The Song; The Memory: "Atlantic City" by Bruce Springsteen
The first time I went to Atlantic City, someone committed suicide by jumping from a 5 storey parking garage and our bus was diverted around the police and ambulance, so we had to run and catch it from a different hotel/casino combo, but my bag got caught in one of those stupid turnstile door things and we nearly got left behind. I didn’t see the suicide, because just as the poor soul was jumping, I was mesmerised by a homeless man digging into the trash can in front of me, where he found the remnants of a cheeseburger and started eating. That was before the screaming and shouting and alarms. It’s hard to know what to do when someone has ended their life as you watch a homeless man eat from a trash can.
I haven’t thought too much about that day, at the end of our two night stay in the place my $2 boardwalk-purchased T-shirt calls “Ultimate Paradise”. I was living in New York City, and my friend (and fellow everythingpopulariswrong.net blogger) Kelly came to stay with me. As a thank you for the free accommodation, Kelly offered to treat me to a weekend away from the city. She chose Atlantic City, based on the terrific experience we’d had in Vegas the previous year. We knew, of course, that Atlantic City was Vegas-lite. We had no expectations beyond some fun gambling, a nice hotel, checking out the ocean, and some good food (and salt water taffy for yours truly). All things being fair, I’d have to admit a trip to Atlantic City was almost like a challenge for Kelly and I. Just how funny will this weekend be? Just how Jersey-trashy and over-the-top? How many big-haired gambling addicts would we encounter? Yay!
The Boardwalk. Giant human stollers
The song Atlantic City by Bruce Springsteen is one of my favourites. It appears on the 1982 Nebraska album, and is one of those perfect, evocative Springsteen treats. It’s kind of a downer, actually, but I love it. It depicts a young couple's escape to Atlantic City as the man intends to take a job with a mob boss once arriving. The refrain: "Everything dies, baby, that's a fact, but maybe everything that dies someday comes back” pretty much sums up the mood. I love the chorus: “Put your makeup on, fix your hair up pretty, and meet me tonight in Atlantic City”. But the song has a sort of rousing, tragic, inevitability. Things will not end well for this couple.
I should have expected that underneath the beauty of the boardwalk, beach, swish restaurants, and truly excellent outlet shopping, Atlantic City would evoke much of the feeling of Springsteen’s song. He’s a master, and he knows how to capture a mood like no-one else (except perhaps Dylan). Kelly and I had a terrific time in Atlantic City. We ate crab cakes and drank cocktails, spent too much money shopping, wandered the boardwalk, admired the view, and had a giggle at the fun “Jersey-ness” of the place. But always, always, there was something else going on. The gloss of the casinos on the glistening shoreline couldn’t veil the hoards of homeless people asking for change, or the miserable sight of pensioners shoving their money into slot machines, waiting for that one last sign of good luck. We listened to Springsteen sing about this place, and his words could not have been truer; the tragedy of that last day undercutting the light and dark, the incredible mood, of his song. Strange days indeed.