Sunday, October 05, 2008

New Mexico: Not Quite Minimum Wage

Lawmakers want to pass a law allowing slot machines in the state of Maryland. To do so, they're trying to get people to vote on changing the state's constitution. All of that because they can't control their spending.

I'm not a fan of slots. It's too slow. There's no action going on. I want to seize the moment and live, not just sit there pushing buttons like some automaton. For that, give me table games. Give me craps.

One of my greatest fears is that I have an addictive personality. I worry that I'm just a hedonist who enjoys pleasures. And I find craps to be immensely pleasurable. Living in Maryland means that I am limited from indulging myself in gambling and that I must resort to long trips to Las Vegas (where the odds are better than Atlantic City).

Ever since our trip to Sandia Peak on Friday, I've been noticing the signs for the Sandia Resort and Casino located on Native American Reservation lands. Just a few minutes from downtown Albuquerque and a stone's throw from Balloon Fiesta Park and I can be throwing dice, rolling numbers and making big money while the casino comps me with meals, hotel rooms and fast women. It's the American Dream.

I arrive at the casino around 10pm and I smell the scent of a bygone era. Cigarette smoke. How odd and how anti-American it seems nowadays. While I detest cigarettes, their smell reminds me of a bygone era when Americans were once free to choose how they lived and enjoyed an existence away from the police state that is America today. I inhale deeply, filling my lungs with secondhand smoke just because I can.

As I approach the craps table I notice the table is hot and maneuver myself into position. The Shooter is rolling numbers and everyone is making money. I'm a big time gambler, so I lay my forty dollars on the table and start betting. There's five dollars on the pass line and ten dollars on the odds bet. The point is five. After a couple of rolls, a five comes up and we all make money. It's happy-happy, joy-joy all around.

After a little while, I'm up by one hundred dollars and that's when the shooter sevens out. All is lost and we start again. Not wanting to walk away from the action of the table, I ride out the next couple of shooters and take a bath. After the fourth shooter, I walk away from the table with $44. I've just made four dollars in one hour.

I cash in my chips and walk around the casino to check it out. After learning craps several years ago, nothing appeals to me. Poker requires too much concentration. There's too many variables in blackjack. Roulette is just a big crap shoot. But craps is all action. You can win fast and you can lose fast. Time your free drink orders correctly because you might be wiped out by the time the cocktail waitress comes back.

My stroll takes me back to the same craps table where the dice have just been passed back to Jose, the original shooter. And Jose has his magic back. He starts hitting numbers. My five dollar world bet hits and money rains down on me. The shooter is making point and we're winning money again.

Truth be told, in spite of that odd five dollar world bet, I'm playing it very conservatively. Five dollar pass line with the maximum five times odds bet of $25. After reading the statistics, the pass line bet and odds bets are the safest bets on the table. The rest are just sucker bets that increase the house margin against you. That said, it is those sucker bets that make craps so darn exciting. Placing money on the numbers, pressing your winnings, bringing your bets back when the hards roll soft, C&E bets - all of these allow you to win big money, but they also allow you to lose big money.

After a little while, I'm up another hundred bucks. I'm making money. And once again, the seven comes up and we lose it all. But I'm still a hundred ahead...

"In the casino, the cardinal rule is to keep them playing and to keep them coming back. The longer they play, the more they lose and in the end, we get it all."
- Robert DeNiro as Ace Rothstein in Casino

And like a fool, I keep playing. I know this quote. It's in my head. I know that casinos are built because of people like me winning. They're built because people like me lose all their money. But I keep going because I'm lured by the action - even when the dice have turned cold and the shooters keep rolling sevens.

In the end, I walked away from the table with forty-nine dollars. In just under two hours, I had made about $4.50 per hour. I had made less than minimum wage.

But I had a great time doing it.

Next time, I just know I'm gonna hit it big...

New Mexico: El Patio

New Mexican Style Cuisine at El Patio.

Before I left for Albuquerque, I asked former residents Bryan and Maria what was the one place that I had to try. El Patio was it. BTW, it's pronounced "patio" as in "outdoor patio" and not the Spanish styled "pah-tee-oh." To do so would be very un-New Mexican.

On the way there, I called Bryan and Maria to ask for menu recommendations. Maria recommended the red chile enchilada with extra potatoes and Bryan recommended the stuffed sopapilla. I would try both.

Tortilla chips, firery hot salsa and a Dr. Pepper.

I'm all alone at El Patio because Maria has flown back to Phoenix so she can go back to work tomorrow. It's a chilly night here in Albuquerque and Maria (Bryan's wife) said that I "had" to sit outside on the patio for full effect. It's no problem getting a table because everyone else is inside keeping warm. At least my server thanked me for sitting outside so she could "cool off" a little.

El Patio is located on a side street off Central Avenue (seems like everything is on Central in Albuquerque) and close to the University of New Mexico campus. Hold on a moment: "university" and "Mexican" together usually means something horrifically crappy but not here at El Patio. They keep things real here.


First up is an order of chips and red salsa. The salsa is smoking hot and I can't take too much of it without burning my mouth and rendering my tastebuds useless, but I want to eat more of it because it's that good.

For my meal, I decide not to hold back. Let me have both the enchilada and the stuffed sopapilla. Immediately, I realize that perhaps I've made a mistake. Both orders are huge. Even though the sopapilla is a side order and not the full dinner, it's massive. Puffy fried dough stuffed with spiced ground beef topped with green chile sauce and cheese - my God, who thinks of these things??? It's amazing. Delicious. The meat is delicately balanced with the spice of the chiles. The dough is chewy and I want to eat more but I mustn't.

Stuffed Sopapilla

The enchiladas are more of the same. One cheese and the other beef, drenched in red chile sauce. It's good. It's hot but the flavor is not as compelling as that of the green chiles. This seals it: I'm a green chile fan, not a red chile fan. The enchiladas come with refried pinto beans which are good, but it's the potatoes that rock the house. I should have ordered a double like I was instructed.

Done. I can't eat another bite.

The bottom line is that it's too much. I can't finish half of either dish. I'm defeated but luckily there are takeaway containers and I pile all my leftovers into the containers for some midnight eating later.

El Patio de Albuquerque
142 Harvard Drive SE
Albuquerque, NM 87106

New Mexico: I Scream Ice Cream

Maria and our ice creams.

I've been using publications like The Alibi to find interesting places to eat while in Albuquerque. It's those recommendations bolstered by the real world local input from Bryan and Maria (the other Maria) that helped us choose where to eat. Now, Maria's an ice cream hog and after our drive down from Santa Fe, she's in the mood for more ice cream. It's here where the people of Burque let us down.

Listed as the "best" ice cream in Albuquerque is Cold Stone Creamery? Cold Stone, really? What is this place, some sort of suburban backwoods? Is the "best" that Burque has to offer a national chain? We can't do national chains - not when we can get that same crap at home. When on the road, we want something different. Something real. Something that we can't get in the suburbs.

According to the articles, Cold Stone is the only ice cream business actually producing ice cream in New Mexico. All other ice cream production has moved out of state. How is this possible? This is the desert. There are no places that make their own ice cream - in the whole state???

Somewhere, out there on Carlisle Boulevard, not too far away from downtown is a place called I Scream Ice Cream. They don't make their own ice cream but they do have one of the larger, out of state dairies make a line of ice creams specifically for them and no one else. Plus the articles on I Scream tell of a magical place that's unlike any other ice cream parlor in the state and perhaps the nation.

Most importantly, it's local and it's not serving a national brand like Dreyer's - which seems to be quite popular at ice cream places out here.

Albuquerque is a land of strip shopping centers and I Scream falls into place in one. It's the typical concrete with glass and aluminum framing construction you've seen all across America, then you step in.

Along the right wall as you walk into the shop is the service line. A long bank of ice cream dipping cabinets offering all sorts of flavors. Velcro'd to the top of the cabinets' display glass are quarter pans of all sorts of toppings, from animal crackers to gummi bears to peanuts and more. Bill, the owner and one of his staffers are manning the counter and a couple with their two kids are just finishing their orders as we arrive.

Sounds like a typical ice cream shop, right? Not quite. The rest of the shop is jammed with posters, wall hangings, signs, placards, and lots and lots of toys. It's like children's paradise in here. This place is designed to allow kids to run amok. Go crazy. Get wild and dress up and play tea party. The amount of games, toys and costumes is bewildering. The toys range to satisfy all ages - there's even a few Darth Vader helmets in case Maria and I want to re-enact Star Wars (she's Chewbacca to my Han Solo).

It's quite an amazing sight. It's busy. It's jam packed. It's crazy but you suddenly feel overwhelmed with - how do I put this? You're overwhelmed with happiness. I want to grab some of those cars and drive them across the table tops with death-defying stunts and unbelievable aerobatics. Oh yes, my robber will escape from those cops. Oh yes, they will.

After ordering our ice creams (Maria gets pumpkin pie and a berry of some sort with whipped cream, I get pumpkin pie and cookies & cream with animal crackers) we chat will Bill the owner a little while Maria splits her attention with the Colts game on the television (death to Colts, I say). Bill is a fun and welcoming guy to talk to and he tells us why his prices are so low.

I mean my ice cream cost less than three dollars. Bill says that he built this place so that families could come and enjoy ice cream for less than ten bucks. A family of four going out for ice cream for less than ten bucks? That's doing true community service in my book. And this place is jammed with toys so that the kids can play amongst themselves and the parents can let their guard down for a few minutes while here. I can't believe I hadn't thought of this.

Everyday, each and every toy is scrubbed clean by Bill and his staff. Considering how many toys are in this place, I can't imagine how long it would take to do so. If it were me, I'd install some sort of room sterilization machine to do to the work for me, but this place is truly a labor of love for Bill and it shows.

The cookies and cream ice cream is good, but the true winner is the pumpkin pie. It tastes just like real pumpkin pie and I can't get enough of it. I want to order more, but I decide to play it smart and hold back. Afterall, the night is still young.

The Colts are winning, our ice creams are finished and Maria's flight is leaving in half an hour, time to go. We leave Bill and company behind in the afternoon lull between children's birthday parties. No doubt that in just an hour's time, I Scream will be packed with screaming kids running amok once again.

I Scream Ice Cream
2000 Carlisle Boulevard NE
Albuquerque, NM 87110

New Mexico: Football!

Maria reading the sports pages before the upcoming game.

About a week before our trip to Albuquerque, Maria calls me to check if I've got everything planned out. While she likes to travel, she's big into planning and knows that I have a penchant for last minute flights, hotels and car arrangements. I tell her a little white lie and say that everything is planned and ready to go.

Okay, it's not exactly a white lie. Everything is planned out. I've got the flights, got the car reservation and have the first nights' hotel reserved. It's just the other nights that haven't been reserved yet. I know where we're staying, I just need to inform the hotel that we'll be staying there. Either way, it's all good.

Of course, Balloon Fiesta is in town, which also means that the population of Albuquerque doubles, but I don't have any trouble securing us a room.

But the real reason she's calling is to negotiate an activity (or inactivity as it were). She's cool with going anywhere and doing anything, but she wants to know if we can take some time Sunday to watch the Redskins game on television.


In the world that I'm used to living in, it's typically the man who's trying to negotiate with the woman for some football time, not the other way around. Truth be told, I really don't care for football. I almost never watch it on tv, and when I had season tickets to the Ravens, I almost never went to the games. There's more going on in my life than sitting in front of the tv on any day or night (much less Sundays) to watch anything - especially football. It's just not part of my reality.

But I'm an accommodating and affable chap and we find a place in Santa Fe to watch the Redskins on a big screen tv at the bar. She's got on her Redskins jersey and I offer to beat up the guy wearing the Eagles jersey just because. Luckily, she's not into violence which saves me from getting beat up (since I don't like to fight) by the rather large New Mexican local wearing the Philly jersey.

I'm cool with the Redskins, but she's a fan of the Colts and I can't support the Colts. As a true Baltimorean, I cannot support the team that sprinted away in the night back in 1983. I just can't. She's a Colts fan and a Ravens hater because she dislikes Baltimore, my home town.

Okay, I know I said that football really doesn't matter to me, but when you're a Colts fan and a Ravens hater because you dislike my city, we have a problem. Publicly, I'm feigning disinterest in the games surrounding us (we can see all three teams playing separate games). The Redskins are winning, the Colts are winning - hell, even the Ravens are winning.

Secretly, I'm hoping for a Ravens victory and Colts defeat so I can tell her to go suck it.

But no matter how much of a lead the Ravens may have in the first half of the game, those years holding season tickets taught me one thing: they can't hold the lead. Inevitably, the Ravens will falter and give up the lead and their victory, leaving us fans bitter and disappointed. And today, the Ravens stayed true to form losing to the Tennessee Titans 13 to 10. Crap.

Still feigning disinterest in Maria's glory that the Ravens lost and both the Redskins and Colts won, I pray to the football gods that my Baltimore Ravens will crush and destroy Peyton Manning and his Indianapolis Colts next Sunday so I can tell them all to suck it next weekend.