I’m a big fan of Bruce Springsteen’s song, "Atlantic City." Not so crazy about his version, preferring instead Levon Helm’s interpretation of the song. I’m also a big fan of the movie, "Atlantic City," starring Burt Lancaster and Susan Sarandon, and not just because Burt plays a guy named Lou and that he gets the girl in the end. There is something redemptive in both the Bruce song and the movie, although the two have nothing to do with each other.
I haven’t been to Atlantic City in forty years, when the mermaid and I hopped on a bus with a bunch of family and friends for a day at the casinos all those years ago. And honestly, not being a gambling man, I had no urge to ever go back. But when a friend, a little down on his luck, asked if I would drive him for an overnighter to South Jersey, I just couldn’t say no.
The Garden State Parkway is one of those roads to be avoided at all costs, especially in the summer, but my friend had done his research, as he reasoned no one would be heading south on a Sunday morning. And lo and behold, he was right. We had the Parkway to ourselves as we zoomed along at my maximum speed of somewhere around 62-and-a-half miles per hour. When we got near Atlantic City, my buddy told me to get off at the White Horse Turnpike, otherwise known as Route 30, and we took the back road past the wetlands and toward the boardwalk with the glittering buildings.
Old Atlantic City can be experienced on the Pike, with old motels lining the roadway. As we got closer, you can sense that nothing has really changed in this poor place. Run down, just like the character in both the movie and the song, Atlantic City pines for the days of old, but is forever out of reach. We drifted over to our hotel, which also had seen better days, but presented a freshly painted face to my friend and me. We were happily surprised by our refurbished rooms with views of the boardwalk and the ocean. After checking in, we shot down to the casino.
The casino was huge, and mostly empty as my friend had predicted, and we had full access. We both were amazed that the casinos were not smoke-free, having been converted to smoke-free living by Mayor Bloomberg more than a decade ago here in New York. But the slots were talking to us, calling us in with their electronic bells, music and whistles. We picked a couple of fun slots and followed my friend's plan of cashing out at certain dollar levels. Our winnings paid for both lunch and dinner, which allowed us to take a little nap, which as it turned out we needed after several complimentary gin and tonics!
Our return trip to the casino, refreshed and ready for more complimentary drinks, led us to the poker table. No sooner had my friend received his cards did he start winning. He went on a winning streak that had him grinning from ear to ear. I guess when it’s slow at a casino, the dealers let the little people win so they can go home and tell everyone to come back. It worked for us. We retired that evening with more cash than we came, a sure sign of a good trip.
We did check out the boardwalk before it got dark, and we should all be very happy that we have a concrete boardwalk here in Rockaway. The rotted wood, maybe changed after Sandy only seven years ago, made for uneven walking. And I would not recommend going out after dark on the boardwalk, as there are way too many shady characters out and about. In fact, we should all be thankful that casino gambling did not come to Rockaway, because the promise of a high tide certainly did not lift every boat in Atlantic City.
Our ride home included a stop at Dairy Queen, my friend couldn’t resist a hot dog and a shake. If you have never been to Atlantic City, definitely worth a trip in your lifetime, just not sure I would make it a regular thing. As Bruce wrote, “Meet me tonight in Atlantic City.”