Sunday, May 27, 2007


Casinos are just not one of those places I go. They're filled with two things I really don't do: gambling and smoking.

Last weekend, in between long hours of driving home, we started to get hungry for dinner. The billboards proclaimed a casino for miles in either direction, and we approached the casino right around the dinner hour.

"Penny slots?" I exclaimed at one such billboard. I didn't know there was even such a thing as a penny slot. I am a dyed-in-the-wool tightwad, and I know enough math and enough Skinner that I'm not really enthralled by slot machines, but even I can be persuaded to get out of the car on a long trip and part company with the six cents that have been rattling around on the floorboards for the whole trip. Thus, those traveling with me decided that it was time for me to try gambling.

So in we went. The casino had enough ventilation that it was more tolerable to be around smokers than it would have been outside, but I still didn't find it especially pleasant. There was a non-smoking room, so we scurried past the racket and into that area, small change in hand.

Just as I was getting up the nerve to part with one of these pennies, even as a cell phone camera emerged from my companion's pocket to catch me in the act, I noted that there was no slot on the machine that accepted pennies. Evidently, slot machines don't really have slots anymore, or at least these did not. Credits had to be purchased in dollar increments from the various machines scattered around. If I couldn't unload some pennies in a penny slot, I was not about to bother.

Dinner didn't happen in the casino, either. We saw neither entrees nor prices that suited us on the posted menus, so we turned around and did the non-smoking shuffle back towards the nearest exit. I think I'll unload the pennies in the donation jar at my local library, instead.

In the end, we ate a bit further along our route, in a café that wasn't a chain. Although the prices weren't much higher than those at the Burger King across the road, it had nowhere near the traffic of the other establishment. Instead, it had good, sit-down meals; a pleasant, attentive staff; and a berry cobbler I regret not having had the stomach space left over to try after an excellent sandwich. I'll have to remember the place for next time. It doesn't have a billboard.

Dinner and the symphony

Last night, Scott took me out to dinner at a nice restaurant and a symphony concert. We had a lovely evening, lots of fun.

I should note at this point that most of the audience was younger than we are. It wasn't a school thing, either. If anybody was there under duress, it was probably at the behest of a child, not a parent.

You see, the younger generation really will attend a symphony concert, but they'll do it on their own terms. The show was Play, a concert of video game music performed by a live symphony orchestra and chamber choir. If you haven't seen video games in a while, that's not as bad as it might seem. They played medley arrangements of a couple of classics (Mario and Zelda) that for many in the audience were the sounds of childhood. They also played music from some more recent games, including a couple that have yet to come out.

All the pieces were arranged for a symphony orchestra, so they didn't repeat incessantly, and in case you haven't listened to video game music lately, it's gotten a lot richer. With the advent of games on CD and now DVD, along with various other technologies, a lot of current video game music makes for a pretty good symphony. Think good soundtracks for action movies, and you'll have it about right.

For the benefit of the video generation, and for some of us not-so-digital hangers on, they also had a projector going, playing a combination of clips from the video games in question and close-ups of the conductor and orchestra. It was fun, for a change, getting an orchestra-eye-view of the conductor, instead of just the wagging tails of his dinner jacket, and from the far back, the close-ups enhanced the performance considerably.

The audience looked more like a high school on Halloween than a symphony concert audience. By contrast, the orchestra on stage, Symphony Silicon Valley, and with them the Silicon Valley Chamber Choir, are established classical groups in the area. Most of them, I think, were old enough to be the parents of most of the audience members. As such, I have to wonder whether many of them had ever before heard the music they were playing in its native context. No doubt some had children. The rest, as professional musicians, interpreted it simply as music. Either way, we enjoyed the show.