stance, waiting for customers. I felt sorry for him. He seemed so lonely.
We considered going over to keep him company, until Claire noticed that the bet limits were $5 to $1500. Nix that. Might as well put $5 in a slot-machine as on a hand of cards I’m not sure I know how to play anyway.
At the roulette wheel we found, Kasha, who also had an empty table and was happy to explain everything to us slowly. I convinced Claire to buy $10 worth of chips so we could learn to play. Claire would play and I would watch. The minimum bet was $2, but what the heck, we were experienced gamblers now.
She lost the first few stacks of chips and then began a streak that put us up $4. She kept at it and soon we were down $4. She was devastated. She was hoping to do as well as I had with my nickels. Two more rolls and she was up fifty cents. Time to quit.
We went to bed at 3 am and got up at 6 am to have the $1.99 steak and three eggs breakfast. With the room rate a cheap $19, the day cost us less than two bucks counting our winnings. Gambling can be fun.
On the way back from breakfast, we saw a man, well dressed, but somewhat disheveled and unshaven, stopping people on the sidewalk. He bent to them cupping something in both hands. Something precious he seemed to want to sell very badly. His body spoke of defeat and loss. Gambling? I didn’t want to know.
Our first day back in the saddle was a long climb out of the Colorado River valley up toward the beginnings of the Colorado Plateau. We were climbing yet another hill in Kingman Arizona, looking for a grocery and camping, when two women in a car pulled over ahead of us, jumped out and accosted us. Sort of. They were tandem nuts, and extremely excited to see a loaded tandem. They insisted on taking us home to meet their men, eat dinner and stay the night.
The women were, Anita Langford and Nancy Gordon; Bill Langford and Bob deMille would be along later. Anita and Bill live in Kingman and met Nancy and Bob, who live in Palo Alto, California, through Tandem Club of America. Nancy and Bob were spending a couple of days with them on their way to ride the Natchez Trace.
We had lots to share with them about the Trace from our passage there in October, and both couples had lots to share about cycling in Utah, where we are headed soon. After a wonderful dinner and good nights sleep, they all rode east with us out Old Route 66 for about 15 miles to breakfast. By 11 am, we were saying our good-byes and getting a late start on a long day, but making new friends and talking tandems made it well worth it.