The heavens rained buckets and hell provided cups in the opening weekend of this town's new grope for her lost identity of Queen of Resorts.
The new state-authorized gambling casino is supposed to add a hundred million a year to the local economy which had softened over the years through too great reliance on salt water taffy.
"Man, we were dead," said the driver from the airport.
"Ah, free coffee," said at least half the 6,000 home-grown gamblers entering the enormous red, black and orange room and perceiving thousands of takeout paper cups.
But there is no such thing in this world as a free coffee.
Optimists assumed the cups held your winnings. Others knew they just held your cash till you got through dropping it down the hole.
The local press among the 500 reporters in town, points out this is no Sodom or Gomorrah, but the beginning of a first-class and no-crime operation which will bestow showers of blessing.
The whole business would not have sent up so many national rockets if it were not the first example of a civilized state (New Jersey) in the East following the lead of Nevada where casinos have been legal for years.
The delicious or appalling inference is that if Resorts International's casino succeeds here, there might be a solid bank of them from Brunswick to Key West or, for that matter, everywhere except the Bible Belt where they would surely be called something else.
You could observe - and by the way be sure to pack an extra parking space if you come up during the next few days - many of the home-grown Hetty Greens appear shot out of guns and the men are more likely to have a chain with sabre-toothed tiger teeth around their necks than a tie. In fact, a great feature of the place - if gambling happens to be the sole vice that does not pressure you - is speculating when you see some woman, how the devil she managed to get her self into that.
Parking has run as high as $26 a day at a place where you get your fenders bumped by attendants in tuxedoes instead of grease-monkey suits, but $8 a day is more like it if you can live without beauty.
People will say anything to reporters, but if you sit alone in a room marked, "Press" you will get the true pulse of the thousands wandering about seeking glory from their $20 investment:
"I don't wanna spend 12 bucks for lunch," said a youth," spokesman for his pack, "but I don't wanna leave the building or we'll never get back in again, with those lines."
Having defined himself into a no-win, he left convinced the press is no protector of the young.
"Now may daughter," said an older man, "is arriving from New York tomorrow . . ." and he, too, noticed the shortage of magic wands.
The American public, to drop a historical note, is uniquely gifted at finding a cubbyhole hidden away with some typewriters and utterly blind to a restaurant that feeds 800 for lunch with an entrance like Union Station.
This will suggest that the street-smart savvy, sophisticated crowd does not preponderate here today.
You recall that in the old days Jack Dempsey used to run up and down the Boardwalk to keep in shape for the fights, and John Philip Sousa used to lead the band.
Furthermore, "The Student Prince" had its premiere right here in 1928. But who can recount all such milestones, which are only footnotes to what the town hopes will be recorded in the future?
Gambling is a euphoria, sometimes sick but frequently not. It appears to be a harmless deviation, born of hope and boredom, and often is no more serious than a passion for rum buns.
Many of the visitors left from time to time to stroll up the Boardwalk. This dates from the high 1870 resolve by the Town Council that tourists were tracking in an awful lot of sand. It has been a chief attraction of the place ever since and its latest form has railings. The first one did not, and visitors were often so enchanted by the sea view that they fell off. The town side of the Boardwalk is something else, lined solidly for blocks (the pavement of boards raised above the beach runs for 4 miles) with hotel entrances, taffy stores, jewelry shops that may open round the clock, and public-spirited merchant establishments where every single Oriental rug in the place is half price if you buy today.
The gray boards, the gray sea, the gray light made a stunning setting for the people sitting quietly in bleachers here and there along the walk. The temperature has been about 60, so it was not uncomfortable to observe either the immemorial water, the mother of life, or (if you need something livelier) the traffic strolling.
They were not restless - not searching for a store selling rugs at even better than half off - and did not seem to be searching for anything. The lost art of promenading is here a standard skill. They were just there, as sheep tend to congregate in a pasture, pleased to be alive and present with so many of their fellows in the Q or R.
You an hear people, tough folk, say, "A lot of people are here who shouldn't be." Meaning only the high rollers (those who bet large sums repeatedly) should turn out for the gambling.
But others doubt the tone of the place would be all that much improved if the small gamblers stayed away. Their hotel rooms, taxis, gasoline cost just as much and is therfore as useful to the economy as the gas of the great. Besides that, the casino looks awful when empty.
As everyone knows, it's twice the size of a football field and when you put 6,000 people in it, it looks huge, extremely glittering and exciting. Surely life is more than a wife, two kids and two cats, and this must be it.
The reason, clearly, that not many people play baccarat is that not many know how to. It is not feasible to begin:
"Now, sir if you will be good enough to outline the point of this game. . ."
No. Many are playing here without the slightest idea whether they are winning or losing. The croupier gives; the croupier takes it away.
The slot machines have all kinds of attractive little pictures on them which will whirl about when you pull the lever. The pattern formed when the uproar stops decides whether you win and how much. Some extremely attractive combinations do not, for some reason, pay anything. Like life:
But few would commend a casino to prepare one for that journey. I phoned Gamblers Anonymous in Philadelphia a few minutes after the casino opened to see if they ought not come quick. No answer.
Assuming the sun will come out eventually, the warmth will lure the gamblers sea-bathing since few can take a few hours of din. An old fellow of the town told me no sane person gets wet until mid-July, but not everybody is sane.
The high title of Constable of the Surf was established here in 1855. He was the forerunner of a large life-guard patrol today, said to be so efficient you have to work very hard at it to drown. In his day you weren't supposed to enjoy bathing, but went in at the crack of dawn because it was good for you, then sat around verandas the rest of the day.
A metropolitan newspaper of 1880, full of valuable expertise, said:
"No more than two or three quick dips a week for beginners. Old hands may go in daily.Two or three minutes is the limit for ladies." Who have, of course, come a long, etc.
This place used to look like a zebra festival. All the swimwear was dark with light stripes at any angle stripes can run.
Thanks to the bulky swimming costume of Victorian days you tended to waterlog like a van full of Army blankets if you went in past your ankles.
As the costumes got briefer the city council here labored hard to pass laws on behalf of decency, which they then had to repeal in later sessions.
Whether it was World War I or the Norwegian boy scouts (who swam here without any tops to their swimsuits) that brought about today's exposure cannot be proved. It may just be (this was certtainly Aimee Semple McPherson's view) the progressive degeneration of the world or an unexpected but inevitable breakthrough of good sense.
Most of the people I bumped into on the streets think the casino will put the town back on the map. A physical therapist, however, expressed one source of uneasiness - he does not see how there can help being a lot more crime if only because of the increase in tourism and the magnetism of cash.
People who count on tips hope things will get better. One waitress, who hopes her tips will send her back to nursing school, said:
"People eat cheap and tip cheap," and is not as excited about getting rich as she was a month ago.
The casino hotel food (the hotel itself is called Resorts International) is cheap for its quality. The lunch I ate at the fixed price of $6.95 would have cost $40 in Washington if ordered a lacarte. It is one's duty at a fixed price buffet to shovel down the crabmeat, whether one likes it or not, knowing that with each new serving one has saved $5.
"You might call it a come-on," said a restaurant hostess. Certainly it's an attraction.
The easing of guilt is required if you are offering the American market a sinful luxury. We must first be persuaded it's not really a luxury or a sin at all, but a hard-headed prudent economy (remember the crab) and is therefore actively virtuous.
If you throw away $200, you can write it off in your head (the best place for writing off losses) by saying you saved a lot of money on the food and moreover were not tempted to buy expensive bait and fishing license or a gift for your wife - that must be $20 right there.
Gambling is said to be an ideal occupation of the macho male. At least 50 percent of the crowd were women. Few of them seemed on the make, which in many intances was just as well. Some were old, many were office workers who came in little parties of two and three.
Needless to say some were dedicated slaves to the machines at betting tables,as if their life depended on their concentration. But most of them clearly just wanted a weekend close to big money and big men. They wanted to have a few beers or those mint things in a new setting, and hardly any of them seemed compulsive.
Most of the gamblers seemed strangers to Babylon, as you might say, and were less enraptured by the craps tables (on any long-term basis) than the funny shapes of people done up for a casual holiday look. The day of the zebra may well return with a resultant gain of harmonious couture.
You will not believe that this Queen of Resorts did nothing at all until the 1850s, and not a great deal for some years after that. The land was first owned by a Quaker (he who is spinning) who asked in 1695:
"What will it ever be good for - seagull nests?"
Not so good for seagull nests, as it has turned out. But plenty of the birds wheels and issue catty songs above the folls below.
Even on the third day the crowds are such that when people get into the casino - and there are long waits if you aren't staying in the hotel itself - they hate to leave. Even hotel guests can have trouble finding something to lose money onn.
"We should never have given up our slot machine. Now look," said a typical gambler reckless enough to go to the room for a shower.
Some will ask whether the new casino is a place to go for a weekend. There is, after all, the general notion that gamblers and those who cater to them are sleazoid.
The honest citizen need have no fear. The motto of this town on its city seal is "Counsel and Prudence." The town would never countenance anything imprudent, and New Jersey would hardly let anything start up that wasn't perfectly okay.
Besides, doncha want to grind a cigar in your teeth and swat the broads if they look swattable? Where else do you get to do that?
Not at the White House. Or anyway, not at the National Gallery dinner for Tintoretto.