Monday, October 09, 2006

Atlantic City 

A couple of weeks ago I took up an opportunity that was advertised to the graduates as "Trip to the Jersey shore!". Of course, I'd heard of Atlantic City, but since the place name wasn't included in the notice (maybe to get more people to come), I was picturing a nice day by the sea, with a book, and maybe some snarking at Germans colonising the beach. This being the gambling capital of the East coast, though, I was very wrong.

We arrived into the bus depot outside Caesar's casino and were given $17 to spend there. Naturally, most of the slot machines I found wouldn't accept under five dollars, so that money was gone pretty quickly, and after one good win of $50, I ended up $60 out of pocket. Not as bad as most who go there, I reckon, but not good with payday not for another week.

So, knowing I now had forty bucks to last me another week, I spent the rest of the day wandering around and seeing what the town had to offer other than gambling. The answer being "not a whole lot". The boardwalk, which runs the length of the beach between the sea and the casinos, is a nice promenade, with strange little boardwalk-buggy rides for hire every few paces. At least, it's a nice walk on the casino side, but if you go North a bit from Caesar's, you soon reach the other side, with 99 cent shops abounding, ferocious seagulls diving into near misses with your head, and everywhere signs saying "Cash for Gold", "Dinero por oro".

Having earlier passed expensive jewellery shops, I began to get a sense of a cycle to A.C. life, at least for its busloads of visitors. If you arrive in the morning, when most of the people in the casinos are pensioners and disabled war veterans, you can spend a lot of money and make a little back before lunch, smoking away in the one place left where it's legal now in Jersey. Then perhaps you feel guilty for leaving your partner at home, looking after those hungry kids, and buy her a bit of jewellery with your winnings.

For lunch, you grab a nice enough meal, before heading back in, losing what little you'd gained and deciding "if I could just have one more bet, I know I'd make that money back!" So away you go, getting your cash for gold on the nice necklace you bought earlier, and head back inside. Everything dies, though (baby, that's a fact), and with all your hope and money gone, you head back on the last bus, maybe stopping to grab a cheap hotdog and some 99 cent watch on the other side of the main drag before you go - "at least she'll see I bought her something..."

Okay, so maybe this little tale was something I thought up to pass the time while I was there, losing my own money, but A.C. may well be the most depressing town I've ever seen, and I've spent time in Medway, so that's saying something.

I ended up my day there sitting on the almost deserted black-grey beach, struggling to breathe the polluted air, and reading "Deliver Me From Nowhere" by Tennessee Jones, a collection of stories with titles from Springsteen's "Nebraska" album, including 'Atlantic City', the story of a couple who take everything they have from the bank in their home town, before going to the A.C., gambling it all away and throwing themselves off the pier. And that sounded about right.

The town sign should read "Welcome to Atlantic City, the fag end of the world".

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