I have never played bingo at a bingo hall. While this is an activity most people associate with the older generations in the United States, I have always maintained a subtle interest in giving the experience a try. For whatever reason, the idea of the air-driven, tumbling numbered balls, the announcer calling letters and numbers, and the massive lit board had some odd appeal to me, and the real possibility of winning real money by stamping bingo cards only served to add to the appeal. As a result, I decided I would make my first experience playing bingo at a bingo hall a part of my “I have never...” journey.
Realizing such an activity would be best reserved for the winter months, I started narrowing in on some dates and locations that would be best suited for my first real bingo experience. Eventually, this resulted in me stumbling upon a weekly bingo event at the storied Madison East Side Club, which seemed the perfect venue for my first experience in a bingo hall. As a result, I checked availability on my calendar and convinced Rachael to brave the cold with me and attend bingo this evening. Excited by the idea, Rachael recruited a friend and experienced bingo player, Mary, to accompany us as we made our way to the East Side Club this evening.
Having never visited the East Side Club previously, I didn’t know what to expect from the location as Rachael and I pulled into the club’s wintery parking lot. Against the building’s dated exterior and wreath of Christmas lights covered the arching canopy over the building entrance. Although the club clearly showed some age, the building provided a warm, welcoming appeal that I found hard to explain. The club had a sort of nostalgic flare usually only found in the rural supper clubs that speckle the state of Wisconsin, but its placement on the shores of Lake Monona overlooking the nearby state capitol building made it a clearly Madisonian venue. The blend of the characteristics was strange, yet it made sense to me somehow. Although I couldn’t quite explain its appeal, I just wanted to go inside.
As we crossed through the glass doors of the building’s entrance, I was happy to see the East Side Club’s charm continued to the interior. A healthy amount of wood paneling and a tile floor turned cream with age met us in the building’s lobby, with a dimly lit overhead light casting fluorescent light across the space. Without hesitation, Rachael and I moved forward toward a quiet stirring coming from beyond two standard wooden doors opening to the next room.
There we found a large, open space lined with table and chairs occupied by ground of older men and women. At the front of the room, a man in a Santa hat sat behind a small structure at the center of a platform and flanked by a classic white and red bingo flashboard. As we prepared to purchase our bingo cards and find some seats, our friend Mary walked through the doors behind us with perfect timing. A bit confused as to how we were supposed to obtain our cards and dabbers for the forthcoming games, Rachael and I deferred to Mary for a quick walkthrough, which left us with bingo cards in hand, ready to play a real game of bingo for the very first time.
|The bingo hall|
A few minutes after we set up our game spaces at a table near the center of the room, the man in the Santa hat at the front of the room announced the game was ready to begin. After a few brief announcements, the bingo balls stirred into motion with his flick of a blower fan switch and we were ready to play. Excited by the coming experience, I rubbed my hands together and looked toward the front of the room with anticipation. Suddenly, the sound of an object suction sealing to a surface carried through the air. In response, the announcer moved his hand forward and lifted a ball from the surface before with a slight twist of his wrist. After examining the ball for a brief moment, the announcer leaned into the microphone and unemphatically said, “B12.” His remark caused a flurry ink dabbers meeting paper in the space around us and caused the three of us to hurriedly review our cards for the called number. As I scanned the bingo board in front of me, my eyes eventually fell on a sole square containing the number 12 on my bingo board. I enthusiastically stamped the square and gave celebratory fist pump. With that, I was officially playing my first real game of bingo, and with money on the line I was in the zone.
|Making the call|
|Assisting on a bingo certification|
Over the next few hours, Mary, Rachael, and I played bingo games with some routine and highly creative, unfamiliar game board patterns required for victory. Although the environment around us could have been easily defined as sleepy and drab, I found myself having a lot of fun as I scrambled to mark my boards with each new number called. The variety of game board patterns and the pace of play were enough to keep me in the game, and the prospects of winning provide more than enough motivation to get excited about each game.
By the end of the night, we had worked through dozens of games, each with unique rises and falls as our cards filled with ink blots. While we came close to victory during several games, the final call of bingo over the hall proved luck was not on our side tonight. Although I’ll be the first to admit taking some cash home would have been a nice way to top off the event, the reality is I didn’t need a win for tonight to be a full event. I never would have expected it, but playing bingo at a bingo hall is a really entertaining way to spend an evening. The thrill that came with a near victory, the sight of others rising with elation as they call bingo, and the company I kept made this experience a fun, and altogether surprising event in my “I have never...” year. On a bitter cold night where I would have otherwise stayed home staving off boredom with my television and my computer, playing bingo at the East Side Club was the perfect way to make the most of the evening. As a result, there is no question I would give playing bingo at a bingo hall another try in the future. Considering the event provides a way to get out of the house and possibly win some money on cold winter nights, I would really have no excuse not to do just that.