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chumash casino

Chumash Casino, Santa Ynez, California


My mom and dad—married 65 years and counting—still live in the POS town in California where I went to high school, an hour’s drive north of Santa Barbara (which sounds far tonier than it is).


It’s also near Solvang, the ersatz Danish community where tourists flock to buy abelskivers and crap from the Thomas Kinkade gallery. Six miles further lies the promised land: the smoke-choked but otherwise upscale Chumash Casino.


My parents, frequent flyers of the resort, drag me there when I return home to visit. This trip to Chumash had three saving graces: 1) Penn & Teller were performing (when we attended their show in Vegas they called my mom up on stage to observe Teller naked—long story, tell you later); 2) they actually paid me to go; and 3) the rare “Lucky Lemmings” video slot game was on the casino floor.


Without a doubt Lucky Lemmings (who else loves the bold irony?) is the most surreal machine in gambling. The concept is mental: ice cubes, orcas, and eggs in a nest align to initiate a bizarre sequence in which lemmings jump off their arctic cliff into caves where they pull out fistfuls of money, scuba dive, or, if the fates allow, fly into space wearing jet packs. The enjoyability of this game can be enhanced under the influence of mushrooms, or at least a stiff cocktail. Too bad the casino is dry.


It was nice to see the parents, but their circular conversations make my head hurt. Here is their exchange while waiting for Penn and Teller to take the stage:

Mom- I thought you got the cheap tickets.

Dad- I did.

Mom- But these are more expensive.

Dad- They are.

Mom- But not as much.

Dad- But they are less expensive than last time. 

Mom- Yes, but you bought them.


(Later, this between me—a former art major—and my mother:

Mom: When you write an article for a magazine, do you send a drawing to go with it?

Me [pondering the insanity of this]: Um, no. [Brightening]: But, sometimes photographs!

Mom [unimpressed]: Why not a drawing?

Me: Well, that’s called an illustration. There’s a separate person who does that.

Mom: Why don’t you do that?

Me [cornered, somehow unable to change the subject]: Oh, I suppose if I had an idea for one I could pitch it; you know—suggest it. I guess.

Mom: Why would you not have an idea for one?

Me: [shrug] *sigh*. You know, magazines have a format they follow. Sometimes they don’t even use illustrations, or only in certain sections.

Mom: Well, that’s boring isn’t it?

Me: I’m getting another drink. Can I bring you one?)


Staying at my parent’s condo I concluded that there must be an old people’s manual, issued at some point late in life with tips and guidelines. “#6: The Weather Channel is your favorite show.” “#49: Store red wine in the refrigerator.” “#78: You need a fanny pack.” “#57: If you once liked casinos, now you love them. And Branson, Missouri.”



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