It all started with the change, you see. I collect up my loose change when it gets too heavy in my purse and put it in old mayonnaise jars with the labels washed off, because you can take the girl out of the Midwest, but you can’t take the Midwest out of the girl.
So I did what any smart girl does with two jars of change that are too full to put more change in. No, I did not wash the label off another jar of mayonnaise. I called my bank. They have to be worth something with all that money over there.
I asked the nice young man who answered the phone whether they had a use for all of my mayo-free coins. He gave me two choices. Take them to the CoinStar machine at the grocery which would eat my coins and spit out paper money for a 10 percent cut or go to the casino down the street which had a machine that would eat my coins and spit out paper money without taking a cut.
Of course the casino wouldn’t take a cut. They had hopes that I would leave much more than the grocery’s 10 percent with them in that walk between the cashier and the front door.
Now, I may be from the Midwest, but I am not naive. I have been to Las Vegas and I have lost more than one nickel in the nickel slot machines they have there. I have even seen a show or two. So I went to the source for all the information in the world and looked up the local casino and as if it were a sign, last night was Prime Rib night at the casino buffet. And my momma loves prime rib with an unholy love. So I wandered back to where she was in her bedroom watching “Ancient Aliens” on television.
“Momma,” I said in that charming Midwestern way I have. “I have two mayonnaise jars full of change to turn into cold hard cash and the casino is serving prime rib. What say we put on our town clothes and check out the devil’s own playground tonight?”
Well, I had said the magic words, “prime rib,” and “my treat,” and some 15 minutes later we were headed out the door.
Let me tell you ladies and gentlemen. If you’re thinking an Arizona casino closely resembles those items you visit in Nevada, give yourself another think. Yes, there are plenty of flashing lights once you walk inside, and the slot machines measure up. (There were even some based on the “Ellen” show but I thought they were probably sucker bets and walked on by.) But the crowd… the crowd is… different.
When we pulled up to valet park (I do things up the right way when I take my momma out for prime rib) the man coming out of the car ahead of us was straight out of an Iowa moment. He was a tall man, wearing jeans that had never met a designer and a plaid shirt, ditto. He had a behind on him that had spent its share of time on the seat of a John Deere and was wearing one of those duck-billed hats that you get for free at a feed store. I wondered if he would feel out of place at the casino till I took a look around. No, he would be right at home. I was at a corn husker’s convention.
I had taken a turn off on my way to McDowell Mountain and landed back in middle Ohio. The entire Midwest had been hiding less than five miles from my Arizona backyard. Nary a sequin in sight. No extra-skinny girls in extra-high heels giggling and looking hopefully for some guy to buy them a drink and maybe flick an extra $5 chip in their general direction here. No scantily-clad cocktail waitresses with big hair serving drinks on a tray. Instead a lot of men wearing extra-large Sansibelt slacks – the kind that have a waistband that can expand a whole extra two inches – and ladies with behinds that require your full attention in pure self-defense as they move around the room.
And I realized what I was seeing. I watched lovely Native Americans smile as they helped these comfortably chubby, comfortably well-off white Midwesterners spend their money on flashing lights and mirrors. I watched their over-large behinds get even larger at the all-you-can-eat $10.99 Tuesday prime-rib buffet. They poured free coffee and ice tea all through the casino, all the while watching as their guests poured their money away.
It was the perfect payback. Settlers, farmers and ranchers, had come decades ago. Traded with the Indians for their land, buffalo pelts, resources and a way of life and in return gave them beads, smoke and mirrors. And they accepted the trades. They were cheated over and over, lost their lands, cut back to smaller and smaller parcels. But they watched. And they learned.
And now, on the small amounts of reservation land they now hold. The Native Americans are winning it back. And from all over the country, from the land that they used to own, people are coming to give them their money back. One quarter, one dollar, one hundred dollars at a time. The sons and daughters of the people who wrested the lands away from the Indians with empty promises and useless trinkets are losing it. Sitting their oversized well-padded seats on oversized well-padded seats at slot machines, bingo parlors, and card tables. Smoke and mirrors. Beads and trinkets.
And as for my momma and me? We had us a nice prime rib dinner and went home.