Go West, Young Man!

6 10 2013

Sunday, October 6, 2013

325 Miles

Last leg.  We took our time this morning – we are in no hurry to end this ride.

Lobby of the Crowne Plaza. Notice the hanging balloons.

Lobby of the Crowne Plaza. Notice the hanging balloons.

Breakfast is at the hotel restaurant again.  My last chance at poached eggs for a while.  Today I order them with asparagus, tomato AND New Mexico Green Chiles – a fantastic addition.

IMG_9392We must get out of here or we will never get home.  Lexi takes us on I-40 and really wants us to continue on it all the way.  We have different ideas.  Rich is driving so I pull out a real map and lead us down a lesser road into rural New Mexico.  The scenery really is pretty, but how do people live here in the middle of nowheresville?

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Scenery on I-40 not so pretty.

We called Johnny from the road and arranged to meet at Red, White and Brew (by our house) for a late lunch/early dinner.  Can’t wait to see that boy.  The miles rolled past (not fast enough) and pretty soon we were in Mesa.  We came from 50 degrees to about 92 degrees in about 5 hours.  Welcome home.

IMG_9394It was great to see and hug John.  We had a nice, relaxing late lunch before driving the final 10 minutes to our home.

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It has been a wonderful trip.  We think perhaps the best Florida driving trip we have had.  Maybe that is due to us knowing how to do it by now, or maybe we were just lucky.  In any case, the adventure was awesome and I am ready to start planning for our next one…

Thanks to our friends and family for following us!





Great Day in Albuquerque

5 10 2013

Saturday, October 5, 2013
0 Miles

Last golf day of the trip.  Thank Heaven our tee time is late (10:00) because it is COLD.  I have time to fit in a YAYOG workout before breakfast.

The hotel has slipped vouchers under our door for breakfast at their restaurant.  That makes it easy.  They have a buffet, but we choose to order off the menu. I continue my poached eggs quest and order them with tomatoe and asparagus.  Rich has French Toast.
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Off we go to the Santa Ana Golf Club.  On the way we pass the park that is the headauarters of the Balloon Fiesta. Looking into the sky we see probably a hundred balloons floating around!  They all look way cool. There is one that is shaped like a hummingbird that is especially groovy.
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The hummingbird is just to the right of the post - try zooming to see it.

The hummingbird is just to the right of the post – try zooming to see it.

Santa Ana Golf Club looks great.  The staff is very nice and we end up getting paired up with Scott and Phil – two really fun guys. What a beautiful track. The Sandia Peaks loom in the background and the course is in great shape.  It is not too difficult, but has its moments.  The greens are super fast and you do NOT want to be above the hole (which we seem to be on every approach!)
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There was one hole in particular that had an interesting challenge.  Both Rich and I hit our tee shots into the water. When we drove up to retrieve them and take our penalties, we see that they are only slightly in the water.  Mine is sitting in a couple inches of grass and water and Rich’s is sitting in the mud and water.  We both decide to hit our balls out of the water – why not?
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Unfortunately, Rich’s ball came off the toe and went back into the water.

Rich took a video of my water shot. Check it out HERE.  Mine actually was a great shot and allowed me to wind up sitting 2 instead of 3.  Fun!

Tonight we have a dinner reservation at Los Poblanos.  Somehow I found this place online and it captured my attention.  Los Poblanos is an historic inn and organic farm. They offer “Farm to Table” dinner to non-guests at their restaurant – La Merienda. I made this reservation a couple of months ago and have really been looking forward to wrapping up our trip here.

Driving the twenty minutes to Los Poblanos takes us to  a part of Alququerque that is kind of out of the way.  The entrance is enchanting in the dark with a long, tree-lined driveway.  It is really dark out here – there are just a few well-placed lights to direct you from the parking lot to the inn. We feel we have found a secret place.

We are greeted at the door by Michelle (our server) and wished “Happy Anniversary!” (I had forgotten that I told them it was our anniversary.  Hey, we can celebrate al year long if we want.) She shows us to an intimate table for two and suggests that we enjoy a complimentary glass of champagne.  Twist my arm.

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The menu looks fantastic and I want to order one of everything. We settle on the cheese plate to start and then will see where we want to go after that.  Would we like a drizzle of the 16 year old balsamic with that.  Are you kidding me?  Yes, please.

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The cheese plate is perfect.  One of the best we have had (yes, Poncelet).  The accompaniments that come with it are outstanding.  We have three cheeses: Tartanaise with Plum Mostarda and house made date/walnut crackers, A smoked Point Reyes Blue (smoked over hazlenuts) paired with tiny slices of Bourbon Gelee and house made water crackers, and a super creamy Brie (that even Rich loved) with Fig Preserves and house made Graham Crackers.  We enjoyed every last morsel.

Cheese board

Cheese board

the aftermath

the aftermath

After the cheese appetizer we decided to split just one entree.  Tough choice but Michelle tipped the scales when she told us the duck was her favorite.  Omg. We both paired the duck with a glass of Malbec that was perfect.

Smoked Muscovy Duch

Smoked Muscovy Duck

As usual, we closed down the place.  Put Los Poblanos on your short list if you are even close to Albuquerque.  It is definitely on our list to make a couple of night’s stop – stay at the Inn and dine at La Merienda.

When we return to the Crowne Plaza the entire parking lot is full.  What is going on?  Balloonia?  We stop into the bar to ask Don and find out that there is a wedding, the “loonies” AND a Mixed Martial Arts gathering.  Great.  Hope they don’t plan on partying all night cause we are crashing and burning.

Tomorrow we make the final circuit of our trip and go directly home. I am kind of ready to be home, but I am not sure I am ready to end this adventure.





Balloonia

4 10 2013

Friday, October 4, 2013

600+ Miles

Major travel day today.  We plan to make it all the way to Albuquerque where we will spend the final 2 nights of our adventure.  We say a quick “goodbye” to Betsy, set Lexi (navigation) for our destination and take off.

Something doesn’t look right.  When I was planning the trip (MP, you know) I calculated around 600 miles for today meaning 8-9 hours.  Lexi is telling us that Alququerque is more than 750 miles and 14 hours away!  I am driving so Rich gets out his phone map and quickly re-routes us on a much more sane route.  Lexi protests for about an hour and then finally succumbs to our wishes.

I chuckled when we started seeing the signs for the restaurant in Amarillo that advertises FREE 72oz STEAK! I remember seeing it when we were coming from the West with Janel and Pablo.  I alerted Janel via text and asked if we should stop.  Of course, she said “Yes to Steak” but we kept on truckin’.

We finally arrived in Albuquerque and easily found the Crowne Plaza Hotel.  When I was planning and first decided to stay a couple of nights in Albuquerque (to golf one day) I thought it was strange that the first couple of hotels I chose were full.  Really?  In Alququerque? I looked online to try and see why and discovered that this weekend is the annual International Balloon Fiesta! I quickly snagged the Crowne Plaza for two nights using Priority Club points.

We were in for a shock when we stepped out of the car.  The temp was in the 50′s!  We were not prepared for that.  It really felt great after spending the last 6 weeks fighting the heat/humidity. Our only concern is that we don’t have the proper clothes for golf tomorrow.  We are going to freeze!

The parking lot was full of trucks with balloons and gondolas in their beds.  Clearly, everyone is in town for the festival.  There is some concern that the “loonies” will be partying hard all night.  I have read the schedule of activities and know that they have an early (5:00am) sunrise balloon lift-off.  We hope they will get up and out quietly.

We were very pleasantly surprised to find that the Rancher’s Club Steakhouse is housed in the hotel.  A quick check on Yelp told is that it is rated excellent and is known as the premier steakhouse in Albuquerque. Hmmm.

Dinner plans will be discussed over Happy Hour at the Rancher’s Club bar.  It is a wonderful room leather sofas and chairs and a great looking bar.  We opt to sit at the bar. Good choice.  Don, the bartender, is an absolute gem.  He is so personable and has a twinkle in his eye.  We talk about golf with him and he tells us that the course we are going to play tomorrow is great – we will love it.

Don tells us that we can get the full Steakhouse menu at the bar and proceeds to set menus in front of us while he tells us that the Oysters have been flown in today and are super fresh.  Yes, please.

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Rich and I really enjoy eating at the bar area of many restaurants.  It isn’t quite as formal as table service and many times the service from the bartender is super. We decide to stay and order after consulting Don on menu choices. Oh, and it sealed the deal when we found out that a jazz combo is just setting up and will start shortly.

The combo (piano, sax, upright bass) is great (does it get any better?) They play lesser known jazz standards and we love the music.

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Dinner selections are spot on. I have the Bison Filet and Polenta while Rich goes for the Baseball cut Sirloin and Twice-Baked Potato.  Both are excellent. We both chose the Wild Mushroom Demi-glace.  I could drink it out of a shot glass…
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No room for dessert, but Don gives us several pieces of chocolate that I can’t resist.  We feel very lucky to have stumbled upon the Rancher’s Club and we didn’t even have to leave our hotel.

There are still “loonies” hanging out at the other bar in the hotel.  Hope they go to bed soon.

 





Day Off in Keller

3 10 2013

Thursday, October 3, 2013
0 Miles

Family time in Keller.  Not many pics so this will be short and sweet.

Bets, Rich and I went to one of her favorite places for breakfast/brunch: Stevie’s Diner.
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The inside of Stevie’s is a throwback to the 1960′s. There are great old album covers all along the walls and we had fun pointing out the ones that we all remember.  This was back when album art was at its peak.  Stevie’s serves typical diner fare and I got back on my poached eggs kick (benedict without the hollandaise).

I never make these at home - they will be missed.

I never make these at home – they will be missed.

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I got dumped back at “home” while Rich and Bets took off to buy a new patio table.  We were afraid that 3 people AND the table would not fit into the SUV. I fit in Levi’s Day Two workout and then passed out on the sofa. They came back with the goods and Rich was set up for an afternoon project of putting the table together while Betsy and I chatted.

We picked up Dave from school, visited with him a bit before he had to leave.  Abby opted out of going with us to dinner so we just hoofed it to Baja Grill where the Margaritas were killer.
IMG_9362Food wasn’t bad either!

Great carnitas!

Great carnitas!

Bets enjoys a Spinach Quesadilla

Bets enjoys a Spinach Quesadilla

Back at home we managed to sneak in several hands of cards (Crazy 8′s, Kings in the Corner and 3 person War) with Abby before her bedtime.  She won all 3 games!

Since we have a long drive in the morning we turned in early.  It has been a really short, but great visit with Bets and her kids.  We are very happy that we made the stop in Keller!





A Little More Family Time

2 10 2013

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

389 Miles

Foggy morning in Eunice today.  I jump on the “And Jacks” workout that Levi sent me and then we are ready to go.  A quick breakfast is eaten in the breakfast (Raisin Bran, etc). While Rich packs up he is gnawed on by several hungry mosquitos.  How do folks live in such humid conditions???

IMG_9347This morning’s route takes us through some nice countryside in rural Louisiana.  Did you know they grow rice in Louisiana?  I didn’t.  We soon end up on the interstate and the miles click by.

We are heading to Rich’s sister’s house (Betsy) where we will stay and visit with her and her two children (Abby and David) for a couple of days.  We haven’t seen them in a while and are looking forward to re-connecting with family.  Bets lives in Keller, TX which is a suburb of Dallas.

The Big D in Texas

The Big D in Texas

Traffic is a little hairy around Dallas but fortunately we are too eary for the real rush hour.  We skirt around all the construction that is going on and make it to Keller without incident!

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The afternoon is spent catching up with Bets and the kids.  They have gotten so big!  Abby graced us with a flute concert that was wonderful.  That kid has talent! It is a good thing I snapped a couple of pictures here because I soon found out that she refuses to have her picture taken.

Caught her with this one!

Caught her with this one!

That was all she wrote (too bad because she is a cutie)

That was all she wrote (too bad because she is a cutie)

Bets and Rich are catching up

Bets and Rich are catching up

Rich and I go with Bets to pick up David at high school.  He is a Cross Country runner on the track team and has stayed for after school practice. We can’t believe how he has grown up.

Dinner prep

Dinner prep

Bets prepares dinner for us with Roast Pork, Cauliflower, Broccoli and noodles.  We all enjoy sitting in her dining room and especially looking at all the family pics on her walls.

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The kids head upstairs to finish homework (I remember those days) and the three adults sit an chat for awhile.  It is really nice to have a couple of “down” days here in Keller.





Deep into Cajun Country

1 10 2013

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

224 Miles

The last couple of nights at the Palace have been fun – such a different venue for us.  We have an early tee time this morning and then are going to get back on the road.

We purchase coffee and two huge muffins at the casino coffee shop.  When I go to pay I hand the cashier my Player’s Card in order to get a small discount.  She informs me that I have enough points to pay for the whole breakfast.  Cool. I resist the urge to throw another $20 into my Gold machine and we are outta there.

Today we will be playing The Preserve, the Palace Casino’s sponsored course. I have read that it is really nice and we are looking forward to a complete change of pace from the Dogwood Hills course of yesterday.  Just coming upon the sign for The Preserve lets us know that this will be a horse of a different color. (compare it with the Dogwood Hills sign on yesterday’s blog)
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We are further encouraged when we notice that even the grass on the side of the road leading to the cluhouse is fully manicured.  The clubhouse is beautiful and the guy at bag services greets us with a warm, Southern style.  Our first glimpse creates a great impression.

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100+ year old Live Oak tree (notice superintendent's dog dutifully waiting in the cart for him)

100+ year old Live Oak tree (notice superintendent’s dog dutifully waiting in the cart for him)

Beautiful morning at The Preserve

Beautiful morning at The Preserve

Practicing on the putting green gives us encouragement that The Preserve will actually have grass on their greens.  The place is virtually empty and we are told that we can head to the first tee whenever we are ready.
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The fairways are absolutely beautiful – perfectly maintained grass and divots have been filled.  It is like a nice, soft carpet.  The rough is kind of deep, but not impossible to hit out of.  Everything goes well.  Until…we reach the green. This is true on every hole.  Neither of us can sink a putt. There are very subtle breaks that are impossible to read and the greens are super fast.  Rich claims that there is a flag on every green, but no holes!
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Our front nines are not good.  We get a little more used to the greens on the back and have pretty good back nines.  It is a good thing this course is so pretty. It is extremely frustrating to get to the green in regulation only to realize the ball will not fall into the hole.

Should I even bother to putt this?

Should I even bother to putt this?

We looked for critters all along the way.  It appeared as if there would be wildlife all over – snakes, deer, coons, etc.  Finally, when we reached the 18th green we spied our first and only critter:

hello...

hello…

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Rich and one of the employees got into a discussion regarding ObamaCare and the government “shutdown” that happened today.  People are definitely passionate one way or the other on this issue.  We ended up listening to CNN all afternoon during our drive.  I am sure the Government Shutdown of 2013 will go down in the history books.  (I am avoiding being opinionated here on ObamaCare or anything else to do with politics…)

We had a pretty nice drive through Louisiana until we got near Baton Rouge and drove into a big thunderstorm. Wow.  The rain was really coming down. I was glad when we finally drove out of it.

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Our stop for the night is Eunice, Lousiana.  It was chosen striclty because it is halfway to Keller (tomorrow’s destination) and we coud get a room at the Holiday Inn Express using their reward program points. When we checked in we were “upgraded” and given Cheetos and water bottles!  (a bit different from an upgrade at the Four Seasons)

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Jacuzzi tub in living area!

Jacuzzi tub in living area!

Where is the pot of gold?

Where is the pot of gold?

Our only order of business for the rest of the evening is to ifind a place for dinner.  Not such an easy task in Eunice.  When I searched on Yelp I found 3 Cajun places (this is absolutely Cajun country- boudin balls are advertised all along the way): Rocky’s, Ronnie’s and Ruby’s.  Ruby’s gets the best reviews, but it is closed on Tuesdays.  Reviews on the other 2 are mixed and generally not great.  It will either be one of those or Popeye’s chicken. (Janet claims they have a decent Shrimp Po Boy).

We decide to do a “drive-by” of both Rocky’s and Ronnie’s to see if we can get a feel for them.  We pass Ronnie’s first.  There is a couple in the parking lot who are just leaving.  Rich says the woman looks like she is getting ready to puke. (she was bent over rubbing her stomach but I think there must have been a reasonable explanation).  We drive on to Rocky’s.  Looks even lower rent.  Back to Ronnie’s.

Ronnie's

Ronnie’s

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Ronnie’s is not much on atmosphere but there are several other customers inside which gives us hope that the food will at least be edible.  OUr server gives us the menu and it is fairly extensive with a variety of Cajun specialities.  I order the special Eggplant (fried eggplant covered with Crawfish Etoufee – how bad can that be?) and Rich has the Catfish Ronnie (grilled catfish covered with the same Crawfish Etoufee).

We were both pleasantly surprised with our dinners.  Seriously, I loved mine!  Not much to look at, but it was delicious.  The etoufee was perfect – not too spicy and very flavorful with lots of crawfish.  The eggplant was super delicious and the battered fried coating paired beautifully with the etoufee (I felt a bit guilty since they were fried).  I could have eaten my entire place, but made myself STOP.  Rich’s catfish was almost as good.

Eggplant with Crawfish Etoufee

Eggplant with Crawfish Etoufee

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Glad we stopped at Ronnie’s.  Just goes to show you not to judge a book by its cover.  There are truly some hidden gems out there if you take the time to uncover them.

Tomorrow we leave for Keller to visit with Rich’s sister (Betsy) and our neice and nephew (Abby and David).  Can’t wait to see them!





The Palace Casino

30 09 2013

A bit of a “day off” today.  We rose late and enjoyed the in-room coffee.  Linda dutifully took to a YAYOG session while I dutifully took a shower.  (I am proud of her stick-to-it approach to the workouts – some of them are really tough.)

We hit the casino grill for breakfast, Linda with a couple of eggs, bacon, and grits, while I had yogurt, granola, and fruit, plus a couple of eggs.  Decent fare – and we especially enjoyed the bacon, which is a featured item from a Wisconsin provider called Nueskes.

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Breakfast at the casino

Picked up a mondo blueberry muffin at the adjacent bakery, then we set off for today’s golf course. We drove through the center of Biloxi, then found I110 north about 13 miles to the Dogwood Hills Golf Course. Judging from course signage, you could already tell what sort of place this was going to be. But hey that’s OK, I thought, we like a wide variety in our golfing.

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Welcome to Dogwood Hills

We talked at length to the staffer on hand, who asked about our travels.  We discussed some Florida golf courses, which prompted him to start excusing the course, stating they have some grass problems.  Uh-oh. He mentioned that there was a lot of maintenance needed and that some areas were “really ratty.”  Uh-oh.  He described the course as a “pasture course.”  Really.

Well, let’s see if I can adequately describe this course.  Um.   Our first hint was on the greens.  Using the Stimp meter, these greens were 0.2.  To you non-golfers, that means that if you use a cannon you still couldn’t propel the ball to the hole.  Like putting on Velcro, through cotton candy.  Now, picture weeds sprouting up about every 4 to 6 inches to deflect your ball randomly left and right.

So bad that Linda I decided immediately that all putts would automatically be 2-putts (unless you sink it on your first try of course).  Even then neither of us could reach the hole.

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Teeing off (anyway)

OK, so we get to a 410 yard par 4 on the front 9 and I hit a good drive down the pike.  I reach my ball and it’s about 120 yards from the pin.  Sounds good, except, where is the pin?  The very last 30 yards of the fairway turns wildly right, and the green is tucked in behind a wall of towering trees.  Um, good hole design.

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Linda carries the swamp

Picture a later par 4 about 330 yards.  Two large mature trees flank each side of the fairway about 200 yards out, with a narrow 30 yards between them.  OK, you might think a nice straight drive will do the trick – EXCEPT for the third large mature tree sitting smack dab in the middle of the fairway about 260 yards out, right in front of the green.  I try to tee off to the left of the lefthand tree and end up hitting OB.  Swell layout.

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The green is right behind the middle tree

We finish the 16th green.  We see the 17th tee box is to the immediate left, and the 18th tee box is to the immediate right.  That should have told us something, but I just figured there would be a long cart ride to the 18th tee.

We tee off from #17, sensing that it’s a dogleg right, find our balls, then scout out the hole.  Where is it?  Well, “dogleg right” is hardly a suitable description.  This fairway actually does a hairpin right turn, doubling back on itself about 160 degrees.  Yep, you guessed it, back up to the (17th green and) 18th tee box.  It is by far the screwiest hole layout I’ve ever encountered.

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Fairway, rough or green – take your pick

Despite the quirky conditions, Linda and I both shot semi-respectable 85s, though nothing to write home about.  We both hesitantly post the score to GHIN, because neither of us can quite call this “golf.”  But, we chalk it up as an enjoyable warm-up round for our play tomorrow.

The round was only $18pp – but this only serves to reinforce Janet’s recent admonition.  Cheap is not necessarily good.

A beautiful afternoon nap leads into an early evening visit to the casino.  Getting a new player’s club card nets you $10 playing credit, and Linda finally cajoles me into getting mine.  Yesterday, I’ve already picked out the machine I think is a hot one, and so I use the house credit to try it out.  It is one of the old style “Sizzling” 7 machines.  Eight $0.75 plays later I cash out with a $75 profit, and even go to the kiosk and cash it out in money.  Done for me.  Linda cannot quite understand this mode of play, but I believe in clearing profits off the table.

We hang around further so that Linda can play.  She enjoys the actual action of playing much more than I do, and is willing to stretch out the action.  She flits from machine to machine, enjoying the “Crystal” and “Gold” machines the best I think.  At times she’s up $20 or $30, and then down $20 or $30, but finishes pretty even.

We hit the Sports Bar for dinner and get a great table overlooking the rabid crowd gathered to watch the Saints-Dolphins game on Monday Night Football on at least fifty TVs.  It is a raucous crowd that yells out with every play – what a blast!  The Saints end up pounding the Dolphins too which only adds to the fun.  The staff raffles off a few items between quarters and Linda’s ticket hits!  One of the nice guys we’ve met yells out “Go Phoenix!” as Linda accepts her prize (a Bud Light cap).

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Go Saints

Linda leaves during the 2nd quarter to go play more slots.  When I text her later I learn she’s up over $150 already – wow!  I search around in the casino and finally find her on a “Jackpot Factory” machine.  She’s up about $165.  But unfortunately, her next 15 plays yield practically nothing.  With that, I decide I’ve brought her bad luck and retire to the room to watch the rest of the game, leaving her to play.

Alas, Linda returns a couple hours later about even again.  But she’s had fun on the machines – it’s all an entertainment value.  Our stay at the Palace Casino has been a real success.  The staff and clinetele at this casino is very friendly, the food pretty decent (at Mignon better than decent), and the gambling fun.  Something different for us for sure.  The smoke-free environment is especially great – hard to believe that an entire casino can adopt this idea and execute it so well.








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