Dubuque (or how we spent our last furlough day)

Yes, Dubuque. Aaron and his friends are in the habit of heading to Dubuque every now and again. The city boasts two full-blown casinos and, I was told, other charms. Those charms weren’t really specified, but it doesn’t take much to coax me into a mini-vacation an hour and a half away on what promises to be our last furlough day. We cashed in our change jar for 145 hard ones and off to Dubuque we went!

We left the comfort of our Madison condo shortly after one o’clock on Friday and rolled into the old river town around 2:30. Famished, we entered Paul’s Tavern and claimed a small booth. It was not hard to decide on what to order because the menu is succinct: burger, cheeseburger, tuna, grilled cheese and one other item I’m forgetting. For $2.65, I was sold on the cheeseburger. It did not disappoint. After our meal, we headed out to explore the downtown. Armed with my camera, I happily snapped pictures of the city’s old architecture. As you can see from the pics, some is very well-preserved while some is not so much. I hope someone will come along with enough money and sense to restore it to its intended beauty. It’d be a shame to let it deteriorate further; the town must have positively sparkled once.

After we deemed our exploration complete, we checked into our hotel: the Hilton Garden Inn, which happens to be connected to what Aaron calls the “good” casino, Mystique. As you know, Dear Reader, I am not much of a gambler, but apparently 2011 is the year of gaming for me. In the past month, I have quadmultiplied the number of casinos I had previously set foot in. Anyway, the hotel room was nice, but the walls were quite thin and we were treated to the sounds of other tvs and vacuum cleaners. But, you rightly point out, we were not there for rest. We were there to make money. Aaron clearly delineated our mission: money for our bar dues (or around $900 for the both of us, due July 1). After watching a bit of tape-delayed French Open, I put on some lip gloss and was ready to hit the floor. We walked the long hall connecting the hotel to Mystique and entered the Promised Land. The lights! The sounds! The costumes! Ok, maybe it’s not Vegas, but make no mistake – this is a casino. And it will take your money. Or, at least our money. After wasting time playing five cent Jacks or Better video poker, there were finally enough people at the craps table to make us feel comfortable to join in. Aaron went first. $100. And…cold table. That, of course, did not deter me. I’m in. $60. And…super cold table. We’re all out, except I insist on saving my $1 chip. So, we’re out $159 in about 30 minutes. Drat.

We regroup at the bar where two drinks are about $5. At least that’s something. We strategize. I suggest more five cent Jacks or Better to get our confidence up. Aaron (skeptically) agrees. Ten minutes later, we’re down another $4. Hmm. Ok, Aaron says, we’re going to go to Diamond Jo’s. I looked at him with confusion. But you always say Diamond Jo’s is the “bad” casino; you say they’re mean there. Well, they’re not mean, Aaron responds, they’re just rude. What’s the difference? I ask. Aaron pretty much shrugs off my query and confidently tells me Diamond Jo’s is our ticket to again being licensed attorneys. Off we go! A short car ride later, we surreptitiously enter the “bad” casino. I say surreptitiously because Aaron parked the car in some far-off lot and we had to crawl through bushes to get to the front door. He insisted this is normal. After being carded and stamped (and, in my memory, wanded), we hit the floor. The place is seriously electric. If the mood at Mystique was a sedated octogenarian with a twist of zombie, this place is the opposite. We do a quick tour of the place and settle in on a hopping craps table. Aaron sets $100 on the table, and we divvy up the chips. We’re instantly raking in the dough. Come on 9! 9 hits! Come on 4! 4 hits! The old man in the White Sox jacket next to me is rolling like crazy. The young guy with the pretty wine-drinking wife (she asked for a red like a Chardonnay and then laughed at herself) on the other end of the table keeps calling the White Sox gent, “Blue.” “You’re my man, Blue!” I laugh. Old School is a great movie and this is our table. Until it isn’t. After Blue craps out, it’s downhill. We cash out. We’ve made more than $100, though. Hooray! For reasons neither one of us understand, we headed back to Mystique, put our new $100 back on the cold craps table and lost the money in about five seconds. Oops.

Oh well. It was fun. We got a drink, went back to the room and decided upon room service and a movie. We ordered sandwiches and The Company Men, with Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper and Tommy Lee Jones. The sandwiches were decent and the movie was ok, but should have been better. I had serious insomnia and didn’t really fall asleep until about six in the morning. Was I overstimulated? Was it too much adrenaline? Was Dubuque too much for me? I don’t think so. I think I just couldn’t sleep. I think part of me was just awake, thinking about craps. Thinking about how you do everything right but it doesn’t work out for you. And about how someone else bets all wrong, but they win big. Thinking about how many things I have absolutely no control over. Like dice. Like the weather. Like other people. Thinking about how, despite all that and despite my horrible gambling luck, I am extremely lucky. I have a husband whom I adore; I have a family that makes me really happy; I have friends that are family; I feel safe in the morning and at night; I have a dog that I can’t imagine living without; I have a home that I love being in; I live in a city that’s home; I have a job that makes me intellectually and emotionally satisfied; I have coworkers I trust and enjoy; I have the ability to go to Dubuque for a night in a trusty car; I have, with the assistance of Albuterol, the ability to breathe in and out every day. Even if we lost our change jar savings, I have come out ahead.

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19 Responses to “Dubuque (or how we spent our last furlough day)”


  1. 1 Raoser May 30, 2011 at 8:58 pm

    I love this post. Brilliant and hilarious. Who knew a gambling trip could be so inspirational?

    The older I get the more I realize I can’t really control anything other than being a good person. There was a time that thought would have made me crazier but now I guess I’m too tired for all that because when I remember it’s out of my hands, it’s just a relief.

    I’m sorry you had to crawl through bushes to get to the “bad” casino but god that makes for some great story-telling!

  2. 2 kateandgracie May 31, 2011 at 10:46 am

    If you can get past the frustration of it all, it is liberating in many ways.

    I still can’t get over the bad casino being actually the good casino. It’s mind-blowing.

  3. 3 Mary Lloyd May 31, 2011 at 12:48 pm

    Very thoughtful post. I haven’t given up on trying to control things outside my limits but am working on it! Old habits are hard to break! Reading your blog has made me realize that I think I hate gambling.

  4. 4 kateandgracie May 31, 2011 at 12:52 pm

    Really? Ooo. It wasn’t intended to have that effect. I thought I hated gambling, but I really don’t. I kinda love craps.

  5. 5 Raoser May 31, 2011 at 3:04 pm

    I think it had the opposite effect for me. Well, maybe not the opposite, I don’t know if it made me love gambling but it helped remember that everything is really a gamble.

    While I can’t achieve that kind of liberty all the time, when I do get out of the way, so much seems easier and falls into place. I mean, every once in a while the bad casino turns out to be the good one!

  6. 6 Kristin May 31, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    Bravo! I love this post. “Thinking about how you do everything right but it doesn’t work out for you. And about how someone else bets all wrong, but they win big.” Brilliant.

    I said it to my mom this way recently (at least I think this is a similar thought): Life usually doesn’t work out the way you think it will.

    Glad you had such a nice weekend in Dubuque. It sounds much nicer that that armpit Atlantic City which I unfortunately have to take the bus to every couple of months when I go to see my parents. Almost all the casinos there are truly “bad” ones. …or are they? Maybe I need to give them another look. 🙂

  7. 7 kateandgracie May 31, 2011 at 7:13 pm

    Haha. Maybe you should — what you think may be a bad Diamond Jo’s could really turn out to be a good time. Casinos can be pretty depressing, but once I actively told myself to stop feeling bad for everyone throwing money away on slots and told myself to realize these people are entertaining themselves and having a good time and that I should stop judging them, gambling and I started getting along a lot better.

    Amen to life not working out how you thought. If you’d told me five years ago that Aaron and I would be married and vacationing in Dubuque I would have suggested you seek professional help for your delusions. But alas, c’est la vie.

    As for Atlantic City, does the bus stop at any of the Monopoly streets? And if so, can you tell us if Marvin Gardens really is nicer than Baltic Avenue?

  8. 8 Kristin May 31, 2011 at 10:54 pm

    OMG, that is a great question! Hee. I have seen both Marvin Gardens and Baltic, but to be honest, I can’t remember anything distinguishing about either of them. They’re probably both pretty crappy. 😦

  9. 9 Jane Roe June 1, 2011 at 9:44 am

    I love this post! Dubuque, like Red Wing and other river towns, are full of so much great architecture. I love that part of the country. My mom and dad were married in Dubuque. It was a semi-elopement (they took their folks along with them). Now that was a gamble that worked out quite well!
    As for the modern day gambling…just can’t get myself to see it as anything but depressing. I remember once taking a tour of the casino in Lac du Flambeau as part of a class I took. Ten in the morning and it was full of old people losing money. When our tour guide was asked if he gambled, his response was no, that he worked too hard for his money. For the people who can go, gamble, and then go on to something else, it’s fine. But for the ones who are there either because they are addicted or just so lonely and bored they don’t have anything else to do, not so much.

  10. 10 kateandgracie June 1, 2011 at 9:47 am

    Janie, you’re parents were married in Dubuque? That’s adorable. I have to imagine it was really sparkling then…It’s still such a neat place, but I can only imagine what it was like when there was actual industry.

    And I totally hear you on the depressing nature of it. I have to actively shut that part of my brain off again and again when I’m in a casino. But when I am successfully able to do that, and not worry about losing the change drawer money, I realize now I can have fun.

  11. 11 mike w June 1, 2011 at 12:09 pm

    Interesting to see our playground through another’s eyeballs.

    A few questions and comments:

    1. How did you write about Paul’s without comments on the crazy wood burning stove that cooked your burger, the menagerie of stuffed creatures, the bearded gent who cooked the burger (paul?).

    2. Did a-rod take you to the Canfield? Did you see the injuns and the Rainbow Lounge? If not WHY NOT!?!?!?!??!

    3. Good casino: free booze (sometimes), poker room (with free hotdogs, cookies and booze–always), best dealers on earth, catchy theme song (mystique magnifique), racing dogs, swearing (sometimes).

    4. Bad casino: draconian security, expensive booze, poker room replaced with penny slots, too clean, stupid.

    5. I never thought of gambling as depressing… I’m kinda depressed when I am not gambling. Maybe give skill based games like poker and goldentee a shot.

  12. 12 kateandgracie June 1, 2011 at 2:01 pm

    Oh dear. I feared this would happen. Dear Reader, we find ourselves with a Dubuque expert in the comments. Let me try to explain myself. I did not see (nor was I informed, ahem, AO) that the stove used to make my delectable burger was wood-burning. This alone calls for a return trip. I left out the animals because a) I will need another topic to blog about after aforementioned return trip and b) my camera did not make it’s way into the bar and I felt no one would believe me without visual confirmation. To the second part of your five-part query: AO-Rod took me past the Canfield, as you can see from my Flickr visual confirmation (see? the camera is essential to prove everything). He let me look through the window to see the Indians but I did not get to go inside. I think he thinks of it as your special place and needs it to remain sacred, aka kateandgracie free. I did not get free booze at the so-called good casino, nor was I told about the glory of the poker room (though I was told that’s where you go and I was shown the bar where $penny and AO sit to watch you in the room). Also, the best dealers on earth must have had the long weekend off, and I think the theme song did too. We got carded at both casinos, but I did offer that I felt the bad casino wanded me, so I’m with you on draconian there. We didn’t get to have booze at the bad casino so I can’t complain about paying too much. Boo. I agree it was pretty clean, though. Except for Blue. He could have used a bath. And I should know.

    The thing about skill games is that it sounds like they require skill. I can barely get the dice not to fly off of the craps table.

  13. 13 aaronandgracie June 1, 2011 at 2:23 pm

    I did point out the stove. I don’t think it burns wood, but it is a very interesting contraption. We went past the Canfield. We should have gone in, but it seemed weird to do so if we weren’t staying there given its tight security. Rainbow Lounge was not open when we walked by. I think I once got a drink at Mystique comped, but normally, I have to pay. I had my id scanned at both casinos. And we did win money at the bad one, making it sort of good. I tried to explain to Kate all the problems with the bad casino, and all the positives of the good one, but my explanations did not jibe with the experience. Conclusion = a return trip is warranted.

  14. 14 kateandgracie June 1, 2011 at 4:06 pm

    Return trip!

  15. 15 madd scientist June 2, 2011 at 11:57 am

    very happy to discover this website and specifically this story. the last trip to dubuque ended after winning about 10 craps sessions in a row going back and forth between the casinos. i was up over $2,000… so aaron and 2 others planned another strike… but right when we got in the doors of the bad casino, the 2 others forgot about our foolproof plan and yielded to the allure of the blackjack tables. me and aaron and a couple of fancypants won so much that the casino shut the game down and just quit for the night. NO MORE DICE. WE’RE DONE. YOU ARE TOO GOOD.

    did aaron teach you how to call for a seven in a guttural yelp? SEB’N!

  16. 16 kateandgracie June 2, 2011 at 1:44 pm

    Aaron told me never to say seven because to do so would risk the wrath of $penny. He told me about all the dumb sayings involving Kokomo and chicken dinners, though. I didn’t really believe him about them until, weirdly, he was in the shower the morning after our craps outting and I was watching an episode of Men of a Certain Age on the hotel tv and peeps were playing craps and shouting out all sorts of nonsense. Lesson learned: believe Aaron when he talks craps.

  17. 17 whazzmaster June 2, 2011 at 4:24 pm

    I can’t believe how thorough this web site is. I quit and will now hang out in your comments section. SEBEN!

  18. 18 Brady K June 7, 2011 at 10:12 pm

    I think there’s a moral in this story… Don’t judge a casino by its bushes!

  19. 19 kateandgracie June 8, 2011 at 12:28 pm

    Braid-dog, I believe you are onto something there.


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