What do you picture in your brain when you hear the word "casino?" I'm sure some of you think of a raucous craps table exploding in celebration or a ball bouncing slowly on a roulette table as gamblers stare intensely praying their number comes up. But not me. I think of endless rows of slot machines as far as the eye can see.
As you peer down each aisle you're greeted by a cacophony of beeps, bloops and coins tumbling into metal bins. Hopefully you'll see some blue-haired old lady with a tube of oxygen strung under her nose and a Virginia Slim hanging from her lips, staring catatonically at the machine in front of her as she whiles away the hours hoping for a massive victory. Yes, I can see how you would find such a sight to be depressing, but I feel the opposite. It's invigorating! Exciting! It's what casinos are all about—the dream that in one instant everything will turn around and you'll be set for life.
When I turned 21 I went out to Las Vegas for the first time, as many folks do. As a young man I didn't have the kind of disposable income that allowed me to sit at a $15 blackjack table for more than 20 seconds at a time, so I had to find a cheaper way to get my fix. Slot machines were the perfect solution. You could sit down and space out at one for a while, or just drop a buck or two as you walked through on your way somewhere. If you were lucky a cocktail waitress would come by with some complimentary hooch and you were set.
It was during that trip that I found a glorious little slot machine called "Stampede." It was an interesting time for Slot Machine technology—machines that simply relied on reels felt outdated but there weren't too many of the super fancy digital machines that are dangerously close to video games. Stampede was right in the middle of these two eras. It had reels but it also had a rudimentary dot animation board. When you lined things up just right you would get a digital cowboy would appear on the board and scream, "STAMPEDE!" The reels would start shaking, the whole machine would go nuts and all of a sudden you'd be $50 richer. It ruled.
As you can imagine there was a decent amount of alcohol running through my system when I first got a stampede and, well, I went crazy. I was jumping up and down, screaming like I had won millions of dollars. It was glorious. And then, like a true slot machine aficionado, I sat back down and pumped most of my winnings back into the machine.
I don't know if there are any working Stampede machines left in the world, but if there is I would love to plop in front of it and feed it at least one week's pay. Maybe two. But maybe, just maybe I'd walk away a winner after a couple of big stampedes.
I probably should get a tattoo of my favorite slot machine. Tons of people have gotten slot machine tattoos and I have to be honest, they're all winners in my book. Put in an order with the cocktail waitress and settle in for this fantastic gallery of slot machine tattoos. And if you're on oxygen and smoking, please ash the cigarette before it becomes hazardous. Thank you.