My Last $464: Derby Weekend In Lake Tahoe

Betting on horses, buying jewelry, and more

photo by the author

For four years, I have wanted to meet one of my online friends in Lake Tahoe. She lives in Denver but comes to Tahoe in May almost every year for an annual rock concert. Most years, I didn’t have the money. This year, I started planning two months in advance.

In March, I bought a $100 ticket for the show. In April, I paid for two nights at the hotel/casino where the band would be playing and got bus tickets. The day before I left was payday, so I had money for the resort fee, food, and souvenirs. And I had money to do something that I always wanted to do: bet on the Kentucky Derby.

I have always been fond of the Derby. My Dad was from Kentucky, and watching the race on television was a family tradition. A few days before the race, I read up on the horses and the basics of betting, and I thought I was ready to wager. The next day, the odds changed. I decided to make my picks on the morning of the race to see which horses woke up in a racing mood.

When I got up and turned on the radio, the station was playing “Money” by Pink Floyd. A good omen? No.

When I got to Tahoe, I bet $24 on several horses. But I didn’t look at the racing form so I failed to notice that one of the horses had changed gates since yesterday. I got the correct horses for Win and Place, but because of the change, I only won $11.60 on the winning horse. Not bad for a beginner, but I probably would have won all my money back if I had been more careful.

Finally meeting my friend, though, was worth more than any horse race. Since I wasn’t going to Saturday night’s show, I went to a store that one of my co-workers had recommended. Big mistake. $90 later, I had some new jewelry and a belated birthday gift for a friend. I spent $25 on a sweatshirt for my best friend’s upcoming birthday. When I checked in, the hotel put a $100 hold on my debit card. At least that was money that I couldn’t spend during the weekend.

When I checked in, the hotel put a $100 hold on my debit card. At least that was money that I couldn’t spend.

After buying souvenirs and snacks, eating lunch and dinner, enjoying a late night cocktail, and gambling, the day’s total spending was $355.92. I only won $41.16 gambling, but it was a good day and my friends and I got to hang out with the band’s drummer in a bar that night.

Sunday was Mother’s Day and my friend’s husband bought us a buffet brunch. I ate too much and headed to the nearest drugstore for upset stomach medicine. After buying a tee shirt at the show and getting a late night snack, the day’s total spending was $55.66.

Before I went home on Monday, I spent $20 on breakfast and another $40 in the store where I had spent $90 on Saturday. It was a beautiful, cloudless day, which made my walk by the lake even more special. On my way back to the hotel, I stopped at a hotel/spa by the lake to ask for a brochure. I inquired about the slow season, a time when I might be able to afford to reserve a room. In the fall before the ski resorts opened and the time between the ski resort closures and Memorial Day were the slowest times. I was miffed by the cool reception that I received at the front desk, as if the possibility of me ever staying there was unimaginable and not even worth giving me a welcoming smile.

But I didn’t let the rebuff ruin my weekend. Right before I left, I played $5 on a poker machine and won $15, which I promptly pocketed. I gave a $5 tip to the bellman, who helped to carry my bags to the bus stop two blocks away. I thought the standard rate was $1 a bag, but what are the two blocks worth?

The total for my Lake Tahoe weekend was $464.00, not counting the $400 I spent ahead of time for my lodging, concert ticket, and transportation. I had a great time, met old and new friends, saw a good show, and got some nice jewelry and tee shirts. Weekends in Tahoe will never be a monthly addition to my lifestyle, but I do plan to make a return trip one of these days.

When I got home, I looked up the prices for the hotel/spa by the Lake, using the first weekend of October as a potential date. With my AARP discount, I could get a room with a lakefront view and a king-sized bed for $377 a night: doable if I don’t gamble or buy any more jewelry. It might be worth it just to experience the heated toilet seat.

Beatrice M. Hogg is a coal-miner’s daughter and freelance writer who was raised in Western Pennsylvania and has lived in Northern California for twenty-five years, where she wrote her novel, Three Chords One Song, and continues to write about music and life in general.

Support The Billfold

The Billfold continues to exist thanks to support from our readers. Help us continue to do our work by making a monthly pledge on Patreon or a one-time-only contribution through PayPal.