I went up to visit my mother this weekend in Lake County. It’s the next county over from Napa, but a world away. I won’t say she lives in a One Horse Town — her town probably has more horses than cars in it which is great. It’s real Cowboy Country. But it does only have one main street. Except for the paved highway and the Espresso shop, it probably doesn’t look much different from when Lily Langtry first showed up there in the 1800s determined to put her money into a winery that would make “the Best Claret in California”.
But now there is a very large addition: a shiny new Indian Casino and hotel. Well, there used to be a casino there, but it was in a large tent structure. Now the Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians have got themselves a new hotel, permanent gambling hall, two fancy new restaurants and an events center. So what are you going to do with your 75-year-old mother on a Saturday night in Cowboy Country but go gamble with the Indians?
Okay, full disclosure: this isn’t the first time I’ve brought my mother to an Indian Casino. I once booked tickets to Liza Minelli in a place that I thought was a “resort and spa”. After driving for hours through the wilderness, we arrived to discover that Cache Creek was a casino operated by the Rumsey Band of Wintun Indians.
With time to kill before the show, I told my mother we should get some quarters and play the slots. Since my mother had never gambled before, she wanted to know how. I instructed her to find a machine she liked, preferably one she’d seen people feeding lots of quarters into without a win, then stake it out and only gamble what seemed like a reasonable amount for the “entertainment”. Like five dollars. I gave her a few bucks in quarters and said we’d split the takings if she won. My mother found a machine where three pinto horse heads in a row would guarantee you a win, inserted a dollar’s worth of quarters and BINGO! Big win, flashing lights and pounds of quarters come pouring out. A couple hundred dollars worth.
The real surprise was yet to come. After cashing in our chips, I started to divide the money between us. “No”, whispered my mother. “You never count your money while you’re sittin’ at the table. There’ll be time enough for counting when the dealin’ is done.”
Quickly recovering from the shock of hearing my mother quote Kenny Rogers to me, I pocketed our winnings. See, my mother “knows when to hold ’em and knows when to fold ’em.” So heading to the new Indian casino for dinner, I knew I was in practiced company.
Twin Pine Casino is a nice facility as these things go. I think the Pomo Indians missed a real opportunity. They should have gone for a real Wild West saloon look with swinging doors, dance hall girls and spittoons. Then my mother and her friends could have ridden their horses into the gambling hall, six guns blazing and thrown down their winning hands. Hey, her friends are real cowgirls. They could do it!
Instead, we donned high heels and opted for dinner at their fancy new restaurant, Manzanita. I’ll tell you, for a hunter-gatherer tribe that originally subsisted on acorn flour, the Pomos cook a mean filet mignon. They are also pushing some pretty good signature cocktails.
Come to find out, the Pomos have pretty much got a lock on the booze franchise in that town. They run the local brewpub, the Mount Saint Helena Brewing Company. They’re raising grapes and doing a deal with Langtry’s old winery to produce a full line of wines. Now they’ve got two restaurants and a food court in their casino. Remember, this is a town with one main street. Basically, if you want a drink in this town, you’ll be buying it from the Indians.
And that has a supreme irony to it. Apparently the gentle Pomo Indians were subjected to some of the worst campaigns of planned genocide of any of America’s Natives. First the Spanish showed up, enslaved them and forced them to build the Missions. Then the Russian fur traders appeared on the coast, kidnapping their women as sex slaves. Finally, Gold Rush happened and the few Indians who survived were disenfranchised and left on land poisoned by the toxic byproducts of mining. After these misadventures, the Pomo were reduced in number by two-thirds after less than a hundred years. Even today, the Pomo are fighting mining companies and corporations like Boise Cascade that are polluting water feeding into their lands. (If you think you can stomach it, read more here and here.)
So if you find yourself in Lake County, stop by and see the Pomos. Hey, and order doubles and lose big at the tables. We owe them.
Note: Thinking of taking up gambling? Take lessons from Kenny Rogers and the Muppets!