Of Mist and Melting to Sonora

I beckoned my aunts (on a visit from Manila) to the waiting car as I prepped the engine for our trip to the Black Oak Indian reservation casino situated in Tuolumne, California — about 8 miles east of Sonora.

English: Dana Fork of the Tuolumne River, Yose...
English: Dana Fork of the Tuolumne River, Yosemite National Park, California, July 2008; photo by self, GFDL (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The day started on a misty note as the sun never showed up in Fremont on that Tuesday morning – Dec 14. There was a mild fog as we traversed Altamont Pass along Highway 580 as our car hummed steadily towards the low-lying plains of Tracy.

After about an hour of driving, we encountered a little drizzle along Highway 108 as we approached the town of Oakdale. Time for gas and time to relieve my bladder when we were right in the heart of Oakdale. The place is noted for its fine furniture (naturally, made of oak) as well as for being the heart of the vast and fertile valley of Central California…an area that supplies almost the entire U.S. all the almonds it needed.

&nbspTita Yet and Ising at Black Oak in Toulumne, CA
From Oakdale, it was simply 45 minutes of stress-free driving, punctuated by undulating hills and vistas that seem to know no borders. It is one of those places where you will feel the vastness and, perhaps, greatness of good, old U.S of A. As a bonus, the sun suddenly showed up as we approached the area where 108 forked into 120 –the main artery that will lead you to the majestic Yosemite National Park.

From 108, there was a new exit ramp that led to a 9-mile feeder road (mostly uphill) where the Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk Indians situated their new gambling mecca this side of California. The place was undergoing expansion, so that we had to park in an area where you will have a view of the hills that surround the place.

Even though it was high-noon when we arrived, the place was cold — like it used to be, all throughout the season. Even the nickel and quarter slot machines we played were also cold. We were still lucky to eke out a few dollars in winnings even though we just hang around the place in under three hours.

Nothing much had changed in the place when we first set foot on it during its opening day in 2001. Except, maybe, for the hot, roast-beef sandwich (with a marvelous side dish of mashed potatoes) which we washed down with soda and coffee that was excellent.

Even that alone, was worth the drive!


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“Cash” Creek

Once more, this time with my visiting aunts in tow, we visited yet another Indian casino called Cache Creek — one of the several that had mushroomed (and continues to) around California. The drive was a leisurely one since we embarked immediately after the rush hour traffic on a Thursday morning.
In about two hours, we had already parked our car in one of the wider, blue-colored slots with the distinctive disabled logo.

It had been several years back when we first went to this relatively unknown place just about 30 miles west (if coming from the Bay Area) off Highway 80 in Vacaville. It’s in a place called Brooks and the casino itself got its gaming license by being situated in the Indian reservation long inhabited by the Rumsey Band of Wintuns or the ‘Patwins.’

I was surprised how huge the place had now gotten to be. Gone was the sleazy feeling one gets when entering the casino. It had become now a ritzy and glitzy place that will give any medium-sized upscale casino in Las Vegas a run for its money.
&nbspRuby with Tita Yeyit and Ising at Cache Creek in Brooks, CA &nbsp&nbspTita Ising and Yeyit inside Cache Creek
If you enter the place from the south side, there will be airy restaurants that will immediately entice you with the variety of food that they offer. It used to be the area where, before, a small and cramped fast food was tucked beside a circular room where the nickel machines were located. Now, there’s an oyster bar, a deli, a fast food booth, an Asian resto, a huge taqueria, a seafood/steak house plus two huge restaurants that both offered modest buffets. How money can change the world, huh?

But the games remained the same except for the notable addition of two craps table. The tables may look the same as regular craps but look closely. In the center of the table was a port where cards were shuffled. Cards in a craps game? Yes, Indian casinos use cards to comply with the regulation that all table games must all be done using game cards. This is probably one of the deals, Las Vegas biggies had struck with Indian-gaming lobbyists, so as not to take too much of their very lucrative businesses or ‘level the playing field’, so to speak. And check out the dice, too! Those are not your standard pair of craps dice but specially made ones.

As usual, we meandered all throughout the place, hunting for any of our favorite penny slot machines. But we found no penny machines whatsoever. Do Indian casinos forego penny machines to make sure that they ‘rake it in’ quicker?
We found solace in a 10/25 cent variety that offered a modest payout even if you play only 1 or 2 coins (yes, we opted for the 10 cent game). Then, having sated our appetite for these games, we hied off to the nearby taqueria and had their luscious ‘beef taquitos‘ with ‘pico de gallo‘ as our chosen dipping. My aunts washed these down with iced-tea while I went for my usual coffee.

We went home at the break of dusk and wondered where’s the creek in the place that gave the casino its name or so it seemed. The Indians had, indeed, found a cache in the place. But it was not gold this time and the actual creek, for that matter, was not nearby the casino itself.

It was cold, hard cash being emptied out of the pockets of visitors, day-in and day-out. No wonder they had grown so big in so little time. For Cache Creek (the casino), it’s ‘ka-ching’, ‘ka-ching’, indeed!

The Futile (?) Quest for the Meaning of Life

It had been a marvel to me who dictates the duration of one’s life. Why do some people die young (by natural or other causes) and some people almost live theirs to the fullest – to the point where their bodies could no longer endure the ravages of extreme old age?

English: Old man resting on a chair, near Sain...
English: Old man resting on a chair, near Saint-Nazaire-le-Désert, France. Français : Vieil homme se reposant, région de Saint-Nazaire-le-Désert, France, abt 1975 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Are these all by chance? Or, for people who are religious-centric, are these just part of a phase we all undergo in the ‘grand scheme’ of things that nobody will ever comprehend?

There are people who will never even see the light of day – babies who will die while still in their mothers’ wombs. While there are some people who will even beg to end their lives – in order to escape the miseries life brought upon them.

Who controls our fate? There are some who say that we create our own destinies. But, is the human mind too intelligent or to complex enough to be able to control the events that govern one’s fate?

Is life, simply, an illusion? Do we just create all the events of daily living in our brains and interpret them to be the manifestations

of our so-called ‘existence’?

Simply thinking about all these things make me feel very tired. I guess, sleep, is the closest answer…I will be able to get.

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