I’ve been itching for a while to start writing about my “adventures in public transportation,” chronicling the unique experiences found in ridin’ dirrty on buses, trains, and subway cars. First up: a close look at that fabled dreamers’ magic carpet, the Greyhound bus to Atlantic City… more commonly known as the “Gambler’s Express.”
Sometimes you just need to gamble. Sometimes you need to embrace trashy boardwalk fun. Luckily for city-dwellers, you can satisfy both needs with the aforementioned “Gambler’s Express,” an Atlantic City-bound bus that’s a veritable Mos Eisley cantina of unique life forms. I’ve always sort of known about it, heard stories about delusional grandmothers looking to win big, douchey finance-types looking to score, and other sad sacks sandwiched in-between. It was never a pretty picture. Rolling the dice like so many on the bus, though, I decided a few weeks ago that it was time to give the trip a whirl. What I discovered was a diverse cluster of people looking to better themselves; to improve their standing in some profound way. What I discovered… was the American Dream.
For spacial purposes I’ve broken this post into three segments, each looking at a different group of riders. Always a fan of reverse chronological order, I’m starting with the elderly.
Old people smell. I’m sorry, but it’s true. Whether with your Brownie troop or on NHS mandated time, you’ve all been to nursing homes before. You know what I’m talking about. Multiply that odor situation by about 30 and confine it to a tiny space… and you’ll know what it’s like to ride the GE. Mouth-breathing (like Michael Phelps!) becomes almost a necessity.
Old people are also constantly at odds with the convenience of air-conditioning. They hate the cold; it’s their kryptonite. When my bus suddenly got much warmer, I looked around to see what had happened. Some people were agitated, like me. Every wrinkled face, though, wore a satisfied smile. The heat was too stifling to ignore, so I walked to the front of the bus and asked the driver to cool it a little. “I’d like to, man, but you see them white hairs in every seat?” He motioned to the cabin. “I take my orders from them. Sorry.” Defeated, I sat back down.
Like with anyone else, money drives these spring chickens to hit the casinos on a regular basis. Slot money, in particular. Old people hate craps, roulette, or card games that aren’t bridge. But they crave that slot machine action. Pull the lever. Watch the screen. Pull the lever again. It’s the most exciting sitting activity known to man and a welcome departure from… well, sitting at home. Casinos have those fancy carpets, too.
Back to the bus. The only thing old people like more than playing the slots is talking about which ones they’re going to play. “Did you hear Trump has the new Diamonds Wild?” Ruth asks Bettyanne. “What?” Bettyanne leans into the aisle to hear better. “I said Trump’s got those Diamonds Wild slots, the big win ones. You know? Jerry was talking about them last week.” Bettyanne nods. “Jerry, how’s he doing? I’m going to call him as soon as I get home.” Two rows up, Margerie regales her girlfriends with the story of her lucky machine. “Always pays out,” says Margerie. Right next to me, Stuart eyes his $19 chip voucher like it’s the best Penny Saver coupon he’s ever seen.
There’s kind of an overwhelming sadness found riding the bus with these long-lived men and women. While I’ve only ridden GE twice now, it’s obvious from the way they speak to each other that this is a constant in their lives. Some go weekly. I heard a few say it was their second time in four days. Casinos can be a lot of fun, sure, but as a fountain of hope are always somewhat lacking. The house wins. Still, Bettyanne and Stuart and all their friends return on a regular basis, never giving up hope for that big score. Just how powerful is the casino’s pull? They don’t complain about the air-conditioning, I can tell you that.
What say you, readers? Is gambling a healthy recreational activity for the elderly? Should they be donating to their grandchildren’s college funds instead? And have YOU ever won big in AC (or Vegas… or Puerto Rico… Bahamas… etc.)?
NEXT UP: Young Urban Professionals