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Sugar Ditch
2/28/00



James and I have safely returned from our weekend at the casino. As we were driving out yesterday afternoon, James had a moment of profundity. You can take the poor out of Sugar Ditch, but you can't get rid of Sugar Ditch . . . or something to that affect. Let me explain, lest you continue to scratch your heads.

The casino industry came to the area in the early 1990's thanks to a loophole in the Mississippi State constitution. Even though it's not rightly Christian, it's okay to have gambling . . . as long as it is on the river. I guess that is an old holdover to the days of riverboat gamblers, saloons, and carpetbaggers. Well, the executives from Vegas dove through the hole and dug canals from the river to "boats" that sit a half-mile or more inland. The county that the casinos settled in was once the poorest in the state. We call it Robinsonville or Tunica now, but it used to be called Sugar Ditch. Lovely name, isn't it? My family used to call the low rent properties on the Monopoly board Sugar Ditch and Love Canal (instead of Mediterranean and Baltic Avenues).

These days bright and shiny casinos replace the flooded beanfields and dilapidated clapboard houses. The sophistication of the working population, however, is eerily the same.

We were booked at what is billed as the "first luxury hotel in the area", the Goldstrike. It looked impressive enough. There was a beautiful flower arrangement in the middle of the lobby and a 14-foot tall waterfall wall stood behind the registration desk. We were hopeful.

When we got to our room, we were dismayed that it was all the way at the end of the building, overlooking the roof of the casino and facing the parking lot. The landscape is pretty boring, so that wasn't a huge disappointment. However, I was highly pissed off at the bathroom. James' boss told him that we were supposed to get a Jacuzzi suite (and we believed that since our room rate was $139 a night with a two-night minimum). I called down to speak to the manager, and she said that there weren't any rooms like that available. So, she reduced our rate to $99 a night. I thought that was very generous of her to do (especially since I didn't think the room was worth more than $99 a night to begin with).

So, we went to gamble a bit and have dinner at the Seafood Buffet. We tried to get in line, but a somewhat rude and certainly uncaring host kept letting people break in line in front of us. We finally found out that you could get a "seating reservation" so that you only had to wait in line for 20 minutes or so. Well, we got one and went off to the food court for a snack and a trip to the video arcade. It was small and quite a few of the games were broken. I did find one that I liked (and subsequently pumped a lot of money into). If you ever see Carnevil, empty your wallet before you start.

When we finally got to eat, the food was decent, but the service was awful. When we got back to the room, I decided to take a shower. It turned out to be the worst shower in the history of man. First of all, the water was really hard so it left a slimy film all over you. Secondly, there was no water pressure whatsoever. Imagine washing your hair with a water pistol held five feet from your head. Get the picture?

Saturday morning, we went to the restaurant instead of the buffet. We waited in line for a half-hour and paid $25 for a meal and service inferior to that of your average IHOP. After waiting ten minutes at an empty register, someone finally came to take our money. Then, we got tickets to the new Brett Daniels show (he's their resident magician) and tried to make appointments for a massage at the spa. It's hardly a spa, really. It's a small pool with a waterfall, two Jacuzzi’s (one with a waterfall), a sauna, a tanning bed, and a workout room. The massage therapist also runs the place. Since she was in with an appointment, James and I had to wait. I called the number on the sign and was put on hold for 10 minutes. James called back and the girl at the desk said that she had to page somebody. Since there wasn't any need for both of us to wait around, I went upstairs to get our swimsuits and James waited for somebody to help us.

When I got back upstairs, (it's noon at this point) housekeeping had set the dirty linens from all the other rooms outside in the hall and had moved on to the other wing of the tower. They had skipped our room. I thought that was odd, but wasn't terribly concerned since check-in time was 4:00. But, I made a call to the front desk to be safe. When I got back to the spa, James was still waiting. We got in the Jacuzzi, in the pool, and back in the Jacuzzi before the massage therapist came back. We made an appointment for 9:00 Sunday morning and continued to play. While we were there, we saw the oddest thing. A man got out of the Jacuzzi, went into his bag, got some shampoo, and proceeded to wash his hair under the waterfall in the pool. Lather, rinse, and repeat. After my experience in the shower, I couldn't really blame him. It was still pretty surreal, though. The absurdity was compounded by a mirror incident on Sunday night's episode of King of the Hill.

So we go upstairs to rest and the room is still not made. James went down to get us some McDonald's from the food court and hassle somebody for some towels. Somebody from housekeeping knocked on the door around 6:0. Since we wanted to take a nap, we told them to forget it. As we were leaving to go to the show at 7:45, all the dirty linens were still in the hallway. I couldn't believe it.

We put it past us and went to the Millennium Theatre. It's a fabulous facility and the show was quite entertaining, even if the wardrobe mistress needed a talking to for the condition of the costumes. The show let out a little bit before ten and we walked over to the buffet.

The line was pretty long, so we tried to get a seating time. The reservation stand had closed and we were rudely informed that they weren't taking reservations and that we couldn't stand in line until after 11:00. That was the final straw (and from the talk I heard quite a few of the other hotel guests were fed up too). I wanted to talk to somebody in charge. We walked back to the hotel and stood at the concierge desk for a few minutes. A guy in a suit walked past us three or four times, but said nothing. Disgusted, we stood in the registration line behind some newlyweds still in their wedding garb. We talked to the clerk, who apologized that they were busy. She got her supervisor, who told us the same thing. Apparently they are busy on the weekends and since they have 1200 rooms, they can't clean them all everyday.

Seeing as how my room has been cleaned daily every time I've been to Mardi Gras, I wasn't sympathetic.

She comped us Breakfast and Lunch at the buffet for our trouble and we went back to the restaurant. It wasn't great for breakfast, but we thought it would be better than Little Caesar's at the food court. We waited to be seated, then sat for twenty minutes before a busman came by to get us some drinks. I guess he felt bad for us. After he brought them back, we heard the couple behind us ask him where their food was (they had been waiting for an hour). The place was half-empty. We should have seen the signs. Ten minutes after we get our drinks; the waitress comes by to take our order. Twenty minutes later, we get salads and twenty minutes after that we get our meal. James had king crab and a so-called Filet. I had a NY Strip. Trust me when I say I've seen better meat at the Sizzler. Fifty dollars later, we went to the room.

I know that James told the front desk manager that she didn't need to have our room cleaned, but I hoped that she would take it upon herself to do so. She didn't.

After another horrible shower, we went down to the breakfast buffet . . . passing rows of dirty linens still in the hallway. Then, it was time for our massage, which I fully enjoyed. I waited around for James while he had his rub down, and we went back upstairs to pack our things. We were pleased to see that the dirty sheets and towels were finally gone. Hallelujah! James went through the in-room check out procedure while I packed our bags. We dropped off our keys, and I tried to check our bags with the bell captain. I was abruptly informed that they could check our suitcase, and our toiletry cases, but not our bag of dirty clothes and our coats. I thought that was pretty rude seeing as how they were checking other people's exercise equipment and umbrellas. He said we could take the stuff to our car or carry it ourselves. I knew that they wouldn't let us in the casino with a plastic bag, so I bit my tongue and started shoving my dirty unmentionables into the front pockets of the suitcase. I'm sure that all first class hotels would rather have their guests do this in the lobby than to store a white plastic drawstring bag for them. The bellman only put a claim tag on one of our bags and they just sat in the hallway. After ten minutes of standing around, James finally said something to the bellman and he said he'd put the bags in a holding room for us. Trust me when I say that our lunch comp was the only thing keeping us there.

Sugar Ditch indeed.

Since we were in their neck of the woods already, and James was having nephew withdrawal, we stopped by to see James' sister. She was quite surprised by the events of our stay. You see, she works at the Grand so she's quite familiar with the goings on of a Casino Hotel. We had gotten over the experience for the most part. We did have a good time, because we made a good time for ourselves in spite of our surroundings. I guess it helps that everything was already paid for too. Then, Marilyn tells us that we could have had a suite at the Grand with a spa package and other perks for less than what they paid for that fiasco.

If James gets employee of the year this year, he's asking for cash.




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