America is all about choices. Even when buying something as simple as a dozen eggs. Free range, organic, omega-3 enhanced, vegetarian, conventional, brown, white, pasture raised, farm fresh, Styrofoam packaged, cardboard packaged, store brand, name brand and more. We balance price, taste, ethics, in every purchase, from every store. 

So naturally, we are in the process of discussing the merits of our Forest Park future, whether it should include video games of chance or not. 

I realize, based on the style of writing, creation of the message and design of the fliers, I am not the target demographic for the “Vote No” marketing that comes in the mail. It’s OK with me because they might have a greater impact on my fellow voters.

Everywhere in town are yard signs, which are hard to miss, of residents showing allegiance, staking their claim publicly, sometimes even flexing a muscle right on the edge of a property line. Counted on Monday night: 114 “Vote No” and 106 “Vote Yes” signs marking residential properties (no matter how many signs in a single lawn, it was only counted one time). 

I admire those who have made their decision and are not afraid to show it. The discussion boards on Facebook, the comments in the Forest Park Review, and even the signs in the yard are so focused on this single issue. Some residents are fueled by the actions of a referendum to suppress the opportunity to vote, some are outraged by people who wear green vests, some are still sizzling from alleged out-of-towners collecting signatures, some cannot swallow the old FOIA-ing of resident family members, some are perplexed that this is even something worth debating, some are delighted by the new revenue source, some are disappointed by the village’s strategic plan, some are thrilled to see the reinvestment in businesses, some are just pleased with financial rewards, some don’t trust the signage rules, and some are thankful to have increased employee benefits. 

Almost everyone in town seems to be offended and hurt, so we have that in common.

I am most curious about the very, very quiet people. The ones who once were vocal but now silent, not even a peep. Have they stopped caring? Did they change their minds? Are they undecided? We are a small community; this should not be that hard.

Fourteen locations in Forest Park offer the devices that have the eye and ear of our town: Beacon, Big Boss, Blueberry Hill, Doc Ryan’s, Duffy’s, Fat Duck, Goldyburgers, Golden Steer, Healy’s Westside, Mugsy’s, Murphy’s, O’Sullivan’s, Slainte, and R’Place. 

Sunday night was ALCS Game 2 between the Red Sox and the Astros and Sunday Night Football featured the Patriots-Chiefs game so it seemed like a good time to hop from bar to bar to check out the scene. I started at 6:30 p.m. (taking a break to get a friend to come with — thanks Julianne) and only made it to 10 bars, and they all had the maximum number of machines they could, which is five, except for Goldyburgers, which had four and the voucher cash-out machine. 

There are only a handful of different machines, so each location has basically the same devices that other locations have. All bars have slot machines featuring different themes — Spin for Cash, Game Chest, Velocity, Country Girl, Lobster Mania, Playboy Hot Zone, Illinois Pick and Play, Dangerous Beauty, Candy Bar. The user simply sits back in a cozy Gold Rush chair, inserts the money (these machines take some pretty beat-up bills with ease) and push the button. Sometimes there is a machine that offers the user the opportunity to be a little more interactive and one can select cards or change the betting amount on the slot or hand. With every button push there are lights and sounds that are similar to child toys, and you can win points even when your pot of money decreases. There are placards available to put on the machine to “hold” your spot if you have to leave the machine for a short break to ensure you keep you place.

I did not make it on my journey that night to Golden Steer, Murphy’s, Big Boss (closed at 9:30 p.m.), or R’Place. While most of the bars had fewer than five patrons, Fat Duck and O’Sullivan’s each had sizable crowds. These lively atmospheres had fellowship, food, drinks and a welcoming hello from the bartender or hostess. At O’Sullivan’s there were people using the slot machines, but the Fat Duck crowd was too focused on the televisions and the people at their tables. Certainly, the baseball and football games were the main focal points and the patrons were happy and seemed to be having fun.

In the other bars, I was at times the only person there, besides the bartender, and was usually the only person using the gambling machines. May not have been the best time of day for their business. Only Mugsy’s had a single patron also on a machine. Every bar has its own atmosphere, some have food, some have fully stocked bars, some have a variety of activities (darts, pool, golf, board games) and it was a quiet night mostly. I didn’t win anything, but did get up by 50 cents at Blueberry Hill, then waged it and lost. I plan to bar hop the other locations — and stop in Berwyn, too, where signs are all over windows and doors — to see how the bars there compare. I am also curious to see if the signage is helping them create the atmosphere that was so warm and comforting that I’d like to see grow in Forest Park. 

I went to the forum hosted by my friends and neighbors who are decidedly “voting no,” and I plan on attending the meet-and-greet, hosted by my friends and neighbors who are decidedly “voting yes.” I much prefer face-to-face conversations, after all.

I realize I have the privilege to vote on this issue, and I love this town. I am only one vote, but I would like to take the time to be sincere about it. No matter how the vote goes, I worry about our ability to move forward. With the passion and energy being shared on the two sides of this single issue, there are bound to be some who will be hurt and angry. 

No matter how the vote goes, I hope we can come out a little stronger, more resilient and can all still celebrate the windows at the Holiday Walk, the local green thumbs at the garden walk, the 2019 garage galleries and chili cookoff and appreciate our good fortune. 

Forest Park is a nice town, with nice people, amenities and usually kind and generous neighbors. Let’s hope it stays that way.

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