UNION BRIDGE — Carrying fluffy pillows, assorted snacks and overnight bags, about 200 people piled into the Union Bridge Fire Hall Friday.
Members had organized an all-night bingo, not a community slumber party. Sleep was not on the agenda. Players came to mark and win. The pillows would pad the seats and backs of stiff metal chairs.
"Those chairs get pretty hard after a few hours," said Ken Taylor, 47, of here. He and Glendy Villa, also of here, organized the partyto raise money for the town's Volunteer Fire Department.
Players removed multicolored markers, bedroom slippers, aspirin, wash cloths and towels from their bags and prepared to play.
Villa, who often plays with three friends, brings the aspirin to ease tension or sleep-deprivation headaches.
"We have gotten sick and well all in one night and kept on playing," she said.
Good-luck trinkets and dolls sat on top of several cards.
"If I don't win something, I might disown my dolls tonight," said Renie Hubbard of Gettysburg, Pa.
The cool wash cloths help when the urge to sleep creeps in.
"You can get a little punchy about 3 a.m.," said Barbara Koogle of Frederick. "A splash of cold water does it."
A $30 ticket entitled each playerto dinner, 91 games and a variety of jackpots. By the time Taylor and his volunteer crew had locked up hall at about 5 a.m., the fire company was about $2,500 richer, he said.
Row upon row of people listened to each call, dabbing out numbers on rows and rows of cards, waiting for the right to shout "Bingo!" and claim their money. The shoutbrings a cry from the losers, who rapidly rip up their cards and prepare to play again. Giant trash bags at each table quickly fill with discards , as a new winner emerges every four to 11 calls.
Testingto see who's awake, the caller shouted, "N-43," on a four-corners game. The crowd complained good-naturedly that "N" numbers were out of the game. Helen Whalen, 80, of Westminster, brought a friend to recall any missed numbers.
"I am hard of hearing," said Whalen. "My friend helps, and we both stay until they throw us out."
Winners and losers all stayed to the lucrative end -- a $500 jackpot, which was called in the early hours of morning.
They sipped endless cups of coffee, chomped carrot sticks, cookies and chips while they played on into the night.
Most played nine cards simultaneously, but keen-eyed, ambitious players marked more. Accompanied by 12 friends, ShirleyWarehime of Taneytown caught up on the latest gossip, played her own18 cards, and watched over four newcomers at her table, too. She canplay more -- 24, she said.
Chain smokers filled the room with thick smoke. The ceiling in the fire hall is equipped with "smoke-eater"fans, said volunteer JoAnne Boone.
"We have dances here with up to 500 people, and the fans keep the air clear," she said. "We keep them on low for bingo players who complain the air blows their cards too much."
During the 20-minute intermissions, players lined up at the snack tables and restroom doors.
"You don't leave the table ever for fear of missing a game," said Janet Boyd of Sykesville, who said she loves all-nighters. "I wish somebody would have a bingo marathon. The family would never see me."
Players remained optimistic until the last call rang out.
"I have about 45 more chances to win," said Joyce Murray of Manchester at midnight. "I guarantee most players will stay glued to these chairs.
"Most of the time, we don't even win. It's either stupidity or just plain enjoyment."