Archive for February, 2011

   We are not gamblers and seldom if ever go concerts and so Elaine and I have spent very little time at any of the tribal casinos. But we’ve been watching the billboards around the Valley waiting for one of them to announce an upcoming concert by someone we both really wanted to see. Finally after all these years, the right person showed up and the date worked great. Melissa Etheridge performing the Thursday after Valentines at Northern Quest was the perfect excuse for an overnight stay/ Valentine super date.

   It really was a great getaway. The room we got was $119 a night and it was nicer than the Couer D’Alene Resort where the rooms cost twice as much. The walk-in, glass-walled shower was amazing with the standard shower head accompanied by a row of three more flat-mounted heads spraying luxurious, horizontal fountains on the bather’s body. The top one hit the chest, the next hit the tummy and the bottom one, well the bottom one hit the bottom if you had your back to the wall. If you were facing the wall, let’s just say their plumbing took care of your plumbing. At any rate, it was quite a pleasant shower.

   Before the concert we had dinner at the River’s Edge Buffet. It was my idea and it was not a good one. The food was decent but the setting was on par with a hospital cafeteria and so it did not enhance the romantic aspect of our Valentine extravaganza. Luckily, Melissa Etheridge put the fire and excitement back into our evening. For me, Melissa is the quintessential troubadour rocker. She has been through a lot, she has written a lot of great songs about what she has been through and she just came out and knocked the socks off everybody in the audience. I love it when someone can sound better  performing one of their classics than they did when they first released it 20 years ago. Even though she is a well-known lesbian and cancer survivor, Melissa is about the sexiest thing going when she gets to pounding on her guitar and belting it out on the mike.

  The concert was over by 9 and so we had a lot of night left in front of us and a lot of ways to get into mischief considering we were at a casino. I don’t know if it is because I work hard for my money or because I have no luck at gambling, but for some reason I have never even understood the lure of gambling let alone be tempted by it which is saying something considering I have the will power of a newborn baby. But we did sit at the one-armed bandits long enough to lose $20 apiece, which meant we barely sat down. But boy oh boy, there certainly were a lot of people there who looked as though they were glued to their seats with construction adhesive and had been for hours.

   I suppose the casino was fuller than normal because of the concert, but most of those people on the machines did not look like they had just gone to the concert. They seemed quite serious as they puffed on their cigarettes, drank their drinks and solemnly stared at the spinning screen as they waited for it to jolt to a stop in one of a million combinations that meant absolutely nothing to me. In my short go at it, I could never tell why I won or how much I was winning, but I was pretty sure that all the diehards knew their machines. And there were a lot of machines, I mean thousands and when we called it a night around midnight, I would guess they were at between 70 and 80 percent capacity.

    I am an early riser while Elaine is late loafer, and so I always get up and wander whenever we stay at a hotel so that I don’t disturb my slumbering spouse. The casino was a great place to have a cup of coffee, read the paper and people watch at 6 in the morning. Though the night’s heaving mass of gamblers had evaporated sometime in the wee hours of the night, a new crowd had already started forming even before I wandered along. I ran into an old friend who recently went to work there serving cocktails to the gamblers. She said she loves her shift which goes from 6 to 2 because she’soff by mid afternoon. You would be surprised she said how many drinks she serves for breakfast.

   Another benefit she loves is the fact that all the hundreds of employees get to eat free at a buffet in the employees’ cafeteria . She said it is great food and you can eat all you want. That pretty much blew my mind. You talk about a recession-proof place to work. On the public side, gamblers are stuffing their money in the slot machines as fast as they can while the casino is making so much off them that they can afford to pay for hundreds and hundreds of free meals each day for the help.

   What a world away from Bowdish and Sprague where Ringo’s Casino has sat empty for more than a month. The funny thing is that it seemed to be healthy as far as Valley casinos go. Aces casino left  the Valley about five years ago. Jerry’s Casino came and went in the span of less than a year in the building where Ferraro’s is at now and Players and Spectators recently shut down their casino only to start back up with Ringo’s misplaced crew last month.

   Now the owner of Aces, which has been running up on North Division for years, is getting ready to fire Ringo’s back up. The guy is obviously a serious gambler. I used to think that running a nightclub was about the craziest game in the hospitality business, but now I believe it is trying to make a casino work anywhere other than on tribal trust land. What chance do they have?

   These casinos in town are like the old  Mom and Pop neighborhood grocery stores that used to be around in the old days, whereas places like Northern Quest are the Wal Marts or maybe even shopping malls for that matter. The little old stores were convenient but they didn’t have the gas and so they all went under. It is the same with the in-town casinos versus the tribal casinos. The big ones have all the gas with their slot machines, and 30-foot big screens and entertainers like Melissa. The whole thing kind of chaps my hide a little because of how unfair the competition is, though I do not begrudge the Indians their windfall because they have gotten the short end of the stick for about the last 200 years or so.

   I hope that the new Ringo’s and Players and Spectators do well with their upstart casinos. But I tend to think they ought to let the weak souls of the Valley hop on the shuttles and go out to the hinterlands for their gambling. I know that I can’t do much to help since I don’t gamble and they don’t have any of those heavenly showers.

The hastily written sign taped on the front door of the Fubar said “closed for roof repairs”. That is the proprietor’s official excuse for having locked the doors mid January.  Having operated our nightclub, The Rock Inn, for nearly four years in that building, Elaine and I can attest to the dilapidated condition of the building’s roof. It is as neglected as a drunk sleeping at the bar.

I remember the worst night we had. It was a December weekend night and so we had a nice 30 person  Christmas party scheduled in the banquet room, a 70-person in another area  and our niteclub was packed. We probably had about five leak spots that required pans to catch the steady drips. The bad part was that one of those pans had to be placed right in one of the chairs at the the table of the 30 person party and one had to be conspicously placed next to the Au Jus sauce on the buffet line of the larger party. The smaller group happened to be our attorneys office and the larger group was from the county courthouse and so there were several judges and prosecutors and their staffs.

It never dawned on us to ask them if the drips they had to endure might be a way for us to wiggle out of our lease. But then why should we want to do that, we were packed and the place was making money. We just called the landlord who sent his handyman out in the middle of the downpour and sure enough the guy got all the leaks patched up. Turns out he had a lot of experience at patching up that roof.

That night was probably six winters past and it was in dire need of a new roof back then. The landlord had been patching leaks for years. A large section had been covered years before with cheap rolled roofing, the type used on old barns and outbuildings. But that was good enough to get by, I guess, and avoid putting out $30k to $40 for a new roof.

Under normal conditions the roof does not leak even when it is raining. But when the conditions get like they were in mid January this year or like they were for us that night then all hell breaks loose and it is like someone turned on the fire sprinklers inside. It basically takes a good snowfall followed by warm and heavy rain. The water gets pooled and puddled up and finds all kinds of places to seep into the building.

For the owner of the Fubar, it was the perfect storm. It was a blast of wet and warm weather that delivered him from a very cold environment. They had opened at the beginning of July and by mid-January they were looking for a way out and it came from above. I know what it takes to make money at that location and they were a long way from it.

I wish the Fubar owner success at walking away from the lease. He is just the last in a very long line of misguided dreamers that the landlord has seduced into thinking that building was a goldmine waiting to happen. Besides our last two years there, I truly doubt that there has ever been a profitable fiscal year there since the original owner passed away more than 20 years ago. There have been four unfortunate, money-losing ventures come and go there in the 4 years since the landlord gave us the boot. I don’t believe in grudges and I say let bygones be bygones. But I can’t help but root for the Fubar and hope they become the first escapees from that building and that lease, which I know has broken and bankrupted more than a few dreamers. Let the landlord fix his roof and say goodbye to the one that got away.

I am becoming a bit of an expert when it comes to fastfood breakfast in the Spokane Valley because I have recently developed the habit of going out for a cup of coffee, a bite to eat and to read the morning paper. I’ve done the King, the Box, the Sub and of course all four Macs in Spokane Valley. After a couple of months of breakfast hopping, I have landed upon a dominant personal favorite. In the process, I learned a few things about Spokane Valley’s early morning mobil eating habits that you could only learn, as I did,  by frequenting the ffbf places which I  can assure you not many people do. At least they do not unless they are in their cars.

That was the first thing I discovered as I became familiar with ffbf scene here in Spokane Valley. Nobody comes in and has a bite to eat for breakfast. I have sat and ate my breakfast,drank my coffee and read the paper many times and not had one other person do the same the entire time I was there. I was the only person in the joint.

So what keeps them open for breakfast?  They all do a bang up drive-thru business.  That was the second interesting  thing of little value that I learned in the early hours  in the fast food breakfast scene in our corner of the world. A lot of people eat their breakfast on the fly by way of the drive thru. Think about all of the places you can dash thru and get breakfast or at the very least get a latte. It amazed me at first how empty the restaurants were as I sat and watched a steady stream of drive thruers go by just outside the window.

The most interesting thing I discovered as I open-mindedly tried nearly all the ffbf joints  was that McDonald’s pretty much kicks everybody else’s butt every which way. Jack, the King and Carl all have a surprising steady trickle going through their “thrus.” McDonald’s literally has them waiting in line.

On top of that, McDonald’s is the only one that gets a few people inside to eat. The McDonalds are never heaving but they are never empty which is the only way all the other places ever are. I really am not sure why beyond free coffee refills and new remodelling at two of them. I know I go to them loyally now because they are the only fast food breakfast place that offer Wi-Fi. I find that goofy. But maybe they are onto something because in all the times I have been to McDonald’s, I have never seen anyone on their laptop but myself.

The last thing I’ll mention concerning breakfast lessons I have learned has to do with the food these places are putting out. McDonald’s invented the genre and they remain the team to beat with their biscuits like my granny made and their hotcakes that every one of my kids ate like, well, hotcakes.

But the truth is that they all put out a lot of tasty if not healthy selections for breakfast. I love the french toast sticks at the King and the breakfast bowls at the Box.  I kind of gather that they all understand that  the consumer just wants something reasonably tasty to toss down the tummy as they drive to work or read the paper.