Gaming in the Valley
Thanks to a weekend outing to the purported original D&D convention, it’s after midnight and I find myself in San Ramon, outside a Marie Callender’s that just half an hour ago seemed bustling, but is now closed. My inner voice whines, Marie Callender’s closes? You mean they’re a real restaurant? I thought they were like, you know, Denny’s. Or at least Baker’s Square.
I briefly flirt with the idea of getting in my car and going all the way back home to the city, where I can get something at King of Thai Noodle or at least my own kitchen. But San Ramon is in the East Bay’s Tri-Valley Area, or at least I think it is and would know for sure what the area was called if I weren’t such a city-dwelling, Silicon-Valley-working weenie. It’s part of a stretch of suburbia along I-680, behind the hills that you would see to the east if you were on the bay itself, which means I am not going anywhere easily.
Closed Marie Callender’s is next to a strip mall which has a Closed Chevy’s and some Closed Places of Non-Feeding-You Business. Beyond these, there’s a Chevron. I have not eaten in eleven hours and I am not picky.
It’s one of the larger, mart-style gas stations, giving me more options to consume starches than I could have wanted. I grab a couple things and head to the register. There’s no one there, but the guy manning the counter has the register open and seems to be waiting. Fifteen seconds later a woman in her 40s or an unkind set of 30s comes through the door and steps up to the register to finish paying; she gives the cashier seven cents, and in return hands her a twenty. It’s after midnight, math is hard, I don’t want to know.
“And can you do these?” she asks, handing him a couple scratched-off lottery cards. He scans them and I watch “$3.00” flash on the lottery machine’s top display for both cards. “Please,” she punctuates, an after-thought.
The cashier says something to her in a voice so low I can’t make it out. “Oh, I’ve got three dollars coming back?” she responds. Her voice tastes like cigarettes. Her eyes go to the counter display of scratch-offs, and she juts a finger to emphasize her choices. “Then can I get a Pot o’ Gold, and two of the Hot Chili Peppers, and a Lucky Fortune.” A frequent scratch-off gambler, it would seem, from the lack of hesitation in making her selections. “Please.”
After I pay for my ad hoc dinner and head out, I pass her in the parking lot, sitting in her pick-up truck, the door still open, scratching her cards against her steering wheel. That night, I dream of dice-rolling and gold coins.
Lottery dreams and cold Krispy Kremes can be found at the Chevron on the corner of San Ramon Valley Blvd. and Bollinger Canyon Rd. in San Ramon.