Growing up in New Jersey, you always hear about Atlantic City. Your town has buses that old people pile into and drive down to that mythical city where you can gamble your troubles away. Then, as you reach that legal age, you’ll hear friends talking about driving down to “AC” for the night, to roll the dice or play some blackjack, and come back north when the sun is rising. Like everybody else in New Jersey, I was used to hearing about the city every now and then, but somehow, I never went there.
So last night, as my family was hiding out for the holidays down in South Jersey, after eating fake-xmas-dinner one week early, it seemed like there was nothing left to do. Then my father asks — have you ever seen Altantic City at night? I admited I hadn’t. Minutes later, my father, my brother, and I piled into the car and drove to that mecca of shiney casinos, aging hotels, and utter poverty in its shadow.
From the outside, it is a modest sized collection of tall buildings with fun light patterns. Vegas lovers will say its nothing compared to their holy land, but the truth is, both offer the same horrendous features, in my eyes: gambling, extreme poverty, desperation, and addiction.
As we walked through the different casinos my brother pointed out the different games, the minimum bets, the profiles of the players.. it was all overwhelming. The place was in a frenzy, like a Portuguese flea-market on a saturday morning. Among the things I noticed were the people, all seemingly strange looking or suffering from some ailment. Maybe it was just sadness. maybe it was the unemployed blues. maybe it was their shitty walmart jobs… whatever the cause there wasn’t much smiling or laughing, just concentration mixed with frustration.
In typical bicyclemark style, I kept looking at the rows and rows of machines thinking — what a waste of money. You know how many hospitals could have been built instead. You know how many trips to different parts of the world these people could go on. and why oh why is such a rich industry surrounded by poverty all around it, outside those golden doors?
This morning some people asked what I thought of Altantic city with this expectant smile. If it wouldnt have been impolite I would have told him the truth — Im afraid of AC and the culture that finds this passtime appealling.