If you ever wondered what happened to the American Dream, just take a visit to Atlantic City and you’ll see where it went to die. It wasn’t a glorious death, it wasn’t beautiful, and it didn’t even leave you with that feeling of “well, at least it gave it its best shot.” Whether you win or lose, you’ll still be depressed. Ok, I take that back. Unless you win a lot of money you won't be depressed because that’s just about the best feeling in the world. Winning a lot of money will not necessarily erase the site of a man wheeling his oxygen tank to a slot machine and slowly pumping away his pension, but it will make it a little easier to stomach.
I wish I could compare AC to Vegas, but I can’t. I’ve never been to Vegas. But if I had to guess, I’d say that if Vegas were Bolivian cocaine, AC would be DC crack. Just take a walk down the boardwalk at 11am and the only people around are either elderly or walk of shame drunks and lots and lots of homeless people.
You wont find good restaurants, or interesting architecture, or anything worth seeing off the Strip. I would consider leaving the Strip pointless if not reckless. The city is laid out in such a way that it traps all visitors between the casinos and the ocean. One block west of the boardwalk you'll find dozens of pawn shops, strip bars, liquor stores, and fried foods. One block past that and you're already in the ghetto. Like a 5-10 minute-and-you're-robbed ghetto. At least this is what I've gathered from looking out of the bus windows.
So if this place is so miserable, what the hell was I doing there? I gamble. To be more precise I play poker. I’ve been to Atlantic City several times to play poker. I consider myself to be pretty good, not great, but better than most of the donkeys out there. I usually play on my computer, but quite frankly playing online and losing money all by my lonesome, breaking random objects around my apartment, cursing out avatars, and making holes in my walls, is fun at first but just sad after a while. Sometimes an unemployed man needs to grab a backpack lightly filled with a spare change of clothes and take the Greyhound down to AC to give it a shot and hopefully come back with rent money.
On my latest excursion, upon arrival I checked myself into my hotel room at the Showboat, a hotel shaped like a cruise ship. Yes, I'm serious. I had been awarded a free room this month for being such a valued customer, (aka losing enough money the last time to pay for two hotel rooms). I dropped my stuff off and hit the boardwalk. Walking to the casino next door, The Taj Mahal, I realize I've never seen anything but gray skies here, I've literally never seen the sun in Atlantic City, but somehow it seems to make sense. I mean why would the casinos be located anywhere where people might actually be likely to enjoy the beach?
If you’ve ever stepped foot in Donald Trump’s Taj Mahal Casino you’d know it's one of the more miserable looking places this side of the Mississippi. The décor is appalling, just god-awful. From the boardwalk it looks like a building you’d find in the Asia section of Disneyland, except that it was built by Donald Trump and filled with the most miserable looking people I’ve ever seen.
Then there’s the famous Taj poker room. They’ve somehow managed to find the cream of the degenerate crop and pack them all into one room. A den of sorrows, if you will. It's like a circus of broken dreams. The room is now non-smoking, but decades of chain-smoking card players from years gone by has left its olfactory mark. What really makes this room unique is the people. These people smell worse than a taxi driver after a 12 hour shift, and their teeth are worse than the English.
Not to mention the complete lack of common decency. Hardly anyone is polite to anyone else. If a player gets angry and loses his composure, apparently he is not allowed to curse, but for some odd reason, racial slurs are acceptable. You’ll get sent out for calling someone a ‘fucking asshole’ but no one says a word to ‘Goombah’ or ‘Aladdin’ or ‘Peckerwood’, etc.
I met a man who claimed to be on his fourth wife, having had one child from each marriage, losing half his money in the first settlement, half in the second, and a quarter in the third, but his fourth wife is the one. At least he was laughing about it. I also was quite distracted by a man sitting across the table from me who very obviously had had hair plugs, but had then continued to bald, then decided to shave his head in a last act of desperation, leaving a crescent shaped moon across his former hairline.
At about 5:30am I returned to my room at the Showboat. I was down several hundred dollars and drunk on free beer and oxygen-pumped poker-room adrenalin. I laid down in bed angry and depressed, aboard a cruise ship that would never launch, in a city where dreams come to port but never set sail.
I tried my luck at several tables with dozens of unfortunate faces and managed to lose a considerable amount of cash in a considerably short amount of time. Did I still have fun? You’re goddamn right I did. Will I forget how awful Atlantic City is and go back? Of course. I guess it's easy to get distracted by the circus side show and overlook the fact that you're just like everybody else. Well, I guess the dream is alive after all.
Come on, Eldrick.