When you live in the land that Spring Break never forgets, your local world dramatically shrinks as throngs of college kids, families, and snow birds converge on your otherwise favorite spots to eat and drink. That place is mobbed all day. That one and the other one are insane at sunset. And forget about breakfast without a long wait there, there, and there.
The crowds are warmly welcome, however, especially after we coveted space heaters and old college-logo sweatshirts through one of the coldest winters in history in these otherwise temperate Keys. Throughout January and February, those in the colder northern climes either got snowed in by their own heinous winter weather and canceled their trips, or they eyed the Weather Channel predictions for freeze warnings and wind chill temps as far south as Miami and just didn’t feel like spending the money to shiver along with us in paradise.
Slowly, we are warming up. Finally, we are well into the Spring Break bonanza that pumps money into the hands of all those in the hospitality realm as long as it doesn’t blow 25 to 30 mph off the bay or ocean side and your restaurant/bar is fully exposed. Really, it is the nick of time for the perfect weather we haven’t seen in months.
So what to do, where to go to get away from it all after working crazy shifts through it all? Some evenings, it boils down to Bingo.
“No really, it’ll be fun,” I said to my skeptical girlfriend.
“Sure, RG. Let me call my grandmother. She’d love to go with you,” my girlfriend said, shaking her head in semi-disbelief that was truly suggesting this as a potential pastime.
“What else is there to do right now?” I asked her. “Everyone else is working and every place is packed. Come on. Just humor me.”
“I don’t even know any of the games! Don’t they do all kinds of weird patterns for some of them?” she said, trying to sound adamant, but I could sense that it wouldn’t take much to convince her to join me for a night of a couple of cheap drinks in a smokey hall a few miles up the road.
“I know the games–do not judge me on that–and they always explain the rules to newbies like you, anyway,” I smiled. “I’ll even spot you your first cards.”
She hesitated, just a little. Our guys were both on doubles, we felt like getting out, and there was that odd allure of winning the big pot on the “cover all.”
“Okay. Fine. But just for a few games, then we’re outta there.”
I often consider the phrase, “If anyone had told me five years ago that I’d…” and its various and astonishing completions: “…be tending bar in the Keys,” “…have lived in and reviled Key West for two short months,” and now, “…be playing Bingo at a spot very far off the Spring break byway.” When I play this mind game with myself of late, I acknowledge that nothing I do or see or muddle through seems quite so astonishing anymore. My life, set in such a quirky part of the Keys, is evolving into what may just may pass for “normal.” Okay, as normal as normal is down here.
Thus it was that we wandered into the land of multi-colored dobbers, good luck charms positioned at angles just so, rubber chickens poised to squawk when B 11 (chicken legs) is called, and the new-found knowledge that numbers under 50 and above 30 are each “a good year” to somebody.
We played the “small picture frame” and “Bingo the hard way” (no free spot), we got crazy and played three cards of three games at once (and realized it’s easy to miss a called number), we voted the “crazy L” as the most fun game. Then we won, each of us, back-to-back games. We were grudgingly applauded, being the slightly out-of-place strangers that we were.
Thankfully, we did not win the progressive pot of gold at the end of the evening. It would have been inappropriate at the very least. Give us a few months to play Monday night Bingo there or Thursday night Bingo at the other place. Let us establish our regular seats and finally understand what “the kite” game is.
Let the season come and go, let the coffers replenish. Let these busy days, hilarious nights, and tranquil times suspend themselves in frozen time. Let B 9–the “good news”–visit often.