This is a diary of my trip across the US with my daughter to start her freshman year at college in New York — and my return trip, too. Read all the entries here.
With our kid safely delivered to her dorm, it’s time to say goodbye to the other women in my life.
Mom is the first to leave, headed to her last day at the public library where she’s worked for 21 years as a reference librarian — after another 21 years as a high school librarian and media specialist! Not many people get to have two complete careers in one lifetime and retire from both on their own terms. I hope that when she gets to work her colleagues have something special planned as a send-off, because she deserves plenty of accolades for her contributions. At 88 years old, Mom is a remarkable role model who still lives by herself with no assistance, has her wits about her, and lives a full life. She has good genes passed on by her parents, which I hope I’ve inherited (and passed along to my daughter).
At 10:30am, I drive my wife to LaGuardia for her flight home to St. Louis, because she has to get back to work, too. Now alone for the first time in a week, I head south to Atlantic City, which I haven’t visited in about 15 years. I’m going to stay and play at Borgata, which didn’t even exist the last time I was there.
The Google Maps app tells me the 150-mile drive should take about two-and-a-half hours, but it doesn’t factor in traffic on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, or worse, the wicked storm that rolls in as I cross the Verrazano Bridge onto Staten Island (toll: $13 one way!!!). For the next 3+ hours, the rain pours down, limiting visibility and slowing traffic to 40mph on the Garden State Parkway.
I decide to make the trip music-free, opting instead for several interview podcasts I downloaded and saved for this week: KCRW’s Elvis Mitchell with Louis CK, NPR’s Dave Davies with Frank Langella, and reruns of Fresh Air’s Terry Gross with Mike Birbiglia and the late Phyllis Diller and Gore Vidal. I also check in with the state’s dominant talk radio station, New Jersey 101.5 (where I filled in during Christmas week many years ago), to spend some time with midday host Dennis Malloy and the talented afternoon team of Deminski and Doyle.
Naturally, the rain tapers off just as I pull up in front of Borgata just at the four-hour mark. I hand over my car to the valet and go to check-in, where I ask the clerk if there’s a better rate than the $149/night I booked in advance. She calls Customer Care to ask and, after listening for 15 seconds, turns to me and says, “They can give it to you for $209/night.” I point out that $209 is more than $149, to which she replies, “Oh, right. Never mind.” Let’s change the name of that department to Customer Don’t Care.
She gives me the key and I go upstairs to find a very nice room, which I don’t plan on spending a lot of time in. I unpack, then head down to the casino to find the poker room and see how long the list is for a pot-limit Omaha game. Once there, I’m impressed by the size, number of tables, and comfortable spacing. Too many poker rooms jam the players in, but Borgata seems to get it right. Unfortunately, there’s only one PLO game going right now ($5-5 blinds). Fortunately, there’s a seat open.
In a couple of hours, I’ve made a nice profit and get up to meet Matt Glantz, a poker pro who appeared twice this year on my Final Table Poker Show. He was a regular in the high-stakes mixed games here for a long time, but recently signed an endorsement deal with Parx Casino in Philadelphia (which I may visit in a couple of days) and helped move the big games there. Matt happens to be on vacation with his wife and kids a few miles away on the Jersey shore and is nice enough to break away to have dinner so we can catch up.
Matt explains how the casino industry in Atlantic City is in serious trouble, not just from the recession, but because it is no longer the only gambling destination in the region. For a very long time, there was no place to gamble legally in New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, or West Virginia, (in the 1990s, I used to make the four-hour trip from DC several times a year just to play stud at the Taj Mahal and craps at the Sands), but that has changed as each mid-Atlantic state (except Virginia) has allowed casinos to open. That has siphoned a huge amount of business away from Atlantic City, from which it will never recover.
This has always been a town with an identity crisis. While it has the casinos and boardwalk and a pretty good beach, it also has one of the worst ghettos in America (something that no one here ever talks about) set off by several giant wind turbines on the inland side, an odd site against the constant billboard ads for casino entertainment and buffets.
Even though the Borgata poker room isn’t as packed as it used to be, it’s still pretty busy, so after dinner, as Matt returns to his family vacation, I return to the PLO game, locking up another profitable session before the game gets short-handed at 2am and I rack up my chips.
Back in the hotel room, I’m annoyed to discover that I’ll have to pay $14.95/night for wi-fi access — a pet peeve of mine since hotels that cost a lot less throw that service in for free — but there’s nothing I can do about it, so I cough it up, then check my e-mail and browse the web for awhile before calling it a night.
Mileage thus far: 1,348.