By Cari Tretina
When I think of bingo, I picture numerous, barely awake senior citizens gathered within a nursing home lobby. Oxygen tanks, the echo of slowly repeated letter/number combinations and the smell of rubbing alcohol also come into mind.
Oddly enough, the only similarity between my bingo experience last weekend and my imagination was the oxygen tanks.
A few of my good friends discovered the Waco bingo hall from a co-worker. After one time, they were hooked. For the next six weeks, my friends continuously begged and pleaded me to come with them.
I was hesitant for a few reasons. I am not a very lucky person. The only times I have ever won games dealing with luck is if someone rigged the system in my favor. Additionally, the entire bingo event would last four hours. Very few things are fun for that amount of time. Finally, I’m not 60 years old. My Saturday nights can consist of much more age-appropriate activities than being surrounded by grandmothers and grandfathers.
Between the constant nagging and promise of free food, I gave into peer pressure. During the 20-minute drive to the Waco bingo hall, my friends reminisced of past experiences. One of my friends spoke of the time power failed. People began screaming at the caller to finish the game, in the dark.
“It’s a whole different world out there,” said my friend, Amanda Nostrant.
When I asked her to describe what she meant, there was a long pause.
“You will just have to see,” Nostrant said.
The bingo hall looked like an enlarged Waffle House building, with an awning in the front and on the right side, solely to accommodate the smokers. Rows and rows of long tables consume the majority of the floor space, with a very disproportional, tiny space in front of a concession stand.
As I stated earlier, my mental picture was correct about the oxygen tanks. However, elderly people weren’t the ones with the easy-breathing, and dare I say, were the minority. Since bingo is considered gambling because you can win cash prizes, only people ages 18 and up are allowed in the building. But my generation was not in short supply.
Now, I’m not from Kentucky, but after attending Eastern for three years, I am pretty used to hearing thick country accents. I am not exaggerating when I say I literally could not understand the majority of people in that bingo hall. Even subtitles couldn’t help.
No Kentucky event, I have come to find out, is missing some form of Wildcat pride. A big UK basketball game was occurring the same night, and of course, blue was the color of choice.
My friends advised me to get the “$15 deal.” I went up to the counter, paid my money and was handed one large and one small package, each with more than eight pages. On the small pages, there are four bingo boards per page. At least eight separate boards are on the large pages.
I wasn’t concerned about being bored anymore. Now, I was worried I was going to look like a fool trying to manage all of these boards. I also assumed this would be a normal game of bingo, where you just have to form a line. I was wrong. There are all different versions of the game. One game you have to cover the four corners, another you attempt to form a small box around the “free” space. The harder the formation, though, the larger the winnings are.
The box TVs, which covered every wall and hung as a chandelier from the ceiling to give a visual aid of the ball, turned on. It was game time.
“B6, B-6,” the caller said. Complete silence and pure concentration overcame the hall. My heart was pounding as I scanned my numerous boards. I daubed three spots- for those unfamiliar with bingo terminologly, I used my paint “dauber” to mark letter/number combinations called.
The more we played, the more fun I began to have. Every time I got to cover a spot, an adrenaline rush surged through my body.
During one of the types of bingos played, the letters B and O are not used. The caller accidently called out a B ball. Without hesitation, four or five of the players immediately began ridiculing him. It took him maybe less than 2 minutes to readjust, and during that short time period, people were yelling, cursing and threatening this volunteer firefighter.
I even heard someone call him “dumber than a pile of dog shit on fire.”
I finally understood what Nostrant meant.
To my surprise, the night ended much too soon. The sound of ripping pages, the smell of smoke, the sight of bottles full of dip spit and the anticipation of the next ball all combined to make an incredibly entertaining night.