This past Saturday I drove a van into Winnipeg with my wife and five other passengers to work a bingo at one of the casinos. We were there to raise some money for the Evans Theatre’s new projection system.

We arrived, navigated the hotel and the casino to get to the bingo area. We signed in, found out where the buffet was, and were told to return by 6:20 for our shift.

The buffet was well-stocked and pretty well uniformly delicious. I managed to limit myself to once through the line. Time was a bit of a factor, but let’s be honest, I piled my plate pretty high, too.

Returning to the bingo area, we were given our instructions. Five of us had cards to sell, and two were on clean-up duty — picking up used bingo cards and any other junk that might be around (McDonalds wrappers, drink cans, etc). We went to work.

Like (presumably) any casino, it was a surreal environment. The area we were in was painted and landscaped to look like some Mesoamerican jungle temple — palm trees, giant stone heads, a stepped pyramid. The walls and ceiling were painted like a blue sky with scattered cloud. The room was in perpetual twilight.

We worked our three-hour shift, selling cards to anyone that asked. When the caller announced a twenty-minute intermission, a woman with Parkinson’s fell while trying to get up from her chair and hit her head on the corner of the table behind her. Security and management staff swarmed her, making sure she was all right. She must have been OK, because she was back in her seat after the break.

I can’t say I enjoyed my first visit to a casino. It struck me as being a very lonely place — you’re surrounded on all sides by hordes of other humans, but hardly anyone spoke to anyone else.

Also, if I want to be assaulted non-stop by flashing lights and noise, well, that’s what Michael Bay movies are for.

On the plus side, I got to practice my French on the way in, and I saw a shooting star on the drive home. Apparently nothing like the Ohio one, though.