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Welcome to "National Lampoon's Iowa Vacation"

Craps, Gambling, M/$, My-Sugar-Na, Restaurants, Vacation

This one didn't star the Griswold family, instead we follow the exploits of me and my step-family for the past weekend.  (Side note, this may only be interesting to me and My-Sugar-Na, but if you read this far, my blog hit-o-meter has already registered your visit, and I thank you.)  The actual points I want to make are in bold, the rest is just filler... er, I mean backstory so you understand the context of my comment.

Both My-Sugar-Na and I turned 40 in March.  However, instead of buying gifts for each other, we wanted to do something different.  We had talked about a trip to Las Vegas or Reno, but between the short time frame after thinking of the idea and the concerns about child care for (Sponsor's Name Here)'s Official Stepchildren, Grizzly and Sloppy, we weren't able to pull it off.  That's when My-Sugar-Na had a brilliant idea... drive to central-Iowa (home of her ex-husband), and have him babysit his own kids while we blow the April mortgage at the two casinos in the area.  (Side note, that's exactly what happened, too.  Both My-Sugar-Na and I made four trips into a casino, and not once did either of us walk out and say "Well, at least I won something".  That is the last I plan on speaking of gambling losses, however, I've also only typed two paragraphs so far.)

I should have known we were in trouble on Friday afternoon.  My-Sugar-Na and I were going to leave work around 11 or 11:30, pick up a rental car (one that gets better gas mileage than the SUV) drop off the dogs at the boarding kennel, and leave by 12:30.  We would get to Marshalltown, IA around 6:00 PM, in time to get to a bar and watch the Badgers NCAA tournament game.

Great plan.  Lousy execution.

I didn't get free until 11:45, and by the time I got home, the car rental place that promises to pick you up was a half hour late anyway.  My-Sugar-Na decided to take care of the car while I drove to the kennel.  I dropped the dogs off without a hitch, but I didn't get home until about 1:30.  While I am am out, my wife called and said there was a complication with the car because she reserved it with a debit card, and now they needed a note from her mother to let the car go.  By the time we had the rental car loaded with bags and kids, it was about 2:00 (Oops #1).  Suddenly, we were 90 minutes late.  We actually made outstanding time, and got the kids dropped off right around 7:10. 

Marshalltown, is an old, old, old city.  The south side of the city has some new development and homes, but the northern part of the city is in sad shape.  Houses are falling apart.  They haven't been painted since the advent of paint, porches are crumbling, and it just looks like the owners don't care.  When My-Sugar-Na lived in Marshalltown, her house had been built in 1857, but there was only so much that could be done to make it look decent.  She did her best with planting flowers in front, and she did a lot to the inside, but in the end, it was among a sea of sad looking houses.

We had wanted to find a sports bar that served food, but The Stadium Lounge in Marshalltown (where we stopped) only had frozen pizza.  No go.  You would think a sports bar would sell munchies, especially in this huge room with tables and chairs and this huge TV.  I was told "what do you expect in Marshalltown?"  Touche.

By the time we got to the nearest bar to watch the game, Wisconsin was already down about 12 points.  By the time I had my first sip of beer, it was now about a 17 point Davidson lead (Oops #2).  I was also in an NCAA pool in which you draw a name out of a hat, and in order for your team to advance, your team has to cover the point spread.  I picked two teams, and they both played Friday night... needing only a point-spread cover for me to cash  Unfortunatly, they were Stanford (Oops #3) and Villanova (Oops #4).  Needless to say, as soon as My-Sugar-Na and I were done with one drink, it was time to leave.

So we leave after one drink and go to Field's Steakhouse (across the street) for dinner.  My-Sugar-Na orders the Chicken Parmesan.  What she received was a small piece of chicken with very little red sauce, glued to angel hair pasta with more cheese than should be allowed for a non-Italian.  The more she tried to pick around the mass of cheese, the more she was actually gluing the noodles together.  It was, I assure you, hilarous for somebody that had a perfectly prepared sirloin.  I ended up eating much of it so it wouldn't go to waste.  When the waitress came around to check on the meal, My-Sugar-Na told her everything was fine, because she didn't want to make a big deal of it.

Have you noticed that the day hasn't gone particularly well, and we haven't even gotten to the casino, yet?

We finally get to Meskwaki Hotel & Casino in Tama, IA (about 15 miles east of Marshalltown) around 9:30 PM.  This isn't a casino planted in an area where an indian once farted (a la Potowatomi in Milwaukee).  This is a resort on reservation land that the Meskwaki tribe has held since the 1850s.  There were more displays and artifacts in the hotel lobby than at all of Potowatomi.  After a little bit of gaming, we went up to our room and it was quite lovely.  The entire set-up at Meskwaki was very nice, it reminded me of a decent (not the mega-opulant) Vegas resort, like the Stardust.

Saturday morning, we hit the casino by 9:00 AM.  The craps table didn't open until 10:00 (which made me wonder why they bothered opening the casino, but I digress).  So I sit down at the Pai Gow Poker table and I hear a PA announcement "The shuttle bus to Marshalltown leaves at 9:30".  There is something wrong when a city as worn down as Marshalltown has a shuttle RETURNING before breakfast.  Seeing how rundown Marshalltown is, and hearing that shuttle announcement has really gotten me to think about what casinos every 50 miles are actually doing to this country.  My-Sugar-Na and I chose to take our discretionary income to a casino (and we didn't really lose the mortgage).  But I am positive that most of the people on that Marshalltown shuttle bus that left the casino at 9:30 AM really couldn't have that much money available to take to a casino.

Among the perks given to us when we signed up for the player's club card was a free buffet during our birthday month.  Since we were both there during our birthday month, it worked out swellfully.  After lunch (and already concerned about how much I had lost) decided to stretch my money by going into the Off-Track-Betting area.  I bought a horse program and a dog program, and sat down with about fifty old men, all smoking cigars and complaining about "that damn #4 in the 7th race at Aqueduct".  It was wonderful.  I was in there about three hours, and although I lost a few bucks, it was fun because it is something you can't do (yet) at Potowatomi.

Leg two of our adventure was the 60-mile ride to Des Moines.  The Prairie Meadows horse track added a casino, and we decided to spread our losses throughout the state.  After checking into our hotel (more on that in the next paragraph) and going to dinner, we drove to Prairie Meadows for some gaming.  After going through the fastest $150 in recorded history at the craps table, I settled into a Pai Gow Poker table and made a little comeback.  After a few hours, we decided to leave.  Losing was getting boring, and there was something about that casino... It was so lifeless.  The place was packed... and quiet.  The room was very partitioned so that all areas seemed small.  The volume on the slot machines was low, and the room was dead.  Hard to explain, but I didn't like it.

We stayed at a Rodeway Inn, which - let me tell you - is no Meskwaki.  It was a bed with a TV and toilet in the room.  Not much more.  Oh, yeah, and the bed was caved in the middle, so whenever one of us rolled over, we ended up rolling back down the slope to the middle of the bed and bumping awake the other.

Sunday, instead of going back to Prairie Meadows as had been the plan, we decided to drive back to Meskwaki before picking up the kids.  I only had a little money in my pocket (as did My-Sugar-Na), however we hadn't reached our weekend bankroll limit, so every intent was that if we needed more money, we would hit the ATM.  We got to Meskwaki with four hours before needing to get her kids, and after a slow start, I was ahead for the session.  Unfortunately, there were two hours to go, so I ended up losing that aheadedness - and the money I had started with.  So I make my way to the ATM, and there is an "out of order" sign on it (the entire ATM network was down).  How in the world can a casino have an ATM that is out of order?  Think of all the potential money that Meskwaki didn't make because those machines couldn't dispense cash to degenerate gamblers like me?  I was going to pull out $300, and based on how my weekend went, I would have lost a chunk of it.  Now multiply that by every withdrawl that didn't happen, and you have a massive potential loss.  You would think that it would almost pay to have an ATM techhie on staff to make sure that any breakdown in the system would be handled immediately.

So I between My-Sugar-Na and I, we had about $40 left with a couple of hours, so I took half and headed back to the OTB.  I lost $4 in those last two hours, and clearly it was to our benefit that the ATMs were down.

Picking up the kids and most of the drive home was uneventful, until I made a tragic mistake in judgement.  I suggested Cracker Barrel for dinner.  Their Sunday special is the best buttermilk breaded fried chicken breasts in the history of buttermilk breaded fried chicken breasts.  We were getting to Dubuque around 6:30 and decided that it was almost dinner time.  I had assumed that there would be a Cracker Barrel along the highway, and by the time we had gotten downtown, I knew there wouldn't be.  When I suggested a Plan B, My-Sugar-Na demanded Cracker Barrel, as I had got her mouth a-waterin'.  I placed a call to (Sponsor's Name Here)'s Official Mother, and asked her to find the nearest location, which is on the northeast side of Madison. We all put our hungers on hold for 90 minutes until we get there.

When we arrive at Cracker Barrel, the parking lot is empty... we thought they were closed, and it was only a little past 8:00 PM.  They were open, but My-Sugar-Na made the comment that maybe everybody heard they were out of the buttermilk chicken so everybody went somewhere else.  We walked in and we were the only ones there.  We both ordered the buttermilk chicken without reading the menu, when the waitress said (and you can see this coming, can't you?) "We're out of the chicken.  We were very busy today and we ran out of it hours ago".

I maintain my standard calm, cool, demeanor, and stated that we will need a few minutes to review the menu.  When the waitress walked away, I laughed like a 8-year old that just heard of a titmouse for the first time.  My-Sugar-Na was not happy, as the dinners at both the front and back ends of the trip were ruined.  She told me that she wanted a meatloaf sandwich, and that she was going to the bathroom and I should order it, and if they were out of meatloaf, we were going home (you can see where this is going too, ai'na?)

No meatloaf.  So me and her kids ordered, and told the waitress to start the order immediately, so that it would be too late to actually leave.  We tried to keep a straight face, but as she was walking back to the table, the kids couldn't contain themselves.  It was funnier than the time watching the first American Pie movie, when Alyson Hannigan said "This one time, in band camp, I stuck..." well, watch the movie.

The meals are now ordered and delivered, and I am about halfway through my country fried steak when I notice that it was white in the middle.  It is very unusual for steak to be white, when it occured to me... they snuck a piece of chicken past me!  By this point, we had been there way too long so I just ate it.  I did tell the manager about all of the problems and he did credit my dinner, but for some reason, My-Sugar-Na couldn't stop laughing at me.  I don't get it... why would she be so unsympathetic?

Getting home Sunday night was as uneventful as we had hoped... which is a good thing while travelling.  For the record, my M/$ on the rental car was 8.3 (The SUV barely gets 5 M/$.)  Now that I've blown through one weekend, I have to wait six weeks until my first trip to New York City in early-May.

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