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Mississippi Dreaming - Part 28 September 2001
When I went to activate my credit line at Sam's Town, the young lady -- an African American -- took my driver's license.
"I want to activate my credit line," I said.
"Whachew mean by dat, act-tub-ate?" she glared at me.
"Uh, ah, activate...so I can take out a marker."
"Whasa marka? Yew gowinta scrawl on our walls?"
"No, no that, uh...."
Then she laughed. "Ah'm jus foolinya, honey. Ah sees yew was from New York and Ah thought yew might think we was a little slow down here."
"You had me going," I said.
"All the paperwork is done, honey. Yew got your credit. Don't play foolish, now."
Then her supervisor came over.
"Yew from New York?" she asked.
"Yes," I said.
"Hillary is going to win," she said. [This took place just before the senate race.]
"Now that Guiliani is out, yes, I guess maybe so."
"I didn't know you followed New York politics down here," said AP.
"Oh, yes, we do. It's in the papers and we follow it," she said.
"That's more than some people in New York," I said.
"Ah like Bill Clinton cause he's cute," said the supervisor. "He jus picked the wrong woman. Never pick a woman who loves and then loves ta talk, know what Ah mean? He has a weakness that's all. Some men got that weakness."
"If I had that weakness, my wife would kill me," I said.
"I sure would," said AP.
"Yew pick the right woman and nobody needs to know a thang."
Is the charismatic former Marketing Director of Gold Strike and current marketing director of The Grand, Clyde Callicott, right when he says Tunica is friendly? The answer is yes. Does this make it a different kind of casino experience? Yes again. It also takes some getting adjusted to if, like me, you're used to Las Vegas and Atlantic City, where the business end of casinos is usually, well, handled like business. But in Mississippi, while folks have a job to perform, -- they activate your credit, give you change, cash your chips, wait on you in the restaurants -- they are also always willing and eager to chat. It's as if a part of every job description is socializing with the guests.
It's not just the dealers whose tips often ride on their ability to be pleasant and friendly, it's everyone. Everyone is "gladtaseeya" -- everyone kids you as if they've known you for years. At the Billy Bob Steakhouse at Sam's Town, the hostess referred to me as "the handsome Frank" because frankly she and everyone else seemed to have trouble pronouncing Scoblete.
David Whitten, driver: Ah saw Elvis twice when Ah was growin up. You wouldn't want to be him [heem] because when he wanted to go eat, he had to rent the restaurant after hours or when he wanted to go to the moo-vees, he'd have to rent the whole the-ater.
Elvis looms over this part of the country like the Oversoul and his Graceland Mansion is the Mecca for pop music pilgrims. The "King" is at the head of a pantheon of local deities that includes John Grisham and a host of blues musicians. And while country-western music is popular, Tunica isn't "cowboy" country, it's "R" country as in....
REDNECK. There I said it.
Now, I have only seen one Jeff Foxworthy routine (he was coming into Tunica as I was leaving) and it was very funny. I long ago forgot the jokes as the butts of those jokes -- the "R" people -- are not a part of my Eastern landscape. Then I hit the South. It is no joke that the "R" word is freely spoken, and universally satirized, by many Mississippians and Oklahomans and Arkansasians (is that how you say it?) and by folks who came to Tunica from parts North, South, East and West (and from Africa) to work. Jokes like:
Caller: "Ah wandta make a reservation foe me and ma wife and sister for dinner tonight."
Maitre'd: "Fine, sir, so that's a table for two."
"You are invited to the wedding of Mable and Maurice. Tie mandatory. Teeth optional."
If there is a PC code in the South, it doesn't cover the "R" word. And the "R" folks do actually exist. In fact, at times the "whoops" and "Yee-has!" that came from the casino slot areas were noticeably different from the "whoops" and "Oh yeahs!" I'm used to.
"Those yelps you hear," said Rudi Schiffer, the host of the popular Goodtimes Show, a local radio show that highlights Tunica's casinos, "those are from the rednecks. And they drive pickups and they wear eclectic clothes and they aren't like any people you meet in the North. They are a Southern artifact and they are real."
Another thing I found of significant interest in this part of the country was the fact that most of the workers I saw in the casinos were African-American. From waiters and waitresses, to dealers, floor personnel, cashiers, bellhops, front desk personnel and credit checkers, the African-American presence in the work force is overwhelming. I talked with one young lady, a former resident of Winona, Mississippi, who was now employed by one of the casinos. She had grown up in an "extended family" of 17 brothers, sisters, "onts" and uncles virtually none of whom had ever held a job before the casinos arrived.
E.S., worker from Winona: Ah'm the first in ma fam-lee to work and that is because of the casinos. Ah was a tough kid and Ah be always gettin in people's faces. In school I'd always be sayin: "Ah want chew foe six!" Now Ah don't fight no more. Ah'm happy workin!
"I want you for six" or "give me six" is how many disputes are settled between teenagers in the surrounding parts. That means that the two antagonists will fight with their fists for six minutes. No wrestling, no hugging, no rolling on the ground, no friends allowed to jump in and help. Just one-on-one punch-it-out for six or fewer minutes and then it's over. All things considered that's rather a refined way to handle disputes considering the New York, Los Angeles and other big-city mode is to gang up on the enemy or, worse, shoot him down in a drive by. The young lady's words rang in my ears: "Ah'm happy workin!"
Television Preacher: Gamblin' and drinkin' and fornicatin' is all ya'll see with these casinos! And when Gowd judges yew, He'll put his foot on yo neck and crush the life outta yew for the abominations yew have allowed! There can be no place in Gowd's whirled for bettin' and no good can come from it ever!
As David Whitten dropped us off at the Memphis Airport, I knew that I would definitely come back to Tunica. For me, a two-and-a-half hour plane trip from New York is well worth it. After all, it takes me over three hours to drive to Atlantic City where the games are not as player-friendly and almost six hours to get to Las Vegas. Tunica is a perfect place to visit for East Coasters such as myself on those extended three and four-day weekends. So ah'm comin back to Tunica real soon, ya hear?
This article is provided by the Frank Scoblete Network. Melissa A. Kaplan is the network's managing editor. If you would like to use this article on your website, please contact Casino City Press, the exclusive web syndication outlet for the Frank Scoblete Network. To contact Frank, please e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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