Despite today’s current economic situation, slot machines will continue to jingle in Atlantic City casinos. If you are like me (I should clarify, Michelle), you stick a measly $20 in a machine, cross your fingers, and hope for the best. Then, once the $20 runs out, you fight the urge to reach into your wallet for just a little more cash. Who knows, perhaps now your luck has changed and this $20 will be the ticket to your long-awaited fortune. Not likely. If you don’t believe this, then just take a short walk along the Atlantic City boardwalk…what you see might just make you want to keep all of your money right in your wallet.
It’s a cold day in December. The ocean has never looked more blue and beautiful. The air is crisp, the wind is calm. You pass a man propped up against a garbage can, bucket of change in hand, begging for his next meal. You think, was he unable to, at one time, resist that urge to keep feeding the slot machines? You keep walking and pass a now empty convention center. Its windows are adorned with the intricate architecture we only see on buildings of the past. This building once filled with the glitter and glam of the Miss America pageant, now abandoned for a new, technological, state of the art facility in the center of the city. What would my grandparents think of this? It’s shameful.
My children (if and when I have them) will never see the glory of this city. They’ll see outlet malls on the piers and t-shirt shops with apparel in every size and color splattered with any cheap and obscene saying you can think of. It’s unavoidable and unfortunate.
I remember my visits to the Atlantic City or Wildwood boardwalk when I was little. It was a treat and it usually only happened about once a year. We got dressed up to go to the boardwalk. Although at the time I thought it was a little silly to be driving bumper cars in a frilly dress, fur coat, and patin leather shoes, I now know just what my parents wanted to teach me. Traveling was a luxury and you got dressed up when you went somewhere, even the boardwalk. In fancy clothes, we would eat greasy cheese steaks or enormous pizza slices from a stand owned by the little man, not a corporate chain restaurant. Simplicity…I liked that.
It may sound strange, but I walked away from my most recent visit to Atlantic City a little inspired to find the nostalgia in places. To close my eyes to the towering casinos and bustling outlet malls and open them to the little pieces of history that still exist. To learn from them before they are replaced. To appreciate. To remember. Because beyond all of the flashy lights of slot machines, there are places that, at one time, knew what it meant to shine.