Each year, my two in-law fathers and my best friend decide where we might want to go for a 5 day jaunt to someplace in the United States. We are restricted to certain areas. That restriction circumscribes our travels to those areas that have casinos that fall under the aegis of the Caesar’s corporation of casinos. Those include but are not limited to, Caesar’s World, Harrah’s and Rio. Inspecting our country and trying to find such casinos is the job of our tour director Bill.

Bill’s skills are universal. He has a degree from Harvard (or is it Yale) in physics. He taught math and physics at the high school level in Altoona. He was among the first committee to negotiate a teacher contract in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania before the law was passed to allow negotiations. He is and was a successful negotiator (sound familiar). He became the go to person in Pennsylvania when teacher unions negotiated contracts with school boards.

I actually ran into him in 1980 when the school board in Kutztown negotiated a teacher contract up to Fact Finding. He is a wonderful pubic speaker and still a great teacher. However, he does not teach math or physics (or maybe he does). He teaches people how to win at gambling. Yes, I know, that is impossible. He does know how to up the odds of you winning.

He is particularly adept at video poker. He is a serious gambler. I know that because I have spent time with him at casinos around the country and the world. His skills rest mostly on choosing machines that pay off at higher percent’s than others. How can he tell? It’s all on the payoff tables. After billions of plays, some machines actually pay off anywhere from low 90’s to 99%. There are even a very few that pay off at 100%. Yes, I know that does not make sense. However, if thousands of other machines, one armed bandits, and tables pay off more, it is not gratuitous to have one pay off at 100%. Remember, this is over billions of plays.

Bill has been playing for 35 years. He has a person that takes care of his activity. She arranges for us to get things comped when we go to various casinos around the country. When Bill was really playing, a white limo would pick us up at the airport. We sometimes get comped rooms and other goodies. Our favorite is the special rooms set aside for high rollers. They are awash with great food (they call them snacks) and whatever liquor we might want. (Who wants a chocolate martini)?

Generally, the servers and bartenders in these places are as amenable to customers as I have ever seen. My mom was a waitress for 35 years. These folks are as accommodating as any that I have ever seen. Of course you must understand that their tips must enable them to earn a bunch more money than my mom ever made.

Bill is the impresario of our group. Not only does he provide the place to stay, but also the transportation, the golf venues, the restaurants, the tipping and whatever emoluments go to people who need them. It is a great idea that Bill has come up with. Not only do we have a great time playing golf around the country, but all the problems of transportation while we are there, food and lodging are taken care of. Within a day or two of us coming home, Bill has already sent us an email with our share of the costs. Be vie for who can send him back our checks first. It’s a kind of game that Big Al always wins.

Big Al is not really big. He is of normal size, with a thoughtful look on his face from the time he gets up till the time he parts company with us. He also drives a golf ball as far as any of can and out drives much younger men. We did once calculate that he hit a ball 300 yards one time. He, being the modest person that he is, eschews this praise.

I have written about Al before, but his tour with us brings us closer to what he is. Al is Italian. That is not to say that this is his outstanding feature, but his life revolves about that part of him. He was raised by his father. His mom passed away at his birth. His dad took him, many times, back to his own birthplace, Pinzolo, Italy. Yes, we have been there, twice. It is in the Dolomite Mountains close to the Austrian border. In truth, Al’s dad spoke German as a kid. Al, himself, can speak fluent Italian and dialect. His daughter, my daughter-in-law also speaks Italian.

Al has been in the grinding business since he was a boy. His father owned a shop in Reading, Pennsylvania. Al worked there till he retired a few years ago. He still maintains a few customers to keep his hand in. He is part of the Reading business community and is sad about the deterioration of the town. He is the product of Catholic schools and sent his daughter to Catholic school K-16. She went to a Catholic college.

Al calls himself a “goalonga.” In truth, that is exactly what he is. There are few, if any times, that he objects to any of Bill’s choices. He enjoys the meals, the banter and everything that happens on the golf course. Like me, he does not shlep his clubs with him and rents clubs at each course. We always compete for the lowest price for rental clubs. One time, the price was 50 bucks and Al and I decided to ride together and share clubs. We had no problem doing that. Actually, I played better that day.

Al has some set routines that he follows every day. He actually orders chocolate milk for breakfast and sometimes for other meals. He has particular chocolate that he likes and succinct ways of putting those two things together. I sometimes watch him when the server brings a separate portion of chocolate and a glass of milk. It is artistry at work.

Al also takes a nap in the afternoon. It is a European custom that he adapted to his life here in the U.S. I have been at family gatherings when Al has absented himself from the table and gone to another room to snooze for an hour or so. Having traveled in Europe, it is now surprise to me.

Sometimes Al looks to me or Bill or sometime to Norm for explanations of things. He is an invariant information seeker. He has no problem expressing his need for information. He is not embarrassed to ask when he does not know something. Sometimes, I wish that there were other people who had that quality.

I believe Al misses his work at the shop. It has been such a large part of his life. He had a regular schedule for so many years that he was attuned to. Now he goes in for a few hours. He is also a car enthusiast and a pool player of some talent. He has won tournaments in Las Vegas. He would go to this tournament once a year for many years. He does have a pool table in his home.

His love for cars extends back many years that is what he and my son have in common. His daughter is also a car buff. We actually met Al at a car show in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Al and Mary (his wife) take mystery trips in their Corvette. They actually gave my son and daughter-in-law a 1970 Corvette with only 35,000 original miles. Al was the first and only owner. Al loves to talk cars. He and his wife Mary usually keep me abreast of what is going on in Berks County, Pennsylvania. Interestingly enough, Al and Mary knew who I was before our children got together. Once in a while I was in the news or on the radio in that area. That was purely coincidental.

Norm is the third of my group. He is my son-in-law’s father. Norm has man qualities that stamp him as a success in life. He began rather humbly in Connecticut and rose to a Vice Presidency of Price Waterhouse accounting and consulting firm. He has been very successful in business and is pretty wise with his investments. He will also tell you that.

I admire Norm for what he has done with his life. After all, our grandchildren in common share some of his genes. That’s not a bad thing.

Norm is an inveterate jokester. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t get something from him. Last sending was a bunch of Henny Youngman’s one line jokes.” Someone stole my credit card. I am not going to report it. He is spending less than my wife.”

Norm is a purveyor of old pictures from the 30’s 40’s and 50’s. He is very sentimental about those times. I guess you always have fond memories of when you could actually play basketball and go out to the movies with your friends or one girl friend. Those stay with you forever. Once in a while you can even smell the smoke of the cigarette as it burned slowly between your fingers.

Norm enjoys all of the activities. He is a good golfer and hits the ball down the middle most of the time. As years go by, the drives become a little shorter and the fairway clubs become more of a necessity. For us, the putting is the thing that takes away pleasure. You can get onto the green, but if you four putt, you are dead in the water.

Speaking of the water, I mostly avoid it. I might even take a drop before hitting it, depending on the hole and the course. Norm is a stickler for the rules. If we kind of botch things up on a drive, we take a mulligan. My rule is; we get one mulligan on each hole, but after nine holes, you cannot accumulate mulligans. You have to start over.

Norm does not like all of that stuff. He wants everyone to play by the rules, or else why keep score. The three other of us try to explain that we are trying to have fun. We are not competing with each other or with ourselves. He still has some trouble with that. If he moves his ball or does something outside the rules, we really get on him.

As Bill takes care of everything, Norm often makes suggestions that Bill does not take. For instance on this trip (I have heard), Norm called a friend of his in Las Vegas for a restaurant suggestion. The other two agreed. The restaurant was not very good and was really expensive. I guess that Norm will not be suggesting any other restaurants.

This last trip ended last Thursday. We all got into Las Vegas at different times. We could not play on Saturday. So we picked up Al at the airport and went directly to the buffet at the Paris hotel casino and at a magnificent dinner buffet. Bill had gotten some groupon tickets and our costs were much less than they would have been. Wine and beer flowed and crab legs were the order of the day. The selection was voluminous.

Of course, we went back to our hotel at Harrah’s and gambled for a bit. I lost, of course. I went back to my room at about 10. I fell asleep almost immediately. I had gotten up at 6:00 and was really tired.

At about 2:00 a.m., I awoke with a stiff case of shortness of breath. I called down to the desk and asked if there was a doctor or nurse on the premises. They told me that there were EMTs. I said send them up. They arrived in about 5 minutes. There was Chris and Darren. Chris was from Arkansas and Oklahoma and Darren was from Hawaii. They were efficient and friendly. My pulse, my oxygen, my blood pressure were all normal. They suggested that I see a doctor.

The next morning I called Carol and she suggested that I go to Urgent Care. One of the things you must understand about Las Vegas, if they can scam you, they will. Most of the Urgent Care facilities offered a $500 fee before you got examined, plus other benefits. The Urgent Care center from the Las Vegas Hospital was one that was regular. They took insurance and gave me a good going over, an EKG, bloodwork and a thorough exam by a doctor. They could find nothing amiss. They told me to see my own physician back home.

Fortunately, I had already made arrangements to get on the first plane Monday morning and had Carol make an appointment with my cardiologist.

I got home in the late afternoon on Monday and waited till Thursday for my appointment. My shortness of breath had abated by then. The doctor also did an EKG and sent me for more esoteric blood work and a heart monitor to wear for 24 hours later this week. Right now, I am not sure what is going on. I guess when the bloodwork comes in and the monitor does its job, I will find out whether or not I am crazy.

My three cohorts have been calling me. They seemed to have had a good time at all of the courses they played. Bill almost won some dough and Norm and Al seemed satisfied. I really missed being with them. I know that they have planned to go to Tampa next year. I will surely be with them to enjoy all of the festivities.


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