The Hangover One Point Five

Details the day after a crazy night of drinking, gambling, and dancing are fuzzy, but this isn't a sequel or collection of deleted scenes from The Hangover. This description fits my own weekend. I haven't gone on a road trip in over three years, and up until a few days ago I'd never been to Atlantic City. One of my friends had been trying to put a trip together for a while, and we were supposed to go over the Thanksgiving weekend, but he already had tickets to see a football game. Last weekend I wasn't available due to services for another friend's sister. But this past weekend we were both free, and though everyone else had other obligations and the weather didn't sound promising, it didn't stop us. We even found ACES, the Atlanic City Express Service, an express train that goes directly from Manhattan to Atlantic City in less than three hours. Factoring gas money, tolls, traffic, wear and tear on the car and the general stress of driving, taking the train was a no brainer. Of course, there is an inherent danger in the situation of not having to worry about getting home at any particular time, or drinking in moderation because I'll eventually have to drive. It was liberating. It was expensive. It was fun. I can't promise that all of the following things actually happened, or happened exactly as I remember them. I do know that I'll be back someday, armed with the knowledge of past mistakes. And I know that the weekend was far more fun than it would have been if I'd just stayed home.

• Waiting for the train in New York, I was approached by gentleman speaking Spanish. The only word I understood was “Newark”, and in scrutinizing the board for postings, I couldn't find anything to help him. I also saw what appeared to be 20-30 drunken frat guys and sorority girls dressed like Santas and elves, running around Penn Station shouting things like “Woooooo!!! Yeah!! Christmaaaaas!!!” I remember thinking how stupid people act when they're drunk, and how kids that age think they're being cool. (Is recognizing hypocritical condescension in hindsight one of my many useless powers?) A few minutes later, my friend called my cell phone to let me know he was there, and I spotted him across the platform. I walked over and he moved out of the way, and we both stood there for like a minute before he realized the guy in the Winter cap and long black coat was me. The adventure was about to begin.

• I'm not sure what the difference between coach and first class was on the train, other than the former having blue seats on the lower deck of each car and the latter having red ones on the upper deck. We also had to walk to the beverage and snack cart while they had servers upstairs. In any case, it didn't seem worth an extra 20 bucks to get the First Class ticket. Because my friend had comp dollars leftover from his last visit, the hotel room ended up being cheaper than the train tickets.

• Philadelphia, at least the part we stopped in while the train changed power sources, is a run down dump of crumbling buildings and overgrown lots. I've been to the heart of the city at least twice before, but the outskirts we waited in for a few minutes looked pretty bad by comparison.

• My buddy printed out “cheat sheets” for Blackjack and Craps, which I studied on the ride in. I pretty much knew how to play Blackjack, but there were certain house rules that were good to know, like when I could “split” a hand and double my bet if the first two cards I got were the same, and when asking for another card when it was strategically risky might anger the players next to me. Craps was a lot more complicated and I'd never played that, but after reading the rules several times, I felt like I had a good sense of it. Before the weekend was over, I'd end up playing neither of the games I studied.

• Another friend who'd been to A.C. before had warned me about the surrounding areas and the crime rate, cautioning me to take a cab if I had to travel anywhere outside of the boardwalk and casinos. It was dark when we arrived, but the hotel we were staying at was probably the furthest from the train station. It was great to see everything lit up, but as we rode in the cab, I could see what my other friend had been talking about. There were streets that resembled parts of Long Island, some nice ones, others less so. It's amazing how poverty surrounds disproportionately wealthy casinos, but it makes sense in some ways.

• I totally overpacked for a one night stay, bringing a duffel bag and extra clothes and shoes enough for two or three days. It was hard to carry, and I still had my wallet and the change from the cab driver in my hands as I stumbled out of the cab. As I saw some shifty characters eyeing me, I ducked behind a pillar, tucked my money back in to my pocket, then caught up to my friend in the lobby.

• After checking in to our room and depositing things like my coat, camera, and bag, we headed back downstairs for an insane twelve hour adventure. Details going forward will be increasingly sketchy and unreliable.

• The first thing I did after wandering the floor to get a sense of the machines and the environment, is find out where I could get a player's card. Every casino offers one of these, which you insert in machines and hand dealers at tables. They track how much money you lose(and occasionally win), and calculate how many comp dollars you'll get. So I might blow over $200, but they'll credit me back $13.00. Paying for breakfast or getting a discount on a room on a future visit takes away some of the sting of losing, but mathematically the house is still ahead. The house always wins. The key mentality I took away from the experience as a whole is that you need to play to have fun in order to have fun, because if you play with the expectation of winning, you'll only be disappointed. When I put quarters in video games at the arcade as a kid, the best I could hope for was that the game would last as long as possible and I'd be entertained. The money was spent, and it wasn't coming back, but if I was entertained, then it was well spent.

• Money spent on slot machines is not money well-spent. For one thing, the so-called “one-armed bandits” don't even have arms any more. Some still have the lever on the side, but it's purely decorative. Now there's a simple button, to spend your money more quickly. If you want to bet 25 cents, you need to push one little button that says “single bet”, and then another little button to spin. But if you want to bet triple and risk 75 cents for a higher pay off, well there's only one button, it's huge, and lit brightly. So my experience after inserting a $20 bill was watching it shrink on a digital screen. “Booooop! $19.25. Booooop! $18.50. Boooop! $17.75.” After a few minutes of that, which wasn't fun at all, I spotted a Star Wars® sign over a bank of machines on the wall and told my friend I was going to see if I had better luck with “my people”. It was some weird game with fifteen spots to match instead of the usual three, and on my first try I got some bonus I didn't understand, which triggered all these explosions, doubled my money, and got Darth Vader to pop up and talk to me, and soon I was looking at plans for the Death Star. I still didn't understand the game, and I never got to that screen again, even when something came up that looked like a match as far as I could tell. I kept feeding the thing fresh $20s before deciding to walk around and try my “luck” elsewhere.

• Other machines offered variations of the Star Wars® game with different themes, but I was never going to get it, or win at it. I tried video poker, tried some more conventional match three games, and ultimately swore off the machines forever. I found my friend at a roulette table, and had a lot more fun. I was still spending money, but at a much slower rate. Occasionally I'd even win back some chips, and there was human interaction with the dealer and other players. There was even a waitress with free drinks, although it took a while to get her attention. We were also fortunate to find a table with a $5.00 minimum, as my friend would later tell me $10.00 and $15.00 were more common. Gambling wise, I had the most fun playing roulette, even if Wesley Snipes did mislead me. Red came up more often than black, and when I switched to red, the ball landed on black and a guy with about 20 chips sitting on that spot won big. The next spin brought up a red number, but ultimately I found it was better to spread the chips out on specific numbers rather than odds, evens, or colors. It was less risky, though it didn't pay as much, but it prolonged the game. I also learned not to place bets until the dealer lifted what we started referring to as The Dark Crystal, this little spiky glass thing the dealer would set on the winning space until he finished paying the winners and collecting back chips from the losers.

• The boardwalk is COLD on a December night, and I'd later learn that the ocean itself lay in the pitch darkness beyond the brightly lit land of casinos, theme restaurants, psychics, and more. As we passed Hooters, a horde of shrieking girls came out dressed for the holidays, as security lined them up for a “Santa run,” some kind of charity race. It was very moving.

• We walked as far as we could stand before finally ducking in to a new casino. This time we headed straight for the bar in the middle of the games, where our money was better spent. Every few minutes, a couple of girls would get up on the center platforms and dance to whatever was blasting through the speakers. Rock Me Amadeus alone made it the best night EVER. Various sporting events played on nearby flat screen TVs, including the UFC match taking place not far from where we were. We spotted one cute girl across the bar wearing a fedora, and speculated whether or not she was a “professional”. She had a real girl-next-door quality on the one hand, but on the other she was by herself and talking with a gray-haired old man old enough to be her grandfather. I remained fascinated by the dancers. The brunette had a nice smile and occasionally made eye contact, while the blonde had mysterious scars that I noticed when she passed by during one of their breaks. I wondered what the backstory was there, especially since the three marks on the back of her left shoulder made it seem like she'd been in a fight with Wolverine.

• After a few beers and a lot of jokes, I somehow lost track of my friend. After looking around a bit, I spotted him on the other side of the bar, chatting with hat girl. The old man had finally left her alone. I continued enjoying my drink, watching the dancers, and looking around for any young ladies I could talk to. I was feeling bold, which meant I was drunk, which is when I would stop drinking under normal circumstances. My buddy and our new friend “Pam” joined me after a few minutes, and we learned that she was staying in the casino next door with some friends, had lived in New Jersey her whole life, and had been coming to Atlantic City since she was a baby, when her parents would let her sit and play on the carpet with other children in a more innocent time. At one point we thought she'd left when she didn't come back for a while, and my friend wondered if I scared her off by whatever I was rambling about. But she'd just gone to find out where her friends were, and invited us to follow her to another bar, in a connecting casino. “You can follow me....just...not in a creepy way.” she said, then laughed nervously. After knowing me for less than half an hour, this strange girl felt the need to add that, and I realized I need to work on whatever vibe I'm projecting when I go out.

• The other bar was a little nicer, with a dance floor for customers as well as an actual stage for the performers. The bartender was a bit of a dick and refused to serve us, telling us we had to order from a waitress. Pam's friends were at a nearby table, celebrating the engagement of one couple, so we joined them for a bit. Our new friend also had a deadly app on her phone that displayed various drink recipes. There was even a randomizer key, so I asked her to spin it up and I'd order a round of whatever we got. I had to bring the phone to the waitress, who never heard of a Bay City Bomber and had to write down all the ingredients. It turned out to be this $12.00 drink with a ton of different hard liquors, and I was the only one at the table who finished mine. That's probably why I didn't have to be asked twice to go out on the dance floor, or why I found myself breakdancing and doing back spins while people cleared the way. I stumbled back to the tables, then fell flat on my back. After a minute or two on the floor before my buddy helped me up, I opted to stop drinking and start eating some of the complementary pretzels. It was the first, and possibly the last, smart move of the night. It still didn't stop me from singing along with You Shook Me All Night Long, switching to a falsetto for the chorus. I wonder if that's why that bar turned on the lights and closed not long after.

• On a side note, my black dress jacket caused a number of people to ask me, “Do you work here?”, which was less offensive than when it happens in department stores because I'm wearing a red or a blue collared t-shirt. After that second bar closed, I wandered on my own for a half hour or so, and even stumbling drunk other patrons asked me that question. I guess all things were relative, and I was sober compared to them. It did take the sting out of the cold and I enjoyed running on the beach for a bit before getting a “Where are you?” text message.

• We regrouped at the first bar and decided it was way past time we got dinner. Since it was, and this is only a guess, after 3 AM, a lot of the nicer steak houses were closed. People were still gambling though, and I was in awe how every floor, every corridor, nook and cranny, had machines or tables. You couldn't walk anywhere, drunk or sober, without stumbling across a game to play, or a machine to draw more cash from. I'm glad I took another friend's advice and opted not to use my credit card for anything. It was good to budget myself, even if I did break down and use my ATM card at a place where various events happened, and an exotic dancer complemented me on my muscular calves. That story wouldn't interest you kids though, so we'll move on.

• We got a cab back to our hotel, and I couldn't believe how far we had walked. There was one place in the hotel serving food, but that insane drink felt like it was eating holes in my intestines so I stuck with bacon and eggs while my friend went for a Philly cheesesteak and big fries. I finally checked my watch and saw that it was 5:30 AM, and noted that my dad was probably just waking up. It would be one of the rare times in my life that I was eating breakfast at the same time as my father.

• By 6 AM, I was finally settling down to sleep. Another friend had warned me that the bright lights, and lack of clocks made time an intentional mystery, and that the places also pumped in extra-oxygenated air. I could believe it. I woke up 2 or 3 hours later feeling more rested than I had a right to. I grabbed my camera, told my buddy I was heading out, and after a grunted assent I was soon on my way to do the tourist thing, with drinking and dancing already feeling like it was in the distant past instead of a few hours back. It was misty, gray, and windy outside, though I had no idea until I got out there. The busy carpet patterns, bright lights, and beeping machines really do create this vacuum separate from the outside world. I walked on the boardwalk and the beach for a bit, almost as far as I had the night prior, and got pictures of various statues and landmarks which I'll share tomorrow. I even spotted one of the many cats my friend told me dwell beneath the boardwalk.

• We checked out around noon, and got a second breakfast of toasted bagels and soup, which was all I was willing to risk on my rumbling stomach. The meal was entirely covered by my comp dollars. A cab ride back to the train station gave me an even better sense of the surrounding environment, and the train ride itself went very quickly since I was napping intermediately. I arrived back at Penn Station a few minutes before my train back to Long Island arrived, thanked my friend for inviting me, and headed back home to my folks. The exhaustion wouldn't catch up to me until late Monday at work. I had the foresight to write blog posts for the weekend in advance, but not to take a vacation day. After two days of not being MCF, it was time to be me again. I'll definitely go back, although not for a while. And as much as spending almost a whole week's pay in the span of twelve hours might hurt, it's really a small percentage of the money I've saved in a lifetime of not doing stuff like that. We all need to go a little wild once in a while, just not every day or every week. I need to start thinking about things like Christmas shopping now, and brace myself for my assets adding up to less than the month prior when I tally my finances next month. In a year I'll have more than replenished what I spent, and I can go back armed with the knowledge that I can't spend what I don't bring, that a $6.00 surcharge on an ATM machine for every $100.00 withdrawn is absurd and should be enough of a reason for me not to take out more money when I've used up what I have on me, that I should avoid slot machines like the plague and stick to table games, and that I should avoid hard liquor, particularly any mixed drink that seems to contain every hard liquor.

• A fool and his money are soon parted, but great stories and memories can last a lifetime.


Blogger b13 said...

Sounds like you had a ton of fun. Did you go with giggity-giggity?

Now if I could only get you to go to the range for a different type of adventure ;)

12/15/2009 1:04 AM  
Anonymous MCF said...


I thought he texted you from one of the bars, sent you a pic. Now that I'm remembering more, I think whatever chat thing you were using wasn't compatible or something.

And me and guns....prolly not happening. The only thing I'll ever be shoot with you is a camera.

12/15/2009 9:26 AM  
Blogger Lorna said...

Just read about you and AC for about a half hour. Yay!!

12/16/2009 12:27 AM  

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