Gambling with Grandpa

My grandpa is a bit of a gambler. He doesn’t have the opportunity to get out every day, as he doesn’t drive. He uses a walker for stability. And he has discretionary cash to lose. These three elements — shut-in too often, lack of proper mobility, and the need to push colorful buttons and yell, “Come on, gimme somethin’!” — combine in a perfect storm every weekend. Whomever darkens his door first, ding ding ding…they’re driving.
This Sunday, I was the willing chauffeur. Beautiful  blue skies, nearly cloudless, and a January-balmy sixty-five degrees made for a perfect half-hour drive to the prairie-encased, pretty-on-a-hill casino.
Grandpa filled me in on the newness and goings on of the destination. “They have a new part,” he gushed. “It’s smoke-free.”
Gambling and cigarettes have forever seemed an inseparable duo, but what did I know? I don’t have either habit, though Dr Pepper and I are longtime friends and I’ll likely never write the good doctor off.
Never one to question Grandpa but dwelling firmly in the realms of reality, I downed a Zyrtec, a Sudaphed, and a Chlor-Trimeton. (I’m a bit sensitive to the blue haze of burnt tobacco and not willing to endure anaphylactic shock, flailing on carpet, new or not, of anywhere at all.)
After a chatty, fun drive to the grassy plains of Pretty Much Nowhere, I drove us into a small parking lot shaded by the Big House, the Main Casino, the Smoker’s Haven, according to Grandpa. Plus, the lot where we sat was connected to a gas station, should I have ethanol needs. Convenient.
I tried to ignore the small lemming-like stream of folks entering the convenience store empty-handed and exiting with packs bearing the names Marlboro and Camel as they flowed back in through the front doors of the “new part” of money-making heaven.
“We’re gonna win a million,” Grandpa crowed as we walked through the swishing doors into an impenetrable fog that my elderly grandpa did not notice.
Not one to squash a gambler’s hopes, I followed my gramps into the unknown.
First, he has favorite machines. While I got a Player’s Card — I feel so official — he waved at me from his seat, a perch next to a mysterious slot machine boasting “Big Wins! Extra Wild Cards! Special Bonus Games!” amid a bank of thirty others proclaiming the same.
At last I settled into the seat, ready to make Grandpa proud!
Did I win? Absolutely not. With every slap at the “Play Again!” button, my Grandpa begged the tech wonders of the Temple of Prosperity, “Come on, let her win!”
His positive outlook never changed. He was sure the next push would be the Big One.
Finally, a twenty-dollar bill depleted as Ra, or whomever the main character was in that video game, laughed at my misfortune. He disregarded my sadness at disappointing my grandfather just like Grandpa ignored the wafts of smoke curling across his frustrated pate.
“I’ll try another machine,” I declared, scooting out of the seat so he could claim it. His eyes never left the screen, even as he pulled another twenty out of his pocket and muttered, “It’s just gotta warm up.”
For the next hour, I sat a few seats away — peeking toward Grandpa between plugs to make certain he was still upright, ever at the offending machine — behind the wheels of a slot machine that actually paid me for my time. While the slots hit good things, and noises abounded, embarrassing the crap out of me while I inspected every inch to find a Volume button, I won over a thousand coins a handful of times — never mind that the winnings were in pennies — and managed to win Grandpa’s twenty back. I was quite proud.
So I cashed out and presented Grandpa with the triumphant return of his seed money.
“Oh, good,” he beamed. “You won! You pick the next one!”
And before I knew it, we were off to another bank of equally obnoxious, brightly-lit, Disney-would-be-proud-of-the-animation video machines, all more than willing to take my pennies.
Methodology is key to gamblers of the slot variety. Wipe the screen, push all the buttons, check the pay tables, cash in/cash out, whisper, play two machines at once, bet big/bet low, all sorts of talismans for luck at higher-stakes-than-I’m-accustomed video gamer-y.
My method? Whatever Grandpa wanted.
For three hours we scooted from one chair to the other — only one bathroom break and only one trip to the soda fountain (so dry in a casino; who knew?) — pushing buttons and muttering and ruing all things arcade-like.
At last, we’d had our fill. Allergens had stayed back; I’d run from smokers who sat next to me as quickly as my Cash Out button would allow. We hadn’t “lost,” according to Grandpa, “They just weren’t hitting.” And we strolled back into the sunshine down only about twenty bucks between us. I mentally checked that 20 off as Entertainment Expense. Grandpa called it “Nearly Broke Even” and seemed happy.
Rolling back into The City, clouds appearing, winds cooling, he asked, “When was the last time you did that?”
I reflected. “Hmmm…I think it was the 1900’s.”
He laughed.
I love to hear him laugh.
When do we go again? Whenever Grandpa wants.

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