Oh, you won’t like it. There’s not much to do.
It’s dirty, and kind of scary.
…Well… have fun!
It was a dark and stormy night (literally), and Derrick and I were off for a weekend to Atlantic City. Our friend Brandon decided AC would be his birthday destination, and for us, it was the perfect reason to finally check out this part of the Jersey Shore.
Moving to Philly, we really wanted to take advantage of being a little closer to a lot of places we hadn’t been, and AC was right near the top of my list. I was really pumped to live so close to it. But then, we talked to people about Atlantic City. Across the board, instead of glowing reviews, we got… warnings (see comments above). But, this city is known as the World’s Playground. It’s called the Vegas of the East. Heck, all of the Trump properties are gone, so it can’t be that bad! Can it?
Back to the dark and stormy. We are… cautiously excited. I’m driving, and Derrick is doing his typical passenger activity: sleeping. I’m singing along to the radio, softly to myself, as the rain starts to pour down. Despite weather reports saying “expect possible showers”, it instantly becomes one of those maybe we should pull over, I can’t really see, but I don’t want to be late, what would my mom do kind of rains. Derrick keeps sleeping, so I keep driving (sorry mom!). About 45 minutes later, I shake Derrick awake as buildings pop up in the skyline. The rain stops, and Atlantic City appears.
We find our way to our home for the weekend, the Sheraton AC, and I leap out of the car as soon as we park. Before Derrick can check in, I’m spinning around the lobby: Ms America shoes, and costumes, and crowns are everywhere! This hotel is also the home office of Ms America! I’ve never been a pagent watcher, but my inner queenness came out uncontrollably like a competitor’s fall back answer wishing for world peace. Now THIS is American history (sorry Liberty Bell)!
And this was how the weekend went. Surprises around every corner. The food was great (we dined at Continental, Casa, and Grotto’s). The beach was just the right amount of busy, and the water just the right amount of cool. No garbage, no big rocks to fight. There’s a huge outdoor outlet mall. Our hotel was comfortable (and as mentioned before, the shoes, the crowns, the gowns!!!). AC has Steel Pier, an old school carnival, and a car-free, incredibly clean Boardwalk that runs for miles. And speaking of the Broadwalk… Atlantic City is the inspiration for the streets and places of Monopoly. How’s that for a jackpot!? So please, walk the AC streets, pass Go and collect $200! 😉
Atlantic City is no Vegas, which I don’t know if it ever was. Yes, there is the neon shadow of similarity with the Bally’s and the Caesar’s, the large hotels and casinos, as well as the legalized large scale gambling. Yet, AC has always been, and is, much more a beach resort town. It’s on the ocean, not in the middle of desert. It’s got a calm, laid back feel, and currently, a bit of an identity crisis.
I can see the city is hurting. Four major complexes are vacant. Immediately off the Boardwalk area, things are looking a little run down. It’s got a rusty reputation that it’s up against. And although it was nice not fighting crowds, for a beautiful summer weekend, it was feeling empty. Yet, I can see the city is fighting, and trying, and not giving up.
All weekend we kept saying how much we loved it, and sharing endless gratitude to the experience and the history. I think because I was set up with such harsh expectations, I unconsciously was looking everywhere for all of the good. And in turn, that’s what I found. Atlantic City is playing the slots: prepared to lose, but still hoping to win. And this sentiment isn’t just me, and my maple colored Canadian perspective. It’s the locals’.
A lighthouse was our last stop before we head home. The Absecon Lighthouse, a (slightly random) top ranked tourist attraction of AC. It’s charming, historic, and unfortunately, located right behind two of the four closed complexes (win: parking is very easy to find). The 160 year old lighthouse has 228 steps, so we pay a few dollars to climb to the top. When we arrive, a greeter rewards us with a “you made it to the top!” certificate with incredible vigor. I really felt like I did something amazing. After taking in the beautiful views, he says we can ask him any questions. Without pausing, I ask what happened to Atlantic City. “We hit rock bottom. We didn’t know what else to do, other than what we had always done. So now, we’re trying to figure out what the next step is.” The way he spoke, he acknowledged the history, the facts, and the reality, without any bitter bias. We chatted for another 10 minutes, about the upcoming hotels (a Hard Rock Resort is replacing the vacant Taj!), more details about the history, and listened to what it’s like to live in the city. And with every story, I could hear just how much he loves everything about Atlantic City.
It’s bright and sunny, as we drive home, and I reflect on our experience. Atlantic City isn’t what I was expecting, nor was it what others were reminiscing. It wasn’t even what I wanted it to be. AC sees itself as lucky, and because of that, it still has unwavering hope against all odds. So if you’ve never been, or are open to try again, I’d say give Atlantic City a gamble. It’s worth the chance.
Song of the Day: Cake (Idina Menzel)