Buy-in for the daily poker tournament at Cities of Gold Casino: $25

Gas to drive to Pojoaque: $6

16-oz girly drink: $3

Not actually gambling the $25: priceless.

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In my family, I'm something of a gambling legend.

OK, that's not true at all. Despite the efforts of successive exes and friends, I don't even know how to play poker, and I'm a terrible liar. Or bluffer, as the case my be.

But once, half a lifetime ago, I had my day in the sun. I was about 14 years old, and as I remember it, my father gave me $20 and sent me into a casino somewhere in the Caribbean. I was allowed in because there wasn't an age limit on drinking (hooray!) or gambling (meh), and I imagine my parents just wanted to get rid of me.

Anyway, the only game I knew how to play was blackjack, and the buy-in was $10. I lost my first hand, but then--can you guess where this is going?--I kept winning hand after hand, never gambling more than $10, until I had $200. Thrilling! I was a freaking genius!

I ran outside to tell my father what I'd accomplished--and, naturally, return his $20 investment. I have no idea where my winnings went. Probably to buy philosophy books or a tennis racquet. (I was a dorky kid, but at least I wasn't wearing roller skates.)

At any rate, I became convinced that I was basically a luck dragon

(TheWB)

...but that I should never gamble again in case my luck wore off. I don't think I've put money on a card game since.

Such principles, however, didn't stop me from ending up at the Cities of Gold Casino in Pojoaque last week. The casino is small, smoky and unpretentious. I shared a long, deserted bar with a retired math teacher (who also didn't like to gamble; it seems the vices restrict themselves here) and a heavily pregnant bartender named Michelle.

We shot the breeze for a few minutes, and I ordered a club soda. It wasn't yet 5 pm.

"There's this drink," Michelle was saying, "that tastes exactly like a grapefruit. You wouldn't believe it, because it's made from mango vodka, grenadine and pineapple juice."

Gross. But then Michelle said what changed my mind: "It's only $3."

I've never met a $3 cocktail I didn't like, so I ordered it. So did the math teaacher--who, it should be noted, was (and probably is) a man.

Michelle mixed up the drinks in less than a minute, and--lo and behold--they tasted exactly like grapefruit juice! And not that taupe-colored nasty stuff, but pure, sun-kissed ruby red. With a cherry on top.

"What do you call this?" the math teacher asked.

"I don't know," Michelle said. "The Michelle Special?"

We agreed it was an apt name for the type of drink that's just the pick-me-up you need when driving through Pojoaque. Hell, if things really got serious, you could even make it at home, provided you're comfortable with buying mango-flavored vodka. The price of the drink, Michelle told us, was due to the bar's desire to get rid of said vodka--so go try one before it's gone.

Cities of Gold Casino

10-A Cities of Gold Road, Santa Fe, NM 87506 (heading north from Santa Fe, turn right at the turnoff for Los Alamos Hwy)

800-455-3313