Shortly after publishing my 101 list, a few of my friends approached me and expressed interest in completing various items with me. While no one was overtly ready to tackle the pole with me, one of my former-coworkers-now-friend let me know that she would be up for playing some bingo with me. She had never explored a bingo hall before either, and was also curious as to what it might be like. I did some research, found a location that worked with both of our schedules, and the two of us set a date for an exciting bingo outing. 🙂
The much-anticipated date arrived yesterday. After work, my friend and I left the office in our respective vehicles, and made our way to the bingo hall. My friend arrived on-site a good 10 minutes before me. (I got stuck behind a long train.) As I was sitting in my car, being soothed by the sound of the chuga-chuga, chuga-chuga and hypnotized by the repetitive passing of transport containers, I received a text from my friend: “Looks like we need dobbers!” A few weeks ago my friend was shopping and happened to spot those bingo-card-marking devices in a dollar store. She picked up two of them on a whim, and good-naturedly dropped them off at my desk several days ago as a reminder/’teaser’. I then slipped them into my purse, and brought them along more as a joke than anything else; but apparently what she and I saw as little bottles of light humor would now serve a very functional purpose! Who knew the whole dobber stereotype was actually legit?
Eventually, the train passed – and I finally arrived at the bingo hall.
My friend greeted me at the entrance of the hall, and the two of us walked up to the main counter – where we were acknowledged by a somewhat-bored, somewhat-apathetic fellow. My friend and I brightly explained that we were brand new (!) to bingo, and told him that we were excited to learn what to do. The man seemed unphased by our smiles and positive energy; in response to our enthusiasm he simply produced two stacks of bingo cards, and dryly explained, “It’s ten bucks if you want to play [pointing to the larger stack of bingo cards], and three bucks if you want to do the early bird [point to the smaller pile of cards]. The first game of the early bird already started, but there are four more to go.” He then looked at us flatly, waiting for our response.
My friend and I each purchased both stacks, gave the man $13 (cash only), took the various slips and sheets of paper, then scoped the area for a good place to sit.
I wasn’t quite sure what a bingo hall would look like; but when I saw the scene, I realized it was pretty much exactly how I expected it to be. A very large room was filled with rows and rows of long, brown, church-basement-potluck tables and thinly padded brown metal chairs. BINGO number boards adorned the top section of every wall, and a good 20 or so closed-circuit TVs hung throughout the interior of the room. The bingo number caller sat on a slightly elevated, plexy-glass-enclosed ‘stage’ at the front of the hall, and off to the far right side of the room was a snack bar, four pull-tab booths, and restrooms. Large fluorescent ceiling lights cast an unnatural glare over everything.
Being a Wednesday evening, the bingo hall was understandably light on participants; and yet, I would estimate that a good 50-75 people were present. The demographic was simultaneously diverse-yet-homogenous: some people were older (i.e., retirement age or slightly beyond) while others were younger (early twenties through mid forties); an even number of both men and women were on-site, and the racial segmentation was divided 50/50 as well (black/white; interestingly, not too many Hispanics or Asians were there). Despite the surface-level differences among the players, the main trait 98% of them shared was that they all looked to be lower-income individuals. I suspect a small handful of people were on the cusp of living in genuine poverty; but the majority of people seemed to be more along the lines of hard-working/low-wage folks. Which is fine; it’s certainly not a ‘problem’ for me, just interesting to notice.
After quickly reviewing our seating options, my friend and I chose to locate ourselves towards the back-third of the hall, near the left-third side of the room – and somewhat strategically selected two seats near a lone woman who appeared like she knew what she was doing, but wasn’t so intensely focused on the game (gambling) that she couldn’t be bothered to answer a question. (Or two, or three…)
Because the first warm-up game was already in motion when we purchased our cards, my friend and I were not allowed to begin playing until the second warm-up game started. Which was fine by me; I needed some time to make sense of what I was supposed to be doing. That might sound silly; I mean, it is just bingo, after all. They call some numbers, you mark your card, if you match the prescribed pattern before anyone else you yell “Bingo!” (and yes, you have to yell “Bingo!” to win) – and if your bingo is a good one, you get some cash. Easy, right?
Um… not exactly.
Being a bingo neophyte, I just assumed that a player achieved bingo the same way every time (i.e., by getting five numbers in a single line – be it vertically, horizontally, or diagonally. [But no “four corners” – that way is just silly.]) 😉 However, within minutes of sitting down, I learned that in fact, each game has its own prescribed way of winning. Some games require you to make the letter “X” in order to win (warm-up Game #2), others mandate that you make a “crazy boomerang” (Game #7 – and yes, that is the official name of the game) – and then some games implement extra items like speed or a “wild” number… It can actually be quite a lot to take in.
Fortunately, the woman my friend and I sat near was both experienced and friendly, just as we hoped. As I casually glanced over to see what card the lady was playing (each game required a different color of card), or to see if she was taking one of the many ‘side bets’ offered, she noticed me looking in her direction, and then freely offered kind advice and insider tips. (E.g., “Make sure you turn off your cell phone; if it rings some of the ‘serious’ people in here will go crazy and get after you” and, “I mark out all of the spaces that I don’t need; that makes it easier to see when I am getting close to a bingo” and, “Mark your card as soon as you see the number on the TV; don’t wait for the caller to say it. You don’t want to be a sleeper…”) The woman was helpful without being intrusive; she largely left my friend and I alone, but happily talked to us when we asked her a question, or when she saw we were clearly in need of some assistance. She was kind and considerate, with a light-hearted attitude and positive energy; she was a good gal to sit next to. 🙂
Once we kind of knew what we were doing, my friend and I settled into the bingo scene and spent the evening watching, listening, dobbing, and chatting. Bingo reminded me of a knitting circle, a quilting bee, or a bridge club – i.e., people gathering together under the auspice of a common activity, but then using that semi-repetitive, semi-mindless, comfortable activity as an opportunity to connect on a deeper level. Conversation can flow more freely (and can actually be deeper and more meaningful) when it’s not the sole focus, but rather is paired with a ‘secondary’ activity. (This is also one of the reasons why road trips often yield such substantial, poignant conversations.) Playing bingo was the stated focus of my friend and I; but bingo was actually a mere container in which a larger, more meaningful exchange took place. Now, I certainly could have gone to bingo alone. Indeed, many people in the hall were by themselves, and having a fine time. And had no one expressed interest in this particular 101 item, I would have been happy to explore it solo. But I am really appreciative that my friend reached out and let me know she wanted to do it, too; it was much more fun to share this experience with her than to do it by myself. (Thanks J!) 🙂
My friend and I happily whiled away the first 90 minutes of bingo, chatting and watching and experiencing. Then came the intermission. My friend took advantage of the brief break to use the restroom and get a snack. After a few minutes she returned to the table with pretzels, a soda – and a handful of small pieces of paper. She set the little scraps next to me, and said, “They sell pull tabs here – so if it’s okay to double-dip, you can do another item on your 101 list tonight, too.” My friend is all about efficiency, so it really is perfect that she helped me accomplish not one, but two things in a single outing. 🙂 So, during the bingo intermission, I played two different kinds of pull tabs, compliments of my friend. (What a thoughtful gal!)
(A pull tab is basically a version of a scratch-off lottery ticket; only instead of using a coin and scraping a silvery-film off a piece of paper, you lift [pull] a perforated section [tab] off the paper – hence the name ‘pull tab’. It’s like a paper version of a slot machine – but without all of the literal bells and whistles. *grin* [Oh, and for those of you who might be pull tab aficionados, the two games I played were “The Joker” and “Peppermint Schnapps”. Clowns and booze, together at last. *wink*])
I didn’t win any money from my pull tab play, but it was fun to see what the hub bub over this form of gambling is all about.
The intermission ended just as I finished the last pull tab, and bingo play resumed in full force. However, around 8:30 pm my energy for bingo started to wane. But at that point, we still had 4-5 more games to play… Fortunately, one of the games coming up was a ‘biggie’: the first person to completely cover his/her card could win up to $1000! After several minutes of watching and dobbing, the helpful lady near my friend and I excitedly yelled, “BINGO!”, then clapped her hands on her cheeks. One of the floor runners picked up her fully-marked card, and after a minute the number caller confirmed, “That’s a good bingo.” Based on the quantity of numbers that were called, the woman won $375 – not bad for an evening of bingo! The lady was incredibly excited, and truly delighted; it was so fun to watch her win. Empathetic joy is fantastic!
The last bingo game of the night ended a few minutes before 9 pm; and by that time both my friend and I were pretty much done with the experience. I got to see what a bingo hall was all about, my friend got to have an evening out with another adult (and a nice mid-week reprieve from her two young children) – and we both got to know one another better. I didn’t win any cash during the evening, but I did receive an even better ‘prize’ – the gift of friendship. And I’ll take a good mate over a stack of money any day. 🙂
P.S. Two days after our bingo adventure, I received a brief email from my friend that read, “Random story: I won an ipod a year ago, and have been toying with the idea of seeing what a pawn shop would give me for it. I have never been in a pawn shop, but yesterday I just kept thinking I wanted to check it out. So…I was spontaneous and did! And…the entire time, I thought it was kind of like what you were doing with your list. Even though the shop ended up not offering me enough for the ipod, I got to enjoy this new experience just the same. And, I also learned it is cheaper to buy a DVD at a pawn shop then to rent one. 🙂 So all in all, it was a great visit. ”
I am delighted that my list – and the resulting bingo outing – prompted my friend to try something new completely on her own; that is so cool! I love the idea that I might be having a positive influence on other people; for me, this is the highest compliment anyone could ever give me. Talk about yet another wonderful outcome of #49! 🙂