"Kah-Nee-Tah Casino"

by Daria O'Neill


many thanks to Mystical Chicken for providing this.

Every year, but at different times of the year, Steve and I have the same argument. Neither of us actually calls it that; I call it "reoccurring discussion," Steve says "one of many facts that you refuse to accept." The debate starts out about whether or not we will take a short trip somewhere, generally prefaced by the phrase "We never go anywhere!"--that's the starting pitch, tossed out by me. Steve just generally lets that one go by, since it's so predictable, not to mention usually not true. Whenever we do go somewhere, then the "we never go anywhere" line can't be used for a while, although I think that that "while" is much shorter than he thinks it is. So after that, what phase the moon is in comes into play in terms of how rational the next points I hurl will or will not be. But eventually I have to pull out the sinker, which is to remind Steve that he goes to Las Vegas with his buddies at least twice a year. Every time, Steve tries to hit it before it falls off the table by saying, "Next time you can come with to Vegas."

"I don't wanna go to Vegas," I point out. "I wanna go to Graceland."

"The airfare is much cheaper--much much cheaper--and you can stay in a fantastic hotel for the same price you'd pay for a fare to a lousy hotel elsewhere, and as long as you're gambling they keep bringing you drinks," said Steve.

"I saw Casino," I tell him. "I saw Bugsy, and Indecent Proposal, and Honeymoon in Vegas, and the girl gets the suck end in all of them!"

"No," said Steve. "In Honeymoon in Vegas Nicolas Cage saves Horsehead from James Conn by parachuting in."

"Don't call Sarah Jessica Parker 'Horsehead'," I say. "And the reason that was romantic is that he was dressed as Elvis, who is from Graceland! Look, I have a brochure. We can stay at the Heartbreak Hotel and the Jungle Suite and look, sweetie, it's got a heart-shaped pool in the thing and sweetie, Tennessee is right by Georgia so we could probably fly there before coming back and see a Braves game."

"God dammit, Daria, that's a [film necro-esque doctored balls,]" Steve would complain. Okay, no, he wouldn't but it maintains the metaphor. And then our friend from Memphis would come over and say "Graceland is located in the heart of Crack Central Gangland. You don't wanna go there." And then they would go and watch TV and I would stop and listen to the King Creole soundtrack, and we then would either pick it all up again later or phase out and resurge again with a vengeance approximately--28-21 days later.

It's not exactly that I don't wanna go to Vegas when the long stretches of no-sun, 50-degree days set in in the Northwest and it's still in the upper 80's in the Nevada deserts. It starts to sound very good and I have logged an unreasonable amount of time online letting the Bellagio Luxor and Monterey Bay websites battle it out for whose attributes are the most enticing to me. I've even checked air fares. But the problem with going to Las Vegas always comes back to the fact that I don't gamble. I'm not morally opposed to it in any way. I just honestly can't understand why it's fun. "It's the rush," people who like it always tell me. "If you break even, or even if you lose a little bit, it's worth it because you paid for the excitement. It's like adrenaline without any physical danger." But all that money, for a rush that goes away like immediately--I mean, that's money that could be spent on very expensive lotions, I think.

"You don't have to gamble, sweetie," Steve says. "You could go lie by the pool and I could gamble. I promise I won't ante you up to the gangsters like Nicolas Cage did to Horsehead. Unless I get a royal flush, nothing wild. I'm kidding! Kidding! I'm kidding." Last month Steve tried a different tactic, which was to convince me of the fun of gambling. "Native American casino, honey," he said, "because even if you lose, you win, because every dollar you spend goes to relieve the social guilt of our Euro-ancestors."

"Oooh, and we can get massages and facials!" I added, looking at the website Steve had gotten the idea from.

"My sources say no, honey," said Steve, but I was already running to the phone to make reservations before a cure could be found for Steve's rare bout of Spontaneous Vacation Suggestion.

You can drive to Kah-Nee-Tah a couple of ways. We went I-84 to 197, then right on 216. And if you're driving with Steve and I the rule is whoever is doing the actual driving gets to pick the music. And Steve is a very bad passenger, especially when I'm driving.

"I decree we will be listening to nothing but Ministry and The Descendants!" crowed Steve happily before the seatbelts were even fastened.

The drive to Kah-Nee-Tah is great. No ocean, but other than that the scenery represents all that is varied and beautiful about Oregon. Although whenever I picture the sprawling farmlands of eastern Oregon from now on, I'm afraid I will also be thinking, [deep scratchy voice] "I live with spiders and snakes and things that go bump in the night and me every day is Halloweeeeeeen!" I was especially excited, I'm not sure why, to see Mt Hood from the opposite side. It was some "dark side of the moon" feeling.

"Those are the Three Sisters mountains," said Steve, as we drove past them. "They were three Indian princesses who were waiting for their betrothed to come back to them but they never did so they waited so long they turned to stone."

"That's so sad," I said. "What's that one?"

"That's Mt Bachelor," said Steve. "He's one of the betrothed [laughing slightly] that got away."

Just before the lodge and resort you pass through a landscape that seems to scream at you "Turn back all ye who dare to enter here, for this be No-Mans-Land where nothing can survive." It doesn't so much scream this, actually, as say it in a low, sinister hiss. To accentuate the point when you pass the horrifically burned-out shell of what was once a car on the right-hand shoulder, you'll know you're headed in the right direction, implausible as that may appear. Suddenly, there it is, a cluster of teepees and an enormous pool down in on your left, and a winding road up a hill to the left that leads--first one shoulda been "right"--and the winding road up a hill to the left that leads to the lodge and casino, with a view all around suddenly so spectacular, you start feeling a little frantic that you're not taking it all in to its deserved extent.

We were staying at the lodge, in a room that opened out to the pool in the center courtyard, but we couldn't check in until 4:30.

"Hmm, what do you know," said Steve. "I see precious little choice but to go immediately to the casinos!"

"Okay, fine, but first we need to solidify some things," I said. "First of all. We need to stick to the reserved amount we agreed on, alright? And not use the bank card at all, and the credit card only for serious emergency, and I mean like a medical emergency or something. And then, anything that we win on top of the reserved amount, we can put back into the allowed spending pool, but--"

"Sweetie, I just won fifty bucks!" Steve announced, running over waving a printout receipt from the video poker machine where he'd been since fifteen seconds after he said "casinos." He changed it into ones, and we split it, and I wandered around the slot machines, less reluctant since the reserved allotment had already been upgraded and we hadn't even taken our suitcases out of the car.

"Look for the little number in the corner of the screen," said Steve, "because they're different. You've got your five-dollar slots, one dollar, quarter, and nickel. You can win more on the higher-money ones but you can usually play longer on the lower ones."

"I'll play one of the ones near the door," I said, "because the Discovery Channel special on Vegas said those pay off more frequently so the noise can lure in people passing by."

"This is the only casino here, honey. Anyone wanting to gamble is pretty much coming in here and not getting 'lured' somewhere else," said Steve, "But whatever you want."

I picked a machine at the end of a row of machines and sat down. As soon as I did, the machine right next to mine with two older ladies in front of it started making the frantic payoff noises. The ladies started twittering in some musical Eastern-block dialect. I lost quickly and got up to move to another machine, but was thwarted when one of the ladies grabbed one arm of mine, and the other grabbed the other arm.

"Where you go?" one of them asked. "No, is good luck! You walk over, we win for money. For the much money!" Being completely in the dark about casino protocol, I figured I'd better play it safe and stay put. The ladies resumed. I stayed there, they won again! This time they acted like the ball had just dropped on New Year's Eve. The woman closest to me turned and actually planted one on my cheek. Her buddy waved the latest winnings paper printout. The kissing bandit screamed something at her in birdlike noises. Receipt Woman leaned over to my machine and rubbed the printout paper all over it like she was cleaning the face of it. "That is for the much luck!" she explained. They ran away.

I put in another dollar, pushed the thing--nothing, pushed the thing--nothing, bet the rest, pushed the thing: cherry, cherry, cherry, seventy bucks. I had figured out what I wanted to do for the rest of the weekend, but first, I had to go find those foreign ladies again.

That was actually my only substantial win from then on, and even a hundred and twenty dollars, Steve and I broke more or less even, but that included the cost of meals and drinks, although you couldn't drink in the casino area like you could in Vegas, Steve pointed out to me about a thousand times.

I really have to say, though, I didn't become a total convert, especially since immediately following the lucky seventy, in a fit of capricious "seen-too-many-movies-about-Vegas" glee, I put a twenty in a five-dollar machine, bet it all, and lost it all literally before I could blink. Despite that, I really could start to see the appeal of it all, thanks probably in part to my own Eastern-block ancestrial mix, I have a deeply-buried but pretty substantial vein of superstitiousness running through me, by the first round through all levels of the casino, that vein was pretty well throbbing.

Okay, so it went: small win, loss, loss, medium loss, medium win, small win, small win, I thought. So that means, I have two more losses coming, then one little win, then one big win. So I need to bet the minimum for--three more pulls, then all--no, half for the next one, provided the ice in my Coke has not shifted. If the ice shifts, I have to double it all up and get more ice, but switch machines, but leave the ice cup on the old machine. Then once it's all melted I can play that machine again, unless someone has just one big on it, in which case that machine probably won't immediately pay off big again. But maybe, that's just what the machines want you to think. Okay. But anyway, I can't go to the bathroom till I'm fif--no, ten dollars ahead. It was all too clear too quickly just how easy it would be to become one of those ladies, smoking-no-hands, staring straight ahead, sort of glazed, pausing to line up assorted figurines and kiss them to keep the mojo flowing.

I started attributing personalities to the machines right away, scanning them to see which one called out to me, avoiding the ones that gave off a bad vibe, pleading with the ones I'd ventured a relationship with, and reliving the same beseeching conversations with them one by one.

"Okay. One bar. Now one bar, just one bar, one bar or double bar, but hopefully just one bar, there it is, there's two, there comes three, one more bar one more bar one more bar one more bar CRAP!!!" Then if that machine had paid off before, I might forgive it, but otherwise I would give it a good dirty-look glare to let it know the friendship was over, and I didn't appreciate it giving me a psychic call telling me it was gonna win for me when clearly that was a dirty dirty lie. And it was just like all the rest. Only interested in money.

Kah-nee-tah is a terrific place to go. That particular area recieves three hundred days of sunshine annually, and the pools are heated by natural hot springs year-round. The village, to the right, is more for families, while the lodge is more for the sinners. We did go to the spa right before we drove home, and got, as Steve succinctly put it, "the holy living crap knocked out of us via the back, but in a good way." Open year-round, even though it is right in Oregon you honestly feel like you're far, far away from everything and in the middle of nowhere, but it's only about a three-hour drive from the Portland area. The email site for Kah-Nee-Tah says the number you call for reservations is 800-238-6946 but the number we called was 800-831-0100, and that's nowhere on the site, so you can just bring up the site and figure it out for yourself, keyword Kah-Nee-Tah.

Here's an important warning, though, before you do go. Indian Fry Bread--is not bread. It's an endless donut with a caloric content cubed! Do not be fooled and eat it as you would bread or you will be very very sorry! Also--if a guy named Brad is bartending, you must tip him hugely, as he saved me from a killer raccoon and also made Steve and I a ham sandwich by basically busting into the kitchen after hours. And I wanted to close with another baseball image, for continuity's sake, but after the fry bread subject, all I can think of is Tony Gwen's belly. This was your local entertainment guide on ninety-four seven NRK, the new rock alternative.