Monday, February 1, 2021

River Boat Gambling in the 80s

 (The 1980s that is.)

In the mid-1970s I played in a regular home Pittsburgh home game. We played for low stakes but it was great to play with the same group of friends. After I graduated I left town for six years returning to take a new job in early 1982. The game was still going though some of the players had changed.

Fast forward to 2021 and the game is still going, though before COVID hit we sometimes struggled to get enough players in a given week. COVID has forced us online and as an example of the adage "it's an ill-wind that blows no good" some of the old regulars (including one now living in Australia) are able to join us. During last night's game one, who now lives in the Boston area reminded me of an event I organized twice in the mid-1980s.

Pittsburgh is home to a fleet of river excursion boats known collectively as the Gateway Clipper. Mostly they do short cruises a short way up the Monongahela, Ohio, and Allegheny Rivers often while serving a meal. Occasionally they venture further, particularly in the Fall foliage season. One day I spotted an ad for a cruise from Pittsburgh to Waterford Park, a race track in Chester, WV. Now known as Mountaineer Park and with a casino, at the time it was just a low-grade thoroughbred race track (with, what we assumed was a glue factory the other side of the racing oval.)

So it was that one October day a bunch of us boarded the Gateway Clipper and commandeered a large table on the upper deck. As we cruised down the Ohio river we enjoyed a buffet lunch and then sat down to do some river-boat gambling ... that is we started playing poker. My friend remembers someone being amazed that you could play poker on a river boat (it was ok we explained, we were only playing for chips!) As we played the mostly older crowd on the lower deck was dancing the "bird dance" and other polkas, and having their own special kind of fun.

Upon docking in Chester we were transferred to the track where we had seats for dinner in the clubhouse dining room and watched (and bet) an evening racing card. Then we were taken by bus back to the dock in Pittsburgh.

It was so much fun we did it again the following year...but I believe at that point the Gateway Clipper folks stopped running the excursions--or perhaps we just got tired of hearing the chicken dance.

Postscript: To my everlasting regret I never rode one they did down the Monongahela to Morgantown...something my step-son does every other week on the coal tug he Captains.

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