It costs $35 dollars to go to Atlantic City on the bus. I turn up to Penn Station in a bedazzled jean ensemble with lucky trinket jewelry. Everyone else in line is middle aged and dressed for the office. They are regulars. They know the details of the bus schedule. My friends join me — Max, Rich, and Elise — they are English, trendy, unprepared for New Jersey. The trip is Elise’s bachelorette party.
We creep along the highway in the rain. The Garden State is a wasteland. Three hours later we roll into A.C., a low, dingy town peppered with behemoth casino hotels. Every block has a pawn shop, a liquor store, a Cash for Gold, a deli, now and then a church announcing AA meetings, a tattoo parlor, a motel, and thrown in among them are Caesar’s, the Borgata, the Tropicana with their faux-marble elephants and faux-Grecian columns.
The bus lets us out at the Showboat, where we get $20 of our bus fare back in credit at the slot machines. The lobby’s full of drunks and elderly black ladies in Mardi Gras beads. The sound of the slots is deafening, bewildering, a thousand bings and bloops and dings and bells and in it or under it or all of it collectively is a deep roar like the tide raking rocks back on the beach. We sit four in a row at the machines, unsure how to work them. Whenever we are running low we win a little. It must be someone’s job, says Rich, to figure out how often you have to let someone win to keep them playing. Somehow we feel relief when we run out of our $20s.
We go to our hotel, a boutique-y place at the far end of the Boardwalk. We eat fries and drink Bloody Marys in the diner downstairs. The waitresses wear short, egg-yolk colored uniforms. After we eat Elise and I walk out to see the Boardwalk in the rain. We lean against the wall and smoke and talk about her wedding.
Upstairs in the room we shower and change. I pour myself into my vulgar dress, a cleavage-y short purple thing in clingy poly-blend, and 8-inch heels. I’d been hoping to make a spectacle of myself but when we go out I’m dressed like everyone else. We meet the boys in a bar behind a motel called the Flamingo. It’s empty, dark, a long wood-paneled pool hall with mirrored booths. A round costs $5. On the way out we see a sign that reads, “NO GANG COLORS! NO KIDDING!”