Sports column: B-I-N-G-O, B-I-N-G-O, and Bingo was his name-o …

Published 8:00 am Sunday, September 18, 2022

A visible cloud of cigarette smoke hung a few feet below the high ceiling of the fire station’s truck bay. Luckily, at least a few of the elderly women closer to the ground had oxygen tanks to help them breathe easier.

Several dozen tables were spread across the floor, each covered in 4×6-inch slips of paper and manned by someone moving at twice the speed of sound. Whenever a number was called they zipped from one side to the other, furiously dabbing their way across without missing a single slip.

No chit-chat was tolerated. False cries of victory were met with the same kind of anger generated by an angry SEC football crowd. This was a cash game, brother, and this was serious.

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That was my introduction to competitive Bingo, almost 30 years ago. With nothing better to do — my teenage years weren’t the most exciting of times — I went with my mother and her friend to a Saturday night game in Bristol, Pa.

Mom had run her own game for a while. She sold Tupperware in the 1980s and 90s, and once a month would rent out a local fire station’s banquet room. Pieces of Tupperware were given as prizes, and a mid-game product demonstration generated some sales.

The Tupperware players were focused, but it was still light-hearted fun. Not like the Bristol game. Those old ladies in Bristol were hardcore. You paid an admission fee and for extra cards, and played each game for cash. Some easier games might have won you $50. One big game, if I remember right, offered about $1,000.

As the night wore on, it was clear the old ladies were there for two things — to win some money, and to smoke some cigarettes. And they were almost out of cigarettes.

It’s a good thing there was plenty of firefighting equipment around, because the combination of cigarettes, lighters, and about 50 paper cards apiece covered in dabber ink could have easily started a blaze that made the Great Chicago Fire look like a campfire.

Of course, being a Bingo newbie, I had no idea how any of this worked. Not knowing you could purchase more cards, and not having a lot of money to do so if I did, I had the one card per game that your admission provided. I had no chance of winning, and left only with a bitter taste for Bingo and possibly 15 cancerous tumors that are still growing somewhere inside me.

I hadn’t been back to a Bingo night until recently, when my wife convinced me to join some other couples for one at a restaurant. I was reluctant, with the bad memories hanging like the shelf cloud of smoke at the top of that fire station. But happy wife, happy life and all that, so we went.

Maybe it was better company. Maybe it was good food. Maybe it was different prizes — free T-shirts, candy, and miscellaneous swag instead of the cold-blooded pursuit of cash — but it was nothing like the smoke-filled room I’d remembered.

It was fun.

We won enough T-shirts to clothe ourselves for a week, and then gorged at the candy bucket. The boxes of Sour Patch Kids we bring home every week are a tasty celebration of victory.

The only problem is, we now have Bingo fever.

It’s become a weekly outing. We’re not dressing in cheesy Bingo attire, but The Wife did go on Amazon and purchase our own dabbers and a Bingo app on her phone to “practice.”

When we play, I’m insanely thrilled to win a $1 pack of Kit Kat bars and oddly disappointed when I don’t. The big prize is a gift card to the restaurant. I haven’t won one yet and am kind of miffed about it. Just once, man. Just once.

Maybe Bingo is bringing out other character traits in us. Or maybe it’s a ritual everyone goes through at some point as they approach and reach middle age. Jeans get traded in for khakis. T-shirts give way to polo shirts. A recessed gene is unlocked that allows you to derive pleasure from Bingo.

Either way, I’m not sure how much longer T-shirts and candy can satisfy us. Maybe it’s time to find a firehouse and see if we can hack it in the big leagues.

Ernest Bowker is the sports editor of The Vicksburg Post. He can be reached at ernest.bowker@vicksburgpost.com

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 139-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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