Character Guest Post
Hi, everyone my name is John Tovar although most of you probably know me as Kevin’s father. It feels funny returning to my alma mater Palm Springs High to give a speech. I was embarrassed when they first asked me. Believe me in high school I would have been voted least likely to succeed if anyone paid any attention to me at all. I didn’t have fancy clothes, a nice car or any car. I went to school to get the free meal at lunch, and to hang out with my friends. My mother worked three jobs to keep a roof over my head, and she would have kicked my ass if I ever dropped out. So, I limped along and finished high school with a very below average G.P.A. Not setting a very good example for you, but this is a redemption story.
I’m going to give it to your straight because I believe you are old enough to learn how the world works. When I was growing up, I wasn’t proud of being Native American. I wished I could be one of the kids who had a celebrity for a parent. This city was swarming with them when I was young. They lived in big mansions behind high walls and we were shuffled to Section 14, one square mile in the middle of the city. When the city decided to develop it, some people would go to work and return home to find their homes had been bulldozed. The only time I felt like I belonged was when I went to play with my cousins in the High Desert.
I am a member of the Shotowa Tribe and my ancestors have lived in the Coachella Valley for thousands of years. We were the original immigrants, when this land was wide open. Now it’s time for a little history lesson. I believe it is important that we learn the history of this country good and bad. Native American tribes were always considered sovereign nations which usually meant we were on our own.
Ultimately the secret of my success did lie in my heritage because in 1987 the supreme court decided a tribe could have gambling. I was born into the right tribe. It was like we won the lottery not the mega millions but one that will pay your bills. It allows us to offer educational and job opportunities for our members. Maybe a casino isn’t a fair trade since we lost a whole country to illegal immigrants but it’s a start. But it feels pretty good to be the tribal chairman. It was a thrill to be introduced to Queen Elizabeth as the leader of the Shotowa. Not bad for a kid raised in Section 14. Today our story is in the Smithsonian.
I know that there are casinos all over Southern California now, but in the early days opening a casino wasn’t easy. We had to sneak slot machines in at two a.m. For the first few years we lived in fear of the feds shutting us down, Then the voters of California made it legal under Proposition 5.
I know everyone tells you get your education but when I left this place more school was the last thing on my mind. I joined the Marines and stayed there for about ten years and one divorce. But when I returned home with no career path, I went to work at a Native bingo hall. I learned owning a casino was like printing money. I had found my calling. I could help do good things for the Shotowa Tribe.
I pledged that if the tribal council would send me to college for business, I would find a way for us to open a casino. This time I studied hard because it was my idea, and I couldn’t let the tribe down. My most helpful class turned out to be business etiquette. I learned how to have a meal with potential investors and more importantly how to listen and when to speak. Because in life it’s all about the relationships you create. Always surround yourself with good people.
I will leave you with this piece of advice. Try not to dwell in the past. If Native Americans felt like that we would never get up in the morning. Your story will contain twists and turns which will make for an interesting life. You have to lose a few times to appreciate winning.I start each day anew and thank Mother Earth for her bounties. I ask her, how can I best help the Tribe. We live in a beautiful place and we need to care for it. Go out in the world and make your mark, take advantage of all the opportunities life gives you. You may not be the smartest or the richest, I sure wasn’t. But you are the only you, and you have your own story to write.
About Casino Queen
Caroline Popov, alone, heartbroken, and deeply in debt ends up in glamorous Palm Springs, California where Native casinos have just opened, offering employment to thousands. She lands a job at the Palm Oasis Casino where she is mentored by the charismatic tribal chairman, John Tovar.
Embraced by casino culture, Caroline works her way up to casino manager of the Night Hawk, in the High Desert of Southern California. There, she is responsible for managing multicultural team members, satisfying the demands of often unique guests, and growing revenue while rooting out corruption.
In the process of rediscovering her inner strength, she learns, you have to gamble like your life depends on it. Because it often does.
About Cara Bertoia
Growing up in a strait-laced Southern family, I was always fascinated with casinos. In my twenties on a summer hiatus from teaching in North Carolina, I drove to California and became a dealer at Caesars in Lake Tahoe. Well, I can tell you that after teaching high school, handling an unruly gambler was a piece of cake. My mother highly disapproved of my working in a casino, "a place so bad it has 'sin' in the middle."
Eventually, I succumbed to pressure from the family and returned east to take a high-tech job in Boston. I also began working on my MFA in writing at Emerson. I wanted to write the first realistic novel about casino life from the perspective of an experienced table games dealer. I am always amazed that normal and sometimes quite intelligent players become absolutely clueless in the casino. They repeat superstitious nonsense and no amount of logic can change their position, maybe my novel will.
While in Boston I was offered the opportunity to join Princess Cruises as a croupier. Jumping at the chance, I spent the next five years circling the globe. Sometimes life exceeds your dreams. I was awed by the wonders of Venice, the fjords of Norway, and the Northern Lights in Leningrad.
I returned from ships with a very special souvenir, my Scottish husband Ray. We went to work at the Spa Casino in Palm Springs. We now live in Hollywood, Florida, where I write about my casino years while wistfully gazing out at the ocean.
I love to see any of you out there reading Casino Queen. Send me a picture to email@example.com and I will post it to social media.
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