Last week I won $50 playing Black-Out Bingo at the Senior Citizens Center.
A few days before I had suffered from mild heat stroke in my scarf and high boots as I refused to believe the weather was not the lovely, Midwest Fall I so desperately wanted it to be.
When I found out it was going to be 101 degrees last Wednesday I knew it was time for me to get out of town.
So, Noah (whose refusal to turn on his air conditioner made him almost as desperate as I was) and I packed a bag and headed for greener (and cooler) pastures. Enter, Big Bear, California where it dipped below 40 degrees every night.
After a winding, uphill battle for the Yaris, we arrived in beautiful – no, stunning – Big Bear. The mountains, the lake, the weather, the lack of honking cars! It was everything we had imagined.
If I squinted just right and ignored the BMWs, faux-fur jackets, and eight-pound lap dogs it almost felt like we were in the Midwest.
There were so many options of things to do, so many ways to soak up the local culture. We could hike, boat, visit the local shops, or walk through leaves. The options were endless but we knew the moment we saw the flyer taped to the door of the Tourism Building what we were going to do.
With the elderly.
The Big Bear Senior Citizens Center was hosting a four-hour game of Bingo and there was no place we would have rather been.
When we walked into the Center the two older gentlemen at the ticket booth looked at us skeptically. When we told them we were not lost but here to play Bingo I thought they were going to fall off their chairs and break a hip.
They eagerly explained the game and ushered us inside like we were royalty. They proudly showed us where we could get a boiled hotdog or some Folgers coffee.
The smell of sterile band aids, Aqua Net, and boiled meat reminded me of visitors day at the nursing home in Jamestown when I would go see my great-grandmother.
I squeezed Noah’s hand excitedly and whispered in his ear.
As soon as we sat down we were surrounded by people making sure we had everything we needed, explaining to us how ‘Crazy Ts” and “Postage Stamp” Bingo work. Noah and I were overwhelmed with the kindness and the attention.
By the time the game got underway I was ready.
I had by dobber, I had my cards, and I had the moral support of seemingly every person in the building. I may not have been as serious as the woman who brought in her own Bingo podium (with an attached fan to keep her cool) but I was set to win.
A few games in I noticed two things:
– Beverly was on a winning streak.
– The woman sitting one table away was staring at me.
Now, Beverly had the animosity of most of the crowd so I didn’t worry about her. But the other woman was starting to unnerve me.
Every time I glanced up she stared, smiling as if I was the neatest thing to come to Big Bear since electricity. She was probably eighty with a blonde poof of hair in the front and the rest of her head dyed shock-red. I admired her style but wished she would stop staring.
Then, suddenly, she was beside me.
I don’t mean to bother you. Are you enjoying the game?
I smiled and assured her I was having a blast. She smiled again.
Well, I was going to ask for your autograph but… that’s probably silly.
I stopped dobbing my free spaces and looked up at her, taken aback.
You want MY autograph?
She nodded eagerly.
Well, you are HER, right? You are Taylor Swift!
Beside me, Noah snorted.
Oh…no. I’m not Taylor Swift. Sorry…
She was unfazed. As she started moving back to her seat for the next round, she winked at me like we were co-conspirators.
Okay, dear. Right. Mum’s the word.
Before I could say anything she was gone.
I looked at Noah, who shrugged.
Soon my attention was back to the game as my favorite kind of Bingo was up.
Immediately, I had every number called. I dobbed out half my card before I missed a number. I grabbed Noah’s arm and started to get excited.
I kept dobbing out numbers as my card became more and more full. Finally, I was ‘on’ (Bingo term for one number away.)
We must have been causing quite a stir because the people around us started noticing my excitement. They whispered to us and to others, asking if we were ‘on.’
Finally, as the ball rolled out of the machine I could see it was the one I wanted. I dug my fingers into Noah’s arm as the woman next to me kindly instructed me not to say anything until he called it or my Bingo would be invalid.
Finally, the caller said it.
Noah and I leapt from our chairs and I held the winning card above my head.
Unlike the angry looks Beverly had received, everyone started clapping for us. Cheering as if they had all Bingoed too.
As the card checker read my card the blonde-haired/red-haired lady made her way over again. This time, with her camera.
She asked Noah to take a picture of her and I with my winning Bingo card. She smiled and squeezed my shoulder.
I can’t wait to send this to my granddaughter to show her that Taylor Swift plays Bingo too.
I gave up.
Yes, she will be so excited! Tell her I say hello.
When the games were all over and Noah and I made our way out of the building, we were stopped by countless people asking us if we could come tomorrow night for Bingo at the VFW or next week at the Eagles Club.
Finally in the car, the silence was punctuated by Noah who kept repeating one phrase.
They were so nice. Just…SO nice.
We both seemed shell-shocked at the kindness and warmth that the Big Bear Senior Citizens Center had showered on us.
When did it become shocking when someone was kind?
I realized that night, as I tucked my $50 safely into my purse, that I had told myself I was coming to Big Bear looking for Fall. But really, I had come looking for a reminder of home.
And I found, among the Bingo dobbers and the weak-coffee, the thing about home I actually missed.
A sense of community, a sense of joy, and the feeling that everyone was on your side.
It was refreshing to be surrounded by people who had lived longer than three decades and were proud of it.
Back in LA, I’m holding on to that feeling.
If I can feel that special and at peace among those people – I know I can feel it in Los Angeles too.
And Big Bear, for that, Taylor Swift thanks you.