When my friend Scott and I booked ourselves a quick 36-hour Atlantic City slingshot off of a business trip I'd be taking, we knew what we were getting into. Sort of.
We're both huge Vegas guys. Over the years and years (and years), we've graduated from the Tropicana to Caesar's, from free beer to free suites, and from multi-deck to single-deck.
We'd been to several casinos outside of Vegas, from carbon-copies like Foxwoods to the somewhat terrifying international waters cruises to the sketchy digital tables of Harrah's Cherokee.
Neither of us had ever been to Atlantic City, but we'd both heard nothing but terrible things. And those conversations usually went something like this:
"After the conference I'm heading over to Atlantic City."
"Really? I hear it's awful."
"Yeah, me too. Do you know why?"
"No. I've never been. I just hear it sucks."
I even went on Wikipedia, the mecca of information that's "good enough" when you can't find any reliable information.
To paraphrase: AC is two oases of billion-dollar investments in the Boardwalk and Marina that, instead of helping ease the problems of poverty, crime, corruption, and disinvestment in the surrounding communities, has actually exacerbated them.
OK. That sounds a lot like Vegas.
And from the moment we got close, things continued to look like Vegas. LIKE Vegas. There were the same abundance of billboards on the way into the City, but the billboards were for Sinbad, Rick Springfield, and Ray Parker Jr.
GHOSTBUSTERS? NO EFFING WAY!
Make no mistake, that is an epic triple bill. In 1984.
And as the city appears on the horizon from the AC Expressway, it's impressive, but it's not like the "Whoa" you get on final descent into McCarran at night, it's more like a "Huh. It's over there."
Within five minutes, AC came to be known as Fake Vegas. And during my 36 hours there, I came up with a short list of the differences.
When you walk into a casino in Las Vegas, as long as you're not falling over drunk or lacking a shirt, you'll pretty much be treated like a king. This is because they know they are going to take your money, and that's going to sting, so they salve it with ego-stroking and politeness.
I'm shallow like that.
Not true in Fake Vegas. From the argument I got into with the parking attendant ("You here. You pay!") to the blank stare I got when I asked reception where we could eat late on our arrival ("Do you mean... in here?") to the long list of taxes tacked onto my comped room, the hotel experience of Fake Vegas made me feel like the last guy in TGI Friday's five minutes before closing.
If you ever hear the dealer say "BOOYAH! TRY TO DOUBLE DOWN ON MY SIX AGAIN MO**********!", you're in Fake Vegas.
You're Taking Your Life in Your Hands on the Boardwalk
Now that's a total myth. You're actually taking your life in your hands on the other side of the casinos, the one that's not on the ocean.
Look. I'm no schoolboy. And I had done the research. But Atlantic City is patently unsafe. And it spills into the casinos, which is disconcerting, because it's hard not to WALK AROUND WITH MONEY WHEN YOU'RE IN A CASINO. Security is, to say the least, lax.
New Jersey Smells
We were thrilled to discover that the sickening odor of Cocoa Butter and feet that we thought was unique to the Tropicana gaming floor in Vegas can also be found at Showboat AND two of the three Trumps.
But the old joke about the stench in Jersey is true, and so are the several new jokes we made about Egg Harbor while on the AC Expressway. It's so bad that you can't even play a single decent game of "Who Farted?"
Hookers Per Square Foot
One obvious difference in Fake Vegas was the dearth of young women. I'm not talking about hotties and B-list celebrities waiting to get into Pure and Haze, I'm talking about the presence of ANY women between the ages of 21 and 50.
To make up for this, there are hookers absolutely everywhere. And if security was lax about the thugs hanging around the casino doors, they were oblivious to the speedy courtship taking place on the gaming floor.
But the most evident sign that we were in Fake Vegas was the overabundance of likes-to-fight-guy. I've never seen an episode of "Jersey Shore" due to its overwhelming racism, but I imagine this is exactly what it's like.
I kept a scorecard:
Total Fights "Started": 5
Total Actual Fights: 0
Would I Go Again?
Look, the fact of the matter is: Everything that's wrong with Fake Vegas is also very right.
I was playing blackjack and actually saw a likes-to-fight-guy stay on five in complete Austin Powers fashion. The dealer even said, "You have FIVE, sir," in almost the same tone of voice. And yeah, it almost started a fight with a crotchety old guy who takes those things seriously because yeah, it can mess up the table.
But what the hell? We weren't there for the world class entertainment or the nightlife and we weren't playing $100 tables. We were there to blow off some steam and have a few laughs. You take the bad with the good, and you either laugh it off or understand it or go back home and put on DVR'd reruns of, I don't know, give me a sitcom, "Modern Family"?
So in some sense, bitching about Fake Vegas is like going to a bar and complaining about all the drunks.
And speaking of drunks -- they were extremely quick with the free drinks and did not skimp with the alcoholic content.
Maybe I wouldn't bring my wife to AC, but I can understand why it is what it is and in fact find it miraculous that after the 2008/2009 recession that Las Vegas hasn't slipped into the very same stupor.
Actually, it's not miraculous: Customer service is built into the fabric of the strip hotels, prostitution is kept outside of the city limits, security is world-class, and it doesn't smell -- except for in the Tropicana and that one section of sidewalk with the grates over by Harrah's.
But there were bright spots, Caesar's and Borgata for example. Or when I got on a hot streak at the craps table on my roll, and felt that same awesome vibe around the table as I would in the Venetian or the Bellagio.
So as we were on our way to the car on a dreary, ugly October day and trying desperately to breathe lightly through our mouths to keep Mr. Smell from meeting Mr. Hangover, my friend turned to me and said, "You know. I'd do it again."
I would too.
Just not before the next Vegas trip.
Joe Procopio trades in pop culture and tech culture, allowing him to poke fun at so many things. He's written for a number of online and offline publications from the late, lamented Smug to the fancy-pants Chicago Tribune and also for television. He's a novelist, a shredder, a joker, and a family man. Scoff at joeprocopio.com or follow on Twitter @jproco.
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IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
11.1.10 @ 10:24p
Matt and I made a detour to AC during our Ficke/Myers wedding weekend. We thought the place was the pits. Beautiful mansions on one side of the turn, homelessness and burned out buildings on the other. Can't imagine living there.
Oh, and in keeping with the "No-Gamble Tracey" tradition, we walked into one casino, coughed our way through the floor to the bathrooms, relieved ourselves, and then left.
11.1.10 @ 11:06p
I did that too! Except I stopped on the way to the bathrooms and gave them a bunch of my money.
11.1.10 @ 11:52p
LOL. Dude. As a Jersey guy let me say, "welcome to New Jersey." Allow me to educate you to some things. Those aren't called "hookers" they are called "working mothers". The attitude is part of the charm of New Jersey. We don't pamper you because we're taking your money, we want you to feel properly screwed right from the beginning. The boardwalk is safe and beautiful, in its own tacky and tasteless touristy way. New Jersey IS stuck in the 80s. Two words. Springsteen. Bon Jovi. Okay, technically that's not two words, but see my explanation of NJ hospitality. The like-to-fight-guy? Well, yeah. I'll give you that one.
Next time you're here call me. I'm only two hours away.
11.2.10 @ 8:07a
Wow. That paragraph was funnier than anything in my column. Nice job. I will call next time, and there will be a next time.
11.3.10 @ 1:17a
Nah, your Ghostbusters line had me on the floor. It's freaky how AC seems to get all those 80s acts and they get sold out. And the truth is the cityscape isn't all that impressive. Again, this is NJ. The jokes are there because they are true. The truth is, I love the boardwalk. And did you check out the fountain show on the pier/mall across from Ceasar's? The water gets applauses. It's a Jersey thing. I look forward to meeting you one day.
11.9.10 @ 9:00p
So I was screwing around on my computer and came across this posting by Mr. Procopio. I found this amusing in a plethora of ways, and also felt compelled to respond to clear some things up about AC.
I always find it interesting to see someone with my same last name, yet alone the same whole name (except for my father). What else I found interesting, and amusing, was the writer's description of AC, especially since I'm a Police Officer in Atlantic City. And the writer's description of the city being unsafe? An understatement.. (the corrupt mayor laid off 20% of the police force in september)... His description of the hookers? Spot on... Mentioning of awful hospitality? Couldn't have said it better myself... And about the like to fight guy, or "guido"? I cant stand f'in them!
I am glad to see that you may return again. I must say that AC, or South Jersey for that matter, isn't all that bad. That smell you smelled on the way out of the city may have been the bay at low tide. And there are actually some decent bars outside of the casinos and even better restaurants (especially if your looking for Italian food). And not all of the performers are from the 80s: just make sure you come between the months of May to September. I am glad to see you had an interesting trip and find it even cooler that we share the same name.
11.10.10 @ 7:57a
Sorry, I couldn't pass that up.
Great stuff, Joe, thanks a lot for the comments, although I'm sorry they're so negative about the place.
By the way, we also happen to be a football player from LaSalle and some kind of wunderkind Canadian film director. And there's at least three or four of us in various garage bands. So says Google.
11.16.10 @ 8:24p
Son? (maybe the other way around, im 23)....
I think we may also be an actor of some sort (maybe E-list or M-list)... Either way, keep up the good work, maybe we'll make the original joe procopio proud...