Games of chance are better when eveyone knows you

My heart goes out to travelers who are confronted with today’s airports and planes. The last time I made air reservations I was told I had to pay $25 extra if I wanted to reserve a seat. When the attendant put me in a different seat, I complained. She shrugged. “Pick another one,” she said.

This brought to mind a story my niece Cathy told me of her daughter’s experience at the airport in Jamestown, New York. This was some dozen years ago, but Jamestown is still a small city and although it is in the heart of Chautauqua country where people go each summer, at the time it had a small airport. Her experience comes under, “Ah, those were the days,” category.

Cathy was taking her daughter Tiffany to catch a plane to Florida. They arrived an hour early to the small and empty airport building. They were alone until departure time approached and a young woman hurried in, went behind the desk, put on an airline hat, then said, “Tickets, please.”

Tiffany handed over her ticket and was instructed to take her bag to security. Nearby was the counter with a conveyor belt and security mechanism. No one was there but they went over. The ticket lady removed her hat, ducked under the ticket counter and came over to security. She pinned on a security insignia and sent Tiffany’s bag through the x-ray machine. “You may start boarding now,” she said.

Boarding involved going out onto the tarmac and climbing the stairs to a small aircraft. Tiffany was the only passenger on the plane.

Cathy went to the airport window to wave goodbye. Now on the tarmac was the ticket agent cum security. She had donned earphones and held white batons as she directed the plane to back up. Cathy checked to see if the stairs had been lifted or if they were waiting for her to climb aboard as co-pilot.

Ah, yes, times have changed. But people still brave air travel for many reasons, one being to experience something they can’t at home. Along with all of the outdoor pleasures Costa Rica offers, there is the indoor pastime of casinos and gaming. I am happy that gambling is legal here. If governments try to outlaw all activities that can lead to addiction, nefarious practices or have bad unintended consequences, they would have to close fast food restaurants, sporting events and any establishment serving alcohol, to mention a few. Betting on outcomes is a universal trait among societies.

Most of the luxury hotels have casinos. In San Jose proper there are four casinos clustered on Avenida 1 between calles 7 and 11. There are others scattered in and around San Jose. I think people usually find one or two places they like to patronize. After a while, it’s like Cheers, everybody knows your name and you feel at home. (Good business practice for casinos that want to take your money.) I have settled upon two where I enjoy playing roulette. One thing that recommends casinos, at least in the city, is that they have the cleanest and best equipped public bathrooms.

One of my favorite casinos is Club Colonial on Avenida 1. Besides the large gaming room, there is the Magnolia Restaurant with good food and a weekday three-course almuerzo ejecutivo (executive lunch) for under 3,000 colons. It also has a windowed area overlooking the street that is about as close as you can come to a sidewalk café in San Jose.

The kitchen also prepares some of the best free bocas that I have tasted. They are served by friendly waitresses to the players at both machines and tables. Alcoholic drinks are no longer free, but very reasonable. The other advantage at the roulette table is that if you play with colons, the fichas (chips) are just 100 colones each; if you play with dollars, a chip is $1.

The one drawback is that there are no non-smoking areas in a casino – except perhaps still at the Europa on Calle 3 going north out of town.

I always figure that after an evening of roulette, if I’ve enjoyed myself and walk out breaking even or not losing more than I planned to spend, I am a winner. Present day air travel is something of a gamble, too, so if you can say the same about your last flight you also are one lucky person.

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