So—join the company of good men and women,
keep your feet on the tried-and-true paths.
It’s the men who walk straight who will settle this land,
the women with integrity who will last here.
Remember the teen romance zombie novel I wrote back in 2009? (If you don’t, your life is certainly short of what it could be; of course, maybe it’s better that way.) In it, I had people become zombies when infected with a blood-borne disease. That was a fine, if cliched, premise for the novel, but now I know where zombies really come from: Casinos. Seriously.
Here’s how I came to make this astonishing discovery. On Saturday, my friend Karissa and I were talking about the Tulalip Casino. I’d driven by it on my way to Sedro-Woolley and it struck me as completely hideous. We decided that it’s ugly because it’s completely out of place, this tall, blocky building with all these windows with views of the freeway, all out in the middle of nothing else. Ugly. Then we decided we should go there some time just for kicks. Karissa heard they had good, cheap food.
Yesterday afternoon, Karissa called. Did I want to join her and her roommate Ruk for a night at the Tulalip Casino? I mentally checked my totally blank social calendar for yesterday evening and today: Nothing. Sure, I’d be up for it!
I’ve never been to a casino before. All right, moving on. It was quite an experience. The inside was decorated with a kind of underwater theme, so when you walk in you see the round bar with a sort of stylized column of water coming down to the middle, with gigantic salmon swimming up it. The ceiling was painted like water with salmon. It also had little lights inset to look like stars (underwater stars? I don’t know). The ceiling in different parts of the casino had different underwater touches — some oysters, some salmon, some large blue swaths of fabric that I think were intended to represent water. The buffet had opaque plastic eagles(?) hanging from the ceiling. Also hanging from the ceiling were forests of skinny glass tubes that acted as lighting fixtures. The floor was devoted entirely to rows of video slot machines. Around the edges were rooms for live poker (at rates beyond our reach), a buffet (more on that in a moment), a couple of other restaurants, a lounge, a club, bingo, and the hotel lobby. Plus of course all the money-related trappings where you can convert your hard-earned dollars into meaningless pieces of plastic that make it easier to throw it away. Oh, sorry, was my bias hanging out there?
Aside from the astonishing decor, which my description really doesn’t do justice, one of the things I noticed immediately was the cigarette smoke. It’s been years since I’ve smelled cigarette smoke indoors. Everybody seemed to be smoking in there, getting in their quota I guess, since it’s only legal on Indian reservations at this point. And the noise. It wasn’t bad at first, but it quickly became a relentless harangue of video chaching-ing, music, and conversation-stoppingly loud announcements for people to come try to win things.
We ate at the buffet. In my family, we’ll say, “You’d pay $20 for this at a nice restaurant” about dinner. Well, now I know what you’d pay $20 for at a casino buffet: Mediocre Chinese food (my choice). Or mediocre meat, potatoes, or other starches. Lots of starches. Or a fairly skinny pasta- and salad bar. And fairly good Snoqualmie ice cream. Also, for beer, they had six crappy domestic beer options and two microbrews. Karissa and Ruk each got a microbrew and didn’t seem overly excited about them. Overall: I definitely do better on a regular basis at my own house, and I’ve had very little in the way of inspired dinners lately. So Karissa’s information about cheap good food was dead wrong. That $20 was the only money I lost at the casino, but I feel like I lost more than just money during that culinary experience.
After we’d eaten Ruk and Karissa hunted down some video poker machines. There were a few scattered among the hundreds (thousands?) of video poker machines. After playing that for a bit, Ruk moved to a video slots machine. The most humorous part of the entire thing was how diligently my friends worked reading the rules/instructions, which I’m sure nobody else ever does. Eventually Ruk left up $15 after factoring in all the expenses. She even split a bit with me and Karissa for our advice on video poker, amusingly. So I ended up out $14 for dinner.
Now, about the zombies. They came in the form of old people — almost all at least 30 years older than us — planted in front of the video slot machines. They sat and gazed, empty-eyed, at the screen and kept pressing the important button. Many looked as if they’d spent hours there, inanimate except for that twitching finger. Most held a cigarette. One girl I wish I could have taken a picture of: She hardly looked old enough to be in a casino, let alone smoking. She sat slouched in a pose of utmost bored cynicism, a blank, dead look on her face, as if saying “I’ve seen it all.” A cigarette dangled from one outflung hand, half an inch of ashes clinging to the end. Her demeanor reminded me of that Dorothea Lange photo “Migrant Mother,” but more depressing.
I walked around a bit by myself while Ruk played video slots, and over and over I saw the same thing: People zoned out, mindlessly staring at a screen, poking a button, smoking and/or drinking, and otherwise totally inert. It looked like their souls had been sucked out, leaving their empty body husks to keep poking the “play again” button. Many had scores on their screens that indicated they’d been there a long time, an impression confirmed by their postures, which reminded me of how people sit on long airplane trips. They certainly didn’t look like they were having fun. Most people sat alone, and even if they had a neighbor, usually weren’t interacting with said neighbor.
We left after a visit to the bathroom, which — in addition to adhering to the underwater theme perhaps too closely — had a prominently-mounted needle disposal container. I don’t even want to know.
Overall, an educational experience and certainly something out of the usual. And now I know where to avoid during the impending zombie apocalypse. Stay away from the casinos. That’s where they’ll come from.