first and foremost people, that dog’s name was B-I-N-G-O, not B-E-A-N-O. bingo is the game, beano is the stuff that makes you less farty when you eat broccoli. why come to the south portland BINGO hall, if you’re just going to yell BEANO all the time. sorry for the rant, but for some reason that filled me with blinding rage. the good news is that the rest of the evening filled me with joy and awe. not so much money, but lots and lots of awe.
i knew from some light googling that bingo began at 6:30, but i thought it wise to call and ask for more info. apparently the hall would open at 3, and we would need to arrive at 5:30 at the latest to “get set up” (although he didn’t disclose exactly what that meant). scary. being the kind of girls who like to live on the edge (and who have a hard time being on time for things), me and my lovely date kristina showed up around 5:50, cash in hand and ready for action. the “set up” part turned out to be choosing the level of bingo we would play, getting our machines (what!?), and finding a seat with some people who weren’t giving us laser eyes of death.
although the guy had said on the phone that the buy in would be $20, a fellow bingo-er (bingotian? bingonian?) started yelling at us from a nearby table that the $32 game was the way to go. not knowing dick about bingo, and being completely overwhelmed with choices, we took her advice readily. then, it was out into the sea of folding tables to find someone who wouldn’t overtly shun us, and to figure out exactly what to do with this giant bingo calculator speak & read thing that we were each now holding.
we spotted the only other couple under the age of 70 sitting at a mostly empty table near the snackbar. “this is a lucky table” they said, flagging us down. with great relief, we installed ourselves, and they gave us the run down of the rules and regs. as opposed to the big paper cards of days past (though still available at a cheaper rate), the machine bingo had all your cards and games memorized, and all you had to do was push the numbers as they were called. you could even pick your own markers (i went for magic 8 ball, kristina went for tigers, our table companions refused to tell us what they used). then it was just hanging out and waiting for the action to start.
i got a fanta, a grilled cheese basket, and a fistful of pull tabs to pass the time. these are sort of like scratch tickets, except that you pull off a protective layer of paper instead of scratching to reveal your prize. certain number of $100, $250, & $500 prizes are guaranteed per box (i think they had 4 different boxes going), and as the night goes on they yell out how many big prizes are left to get people to keep buying more. i saw people plunking down $25 & $50 and just standing over a trash can pulling and tossing, pulling and tossing. i actually won $5 which of course i invested in more pull tabs. oops. all i got was a big pile of brightly colored paper.
there were also people walking around selling 50/50 raffle tickets which allowed people to win a small pot and the privilege of spinning the construction paper wheel of fortune at the front of the hall. the lady behind me went home with $30 and a quesadilla maker. solid.
as a side note, where the fuck are all these old people getting hundreds of dollars to spend on bingo and pull tabs?
once the games began, it was pretty much just like i imagined. the guy or gal at the front of the room called out the numbers as they shot out of this big popcorn popper deal at the front of the room, and everything got put up on big beautiful old-school light up bingo boards at all 4 corners of the room. there were however a few surprises:
1. we never played regular bingo. it was always something crazy like “the hard way” (regular bingo not using the center free space), “8 around the corner”, “rooftop”, “crazy Y”, or “church cross”.
2. even though we paid to play machine bingo, they gave us one paper card for the “quickie coverall” game. this involved using a dab-o-ink bingo marker (kindly lent to us by our table mates) to blot out numbers as the caller yelled them out triple time. so stressful!
3. don’t you dare yell out false bingo. i made a joke about how people would get shanked in the parking lot, and my new bingo sensei looked at me with all seriousness and said “they’ll shank you right here”.
4. you are not to touch anyone else’s machine. in fact if you have to use the restroom during play and can’t hold it until one of the designated 10 minute breaks, you have to raise your hand and one of the “bingo assistants” will play the game in your absence.
5. if you should be holding a conversation at standard volume, prepare to be SHUSHED! (the shame!)
$50 down, and not a penny won by the group at our “lucky table”, i still felt like my money was pretty well spent. i’d spend that or more on a usual friday dinner at caiola’s or the blue spoon, and not get nearly as much adventure (plus hello, fanta on tap!). which is not to say that i’ll be adventuring every weekend. i’m thinking i’ll go back maybe once a month (or every other month) and bring some friends to take in all the romance that is friday night bingo (although i hear it’s $10 cheaper on sunday). as is my opinion with all gambling, if the experience doesn’t feel worth the money, then it doesn’t really matter how much you might win. bingo for me gets an unequivocal thumbs up. plus, if we don’t get the younger generation in there- it looks like bingo might die off completely in a couple of year. no disrespect, but man those people are old.
you can check out the rest of the photos of my bingo escapade at my newly forged flickr account.