Next Friday is officially D.Jones’ birthday. For over a week I’ve been trying to plan something fun for he and I to do, but boy is it hard to get reservations around here in February! My parents had said that they would try an overnite with Cooper at their house, and my sister said she’d dogsit, so I was all set, except for finding somewhere we could actually go!
I was trying really hard to find a date that we could go to our favorite hotel in Duluth like we did last year for our anniversary, but they had no availability for weeks. Then I tried a few other resorts in the area. Nope. I even checked for very inexpensive trips to Vegas so we could surprise Doug’s brother and sister-in-law who were there for the weekend, and go for just 2 nights. Nada. Apparently I waited too long to start this planning process.
I finally tried a casino in northern MN that would be within driving distance of our favorite brewhouse. Doug and I have used this brewpub as an escape from the day-to-day stuff for years. It’s one of our favorite places on earth to just hang out. Of course Doug loves it for the beer. I love it for it’s great food, fantastic vegetarian selections, and it’s close proximity to the attached 4-diamond hotel that I adore.
Although I was a little concerned about what the accomodations would actually be like, the casino had an opening. Score! Though I spit my coffee on my cordless when I called them and said “I’m looking for a room for Friday” and the reservations woman said “Ohhh…Friday?” Her voice already relaying disappointment. I said “Yes, just Friday” and she replied “Well, we’ve got a room, but it’s in the new tower, so it would be over $100 per night.” I tried so hard not to laugh. Whoa…over $100!? Say it isn’t so! And then I was really concerned. I tried to remind myself that this particular casino is in the middle of absolutely nowhere, so I’m sure that’s a lot of bank to folks who often go there. It also made me wonder what the “normal” rooms go for…
Doug took Friday off and we headed over to my parents to drop Cooper off, and then we hit the road. With a stop at Starbucks, we were off! We arrived at our first destination around 1pm, exactly as planned. We were able to score seats at the bar, which are almost never available at this place, so we were immediately pleased. We settled into our bar stools and ordered a sampler as we let out sighs…ahhh….home….
We relaxed and dove in. The beers were exceptional as always. My favorite was the Blueberry Lager, brewed with blueberries from across the Duluth harbor in Wisconsin. Delicious. Not too sweet, as fruit infused beers can be, and full of flavor. D.Jones decided his favorites were still the Witchtree and the El Nino Double Hopped IPA. Both we’d had before, and he said they were just as good as he remembered.
Next he had to order their cask ale. He’s always excited to try cask ales as they are served more at room temp, have less carbonation, and he says, taste better. I am always interested in watching them settle, so I broke out the camera. Doug thought it was funny that I was only snapping pics of beer…and that I was doing it at the bar.
So to embarrass him, I snapped a few more. I even walked over to the brew room once I saw the brewers come in, and took a few over there. Doug was hating me.
After sampling a few of the brewskis, D.Jones ordered the Pub Style Wild Rice Burger, which totally did not disappoint! An enormous vegetarian wild rice burger arrived a few minutes later, smothered in mushrooms, swiss, and spicy chipotle pepper sauce. He let me try a bite and then devoured the thing in seconds. We often joke that D.Jones could give Takera Kobayashi a run for his money if the competitive food world started serving vegetarian items. He proved it on Friday.
I told Doug that although it would be easy to sit there all afternoon, we needed to head to our final destination. So, about a half an hour later, we pulled into the casino. He was pleased to say the least. Beer and gambling all in one afternoon!? A total D.Jones designed day.
My plan was to hang out with him until dinner, then leave him to his own poker-world while I watched a movie in the room…providing our $110 room was habitable. Instead, we wandered right past check-in and hit a blackjack table together, and it was on. I was not about to go anywhere. Doug waited for his name to get called for a Hold-‘Em table, and then ditched me. I hung out with the local-yokels…and I mean that with the utmost respect. Sort of.
First, they still allow smoking at the tables at this place, and I was nauseated from the chain smokers at the table. It got more interesting when some loud bug-eyed man started table hopping the blackjack tables, saying “do you have a smoke”? to any smokers who would acknowledge him. The normal response was “why? do you need one?” to which he would respond “No, I was going to offer you one.” Then he’d bust out some ridiculously homemade looking business cards and tell them that he rolls his own smokes and would be happy to deliver them to their homes (within reason) all tucked inside a “custom plastic case”. And that was “normal” for what I witnessed the rest of the night.
There was also the guy who sat next to me, introduced himself and told me he’s an electrician. He was nice enough and we chatted a little as we played. A few minutes later he tells me that his house burned down the night before…from an electrical fire. Hmmm…remind me not to hire you to do “electrical work” dude. Whoa.
I also laughed out loud at the tables when Doug took a break from poker and rejoined me at the blackjack tables. A late 20-something guy sat next to me, D.Jones on my other side. New guy says “hi” and we exchange pleasantries. About five minutes later he says “So, what do you two do?” I say I stay home and with a casual wave toward Doug I say “he’s a bond trader”. New guy furrows the brows and says “a what?” I say “he works on a trading floor”, but Doug can’t help himself when it comes to discussing trading so he says “I trade municipal bonds, to be exact”. The guy again frowns a little…thinking hard for a moment. Then says “what does that mean?” Doug doesn’t see the look of confusion that I see on the guy, so he launches into a D.Jones version of his world….”Oh, well…state and local governments, as well as municipalities offer federally tax exempt bonds…blah blah blah”. I see the guy totally shut down. When Doug is finished, the guy stares at him blankly, picks up his chips, says “oh” and walks away. Hilarious~
Doug ditched me again for the poker world, while I continued my blackjack playing. We agreed to meet for dinner around 7 bells, and also take our chances on checking out the hotel room. My fears were a little bit alleviated because we could see the new hotel tower from where we were and it actually looked pretty nice.
I was up about $50 when we met for dinner at the steakhouse in the hotel. Dinner was fantastic! My Steak Diane was tender and cooked to perfection, and D.Jones’ walleye with creamed spinach was perfect. He also celebrated his early birthday night with his favorite dessert…a Brandy Alexander. He was also happy when they made it the traditional way, making it with cream instead of ice cream.
We checked into our room and brought our bags in, and were pleasantly surprised by the brand-spanking new hotel room we were given…albeit one with a wonderful view of the parking lot. No problem, we were heading back down to gamble anyway…
We both hit the blackjack tables while Doug again waited for an opening in the card room. Even more characters were arriving now that it was about 9pm and I was just enjoying the people watching. Boy could I tell some stories from that night in the casino…
My favorite, though, was when 3 high school boys joined me at my table. One of the guys was celebrating his 18th birthday and they’d never been to the casino before, even though they all lived close. (Picture crew-cut football player types). They asked me to help them figure out this blackjack thing and I was happy to oblige. Birthday boy was sitting farthest from me, and was no brain surgeon, but was sweet-as-pie. Finally, in frustration at not understanding the game, he shoved all of his chips up to the betting circle and says “I give up…I’m just going all-in!” He gets a blackjack! I thought the kid would turn inside out! He starts whooping and throwing his hands in the air, then lunges from the table whipping out his cell phone. His buddies are cracking up, and even the dealer is laughing. His friend yells “Jim, what are you doing!? and he smiles and screams “I’m calling my Dad!!” Too cute. They left shortly thereafter, but returned about a half an hour later because they said in their excitement they forgot to thank me for helping them. Aww…so cute.
Getting so into my blackjack and people watching, I totally forgot about chilling in the room and watching a movie, and didn’t actually go upstairs until I could barely stay awake at the tables. I went back up to the room around midnight, but D.Jones was in a great tourney and decided to stay in the card room. (surprise, surprise, right?)
Saturday morning came early and just as I had worried, my first morning to be able to sleep in for almost 3 years, I instead woke up right at 7 a.m. on the dot and was wide awake. Bummer. At least I had noticed there was a Starbucks in the lobby. After taking a shower, I roused Jones and we hit the coffee shop where we witnessed some more early morning casino humor, when the 2 guys manning the coffee shop were clearly in over their heads. We waited in line amused and watching the fun. When the guy in front of us ordered a “Turtle Mocha” it took all the concentration the one employee could muster to get the coffee drink made, while employee #2 just stood there looking dumbfounded. Doug and I burst out laughing when he held up 2 squirt bottles for the customer to see and said “would you want summa this and summa this on there?” OMG…I had to walk out of the shop! I’m assuming it was the carmel and the chocolate sauce but who really knows! Doug said I should have referred to him as a “barista” and he probably would have sworn at me thinking I was calling him a derogatory name.
I laughed my way to the Jeep and drove up to the hotel to pick up D.Jones and our coffee for the ride home. We were still cracking up when we heard a ding. I looked around at all of my car gauges, but didn’t notice anything. (I had recently complained to D.jones that the Jeep is always dinging about something…it often checks the tire pressure on the spare and then tells me I have low tire pressure, which is annoying!) So, the second ding! I look at Doug in confusion, and then notice what it is. “Oh my God, gas!” I yell. Doug uses his best sarcastic voice to say “Ahhh…that tricky little game of gas!” I am cracking up at him making fun of me, but also feeling a little panic. “But, we have no idea where we are” I say…to which he responds more seriously “Oh. Well that does make it a tricky little gas game.”
We thankfully found gas right around the corner and then hit the freeway to get home. Right after we merged onto the highway, a little Volkswagon station wagon passed us. As I glanced over, the woman in the passenger seat gives me the peace sign. I look at Doug in confusion and say “what was that for!?” He grins and says “maybe it has something to do with the big peace sign you’ve got on your Jeep?” Oh. Perhaps it does… A ha! That little moment alone pretty much sums up our weekend of hilarious happenings… And good times were had by all. Including, thankfully, Cooper, Grammie and Papa, who had so much fun that Cooper napped for 3 entire hours after we got home!
So this year, not only was D.Jones’ birthday surprise a success in his eyes, but I had a blast too…Happy Birthday to Us~
(Oh, and yes…it’s true. After snapping pictures of beer and brewers, I never took another picture all weekend. Somehow, that is appropriate, I think).