Summer In The (Atlantic) City : Some Thoughts And Photos

Atlantic City Casinos at Thirty, August 2008

Posted by Dr. Dave Schwartz

Atlantic City Summer Thoughts And Photos - Dr. Dave Schwartz

I was born in Atlantic City. Both my parents were, too. We went to the same high school-Atlantic City High School-and for a while it was entirely possible that I'd be spending the rest of my life there.

So it's no exaggeration to say that I feel pretty strongly about the town. When I grew up I was surrounded by stories of the good times of the 1950s and 1960s (which I later learned weren't nearly as good as the 1900s and 1920s). The city, of course, had decayed around us. Looking back, I think this is how people living in room circa 650 A.D. must have felt-like they were playing out the string. That's why I like Reno so much, and why I've never been able to completely grok Vegas-I've just been conditioned to accept entropy and decay, not extropy and growth, as my natural surroundings.

Since I've been in Las Vegas, I've made it back to AC to visit family and friends about 4 times a year. It's given me a real vantage point on the place-while I'm removed from it, I still have the local knowledge of an insider.

Chuckmonster's been generous to post some of my most recent photos and thoughts here. Basically, these photos capture a few hours of walking down the Boardwalk from Ventnor (well, the Ventnor border) to the Showboat, then hopping a jitney to Harrah's.

I took these in August, right before Trump's Chairman Tower opened. Going back to the Taj was strangely disquieting. I worked there for about three years so I was pretty used to the pink and purple look. Seeing it muted and modern was more of a shock than I thought it would be. It's another reminder that nothing lasts forever. Hey, Park Place Entertainment blew up my high school so they could have another surface lot, so I should be used to it.

Before you go further, you've got to work with me as I explain, then come to grips with, the universal Atlantic City inferiority complex. We are so used to everyone telling us that the place is a dump that we tend to circle the wagons and insist that it's the greatest spot on earth, even when a fool can see that the city government is a joke and the place leaves a lot to be desired. When I first started doing what I do, I had the same knee-jerk reaction to any criticisms of Atlantic City, but I've come to see that the critics often have a point.

Another thing I'd like to share - it's awesome when your birthplace is a punchline. Seriously - even now, when I tell people where I'm from, they either laugh (which I used to scowl at, but now I just laugh even louder, with an edge of sarcasm), or are nice enough to spend the new five minutes telling me what a shithole it is - even though they've never been there. So I can see where the defensive stuff comes from. Still, when people blather on about how "one block away from the casinos, it's all decrepit," I have to really fight the urge to tell them to walk a block or two east of the El Cortez. Or to join Javon Walker at Winnick and Koval.

When I'm pointing out what I see as deficiencies here, it's not in a mocking spirit - it's more of an instructive one. I really want the city to get better. I just am becoming less optimistic that it will.

Still, you can have a lot of fun there, if you're just willing to go with the flow. The gambling is gambling, but you can find a lot more there - there's plenty of cool shops on the Walk. Seriously, if this place was on the Strip, people would be going nuts. If you're going to spend the afternoon there, I suggest heading over to White House Subs at Mississippi and Arctic for lunch-or dinner. This is the real deal. If you're at Harrah's the Sack'o Subs is a permissible substitute. For dinner, don't even think about the chain places in the Quarter: you've got to hit Tony's Baltimore Grill, on Atlantic and Iowa Avenues (right behind the Trop's garage). The service is usually awful, but the food is great, and the experience is one-of-a-kind.

As you'll see in these photos, 30 years into legal gaming, Atlantic City's still a place in transition. I hope you get a kick out of what I see my hometown's evolved into.