The Breakfast Gamble

By Mike Johnson

Legalized gambling machines have turned Montana businesses into contagious organisms.

Bowling alleys attached to casinos.
Convenience stores attached to casinos.
Restaurants attached to casinos.

An ancient cafe I’d enjoyed in the past had changed hands a couple years ago. Located in a small Montana town, I hadn’t been back since the new owners took over. They connected the cafe to a casino next door.

I entered the restaurant side at 10:30 am. A young waitress was chatting up the only other guy in the place. I sat along the wall to gain as much privacy as possible.

A cheerful waitress my age appeared with the two-sided menu. This was going to be good.

I said no to the coffee and asked for an ice water.

My table’s Smuckers jam rack was filled with single-serve tubs of Strawberry and Concord Grape. Bottles of ketchup and tabasco lined up proudly like major chess pieces next to the pawn-sized salt and pepper shakers.

Small town. Small diner. Friendly waitress. Old memories. This was a good choice.

The ice water arrived with the cup of coffee I didn’t order. Then she remembered. “Dang. Go ahead and keep it.”

I ordered the biscuits and gravy.

I’d stopped drinking coffee a couple years ago. The coffee aroma combined with the bowl of Meadow Gold creamers pulled me off the wagon. Now I was tearing open two sugar packets. The silverware was inserted in the covid-relic paper pouch. But it only contained a knife and fork. I used the knife to stir.

The waitress was 20 feet away in the now-empty cafe. “Go ahead and put the coffee on my bill.”

Then two 50-year-old gals breezed in from the connected casino. The doorway was six feet beyond my chair.

My waitress pounced on them with coffee.

“No thanks,” said the first. “Coors Lite. On tap.”
“I’ll take a Bloody Mary,” said the second. “And make the vodka Titos.”

Wow. 10:30 am. They were already gambling AND hammered.

My waitress disappeared through the casino door to place the drink order.

Two other animated couples entered from the casino, taking seats behind me, two tables away.

Now I was an anthropologist. The empty restaurant started presenting unusual relics and behaviors.

The young waitress appeared with the first gals’ drinks. She was obviously working the casino side. Assign youth and beauty to the room with more profitable booze and gambling.

My waitress brought my food. Wisdom and experience was working the food side.

The gravy was advertised as "delightfully seasoned with pepper." One taste and I’d deciphered their marketing jargon. “Holy-shit! Pepper!”

A busboy appeared 10-feet away and pointed the remote at the diner’s darkened big-screen TV. It lit-up as he struggled to punch-up what he wanted. Two other employees appeared. More remotes pointed. Another 65-incher fired up next to the first.

I finished most of my breakfast and all of my ice water.

The TV technicians dinked around for another five minutes without success. They left both screens on the “guide” page.

The young waitress entered with four cocktails for the casino escapees at the table behind me.

The magic was gone. The cafe had transformed into a hive of activity and vice.

My cash tip ignored the food and rewarded friendly wisdom and experience.

I left it under the pepper shaker.

As an observer, this was a fascinating experience. As a breakfast, it was a fascinating experience too.

But now I know. Any Montana business connected to a casino is going to be a big gamble.



I understand and love restaurants because I spent years working in that industry: My Job as a Dishwasher

My job as a fry cook: Poaching Enlightenment


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