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Mel Cheplowitz

January '97


HOW I SPENT MY SUMMER VACATION: spacer.gif (907bytes)

When I returned to high school one September the English teacher (who spoke English fluently, I might add) asked everyone in the class to write a composition on "How I Spent My Summer Vacation". These people have me in their clutches 5 days a week, 10 months a year, and when I finally get away from them for 8 weeks they expect me to spill my guts about what I was doing the whole time I was gone. What kind of a police state is this! I think those compositions are the beginning of a government dossier on each and every student. When NAFTA passed congress last year did you notice how many Senators switched their votes in the final 10 days? I'll bet many of those Senators got an FBI visit that went something like; "Senator, the President is very concerned that you haven't gotten on board with the NAFTA treaty, and he asked us to assure you that once you do sign on, that ugly incident you had at summer camp in 1967 will remain our little secret". I had no intention of writing the composition, so I went home and discussed the problem with my dad, who is an attorney. He came up with a brilliant idea, which worked perfectly, and I'm going to share with you in case you ever find yourself in the same predicament. I went to school the next day and explained to my teacher that my activities over the summer had become the subject of litigation, and the Judge had issued a gag order in the case. Try it yourself - works every time!

spacer.gif (907bytes)I could tell you about how I spent my summer vacation, because I trust you, but I got back from Las Vegas at the end of September, so I've forgotten some of the details. (I do remember having a great time) Recently, December 7th and 8th, I went to Reno though, so I can tell you about that. I know what you're saying; "This guy went to Reno and Vegas, he must have a gambling problem". You are so wrong! OK, so I've lost some money gambling. Big deal! I had a lot of fun. It was a real bargain. I don't know if you'll understand this, but one of the problems with our society is that we frequently can't tell the difference between a problem and a solution. Think about it.

spacer.gif (907bytes)It's 225 miles to Reno from my home in San Rafael. My buddy Bob (his real name is Dave, but he asked that it not be used in the article) who lives in the East Bay, and is kind of addicted to video poker agrees to go with me and help share the driving. Since Bob lives in Berkeley, he takes Bay Area Rapid Transit to the El Cerrito Del Norte station where I pick him up. I complain about what a rotten transportation system BART is. Mel: "Don't you realize BART is heavily subsidized"? Bob: "What do you mean"? Mel: "Well let's say you go from downtown Oakland to downtown S.F. and back. The fare is around $4, and the distance from Oakland to S.F. is 10 miles. I could just drive and it would be faster and cheaper. When BART opened the voters approved a sales tax increase to subsidize BART, because the system design was so flawed that it was impossible to run it at all on the money they took in on fares. The cost of running that system is over $10 a passenger, but obviously they can't charge that much or almost no one would ever use it, decreasing the operating revenue even further, so all the various levels of government have to kick in tax money to keep it going otherwise they'd have to shut it down and be left with a 3 billion dollar dinosaur from which only General Electric and the other crooks who built it benefited." Bob: "I use BART all the time, I like it." Mel: "Last week they opened a new BART station past Concord. The parking lot holds 2,000 cars. The total cost of the new station was $500,000,000, how much does that come out to per commuter"? Bob: "I don't know." Mel: "Well I guess it's impossible to figure it out. That's apparently how they get away with it, nobody knows how to do simple math. Were you absent from school when they taught division, the flu or something? What a sad story having to go through life without being able to divide. You can't even try." Bob: "OK, let's see, it's $25,000 for each parking space right." Mel: "No, it's a quarter of a million dollars for each parking space, but that was a good guess. You were only off by a factor of 10, but anyways the idea I'm trying to explain is that no one calls it welfare when some asshole in the suburbs wants to commute to the city to work and get back to the safe suburbs leaving the inner city derelicts, crime, homelessness, and poverty behind. Then the person goes home and complains about all the poor people on welfare, but no one ever talks about how the government just gifted this guy with a quarter of a million dollar parking space. While they are spending literally billions to expand BART farther from the city, they ran out of money to run the busses in both S.F. and Oakland that help the inner city poor to get to their jobs, if they're lucky enough to even have jobs. A lot of the bus lines in Oakland are only running once an hour, and believe me those are in neighborhoods where you wouldn't want to stand there and wait an hour for a bus, and in S.F. they have eliminated bus schedules all together." Bob: "I don't see why you care. You've got a car." Oh well, I tried.
spacer.gif (907bytes)Next stop Arby's in Sacramento. I'm eagerly anticipating the trip to Arby's, and Bob and I discuss how good Arby's is, and ponder why there aren't more good fast food places. Arby's is great, except for their music system which blasts christian holiday favorites the whole time we're eating. We stop to get gas. Bob: "What kind of mileage does your car get?" Mel: "30 miles per gallon. You know the price of gas is going to go down." Bob: "How come?" Mel: "The U.S. is going to let Iraq sell oil again." Bob: "That'll be good if prices go down, I'll be able to save money when I'm traveling around. I think if I had a choice between buying a car that got 30 MPG or 20 MPG I'd go for 20. I know it's bad for the environment and more expensive, but I like a more powerful car, and besides with gas prices going down it won't be that much extra." Mel: "I have to get my drivers license renewed next week and I'm kind of worried about it." Bob: Why, it's easy to do." Mel: "What if the picture doesn't come out good? For the next 10 years every time I have to show ID I'll look like a goof." Bob: "Well there's nothing you can do." Mel: "Do you think they would let me bring in my own lighting?" Bob: "No, because if they did that for you they would have to do it for everyone." Mel: "Well I could just leave the lights there so that everyone could use them." Bob: "You could ask. Do you have to take the written exam?" Mel: "No, they're waiving the written exam and the eye test for me cause I didn't have any violations since my last renewal." Bob: "They're waiving the eye test?" Mel: "Yeah." Bob: "How's your vision?" Mel: "Real bad." Bob: "You're lucky you don't have to take the test." Mel: "Yeah." When we get to Reno Bob who knows where the thrift shops are leads us on a whirlwind shopping tour. Bob is worried that they might close before we get there, but I point out that it's not even 4:30 yet. We drive by the first thrift shop and Bob breathes a sigh of relief when the sign in the window says "Open". We park and walk up to the store, but the sign now says "Closed". The manager who's standing by the door tells us that they close early on Saturdays. Not to worry, there's an even better thrift shop a block away. We get there and the place is filled with customers. As we start to look around we hear the announcement, "The store will be closing in 3 minutes. Please bring all purchases to the front counter." We go to the last thrift shop in the neighborhood and have to hurry because they also are closing in a few minutes. We drive to another part of town where there are more thrift shops, the first one of which is just closing as we arrive, and the second of which is closing in 8 minutes. I'm not sure, but I think I'm beginning to sense a pattern. We go through this same routine with a couple more stores, and soon they are all closed. We've spent less than an hour shopping, but Bob has somehow managed to pick up 28 albums he claims he was looking for, and a big Undertones poster. Our next stop is the sports book at the Flamingo Hilton where they are simulcasting a harness race from New Jersey with the great pacing mare She's a Great Lady. She's about to be retired, and tonight she is running against the best male pacers. Bob and I decide not to bet since she is going off the 3-2 favorite, and sit there and watch her blow the field off the track in an easy win.

spacer.gif (907bytes)After all this running around it's time to take a break and pick a good spot for dinner. We look through some free zines and see that the Cal-Neva casino will give out of towners 2 for 1 coupons. Bob says he likes that place. Bob orders deep fried prawns, I go for the prime rib. Dinner for 2 with tax and tip comes to 8 bucks. At Nevada casino restaurants they always have the following sign posted by the cash register: "Due to federal law we are unable to accept gambling tokens as payment for meals". I comment on what a great job congress is doing to ensure that citizens don't waste precious gambling resources on food. Who says this country doesn't have it's priorities straight. Now it's gambling time. As we leave the restaurant Bob points out a slot machine that he says he's seen people win a lot on. He tries the machine, but gives up after a while. No luck. As he's starting to leave I reach in my pocket to see if I have any coins so I can give it a try. I discover the change I just got when I paid for dinner, and dump it in the machine. I win. Beginners luck. I play again - I win! This is easy. I play again. I win again. This is real easy. A bystander starts giving me advice. "Go for it. You've got to play it all", he says. I ask Bob what he thinks and he says it's up to me. The stranger is imploring me, "Play it all, you've got to play the whole thing if you want to win." I decide to quit, thinking there isn't much you can buy with a roll of nickels except political favors from every Republican in congress. For 20 nickels I could have Newt Gingrich pass a telecommunications bill for me, but I'd have to fake a foreign accent. Bob and I divide up the change for use at video poker later at Silver Legacy casino. Bob tells me how well organized he is, "I've got nickels in my left jacket pocket, quarters in my right jacket pocket, dollar bills in my left pants pocket, and tokens in my right pants pocket." I ask which pocket has the phone number for Gamblers Anonymous. Silver Legacy is nice except for the constant loud background music of christian holiday tunes. It's December 8th, can't they wait till it gets close to the alleged holidate to annoy people with that shit. Video poker turns out to be pretty entertaining. Bob has a pretty good run at it as his fingers speedily operate the machine like a touch typist with a deadline to meet. Bob claims that putting the coins in the machine is "good exercise". At first I think he's kidding, he isn't. I mention that perhaps Olympic athletes could use video poker as part of their physical conditioning. Bob's coinage begins to dwindle, and finally runs out. Busted. Quitting time? Not quite as I search my pockets to scrape together what we gamblers refer to as "resources". I fill the machine with the few coins I have left, and begin to have the same good luck I did on the slot machine earlier. I get our bankroll up to a healthy sum, and let Bob take over. We're on a hot streak now and the nickels are piling up. We probably have enough nickels now to get a blow job from every Republican in congress, but I don't mention it to Bob because I want him to concentrate on his gambling. Bob explains his twisted theory of the law of averages, "If we gamble long enough we're bound to hit a big jackpot at some point." I begin to wonder how Bob ever earned his Phd. in particle physics. Eventually the real law of averages catches up with us, and our enormous pile of nickels completely disappears along with any plans we had for quitting our day jobs. Oh well. Bob and I agree that it was better to be financially well off for a short time than never have experienced wealth at all.

spacer.gif (907bytes)Next up it's Dairy Queen for a pair of Hot Fudge Sundaes! Life is good! I order the large. Bob orders a medium and explains that he can't have a large due to some rare medical condition or something, I'm too distracted by my Hot Fudge Sundae to pay attention. I can't figure out why Dairy Queen charges extra for whipped cream. Shouldn't that be part of the Sundae? Come on congress, stop sleeping on the job.

spacer.gif (907bytes)Next stop is Circus Circus because Bob wants to see a circus act. The next show isn't for half an hour but Bob wants to wait which is kind of boring. We're standing next to a carnival type thing where people try to win stuffed animals by tossing a wooden ring in hopes of landing it on the mouth of one of the Coke bottles that fill a 4 foot square area. It's 10 per ring to try. Bob asks what I think the chances are of someone winning. I say that it appears impossible. Bob and I estimate that we witnessed around 400 attempts, and no one ever got close to getting a ring around the mouth of one of the Coke bottles. After the wait the next act begins to perform. They are a troop of 7 male tumblers, and they are pretty good. The best part is when the strongest tumbler has the other 6 guys climb up on him, and he stands there and supports all their weight, around 1,000 pounds.

spacer.gif (907bytes)Next up Bob and I decide to go bowling. He says the last time he went he bowled a 199, and asks what I usually bowl. I tell him I'm usually around 150, and he suggests that we compete for a dollar a pin, but I'm not interested. I'm interested in seeing the National Bowling Stadium, which I read is the largest bowling facility in America. We walk a block to the bowling stadium. The building is absolutely huge, unfortunately it's absolutely closed. Bob and I agree it seems odd that a bowling alley would be closed on a Saturday night. The next morning I go to Harrah's sports book to see how much I won on the NFL games I bet last night. Tampa Bay beat Washington straight up. I can't believe I'm losing money betting against Tampa Bay who sucks, and my bets generally didn't pan out. I go up to the teller and get what's left of my money cause it's time for a late breakfast and the drive back home. Cal-Neva is our choice for cheap eats once again. I order a cup of soup, a three egg omelet with ham and cheese, with toast, hash browns, a side of bacon and orange juice. Bob gets something similar. Neither of us can finish our huge breakfast. The check comes to around 4 bucks, which I pay while Bob leaves a 2 dollar tip.

spacer.gif (907bytes)We stop at Arby's in Sacramento on the way back and buy 5 roast beef sandwiches for 5 bucks. Their holiday music is still repeating in what must be the tape loop from christian hell. It's my turn to drive so I fill up my Coke to maintain a proper caffeine level in my system since I'm kind of tired. We've brought a good supply of tapes for the tape deck. "Bikeage" by the Descendents comes on and we agree that it's one of the greatest songs in history. Then we have our usual argument over the new Descendents album. I say I think it's a pretty solid album, and Bob says there is no song on it that rates with their best stuff, and he'd prefer a bad album that had just one song as good as "Get The Time" or "Pep Talk". Later on I'm playing a British invasion tape with "And Your Bird Can Sing" by The Beatles, and comment that it's one of their best songs. Bob says he doesn't think so. I assume I heard wrong and ask again. Bob repeats that he doesn't think it's one of their better songs, and asks what I think of The Beatles Anthology. Mel: "I think it's pretty much of a rip off. Volume 2 was interesting but it had a bunch of live tracks that were annoying filler. Volume 1 sucked except for their instrumental "Cry For A Shadow". Volume 3 has The Beatles version of the Badfinger hit Paul wrote called "Come And Get It" which is good, and the non Phil Spector mixes of some tracks from "Let It Be" which are worthwhile if you've never heard them, and good outakes of "Cry Baby Cry" and "Ooh Bla Di Ooh Bla Da", but that's not much for a double CD. There's no chance that stuff would have ever seen the light of day if John Lennon were still alive. It sucks that the biggest selling rock band of '96 broke up in '69. What's next, a Monkees reunion?! I counted 20 rock n' roll albums on Billboard's top 100 this week, and that's the highest it's been in a while. Rock n' roll was the music of the baby boomers, and they've moved on to other things."

spacer.gif (907bytes)Did you ever hear the joke about the man who is approached in front of a casino by a guy who says his wife is seriously ill and asks to borrow $2,000 for her operation. The first man says, "How do I know you won't use the money to gamble.", and the guy responds, "Oh don't worry, I've got gambling money".

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