My daughter's high school has hosted a weekly bingo game for the last 35 years each Saturday night. This weekend I was asked to volunteer to help support my daughter's dance class.
I think it is safe to say that I was a bingo-virgin to all this. I played bingo when I was a kid, and I've seen it in movies as something that old people do. Occasionally, another parent in my town will talk about "having to volunteer at bingo tonight" and roll their eyes.
I had no idea.
My daughter has a dance class at her high school instead of normal Phys Ed. And, I have found, you can't be a normal dance class if you aren't scrambling for money to buy more costumes EVERY SINGLE DAY. So, the dance class agreed to supply parent volunteers to help run the weekly event twice this year. My daughter announced to me earlier this week that I was volunteering for a 6hr shift on Saturday. "But, what?"
"Volunteering. You have to do it for me. For Dance."
"No, you're not."
"I could be."
My daughter looked at me.
"Why do I have to do it. Why not Mom?"
"Dad, stop. You're the volunteer in the house. You'll like it."
My wife smirked.
At 4pm on Saturday, I was walking into the high school gymnasium when I saw my friend Joss. "Hey, you're coming to bingo?" he said when he saw me. I shrugged. “You?”
He nodded a little too enthusiastically. "Oh, you'll like it. It's fun," saying it in that way that made me think it wasn’t fun but that if he didn’t say that I might run away.
We walked by a few people smoking cigarettes before heading inside. The high school gymnasium was set up in long rows of tables. On each of the various rows of tables were taped garbage bags (later I would learn for the endless supply of lots of used bingo cards and tickets). There were a handful of people milling about chatting with each other, while others arranged their places w/ good luck charms and assorted markers used in Bingo called daubers.
I arrived, signed in and was handed an orange apron. My friend Steve had also been "volunteered" by his daughter who was in the school color guard.
"You ever done this before?"
"Nope, no idea."
I soon figured out the general pecking order. There were eight “parent volunteers” (about half of us first-timers), four managers, and two “callers” who ran the bingo games (“B17, O56, i71”). Everyone's six-hour volunteer shift would get a share of the evening's profits which would be donated to our child's school program. Managers and callers, because of their extra responsibilities, got double-volunteer time, which Jean, the volunteer manager, explained was one of the many, MANY benefits of joining the high school's Bingo Committee. "We definitely need more managers and more callers. Think, you could be up there calling out the wins!"
May I interest you in some Flash?
We quickly learned our job. Each parent volunteer would get a plastic tool caddy with a few hundred tickets and a paper crown, and assigned to one row of tables on the floor. We would be offering side games called Flash to the various players. Players could buy the tickets that could be opened for cash prizes. Each ticket would be $1 and our job was to sell as many as possible. I groaned inwardly,
"But, it's important to remember," Jean warned, "when you first go out, you can only sell a set amount until you get to the end of the row. Your manager will tell you how many you can offer. Otherwise you might run out."
I was confused and somewhat suspicious. Run out?. "How many do people normally buy?" another newbie asked.
"Oh, it's not unusual for someone to try to buy 30 - 40 tickets in one go," Jean said. The veterans of our group nodded.
"Once you sell out your share, sit down and wait for the next round of Flash," said Jean. "We'll sell seven or eight rounds of Flash tonight."
"So, I just want to warn you, some of our players get... a little grumpy," Jean said. One of the veteran parent volunteers snorted. Jean gave her a look before continuing. "Understand that they take Bingo really seriously and might get upset occasionally. I just ask that if someone isn't as nice as you think they should be that you be the better person and let it pass."
"What if someone wins Bingo? Do we do anything?"
"No, the Bingo games are the responsibilities of the callers. You'll just be selling Flash."
Still completely confused, I followed the others out to the bleachers. I saw that Joss was a caller, seated on a raised platform at one end of the gymnasium next to the glass box where dozens of numbered bingo balls swirled. The place was about half full with bingo players, some already concentrating on their cards, though the real bingo games wouldn't start for another 45 minutes. "What are they playing right now?"
One of the veterans answered. "Oh, pre-games and other warm-up games."
"Do they win anything?"
She shrugged. "Sure."
At the bleachers, each of us took our caddy filled with Flash tickets and put on our crowns. Several of the veterans started arranging their Flash into neat, alternating 10-ticket packs. The rest of us started following suit. I looked to the volunteer next to me. "Who are you volunteering for?"
"My daughter's volleyball team."
An overly-dressed woman in blouse and uncomfortable-looking platform shoes came over. "Hi, I'm Michelle, I'll be managing you tonight. Each of you have $25 and your Flash tickets. Each of you have been assigned a row. You'll start at the end of the row together. This first round is called Cherry Flash and there is a 10 ticket limit until you get to the end of the row. After that you can sell as many as players want until you run out. Only sell to your row when you start but you can go help out another volunteer if they get busy. Understand?"
I didn't, but I nodded.
"Okay, let's walk out."
We walked out in a line like new recruits at a Boy Scout ceremony, each of us with our plastic caddy's and paper crowns, to the far end of the tables. After a moment pause, I walked to the first person. 'Would you like some Flash?"
The woman didn't look up at me but held up some dollar bills. "Give me 3."
I looked down and grabbed three tickets, annoyed that my first neat pile of ten was down to seven and was going to throw off my counting system. I handed her the tickets, grabbed the money and moved on.
The next person was a heavy-set woman with a dark t-shirt that said Sure, let me drop everything and work on your problem. "Would you like Flash?" I asked. She eyed me suspiciously and then looked back down at her bingo cards. I moved on.
It was surprisingly easy. I had expected that I would need to convince people to buy them but it soon became apparent that convincing people wouldn't be the problem. About half-way down the table a very large woman was set up with multiple bingo cards, a bingo caddy with a dozen rainbow-colored daubers and a small portable fan. Across from her was a younger man with a green truckers cap that said I Love BINGO. "Over here," she said "What's your name?"
"Okay, Scott. I'm Carrie. What's the limit?"
"Okay, then give me 10." She handed me a $10 bill. "When you get to the end of the row, come straight back, and I'll buy a bunch more. Don't worry. We buy lot of Flash. We'll take care of you."
I moved down the row. Most of the players bought Flash tickets, with the more serious ones always buying the limit. In a few minutes, I had gotten to the end of the row. The player at the end looked up and said, "You can sell me as many as I want, right?"
I was suddenly confused. "I guess?"
"Gimme $20 more."
A woman at the row of tables next me held up a $10 bill and looked at me. "Flash!" I moved over to her.
Suddenly, I heard Carrie from down the row of tables. "What are you doing? That's not fair! YOU HAVE TO STAY IN YOUR ROW."
I looked at the woman in front of me. "Sorry," I said, shrinking away back to my row of tables. I moved over to Carrie. "You were right. Sorry about that."
Carrie didn't look at me, continuing to daub at her bingo cards. "You're new. It's okay. But, don't let it happen again." She pointed to a small pile of bills on the table next her. "Now give me 30 more tickets."
I stacked out 30 tickets in 3 neat rows of 10 and put the money in the caddy and moved to the next table.
Steve walked by. "Just think", he said in a low voice "we only have four more hours to go."