If you ask me which month I’d like to reply, which was the most perfect time on the road, I would have to reply, Cass Lake in June. You see there is nothing more perfect, no matter the ticks, the mosquitos, the wet heat – which, let’s face it, sorry to break it to you, you might have the coldest winters, Minnesota, but Tokyo takes the crown for most humid summers, Minnesota is child’s play in comparison. You take a breath in Tokyo and you are rewarded with a lungful of superheated steamy air, city smoke and the opposite salaryman’s cigarette smoke, a slight hint of Eau de Otaku – consisting of light notes of sweat, ramen and desperate furtive masturbation over cartoon girls drawn enthusiastically by poor artists chained to their desks across Tokyo, coloring in frame after frame of Mei Misaki, yet still her line-drawn clones keep tumbling in like so many invitations to Hogwarts, or sparks of August fire-flower fireworks. For sheer lack of breeze, intensity of heat, and the amount of pollution and water in the air Tokyo rates pretty highly. I never made it to China, I wonder sometimes if there is an even more hellish summer climate to be found? If so I hope I never come across it, I’d rather die in ignorance.
Cass Lake has a certain charm, a native community at the start of the Iron Range series of towns, it has large state parks, a couple of Casinos close by. I think they opened another one opposite the grocery store, Teals. It may have had a water park. It was not even thought of while I was there. I don’t like gambling, in fact I hate it. What I do love is the free “camping” that casinos often have. As long as you get enough points in the casino, simply by losing money to them, you can camp. It generally costs around five to ten bucks, they often have electric for you to plug into, and let you stay at least five days or so at a time. The nicer casino campgrounds are actually campgrounds, full hook ups, buses to take you to the Casino if you wish, and they are always clean and good value. I love a good casino campground. I had membership cards for these places from Oregon to Minnesota, a friendly person signing me up, and telling me how much I needed to spend for the points to stay the night. I would go and change a five dollar bill into quarters and find a slot machine to play. Sometimes I wished we could just forget the gambling and I just give them five bucks and they let me camp. I even asked if this was possible one night, when we had driven too far, and the idea of gambling for half an hour horrified me, all flashing lights and free watered down cola, drunken old people and slot machine addled grandmas, or else guys playing cowboy in the sketchier places, lurching from table to table, hand on the gun that should be at their hip, but they had to leave in their truck because..you know….rules.
The Palace in Cass Lake is my favorite casino. It is not plush or fancy, smoking was allowed, so it was pretty miserable in that regard, but someone did the rounds with free soft drinks, and the atmosphere was friendly and down to earth. I never won much on the slots, at most getting a few bucks back for every five dollar bill I spent “earning” camping, and I would never sit down at a blackjack table or spin a roulette wheel. I never let Billy near the task, fearing he would end up roaringly drunk and there would Be Trouble. Instead he would stay with the children, while I dodged bathroom offers of a little blow from hard faced blondes, or drinks from slimy gentlemen with shark smiles. Between you and me, don’t tell anyone, but I loved these free hours, knowing the kids were safe, Billy playing monopoly with them, eyes rolling as the Girl cheated once again, her extravagant open cheating almost a joke by this point. Almost. Not quite. He never quite understood that she was different, that she was more than kooky, that she was not just odd, that she was something else, not bad, just different. He regarded her gently, but in total incomprehension. Boy was different, an open book, just a little kid at this point, not even ten years old, he loved easily, openly and seriously. To the Boy Billy was a study first in having a father who didn’t hit and hurt and terrorize or belittle, and then in later years, how not to be a failure as a man. The Boy didn’t know much, but he knew he didn’t want to be like either his biological father, nor the mess his Stepdad became. One day he announced clearly and coldly that he would never drink, never smoke, and didn’t want to be around people that did. Who could blame him really?
I would come back with my little ticket in my hand, tell Billy where to park up to plug in, and tell them tales of Gigantic casino workers, at least seven foot tall, who banged their fists together in a Hulk Smash when I thanked them for helping me cash out my small winnings. Or stories of how as soon as I left the Buffalo Run slot a sly man in slacks and a fedora sat in my place, put in a quarter and won a hundred bucks. I would return with four paper cups of free cola, a handful of snacks, and a set of plastic bear claws for the Boy, or else a beaded necklace for the Girl. They would open their paper bags and ohhh and ahhhh and look at me in awe. Behold the returning conqueror, Bringer of Soda and Plastic Gifts! There is a recording of Dee Dee Ramone accepting his rock and roll hall of fame induction plaque, and he pats himself on the back, and says, in the most punk moment ever recorded…”I’d like to thank Dee Dee. Thank you Dee Dee…” whilst patting himself on the back, to the groans of his bandmates and delight of the audience. Similarly the family had what we called the Dee Dee Award. It was coveted, desirable, it consisted of a small treat, or a cup of tea made, or a hand made card…and a round of applause. Getting camping for the night in harried circumstances was always worth a Dee Dee award, and I’d accept it, patting myself on the back. Well done, Mommy. Well done. I’d like to thank…myself for this great moment, and I did it all fucking alone! Hurruh!
As I’m looking outside to the San Franciscan bright spring light, wondering where to walk today to get some space from the downtown trudge, I think to myself, I’d give anything to be back standing in the RV, with those three people, accepting my Dee Dee award, and perching on the bench to tell my rapt audience what had happened in the Palace that night.