Sunday, June 20, 2004

It's been a great weekend. First of all, the weather's been PERFECT. It couldn't have been nicer if I'd ordered it out of a catalog. Which is ideal because we spent a lot of time over the weekend either travelling in vehicles or walking.

Yesterday, we had a deaf-blind group outing to Atlantic City. We all went in Jean J's van. KC, our deaf-blind friend from California, has been visiting Jean, and her deaf-blind son Joe J, since Friday and will be there until Tuesday. Jay, our deaf-blind friend from NE Philly, took a SEPTA train down to a station near Jean, who met him at the train station. Then they all drove to pick up Mark and me on the way to the Walt Whitman Bridge and NJ. We were a little bit concerned that we'd run into heavy traffic on the way to the shore, thanks to the time of year, but it really wasn't all that congested.

Normally, when we go, we park at the Trump Plaza because a few of us have the free membership cards there, and the parking only costs $4 if you present the card. But yesterday, for a change of pace, we tried the Taj Mahal (another Trump-owned casino). Surprise! They only charge $4, period, no matter if you have a membership card or not. So that was the first reason to make a mental note regarding making this casino a more regular destination when we go to AC.

Then there's the fact that some of us, especially me, can't tolerate smoke for long periods of time. (I'm not the only one in our extended group of friends who is affected badly by smoke, but out of the six people on yesterday's trip, I was the most sensitive to it.) So when we found out that the Taj Mahal not only has a decent-sized non-smoking slot machine area, but the non-smoking area actually has an entrance right onto the boardwalk(!), that was another major plus. The fact that we don't have to take two or three separate elevators and then make our way across the whoooooole building to a teeny weeny little non-smoking area hidden in some back corner, the way it is in some other casinos if they even have a non-smoking area at all, earns the Taj a ton of points in my book. It means that if you're entering the casino via the boardwalk, you don't have to walk through a smoking area AT ALL to get to the non-smoking area. Yay, hooray, someone with a brain actually planned this out and did a good job of it.

Third, and most important, there are some slot machines in the Taj's non-smoking area that actually dispense COINS when you cash out whatever credits you have in the machine. The cashless machines, the ones where you feed your paper money into the slot, the machine registers X number of credits, and when you cash out it prints you a little coupon that you have to take to the cashier in order to get actual money, are taking over. Cashless slots might be saving the casino a lot because the machines don't have to be refilled with quarters as often. It also might be earning the casinos more money because it's more tempting to regard those coupons printed by the slot machine as "not real money", which makes it easier to gamble it all back into the machines. (As opposed to, say, the psychological feeling of having a bunch of quarters, which patrons might be more inclined to view as Real Money and try to hang onto their winnings instead of gambling them away.) However, the cashless machines are the ultimate in "pointless" for our deaf-blind friends. Part of the attraction of using the slot machines in the first place, for our deaf-blind friends, is the FEEL of being able to drop quarters into the slot, as well as the FEEL of the coins dropping out of the machine when it's time to cash out any remaining credits.

With the cashless machines, you insert paper money into the slot and get credits in the machine. It's impossible for our blind friends to tell how many credits they have unless they have a sighted friend with them. The buttons on the front of the machine are FAR from being consistent from machine to machine... every one has the main buttons like "Bet Max", "Cash Out", "Call for Service", and "Spin" in different locations. The machines also lack consistency in the placement of their other, smaller buttons, like "1 Line", "2 Lines", etc (depending on the number of lines the machine allows you to bet on), and the "Bet 1 per Line", "Bet 2 per Line", etc. Not one slot machine anywhere has so much as one dot of braille anywhere on it, which means that a patron has to either be sighted, or have a sighted person on hand to help them navigate through the buttons and figure out which one is which.

Still, on the machines that dispense quarters, it's still possible for our deaf-blind friends to drop quarters into the slot, spin the reels, hit "Cash Out" and FEEL if quarters are coming out, meaning that they won something. The cashless ones, which print the little coupon with a dollar value on it when the "Cash Out" button is pressed, don't even allow for THAT much enjoyment. So there goes the last vestige of accessibility to blind patrons that the slot machines offer.

Actually, I can't really lump all the deaf-blind patrons together. Jay, who still has enough usable vision remaining that he can read most of the print on the slot machines, as well as the print on the coupons, is fine with using the cashless machines. But for people like Joe J, who hasn't got anywhere near enough residual vision to allow him to read print of any size, cashless machines are pointless. He finds them boring and I don't blame him.

So, when we found FOUR coin-dispensing quarter slot machines in the non-smoking area at the Taj, well, we were all delighted. (And praying that those machines won't be replaced by their cashless equivalents any time soon.) That's where Joe J and KC played, when we were in the casino. Jay went roaming around the non-smoking area, and since I was one of the two sighted people in our party who signs, I roamed with him to make sure that our group wouldn't get irretrievably separated. Plus, there were particular types of machine that he wanted to play on, and I was able to help him track them down. I was also able to help out by reading some of the smaller print on the machines, or print that wasn't very well contrasted with the background color. I cringed when we wound up roaming into the smoking part of the gambling floor, but fortunately we didn't wind up getting second-hand-smoked to death out there.

I don't think any of us won anything... Mark and I definitely didn't win, because neither of us gambled, period. I kind of think everyone else left some funds behind by the end of the day, but I'm not sure. Oh, well. We're all low-rollers anyway, so even the ones of us who lost didn't part with much.

We had lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe. That place gets an A+ for their food, and in my book they get a HUGE thumbs-up for having braille menus. However, it turned out to be a challenge to converse in there, because the music was so loud. Thank goodness, it was GOOD music, at least, but the volume of it made communicating difficult. Cochlear implants and hearing aids are super, but loud background noise is a real obstacle for anyone using them. At least Mark's new digital hearing aids have a setting that does a good job at reducing the interference from background noise, but KC's cochlear implants have no such setting, as far as I know. And when the background noise is as loud as that music was, there's only so much that current technology can do to overcome it.

So, I would gladly recommend the Hard Rock Cafe under ordinary circumstances, but with our particular group that went there yesterday, I'd have second thoughts. Unless, that is, we picked one of their outdoor tables, where the music wasn't anywhere near as loud. If only the area where the tables were hadn't been in the sun, and rather warm, at the time we were there! The TABLES had umbrellas shading them, but the boardwalk/concrete combo that the tables were ON did not, and the heat being radiated from those made the area too warm (in my book, anyway, and I don't normally overheat easily).

Besides gambling and eating :o), we also took a nice walk along the boardwalk, which was absolutely BEAUTIFUL in the weather we had yesterday. Who needs to gamble when you can be out there in what amounted to perfect spring weather? Heck, we could have spent the whole day walking along the boards and it would have suited me just fine.

Well, it's late, and I'm exhausted -- today is Father's Day and we had really nice visits with Mark's parents and with mine. However, this means that after spending yesterday travelling to/from Atlantic City, we spent today commuting between Philly and Willow Grove. I'm so worn out, I actually dozed off in the car on the way from my in-laws' house back to Philly. So, instead of posting about Father's Day right now, I'm turning in. I need sleep.

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