"On the boardwalk of Atlantic City," the group sang out loudly -- and then immediately faltered because nobody remembered the rest of the words.
No matter. Who needs any more of the words if you're going to be standing on the famous boardwalk in amatter of minutes?
The Insurance Women of Washington, D.C., in festive spirits and full voice, were on their annual social outing, heading this year by chartered bus to Atlantic City's two new gambling casinos.
Like many other Washington-area professional and religious organizations, the Insurance Women schedule out-of-town bus excursions to give members a chance to get together informally. Some other advantages: They can get group hotel rates. The bus delivers them and picks them up at their hotel door. They can earn some extra money for their treasury.
A popular trip this time of year, says one charter bus firm, is to Shenandoah National Park to see the fall colors.
In past years, the Insurance Women have traveled to New York City for a weekend at the theater. This year the excitement of seeing the new Las Vegas-East lured them to the the New Jersey coast. Some members had never dropped a coin in a slot machine. A reporter went along because his wife is the group's president.
Long bus rides can be tedious, but in this case getting to Atlantic City -- about 3 1/2 hours from Washington -- turned out to be much of the fun. That came from advance planning.
Only minutes after the bus pulled away from the Holloway House at 14th Street and New York Avenue NW on a recent Friday morning, trip committee: members set up a bar on the back seat and, like airline attendants, began serving drinks up and down the aisle.
"Scotch and water? A man after my own heart," said a committeewoman, jotting down that well-before-lunch order. The drinks were free, all part of the $105-per-person tab that also bought transportation, two nights at a hotel (with heated pool) near the casinos and $17.50 tickets to a Las Vegas- style floor show.
There were 34 on the bus that weekend, including four males, and the ages ranged from the 20s to the 70s.
Just a few more miles down the turnpike, and bus passengers got their first chance at winning -- and losing -- when tickets were distributed for a door prize. It wasn't much, a box of note paper and envelopes, but it helped heighten a sense of anticipation as the miles rolled by.
"I never win anything," observed one passenger whose luck never did change. At the trip's outset he had set a $15 limit on his losses on the boardwalk and scarcely considered the prospect of winning. He didn't.
One more surprise before passengers unwrapped lunches they had brought from home: Committee members distributed to each passenger small gift bags containing insurance agency-donated pens, scratch pads, pocket calender, nail file, peanut butter crackers and a silver dollar -- one of the big old-fashioned kind. A slot machine gobbled them up almost as soon as the bus reached its destination.
(A silver-dollar note here. The Resorts International casino uses the big Eisenhower-type dollars. Slot machines at the one-year-newer boardwalk Regency accept only the quarter-size Susan B. Anthony bucks.)
On the outskirts of Atlantic City, the bus driver burst into song with an agreeable baritone voice that knew its way around some very oldies and some not-so-oldies. His passengers joined in, when they could remember the words.
By now the bus was passing through the streets of Atlantic City. From a bus window, the onetime glamorous beach resort where Miss America is crowned every year, looked seedier than expected. It's no wonder the city felt it needed legalized gambling to halt the decay.
For the next few minutes, the game was to spot the Atlantic City streets immortalized by Monopoly.
As the passengers stepped off the bus at the hotel, they were handed envelopes containing the keys to their rooms. While a bellhoy collected the luggage, they could get settled immediately, escaping the delay in individual check-ins. You could get to the gaming tables faster, too.
From Friday afternoon until departure time at 1 p.m. Sunday, the trip enjoy the salt air. But they all gathered Saturday night for cocktails and the Boardwalk Regency's floor show.
On this weekend, the casino starred -- as luck would have it -- Charo, the red-haired Spanish sex bomb whose double entendres seem to wow the late-night talk-show audiences. Her sometimes raunchy show, with a large orchestra and a six-member Spanish dancing troupe, had much of the audience on its feet in wild applause and others only shaking their heads.
For the new-comer, the casinos are from the world of make-believe: football field sized floors packed with gaming tables, slot machines by the hundreds, with crowds of high-rollers and penny-ante players lined up to play. Most slot machines ate only quarters or silver dollars, sometimes 3, 4 or 5 at a pull, but one popular pocket of machine still took the lowly nickel.
"We waited two hours," said two novice gamblers who joined the nickel machine line, "and we still didn't get a chance to play."
Few on the Insurance Women's trip ventured beyond the slots. Roulette, baccarat, blackjack and other table games can be intimidating in a crowd when you don't know what you're doing. Overall, the results were mixed. One woman went home almost $50 to the good; another admitted reluctantly that she had dropped $35 in the quarter macnines in two days.
After breakfast Sunday and (for some) one more chance at the casinos, the group boarded the bus back to Washington. If anyone had expected to go home carrying bags of easy money, they were disappointed. Instead they toted those traditional beach mementos -- nut fudge and salt-water taffy.
Once again, the back seat bar wasopened. Another raffle gave passengers "one more chance to win." On the way home, though, the driver didn't sing.