Sunday, October 18, 2009

The old woman at the slot machine

CHEROKEE, N.C. -- It is half past 7 on a Friday night and the old woman is working two slot machines at once.

I spotted her while standing in line for the buffet. She needed a walker to get around. She also needed help from another woman (a daughter, perhaps?) to reach the stool in front of the one-armed bandit.

She's the type of person a writer would love to chat with, but I'm supposed to be enjoying a day off, so I just watch. I can't tell from where I'm standing, but she was feeding either Andrew Jacksons or Ben Franklins into that machine like they were going out of style. On and on it went, pulling the bar on one machine, then the other, playing the game like some people smoke.

"That's nice," a friend said. "She's probably wasting away her late husband's savings."

Harrah's Cherokee Casino is loud, cacophonous. It gets to you after awhile -- the smoke, the crowd, the flashing lights. It lacks the sophistication of Vegas. But, it's two hours away from home, and you can usually enjoy good food and a great show -- in more ways than one.

I have only been here twice. The last time, I put $10 into a machine, won $25, cashed out and went upstairs to watch USC and Ohio State play football. This time, I played on $10 for two hours, smoked a Romeo y Julieta cigar, wore my rose-colored glasses and laughed with Dean and Allison Harned.

It was fun. Besides, I was only there to see Glen Campbell.

About an hour into our wait for the buffet, we watched a man blow $100 at a time on a high-stakes video poker game. He held the cards while his wife hit the button. I have no way of knowing, but it wouldn't surprise me if he didn't lose $500 in 10 minutes.

Me? Well, I took $24 and spent it on an all-you-can-eat buffet. While the bells and whistles rang out in the casino, I chomped down on prime rib and drank as much sweet tea I could get from the helter-skelter server.

As we made our way to the ballroom, I noticed the old woman had left the slot machine at the end of the row.

I tell you what: if you ever want to people watch, go to Harrah's. It's worth more than any payoff from a gaming machine.

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