One winter morning at breakfast, I learn about Bosnia, Baltimore and yes Bingo

January 31, 1995|By ELISE T. CHISOLM

There are several things I don't like, and have never liked from the world of entertainment: clowns (I never thought they were funny), accordion music, and people who play the accordion, and finally -- board games like Bingo.

If only I had a nickel for every game of Candy Land I have played with my grandchildren, I would be so rich I could give every accordion player in a restaurant 50 bucks to serenade another table.

And, I hate Bingo. When I turned 7, I received a game for my birthday, I wanted a tennis racket.

But wait. Just last week after an early run to the grocery store, I dropped in at a McDonald's for a quick breakfast. There, in a sunny corner toward the back, were people my age having as much fun as if at their high school prom.

They were playing Bingo, and winning prizes of free take-outs of McDonald's fast food from chicken fajitas to dessert.

I sit down and listened in. Here are about 35 seniors -- they have 50 on a clear day -- talking current affairs from Bosnia to Baltimore and gossiping while drinking senior-discounted coffee.

The foursome next to me is discussing Haiti.

Fragments from my eavesdropping: "Why when I was in the Marines . . ." and "Today's soldiers are just not as well-trained as ours were."

Then the conversation goes on to the latest crimes.

"Wait a minute," a pretty woman says, "I can't stand hearing such bad news in the morning. Why do you guys always talk about bad things all the time? Talk about something cheerful . . ." Another woman interrupts: "Jane, there isn't any good news this early in the morning. Frankly, I'm grateful to get out of bed."

Here's Norman, who is 90, and Lanius and his wife, who are 84. There are some recent widows, among them Arlene, who says she comes for the fellowship. I decide not to talk politics as I don't know who is a Republican and who is a Democrat. So I talk weather.

After the deficit and Hillary Rodham Clinton are discussed they get down to the game -- Bingo!

McDonald's supplies the cards -- one apiece -- and the chips.

The caller in this case is Gertrude, an affable McDonald's employee.

Then at 9:30 a.m. on the dot, she calls out, pleasantly, "N-16" and the action heats up.

Now, I have a card and I am into this morning sport with a vengeance and a cup of coffee. No money is exchanged just good talk and Bingo boosters who want to win McFood.

Across the country on any designated morning of the week senior citizens can enjoy the game at hundreds of different McDonald's.

I am having fun, and hey, I'm beginning to like Bingo.

Gertrude tells me this McBingo in Ellicott City has been going on Mondays for about five years.

When I called McDonald's headquarters, a spokeswoman said, "We like to accommodate seniors, and it brings a good feeling in the neighborhoods. They have breakfast and keep coming back. These programs are very popular and we're starting up more every day."

Eighty-five percent of McDonald's restaurants are owner-operated by franchisees, and it's up to restaurant owners if they want to start a Bingo morning. The Bingo operations have been in existence about 15 years in many places.

When I was ready to leave this gregarious group, a friendly man named Sam, who had just won applause and his second sundae, assured me that it's not the winning or how you play the game, it's just being there.

I'm going back again just for the Egg McMuffin. Who knows -- I may win it.

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