If you think all McDonald’s are alike, take another look under the golden arches in Sonoma.
The first difference you’ll notice is the hostess.
Most fast food restaurants don’t have hostesses, much less one like Dee Sellards, who works four days a week and is 82 years old. Charming, vivacious, and looking much younger than her age, Sellards gives toys and cookies to the kids and welcoming smiles to everyone.
But the real surprise comes on Thursdays, when Sellards runs the weekly bingo game.
Long-time McDonald’s manager Danielle Sanabria started bingo five years ago after reading about a similar program on the East Coast. She wanted to do something fun for her senior citizen customers, and now Sonoma McDonald’s has the only bingo that she knows of in California.
About 15 to 20 players show up each week, with more during the winter months.
“I come every Thursday, rain or shine,” said Nancy West, who started coming after her husband passed away a little more than two years ago. “I get cabin fever if I don’t get out once a week.”
“We’ve gotta’ get out of the house or we’ll go stir crazy,” agreed regular player Juanita Brinkley, who also comes for the McDonald’s coffee, which she declares “the best in Sonoma.”
It’s a friendly bunch. Some, like Dorothy Johnson, Lillian Kizer, Joan Ricci and Ethel Albini have lived in Sonoma for many years. Others, like Carmen Fernandez, are newer and have only recently discovered this unlikely bingo parlor. All enjoy the Thursday afternoon gatherings. Else Dowlen from Seven Flags Mobile Home Park calls it “the best game in town, and the best price. Free!”
The manager and hostess keep an eye out for their regulars, and if someone hasn’t come for awhile, they worry. Kind-hearted Sanabria said, “If I could, I’d pick them all up, but I don’t have a big enough car.”
Some players arrive up to an hour before the two o’clock start time to pick their seats and their lucky cards. Each person is allowed up to four bingo cards at once, and everyone plays the maximum. The tables nearest Sellards fill up first – not only because it’s easier to hear her call out the numbers, but also because they like her company. Some bring her little gifts, like the bingo angel brooch she wears on Thursdays.
When the first game begins, the restaurant’s music is turned off. Hearing devices are turned up by those who use them. The games require focus.
They play brain twister bingo, games with names like “Crazy Kite,” “Layer Cake,” “Shotgun” and “Dog Bone”. Instead of filling up a straight line on the card, players have to fill the squares to create a pattern. One, in a nod to the sponsor, is called “McDonald’s M..”
They compete to win McDonald’s $1-off coupons and players are treated to free coffee or sodas during the break. They play up to 15 games in the course of an afternoon.
About a third of the dining room is taken up by the bingo players, and other customers are often curious. One couple says that they’ve lived here for over 50 years and have never heard about McDonald’s bingo. Last week they promised they’d be back the next Thursday to play.
Bingo under the
18988 Hwy. 12,
Boyes Hot Springs
Thursdays, 2 – 4 p.m.
New players welcome
For more information,