It's an offer I can't refuse: a trip to a winery, then down to Niagara Falls to the Fallsview Casino, with a free smorgasbord lunch thrown in, all for $10.
When I tell my friends, they laugh. "For $10 you'll be riding in a yellow school bus."
I'm a bit shocked when a nice, sleek air-conditioned bus driven by a woman pulls up at 8:45 am in front of Food Basics to pick up members of our co-op and friends.
We set off down the QEW. At Oakville we pass the Ford plant, home of Lincoln, then it's over the Burlington Skyway and the belching smokestacks of Hamilton and on down past a whole slew of wineries.
At Beamsville, we pull off the QEW at exit 64 to tour the Magnotta Winery.
First there's an educational tour. I remember two things. If it's a rainy September, grapes will absorb water and their sugar content will be lower, so they have to be harvested quickly. And those with allergies should take their pill one hour before drinking red wine.
Then it's time for the best part, the chugalug. Surprisingly, the wine samples are quite generous.
Then we go straight down the highway to Niagara Falls.
A lady who deals with coach passengers for the casino steps on board. She asks all those with Players Advantage Club cards to follow her.
They immediately get the buffet voucher, while the rest of us have to present photo I.D. at the registration desk. I have on me a government-issued birth certificate and health card, but neither has a photo. I hope my Y membership card will do.
Stepping out from behind the counter, Scott, in his green casino jacket, says, "I'm the boss. I'm in charge. No government photo I.D., no Players Card and no free lunch. You will have to pay for lunch."
I later learn he isn't the boss. Art is, and he wears a black jacket.
Two of us are in the same predicament. Jerry, our co-op leader, kindly steps forward to pay for our smorgasbord, which costs $17.
The dining room has a fantastic view of the falls. Some find the food here, a wide range of choices of mains and desserts, better than Casino Rama's, but I think the carrot cake tastes a little synthetic.
Down the hill, I catch the People Mover Bus and slip on my souvenir blue plastic raincoat for a thrilling ride on the Maid of the Mist. So close to the falls, in the mist and falling water, who cares if your head is completely drenched?
Happy at last, I can spend the last hour among the bells, whistles and flashing lights of the casino. I pick a rather dopey 25 cent machine, which for every other token spits out cash-back certificates for amounts ranging from 25 cents to $1.75. I make a profit of 25 cents on my $10.
As I leave, the public relations lady for the buses gives me an Ontario Lotto brochure explaining how to get proper photo I.D. "Fill this out and you won't be disappointed."
But I have government-issued I.D., I insist. She ominously replies, "We are the government."
In a way, we all win. The casino contributes $280 for our nice bus, but only if it parks at the casino for at least five hours. The leftover profit from the fare of $10 gets donated to our green roof garden.
And, though I never convince the operators to pay for it, I do get a free lunch.