THE BLOG
06/07/2010 12:54 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

No One Smiles in Atlantic City

Until a few weeks ago, I didn't care enough about casinos coming to Massachusetts. Yes, I knew they transferred money from the poor to the rich. I realized fleecing the elderly to pave roads was wrong. But still, I didn't pay it much mind.

Then I visited Atlantic City.

The idea sounded fun in the way impulsive ideas often do. I'd never been, but I'd seen the movies. My sister would be driving me to a reading event in New Jersey. Why not stop off in AC? Sophisticated cocktails! Slinky dresses! Stars!

And off we went to Caesar' Palace. At 2:30 (eager for the promised early check-in) we slid into the valet parking line, ready for Caesar's welcome. ("So happy to see you and your money!") Instead, with as much warmth as our great-grandmother received at Ellis Island, we were ordered from our car with an air of you-are-middle-aged, we-want-your-money, we-have-no-other interest.

However, am I nothing if not a child of the proletariat? Was this wise man resentful of my privilege? I smiled and over-tipped.

Shlepping heavy computer bags, we looked at each other. Forget it, we messaged. We went to check-in.

Hating-her-job Desk Clerk: "Sorry, your room isn't ready. Come back at 4:30."
Meek-me, after glancing down at grungy confirmation: "Oh! It says here check-in is at 4:00. So it's at 4:30?"
Now-hating-me Desk Clerk: "No, check-in is at 4:00."
Getting-the-picture me: "So I can check-in at 4:00?"
Fine-I'll-play-this-game Desk Clerk: "No, rooms won't be ready until 4:30."
Hating-her me: So check in is at 4:30?
I-have-all-the-power Desk Clerk: No, check in is at 4:00.

Repeat seven times.

We trudged off through the smoky no-smoking casino. Everything leads through the casino. Need coffee? Desperately seeking bathroom? Shoulder dislocated from carrying bags? Enjoy walking through our over-sized chinging-binging-strobe-lit casinos where all circles back to hell.

We finally found a labyrinth of shops and coffee, but our shoes, despite being indoors, rested in a trough of sand. Why? To accent the water view? Make me feel oceany? Vacationy?

My feet itched.

To my left, men peeled apples onto a newspaper already littered with banana peels. Televised hockey blared. Yeah, like being at the ocean. I'm flooded by childhood memories of over-crowded, loud, sorta-scary Coney Island.

Everyone seemed angry, even the little kids. (Why are kids here? All I see are expensive chain stores and a faux bit of beach no parent could want her child touching. )

Two hours later, we were back at check-in. One slow clerk faced 25 angry people. Three clerks with no customers waited for the invisible "Diamond Express" folks.

My sister and I became the people we hate. Grumbling as though impatience to lose money equaled living through a pogrom, we fomented a revolution. Cell phones blazed towards the inner-Caesar sanctum. One brave woman broke the barricades to the Diamond Express Line! She yelled for the manager. Finally, we got a second clerk. Like people on Bastille Day, we cheered.

We fought for coffee and a seat, wanting one sign that Caesar was happy to take our money.

Please, Caesar! Dress me in a little dignity. If you're going to f*** me, at least give me a flower. These are bad economic times. Be patriotic. Hire enough people so check-in takes less than three hours. Train them to tell me what floor I'm on without rolling their eyes. And could they say the correct floor or would that ruin the game of laughing at the guests?

Caesar, could you pay your staff enough, so we don't see how much your they hate us for visiting your hotel?

No one smiles in Atlantic City. Grim elderly folks pour off busses, hands stuffed with dollars. Families look around, baffled, wondering no doubt, where the fun is. Angry men fight with poker machines.

My sister and I travel the boardwalk, gulping fresh air before shredding our money. This time I'll beat the poker machine. I feel it in my bones! Knowing how our synapses were jingled and jangled by electronic crack didn't make us immune to throwing good money after bad. Hey, someone has to win, right?

I searched for a smile, looking for an instant of happy. One? I beamed at all. Might there be one lucky fellow? Had nobody struck gold?

A semi-famous actor came towards us! Finally, the stars! Surely he had to smile for his career, at least. He grimaced, seeming disgusted by my grin.

Why do people come here? Who are these members of the Diamond Express? What did I miss? I wanted to have fun. This trip was my present to my sister. I wanted her to smile.

But no one smiles in Atlantic City.

Fail Caesar. Please stay out of Massachusetts.