Tunica Trip – April 22nd, 2005.
Ever since my wife Susan took me to Vegas last year for my birthday, I’ve wanted to go back to Tunica again for a weekend of gambling. Don’t get me wrong; I loved Vegas, but Tunica is just a cleaner, friendlier place.
Last Wednesday I finished by bachelor’s degree at Southern Nazarene University. Also last week, my good friend Andy filed for divorce (our weekend introduction was, “I just finished college and he just finished his marriage …”). We decided that both of those accomplishments deserved a weekend road trip, and it just so happened that we both had a three day off this past weekend. Early Friday morning, we piled into the mini-van and set out for Tunica, Mississippi.
It’s a complete coincidence that Andy is standing next to a sign that says “Quick N EZ”. Honest. Here we are, filling up the gas tank for the first of three times. Tunica is almost exactly 500 miles and due east of Oklahoma City in the northwest corner of Mississippi, about 20 miles south of Memphis, Tennessee. It’s about an eight hour drive.
Several years ago Oklahoma City used to have KFC Buffets but for some reason they all disappeared. 200 miles into our trip, we came across this one in the middle of Arkansas. As Andy said, “just put clouds around it and it would look like Heaven.”
There’s a blurry shot of Andy (he’s on the right). Even though we were only about 200 miles from home, we already noticed that things were different. That’s Arkansas for you, I suppose. People were staring at us the entire time we were there eating. Maybe it’s because we were already wearing our obligatory cool poker-playing sunglasses.
A few hundred miles later, we crossed over the mighty Mississippi River. You can see three important things in this picture. One of course is the river. The second is Lucky Larry the Wonder Chicken, my lucky antenna topper. The third is all the print outs I brought which supposedly told us all the gambling secrets we would need to know for beating the odds and breaking Tunica. (Note: Neither one helped us win a dime.)
Yet another lovely photo taken through a dirty windshield while driving. I wish I could say it was for artistic reasons and that I was commenting on the state of Americans and their cars or something, but in reality it’s just because I don’t want to hold my camera out the window while driving down the Interstate.
We arrived in Memphis around 4:30pm. One of the tips in my printed out guide to Tunica said to be sure and take local supplies like snacks and drinks with you, since the casinos are located 20 miles from a town and the only place you’ll be able to shop is in one of the gift shops (home of the $2 Coke). We heeded the guide and stopped at Walgreens to pick up some chips, drinks, and Little Debbies. About a block down the road we made another pit stop at a gas station for a quick bathroom break. At that convenient store we also found six-packs of bottled water for $2. We bought two, which rang up at $8. When we told the cashier they were marked $2 each, she said “musta went up” and stood there staring at us. After a minute or so, she voided the transaction and rang them up again at $2/each. I jokingly said. “dang water inflation!” and got nothing in return. Eventually we got our water and slowly backed out of the store. At first we thought it might be some sort of racial tension, but as the weekend went on we realized it’s more of just a common hatred of tourists. It is nice to know that such abhorrence transcends any racial barriers.
Finally, at around 5:30pm, we arrived in Hollywood.
Hollywood Casino, that is! Once we got up to our hotel room, Andy broke open the ice chest and we each had a Coors Lite to kick the weekend off. Then, we hit the casino floor running. The first thing we did was get our players cards. These are cards that keep track of how much you gamble. Spend big and you’ll get treated like the high roller you are. Act like a little fish and there will be no VIP Lounge for you. (Note: Lose big and apparently you get nothing either).
Our big master plan for the weekend was to bring enough money so that we could gamble all weekend and drink for free. We initiated this plan by picking slot machines next to the bar. To simplify things, whenever one of us ordered a drink the other would get the same thing, so Friday night we began drinking Seven and Sevens. The waitress brought one pair by and then a second a few minutes later. I made some comment about them being mostly 7up and so the third pair she brought by were strong enough that hair began to grow on my chest instantly.
The drinks were getting better but the floor action wasn’t so hot and we were getting hungry, so we decided to relinquish our barside presence and go find something to eat. Hollywood didn’t have a buffet (if they did, we couldn’t find it) so we walked next door to Harrah’s. By this point we were already getting giggly and I demanded that the security guard strip search Andy (he declined). Unfortunately Harrah’s doesn’t have a buffet either. They did have signs up for some sort of steak and seafood night, but neither Andy nor I care much for seafood, so we hung around for a few minutes, had a couple more drinks and left.
On the way out we asked the security guard who had the best buffet in town. He mentioned some casino 10 miles away. We hopped in the van, but while we were pulling out we saw a big sign which read “Corky’s BBQ Buffet: $9.99 Fri-Sun) in front of Sam’s Town Casino. It was close and it sounded affordable, so we went there instead.
Well, almost. We got in line to pay and asked to pay separately. Andy’s bill was $20.80. When he said it was supposed to be separate, the lady said “that is!” We then said we had just seen a sign that said “$9.99″ and she said “on a Friday night? No way.” Of course we had already started drinking so we thought maybe it was our mistake, so we paid the $20 for Sam’s Town’s Grand Buffet and moved on.
Now one thing I will say is, The Sam’s Town Grand Buffet is worth $20. Similar to the Rio in Vegas, there are different food stations (Asian Station, Down-Home Cooking, etc). The whole center of the buffet was a pile of shrimp and crab legs, about eight feet wide and two or three feet tall. Andy grabbed not one but two steaks for his plate, while I loaded up on Chinese cuisine and Tex-Mex specialties. When the waiter came by and asked me what I wanted to drink, I said “Diet Coke.” When they asked Andy, he said Coors Lite. “Why are you going to go and pay for a drink when we can get them free in the casino?” I asked him. Andy then pointed to a sign on the table which read, “beer and wine included in the buffet.” We then decided that this buffet was actually closer to Heaven than the KFC buffet. For the next hour or so we ate, drank, and stumbled around the buffet.
After we got done gorging ourselves, we headed into Sam’s Town. We played a few slot machines and started playing video poker. After losing money for a while I hit four of a kind and won $40. The machine I was playing let you do a double or nothing by playing a hi/low card with the computer. I did it, and doubled my winnings to $80. I took the money and ran.
After cashing out there we went to Fitzgerald’s. Fitzgerald’s was very busy, very bustling, and very Vegas-like. Now one thing you have to know is Andy’s favorite musician is Elvis. The last time we went to Tunica we found these Elvis slot machines that paid great and had little screens in them that played Elvis videos and whatnot. After searching the casinos and asking employees, we finally found some at Fitzgerald’s.
Fitzgerald’s has an Irish theme so I thought we would do well here using the Luck ‘o the Irish, but it just wasn’t in the cards (note: worst cliché ever). Even Elvis wasn’t good to us. “Damn the King!” we shouted after each loss on the slots. Eventually we got bored of losing money to Elvis so we made our way to the stage at the bar (imagine that) where we sat for a few minutes, drinking Rum and Cokes (my turn to order) and listening to the band. At one point Andy changed it up and ordered us a pair of Strawberry Daiquiris but pretty much we stuck to the basics.
After our bad luck at Fitzgerald’s we decided to head back to the Hollywood and call it a night. It was midnight.
We stumbled out of bed around 7am and had Little Debbie’s Honey Buns and flat Diet Pepsi for breakfast. One of the first things I wanted to do was check out all of the memorabilia at the Hollywood Casino and take some pictures, so we started that around 8am.
Next to the elevator were several props from the Adams Family movies. That’s Uncle Fester’s electric chair, Gomez’s boots, Lidia’s wig, and Cousin It.
Andy stands next to the train used in Under Seige 2, starring Steven Seagal.
These are the costumes from Jurassic Park. That’s a raptor’s head.
Here’s a helicopter model used in Rambo. It’s hard to tell the scale in this picture but I would guess that the model was about four feet in length.
Next to Rambo’s helicopter was a miniature of the jet from True Lies. Those are 12″ dolls hanging off of the plane, so you can kind of tell the scale (again, about four feet in length). It’s too bad they didn’t have the full sized plane there though.
OH WAIT THEY DID. Yup, hanging over the casino floor was the full sized plane used in True Lies.
This mermaid wasn’t from a movie or anything, but “have my picture made with a mermaid” was on my list of “things to do before I die”, so I guess I can mark that one off.
I’m Batman. Or at least his car.
Here’s me with Batman. Or at least his car.
Andy the Elvis Fan got a kick out of Elvis’ car from Spinout. Each of these car displays also had small monitors running video loops of each of these movies. I can now say I’ve seen 20 seconds of the movie “Spinout” starring Elvis.
The centerpiece of the room is this mamma-jamma Titanic display. It weighs 6,000 lbs according to the informative placard and I’m guessing it stuck out of the water somewhere between 30-40 feet. Surrounding the display were several props used in the Titanic movie and (I believe) a few vintage Titanic items.
My favorite item was the DeLorean from Back to the Future. Here I am blocking most of it.
Here it is, without me blocking it. We decided that if worst came to worst and we lost all of our money, we could hop in the car, hit 88mph and go back in time to before we got to Tunica and try all over again.
Here are the controls. I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be that hard to set it back two days.
Kong, the Eighth Wonder of the World. I don’t think this was from any particular movie. Still, it was pretty cool to sit under both him and a helicopter and drink.
Once our little sight-seeing adventure was over we decided to walk next door to Harrah’s and try our luck at a little table action. It was 9am.
After scouting out the action (and trying to figure out the rules), Andy and I plopped down at a Blackjack table. The cheapest we found was $5/hand, so that seemed like the best place to learn the ropes. Now despite anything I’ve ever said about being a lucky Irish boy, Andy is lucky at cards. Before long he had turned his $40 worth of chips into a $100 stack. He made it look so easy that I decided to have a sit and try it out. In ten minutes I managed to lose my $40 allowance. Andy was pretty much staying even around $100 at this point. After the cocktail waitress came by, I headed over to the Elvis slots while Andy stayed at the table. I’m not sure what happened, but within another fifteen minutes both of us were broke, so we decided to say “screw Harrah’s” and see what other casinos Tunica had to offer.
First we hit Sam’s Town. Not much luck there, so it was back to Fitzgerald’s. No luck there either.
Next we hit the Horseshoe and the Sheridan. No exciting action at either one.
Finally, we hit Bally’s.
When we got to Bally’s we were thinking about eating lunch but we ended up finding Video Blackjack at the bar. We found that with our new found Blackjack knowledge, we were actually doing pretty good. The bartender at Bally’s name was Brian, but he had a nametag on that read “Chachi” (said he had lost a bet). Brian kept the Coors flowing (I think at one point we each had six bottle caps) and then asked us what we were doing later. When we told him we didn’t have any plans, we got our first comp of the trip.
For about ten seconds we actually considered driving over to Cabaret Tunica for lunch, until we realized that those places actually charge for beer, so we scrapped the idea. By that point in time we had knocked back another five or so Rum and Cokes (plus we had learned the secret of ordering “double-shots”) and were getting a little tired of just sitting and drinking all morning, so we decided to head into the town of Tunica itself and see what they had to offer for lunch (note: don’t bother).
After a 20 minute drive to Tunica, we found: McDonald’s, Sonic, Church’s Chicken, and Subway. The actual town of Tunica is about three blocks long, one block wide, and crawling with cops. We counted eight different cop cars as we sat and ate our Sonic burgers. Bored and full, we headed back to the casinos.
Over the next couple of hours we tried our luck at the Goldstrike, the Horseshoe, and the Sheridan. What we eventually realized was that we weren’t having nearly as much fun as we had been having back at Bally’s, so back to Bally’s we went.
Once back at Bally’s we went straight back to the bar again and started playing video Blackjack once again. After about two hours there, we told the new bartender (a cool guy named Randy) that we were thinking about leaving to go find some dinner. Randy would have no part of that! Before we knew it, the floor manager was standing between Andy and I, giving us free buffet passes. The staff informed us that a band would be hitting the stage soon and that they would save our places for us, so off to the buffet we went.
Now by this time I have to say that the two of us were pretty smashed. Since we had been back at Bally’s we had had seven or eight drinks, on top of the six beers and five or six double shots we had downed before we left the first time, so we went to the buffet and ate and basically wound back down a little. After a few minutes of chilling out, we headed back to our poker machines.
Back at the bar these two girls and their husbands sat down. They were all in town for a big blackjack tournament. We had a good time talking to them and took turns ordering drinks for one another (all drinks are free at the bar). So I would order four and shout, “drinks on me!” and everyone would laugh, and then they would do it the next time around.
I lost track of how much we drank while the band was playing but the little note I wrote down read “5 BN” (five Buttery Nipples), “2 CL” (two Coors Lites), “1 WA” (one Washington Apple that tasted just like a Jolly Rancher!), “5 RC” (five double rum and Cokes), and “2 ?”. The “2 ?” drinks are what did me in. While Andy was in the restroom I told the bartender to make us two really strong drinks to surprise Andy with when he got back. Randy gave me two drinks and I drank mine and instantly my chest started burning and my face got all hot. But then I thought “hey, wouldn’t it be funny if I downed them both?” so I drank Andy’s too and then I instantly thought, “boy I shouldn’t have done that.” I sat back down and the girls next to us and the bartender were all staring at me and all I could say is, “I shouldn’t have done that.” Then Andy came back from the bathroom and I told him the good news and the bad news (that I had ordered a drink for him and that I drank it). Then Randy came back and said that we was going to start “slowing down the party” for all of us and he was going to go on a 30 minute break and that we couldn’t have anything to drink until he got back.
So we went driving instead.
Whee! I’m really not as bad off as this picture makes it look. Something about taking your own picture always makes you look like an idiot.
I don’t know what Andy’s doing on his phone in this picture, or why his door is open. Fortunately the air bags never deployed so nothing too major must’ve went wrong.
We made it back to our room at the Hollywood. It was 10:30pm. Andy said we were going to go upstairs, regroup ourselves, and hit the casino floor. Two minutes later, he was snoring in his bed, lying the wrong way.
Sometime shortly after, he took this picture of me.
I’m not sure which one of us took this picture but I think it accurately depicts how we both felt at the time.
Believe it or not, we got up and around at 8am. The Hollywood desk clerk told us to go check with the VIP lounge to see if they would comp part of our room price off, but the problem ended up being we spent all our money at Bally’s, so no deal for us.
Andy and I took one last stroll through the casino, looking for a place to spend all his left over nickels and dimes. We couldn’t find any machines to take them and the cashiers wouldn’t take our small change, so we decided it was a sign to leave with what little money we (he) had left and call it a trip.
After loading up the van, we headed west. We made it about two hours and I told Andy I really needed a break from driving. We pulled over at a rest stop, and while Andy went to go use the restroom, I went to sleep.
The entire side of that hill was covered in stickers and I couldn’t have cared less.
It seemed comfy at the time.
Then I made Andy give me the camera and while I took his picture I remember thinking, “wow he’s really tall.” Finally I got up and Andy picked all the stickers out of my shirt. We drove for a couple more hours until we found a good place to stop and eat.
This is by far the most ghetto Western Sizzler either of us have ever seen. Their buffet consisted of about eight items: fried chicken, mashed potatoes, corn, and okra were the four I had. I think they also had beets and maybe liver. The salad bar was slightly better (but not much). Believe it or not, Andy ran into some people he knew there who were also from Mustang, so we talked to them for a few minutes.
We didn’t ask.
Our final fill up of the trip.
Although we walked away from Tunica with empty wallets, we also brought home with us some great memories of a fun weekend. Our new goal is to learn all the strategies of Blackjack so that next year when we come back we can break the bank.
Yeah, right. ;)