Date of Trip: November 2008
A trip to Atlantic City on Black Friday has become a tradition for us. When others are rising early to pry deeply discounted flat-screen TV’s from the grips of pregnant women, we coast into a place with equal promises of a quick score.
The ride from Princeton area of New Jersey to A.C. strips takes two hours. Head through Allentown, NJ, get on the Pine Barrens “expressway,” pass the slower moving traffic all along the way, shoot down the Atlantic City Expressway, then hold up a deck of cards in the EasyPass lane or throw a handful of paperclips into the coin basket.
Atlantic City is a decrepit place, the facade of Trump’s Taj Mahal with its cartoonish Indian style was never better than tasteless. Now it’s tasteless and crumbling. Nearby, you can pawn your jewelry for cash, buy drugs on the corner, hand over your car title for instant skrill or buy a Movado watch if you get three cherries. The gleaming, relatively new Borgata looks almost out of place in this trash heap.
The Taj, located on the Boardwalk, has some of the best-attended poker tournaments, so we started there. The Borgata is far classier, without a trace of that Trump stink that’s impossible to wash out, but we decided on the Taj in lieu of the $300-plus buy-in for the noon tourney at the Borgootz.
If you hang around outside one of the casinos for the time it takes to tie your shoe, a character with oversized clothes, bloodshot eyes and dubiously shaped paper bag will appear ghostlike. My new friend called himself a “gofer,” as in someone who could go fer anything you needed, be it drugs, tickets, stereo speakers, a prostitute, a cab, a new pair of shoes. “Oh yeah, I can get you that.”
When you play a poker tournament, you tend to give people nicknames. There was Rasputin, a confused older gentleman with long beard and deep-set eyes. I thought of him performing sorcery to change his hole cards with a slow wave and silent spell or frightening opponents at the table by gazing into their souls or making stains appear on their shirts.
Jumbo Red Face Ed Reed (jersey of the Baltimore football Ravens safety) eventually offed me in what’s known as a coin flip situation. I had Ace-King; he, looking more like a bulbous, slow-moving offensive line man than a fleet-footed defensive back, had a pair of tens. I had fifty percent odds of taking the hand, and he won.
Dinner at the Showboat’s Royal Noodle House, open on Friday and Saturday from noon to 4 a.m. can help to soothe anger and regrets carried from eight hours of fruitless (insert favorite casino game) playing. The Noodle House’s features hot wok offerings (rice, noodle) smothered in grease and hot sauce, and at least one onion per dish, served by smiling, uncomprehending waiter decked out in “traditional” dress. Could she be mocking us,hamming upa stereotype? You can also get steaming noodle soups, and more customary Asian cuisine like pig’s intestine.
Restored by the flesh and grease, we formed the partnership, pooling money into one large stack and taking our chances with the spinning, grinning wheel. There are 38 numbers, and if you crystal a number, you get 35x plus your bet back. Therein lies the house odds. Bet $10 on 10 and crystal 10 and you get $350 plus your bet ($360). Paraphrasing Einstein, save for luck, there is no way to beat roulette. Yet earnest theory concocting is key to enjoyment. Prime numbers, a region of the wheel (“Hit that region, son.”), months on which political assassinations took place, time it takes to suffocate someone with a pillow divided by 3 (78/3 = 26 “Put $10 on 26”). We played until 2:30 a.m., the partnership an overwhelming success.
We spent some scant hours sleeping in our construction site view room at the Sheraton by the Atlantic City convention center, a more than serviceable place, but for it being a touch out of the way from the A.C. strip.