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Puerto Vallarta News NetworkTales of Retirement in Paradise 

Chapter 24: Just an Old-Fashioned Family Christmas!
email this pageprint this pageemail usPolly G. Vicars

We have not missed a Family Christmas in Las Vegas since that very first one in 1988. This photo was taken in 2007, getting older, but still having fun!

The three of us in 1994 after Brother's accident

Brother Harry, Me and Husband 1987. We really were young!
When I said that our English students's Christmases were much different from mine, I'll wager you didn't realize just how different.

Long before we retired, when we were still among the working, we went to a convention in Las Vegas, Nevada. Talk about culture shock! Kentucky Hillbilly Husband and Florida Cracker I stood around with gaping mouths at the spectacle that is Las Vegas. Neon lights blinking and winking, little old ladies and men pouring nickel, quarter, dollar after nickel, quarter, dollar into colorful 'juke boxes' that spewed forth nickels, quarters, dollars instead of the plaintive notes of Hank Williams singing "The Lovesick Blues," cries of "coming out," "place your bets," "winner seven," "pay the line," and screams of joy or moans of pain from the groups of people standing shoulder to shoulder around a funny kind of pool table.

And all of this was at 8 am! Disdainfully I said to Husband, "Can you imagine grown people, at 8 o'clock in the morning, behaving so ridiculously?"

He, being a little more worldly than I, wasn't quite as shocked, and answered, "Let's get registered. I'll show you what to do. You might like it." Fateful words which he has had many occasions to regret!

Of course, I liked it! It didn't take me long to advance through the ranks from nickel slot to dollar slot, to blackjack and roulette, and, ultimately, I found my game - craps!

Remember all this began before "The Liberation," and the slot machines had been made to occupy the little woman while the big man played the more manly games. However, we were tolerated at the blackjack tables and even at the roulette wheel, but that sacred "funny kind of pool table," the crap table, was definitely off limits - a true "no woman's land!" Those guys were in for some "politically correct" learning from me before there ever was such a thing! (These days no one even notices or cares if women are at the table!)

I have told you before when I make up my mind to something, even Godzilla can't daunt me, and my mind was made up - I was going to learn to shoot craps! Wonderful Husband, who had himself learned by reading a book, taught me all he knew and even willingly accompanied me to the table for my first time.

I don't like to brag, but I was a natural; soon I was screaming and moaning with the best of them. When the real life "Grumpy Old Men" mumbled "!"?$%& danged women" or blatantly changed their bets from pass to don't pass every time I picked up the dice, I showed them by making pass after pass. It wasn't long before they were yelling for me to shoot - it seems greed overtakes prejudice every time!

We loved Las Vegas! We took every opportunity to go there and we even made opportunities. If one of us had business in Dallas, Texas or Denver, Colorado or any city not in Kentucky, we would say, "We are so close to Vegas, let's go there for a few days." Our gambling was better than our geography.

Not being millionaires, we set up budgets for ourselves, established daily limits, and pretty much kept to them. In our "real" life we had joint checking accounts, joint saving accounts and joint every other kind of "counts." Husband and I fought about all the things most couples fight about - but never about money matters. Somehow this had never been a problem for us. What was his was mine and vice versa. That had been true for many years until "craps" came into our life. Then each of us husbanded our individual gambling money to the extent that neither of us would lend a nickel to the other for a telephone call!

Always winners? You gotta be kidding! But we did have enough winning days to keep us hopeful, and we always left the tables either as winners or with the confidence that we would "get them next time." (Without our inviolable rules, this attitude could have easily led us to the poor house for our retirement instead of our Vallarta condominium!) Since both of us were working, had no children, and no other expensive vices (we don't count fishing as a vice), we journeyed to Vegas four times a year.

After my mother in Florida died, we started spending our Christmases in Vegas. Hardly anyone else was there; it was easy to get to a table; and the weather was usually warm and sunny. We loved it, and it became a tradition with us. We invited Brother in New Orleans, who no longer had a wife and had no children, to join us one Christmas. Haughtily he said, "Well, I suppose I would enjoy seeing some shows."

So he came. We broke him in gradually - first the slots and then the blackjack tables, saving the crap table for another occasion. Our stay is always for one week (all the time our money and stamina can last), and on the last day, as we were ready to taxi to the airport, we had to search the casino to find Brother to tell him goodbye. He hardly looked up from the blackjack table to give us a wave!

Years passed. Brother continued to join us for Christmas in Vegas and various other trips throughout the year. Usually quiet and dignified, he quickly became the most enthusiastic of the crap shooters and could be heard loudly pleading for a seven or an eleven.

In fact he, as a French Quarter businessman, was at the forefront of the six or seven-year citizen's drive to legalize casino gambling in New Orleans that will see its fruition spring 1996 with the opening of what is being billed as the largest casino in the world.

When we retired to M้xico we were unsure of how we would fare in our new financial situation and were anxious to show off our new environs, so we decided Christmas 1988 should be in Vallarta instead of in Vegas. Brother flew into to town and together we faced our first Christmas away from the gaming tables cold turkey. Major mistake! While we all had a good time and Brother was impressed with everything and everyone, and we even caught some fish - it just wasn't the same! We held a solemn ceremony over Margaritas on the rocks promising that as long as we could stand at a crap table, we would continue our traditional family Christmases in Vegas. (This vow was put to the test just this year.)

Thus, year after year we have celebrated the holiday season as a close knit little family, enjoying meals together, exchanging gifts in our hotel rooms, seeing the latest shows together (well, sometimes Husband opts to let Brother and sister have an evening with each other, which means he refuses to leave the casino), and gaming together. I'm not sure if you could go as far as to say that "the family that gambles together stays together," but it has worked for us.

We always stay in downtown Vegas because we feel the best gambling conditions in the world are in Binion's Horseshoe. This is practically the only remaining family-owned casino, and Bennie Binion, the founder, was one of the well-known characters in the early history of Vegas. He set no limits on the tables and would cover any bet, no matter how large.

There is a true story of a guy who plunked down a brief case holding one million dollars on the pass line of the crap table. Mr. Binion OK'd the bet, the shooter passed, and the guy won his million. Of course most don't tell the rest of the story: in the coming weeks he lost it and more, as Mr. Binion knew he would.

The Horseshoe offers ten to one odds on the crap table and has single deck, hand-dealt blackjack. They generously comp their steady players to free meals and rooms, and operate on the theory that whatever the customer wants is OK with them. Of course, the newer generation has computerized everything and it isn't quite as personal as it once was. Though they no longer pay double on blackjacks during Christmas week (We thought that was neat.) we still think it is the best place to play. We are well known there and are treated very well.

(Sadly, Binions is no more. After the new generation took over, they forgot what had made the place so successful and in January 2004 the Federal Government stepped in to close it down for a variety of unpaid bills to the IRS and the Culinary Union. At first Harrahs bought it and re-opened it, then in March 2005 MTR Gaming bought it from them and took it over. Supposedly they have remodeled and refurbished, but "it just ain't the same!" However, according to Wikipedia, "a notable feature of the remodeling was to replace the casino's worn carpet with surplus carpeting that Benny Binion had stored since initially carpeting the casino." We miss old Benny Benion and his brand of casino operation!)

As always, we looked forward to this past Christmas in Vegas. Our reservations had been secured months in advance, and the weeks before Christmas we kept the fax and phone hot between New Orleans and Puerto Vallarta making plans and discussing the money we were going to win. We were ready to go!

A week before time to leave, Brother called to say that he fell and was on crutches, but was OK and would still meet us in Vegas. After appropriate commiserations (no smart cracks from me about his condition) and a little prompting, he admitted to having fallen while hurrying into the dockside casino that Louisiana has just allowed on the Mighty Mississippi. He had been whisked to the hospital by ambulance, x-rayed and pronounced to have no breaks and fit to travel, even if on crutches. We anticipated having to be solicitous of him, but felt sure there would be no major problems.

Thus, it was. We had to walk a little slower when with him; we looked for uncrowded tables to accommodate him; we aided him getting in and out of cabs and doors - - but otherwise it was as if he had never fallen. That is to us. He was in major pain! He could not get in a good position to sleep at night, so as a result he gambled night and day as he was OK standing at the crap table or sitting at the blackjack table (or so he said.)

When we first arrive at a hotel we get a safety deposit box and place in it our allotted cash - in separate envelopes marked with each of our names. Then we can begin each day with only enough money for that 24 hours (there is really no night and day in Las Vegas as everything runs nonstop.) Usually any visit to the box means we have used the allowance and have to get an advance. Not this time. This time visits to the box were to put in, not to take out!

From the first roll of the dice Lady Luck was with us; we won at everything! The cards were falling in our favor; the roulette ball was bouncing into our numbers; the reels were spinning in threes; and the dice were hot! And I'm not just talking about the first day. Though of course there were some dry spells, every day turned into a winning day! Meanwhile, Brother was also doing O.K. Though he didn't tell all, we're fairly sure his pockets were as full as a man on crutches could bear.

We had our farewell brunch at the end of the week, and while surely richer, Brother was not better*. Promising me he would get new x-rays immediately upon his arrival in the Big Easy, we parted with next year's dates and reservations made for the upcoming Traditional Family Christmas at the Crap Table. Only 365 more days to wait!

*The new x-rays showed Brother's hip to be fractured, requiring six pins to hold him together. He is now healed, back at work and frequenting New Orleans's newly-opened temporary casino. He has adopted the theory advanced by former Kentucky Governor, Bert T. Combs, "A feller ought to get up every morning and do a little gambling. Otherwise he might be luckier than hell and never know it!"

(We have not missed a Family Christmas at the Crap Table since that very first one in 1988. We have not often had a trip with as much winning as the one you just read about, but considering how much fun we have, whether we come home with or without money, we love our Christmas in Vegas. Got our plane tickets ready for a December 18 departure. Wish us luck!)

Polly G. Vicars and her husband of 57 years, Hubert (a.k.a. "Husband") retired to Puerto Vallarta in 1988 and soon became active members of several charitable organizations. Polly is the author of "Tales of Retirement in Paradise: Life in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico" [a sell-out!] and "More Tales of Retirement in Puerto Vallarta and Around the World." Proceeds from the sale of her books go to the America-Mexico Foundation, a scholarship foundation that is their passion.

Click HERE for more articles by Polly Vicars.

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