Raphael serenades our vehicle with dulcet chords as we streak past pickups and Buicks tugging their owner’s worn-down boats along the freeway. I reckon they’re most likely headed in the same direction as us. My uncle is nestled in the driver’s seat, seemingly content. My aunt has her feet on the dashboard, her powder-white socks perfectly folded over her ankle. They offered to take me for a one-day trip to Atlantic City as a treat and it didn’t take much convincing for me to begin packing immediately.
We arrive in Atlantic City mid-noon. Spring has only just settled in and the weather seems indeterminate of its verdict. Today, however, it’s taken an unforgivingly windy turn. Our hotel isn’t ready for check-in, so we head toward A.C.’s famous boardwalk for some historical pastime instead. I’ve never been here before. It slightly resembles Coney Island, though admittedly, is a haven with its own restored identity. I find it difficult to picture this place as having initially been intended for health-resort-purposes. For here lies a tiny town, whose store-owners desperately search through each push cart for willing customers. Even the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! guy gestures us forward, already waving three tickets in hand. Tourism has slowly died down over the years which ultimately puts Atlantic City in a low-standing position.
I silently pay tribute by the Korean War and 9/11 memorials; they add a humbleness to this wooden walkway. We pass what seems like half a dozen spas; each promising twenty minutes of heaven. My aunt waltzes into one without much hesitation. A few minutes later, I converse with my uncle on the bankruptcy this city’s already endured. At the end of the boardwalk sits a would-be phenomenon, with millions once invested in its conception. Theoretically, this hotel/casino seemed tasteful and promising, but time told a different story entirely. We observe the building’s spacious expanse, one that handed opportunists an honest wage and just as easily, snatched them back. The empty hotel now rests on the northern shoulder of the boardwalk; defeated, corrupt — and in every sense — hollow.
Ready for a night on the town, my aunt and I head toward The Tropicana making our way into a room that breathes its very own cliché. Tobacco fills the air, men are dressed in bowler hats, khaki pants and faux leather jackets. Plus, all drinks are known to be a buck a pop. As any good gambling rookie, I start out small. (Though unsurprisingly, I don’t progress much past the penny slot machines.)
In an attempt to try as many drinks as I possibly can, I order two blue Hawaiians, a piña colada, and steal a few sips of my aunt’s margarita. Within an hour, the two of us are abuzz, laughing so hard an elderly man stands up to ask if we’re alright.
The next morning, I awake early, grab my camera and run back toward the boardwalk, this time alone. I take in some of the same sights from yesterday, though notice a few new ones of my own. I contemplate for a moment whether or not I’ve done everything in my power to fulfill this generic visit to Atlantic City. I turn and spot Steel’s Fudge, a candy store originally opened in 1919. The vintage-lover inside of me shuffles my feet forward. The shop’s sweet aroma and aesthetic gives guise to sincerity, which is rare to find these days. I quickly pick up a few saltwater taffies and postcards for my ‘adventure shelf’ back home.
Looking at the time, I factor in my ten minutes remaining before I need to head back for hotel check-out. I run toward the beach, SLR at the ready for a few photogenic captures. I snag a mini seashell, the size of my fingertip, for memorable safekeeping. The air smells of sea salt and a few sand bits blow into my hair. I take in a panoramic view, eyeing every detail I can. Time’s up. Home awaits.