The Summer of 1998 Part XI

The epitome of gluttony is the buffet – all you can stuff in your face for $8.99. Ever noticed it’s the people bordering on obesity who double-stack their plates, and then go back for second helpings? And what a cornucopia of comestibles! The mélange of excessiveness was overwhelming. I couldn’t help remembering my folk’s shibboleth when I was just a wee one: “Waste not, want not”. I always wondered what became of all that foodstuff that was left over. Surely it wasn’t all shoveled down a disposal. I would put my mind at ease by pretending to know all that overabundance was being carted over to a kitchen for the homeless or a school cafeteria. The cuisine was excellent, and the view, of course, was outstanding.

What was really astounding about the panorama was the incalculable number of evergreens that blanketed the entire area, from shoreline all the way up to timberline. It was reassuring to see several trillion trees left undisturbed around that beautiful lake. From our vantage point, I could see Ol’ Baleau parked down below. I knew Blaine had always viewed my claim of sleeping with my head in Nevada and my feet in California with some skepticism. So, I pointed out to him the alignment of the casino in relation to the parking area, saying, “You see that wall down there? That’s where Harrah’s has built within a foot of the state line. Now, project that line through that drive and on through that grassy area, and what do you see? My bedroom on wheels, right? We are in Nevada, and that’s California, all that spread out as far as you can see.” I had exhausted all possible explanations to my buddy, whose interest in geography would fill a thimble. To me, it was an obvious confirmation of what I had surveyed at ground level. I was kind of proud of myself. The beauty of the whole thing was that it was so coincidental. Being aware of what’s around me and attuned to where I am makes traveling a sort of a game with me…exploring, discovering, wondering, all that good stuff that comes with taking the time to simply observe. It’s fun for me.

Please excuse the digression. Back to the buffet, we dined under the erroneous assumption that the meals were free. In actuality, we circumvented the cover charge by way of the credit accumulated on our Gold Cards, a plastic tally on how many slots we had pulled, and more often than we cared to remember, how much we had lost. The enticing “freebies” with which the casinos bait their customers is unparalleled in the annals of legalized subterfuge. The modus operandi of the gaming house is so paradoxical – the more you play (and usually lose), the more you think you’re going to get something for nothing. As one of the Jewish persuasion would put it: “These temples of gaming are for the meshuga (the foolish).” When you think about it, gambling is as old as prostitution (they rolled the dice at the foot of Christ’s Cross). And the forces of gambling will be existent until Armageddon. Hey, don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking from behind a pulpit. I just enjoy excerpting bits and pieces from this sordid business into my own little diatribe.

Gambling just after you’ve had your toast and eggs was like having a scotch and soda before noon…it just didn’t ring right with me. There was something aberrant about sitting at a blackjack table at ten in the morning. For yours truly, the cobalt-blue sky, clean air, and perfect temperatures were all I needed to entice me away from the din of clanging slot machines. Of course, my ol’ PUCH was my salvation…I biked all over the town, up and down, from the mountain side to the lake. It was great. As I was pedaling around, observing “culture” (surveyor’s term for man-made structures), I had time to reflect on the people who came to this idyllic place just to gamble, sealing themselves within the walls of the hotel/casino.

I kind of felt sorry for them, but then, that was their prerogative. On one of my ventures, I spotted a collection of simple, wood-framed cottages, nestled among a small forest of pines. A modest sign above the office read: “Uncle Tom’s Cabins”. With lawn chairs in front of each unit, this quasi-motel montage mirrored a by-gone era of the “motor courts” of the 1930’s and 40’s. What a perfect site for a honeymooner’s night. It was definitely a haven for the newly-weds, but on the flip-side of the coin, I conjectured there were an untold number of unfaithful mobsters wearing cement shoes on the bottom of Lake Tahoe. Macabre thought, but I bet it’s true.

On a Sunday in mid-August in South Lake Tahoe, I experienced one of the most pleasurable afternoons that I could remember. It was your typical sun-splashed, 75 degree day. I had biked down to the spacious patio area in front of the Embassy Suites, just adjacent to Harrah’s main casino entrance on Stateline Street, which intersected the main drag (U.S. Route 50). It was a hub of activity, both vehicular and pedestrian.

No sooner had I found a seat on one of the patio benches, than waves of music started emanating from the Embassy’s elevated outdoor restaurant just behind where I was sitting. The musician was performing with the aid of a synthesizer, and his selections were all from the glorious ’60s and ’70s. I could see the snow-capped Sierras off in a distance. I tell you, the music, combined with the postcard setting, was mesmerizing. To add to the euphoria, the synthesized sounds were bouncing off the walls of the near-by buildings at just the right wave lengths to create the sensation of stereo. The people-watching became intense…the way people move is like their autobiography in motion. After a couple of hours, the euphonious sounds had to come to an end. Before he could unplug all his audio-aids, I dashed up the steps to personally thank him for one beautiful afternoon, one I’ll never forget.