Monday, January 9, 2012

220th Street Bingo

By Amy Baranski

This past weekend I ended up at 220th Street Bingo for the first time. It reminded me of grade school. That's where I learned how to gamble. Bingo was the weekly fundraiser at Holy Redeemer. Every Wednesday night the cafeteria would fill with blue hairs cigarette smoke and the smell of that sweetly sick nacho cheese flavor from the concessions stand. Every now and then my parents would volunteer to work the concessions. I'd dispense soda. There was usually a priest present.

This was bingo prior to the machines, or small computers, that are used at 220th Street Bingo, in addition to the paper and daubers. 

If you're looking for a breath free of pretentiousness in Seattle, head to 220th Street Bingo and take me with you. It's not flashy, and it's not trying to be anything. It's full of regular folks, mostly women, but some men, who are content to let the hours roll by with the chance of winning. Well, there's a bit more strategy to it than that, but I find myself only mildly interested in understanding the odds. It's the the passing of time and hopefull clingy-ness to luck that I enjoy. 

Of course, when we got to the bingo hall, I was nervous. I suppose that's natural as an outsider. But Melissa and I made friends quickly. The woman sitting to my left was sitting directly across from her twin who was wearing a sweatshirt that read "Leavenworth." There wasn't too much time to chit chat about the where-are-you-froms or the I-grew-up-heres. There were sequences and protocols to learn--a new language really.

Bingo, as I  previously thought of it, was simply winning five in a row: horizontal, vertical, or diagonal. I had heard of black-out bingo--that's getting every number on your card. But teeter-totter, hardway bingo, crazy chair, crazy kite--with or without broken tail, chevron, double chevron, diamond, and little man were all new to me. Fortunately, there's a cheat sheet to which these patterns refer.

Another interesting component to bingo is that some of the games proceed directly from other games. This means that you start playing one game to achieve a specific pattern. Once someone yells bingo the bingo is verified and that game ends, but you keep using the same card for the next round.

I didn't win anything, and really I only came close once. But here are some things I picked up:

Don't call out bingo until the last number is called. Seems obvious. But this is important because you will see the next number on the screen before the caller calls it. So you're often playing one number ahead of the caller. But, you must hear the caller call the winning number before you say bingo, otherwise it's invalid. Also, it's your responsibility to make sure the caller hears or sees you say bingo.

Yell bingo. I asked one of the gentleman selling extra games if people really yell bingo. He says to me "what would you them yell, 'what the fuck?'"

It's okay to have a bingo troll. Bingo players believe in luck. This manifests itself in the changing of different dauber colors for different games, or having the same dauber for 30 years, placing little totems around your game board, or even turning your game board into an altar--as we saw one woman, referred to as Big Mama, do with several stacks of coins gingerly placed around wallet sized photos of her children or nieces and nephews. Big Mama was big and Big Mama won.

Play the extras: There are add-on games to play in between the regular bingo games. Apparently the odds are better with the extras, because less people tend to play. One of our extras was speed blackout. This was especially satisfying because table talk is prohibited and the caller calls the numbers fast without the arduously long pauses during regular games.

Tell people when you're "on". I could feel excitement build during the game when murmuring would start across the table or behind us. People would say "I'll be on with B39" and that message would reverberate down the line--perhaps with bingo teams playing together. What they mean is that when B39 is called they only need one more play to win. Being "on" in bingo is analogous to being on base in scoring position in baseball. 

That's about all I remember at this point, but I'd really like to go back. Anybody with a car interested?


Bob Redmond said...

I'm in!

Melissa Baumgart and Amy Baranski said...

Yay! Maybe you might want to go tonight or tomorrow night? Let me know... - Amy