WHERE THE CHIPS FALL East Coast Parlor Car Tours and the U.S. Travel Agency sponsor Atlantic City trips daily, leaving from several locations, for age 18 and older. Phone 223-5800.
"You'll have your six hours in Atlantic City folks, I promise. Just be patient."
The carefree day my husband and I had planned to spend in Atlantic City was deteriorating into a fiasco. We were taking one those trips advertised for a fare of $19.75 with a $10 rebate in quarters upon arrival. We hit the Holiday Inn in Silver Spring to buy our tickets only to learn that "cash only" was accepted. "Unless we win, there goes dinner," my husband muttered, digging into his pockets. We'd planned on charging our tickets and weren't counting on putting up $40 in cash this early in the game. "You'll get it back in A.C.," a person in line behind us said with authority. We weren't sure.
The next problem came when, after purchasing tickets, my husband went to park our van only to find that it was too tall for the hotel garage. Desperately he drove up and down side streets, staring at the "two hours only" parking signs, and finally stopped a resident and worked a deal so he could park the van in his driveway for the day.
He dashed back to the hotel where I was waiting and dragged me on to a bus standing at the curbside. "I don't think this is the right bus," I protested, but he insisted. Just then the driver pulled away, saying the famous last words, "We'll be in Atlantic City by 11:30 easy."
Not 10 miles later, as we were zipping along the Beltway, we heard a thunk, felt a lurch and 20 passengers moaned at once. "Ohhh . . flat tire."
We limped along the highway to Catonsville and waited while our driver made a series of phone calls to the company -- the Atlantic City Casino, his mother, heaven knows who else -- and finally came back outside to holler, "Back onto the bus folks! We're going to a garage just up the road." Do you have any idea how long it takes 40 people to climb back onto a bus, argue about their seats and finally decide to take the same ones they had before? The people in the front wanted their same seats, the folks in the back thought it was time for a change, and the matter was further complicated by several new passengers we'd picked up. They'd actually gotten onto the bus while the tire was flat. The driver stoicly refused to participate in the arguments: "Whenever you're ready, folks, we'll go." Arbitration was not included in the job description.
At the garage the bus backed onto a platform and before we could say "Let us out," we were suspended while several mechanics debated about what was wrong with the bus besides the flat tire. The bus was hot and smoky; everyone seemed to be smoking two cigarettes at once. "This is not fun," I told my husband. "Let's go home." He just looked at me.
When the tire was finally changed and we were back on the ground, the driver admitted that our problems weren't quite over. "We're going back to Pikesville where another bus will meet us." Pikesville? The distance was another 10 miles of slow, bumpy riding. We got off at a hotel and spent the next hour wandering around looking for a Coke machine, a McDonald's, a gambling machine. One man got so frustrated he began playing the gumball machine in the lobby. "I'll bet you I can't get three green ones in a row," he challenged. "This is really not fun," I told my husband.
Finally, we spotted the other bus, and we cheered as we climbed aboard. That was when the driver made his famous statement about having our full six hours in Atlantic City. It was now 11:30. We'd left Silver Spring at 8 o'clock and in 3 1/2 hours had gotten no further than Baltimore. We were exhausted so decided to sleep the rest of the way. Unfortunately there was a small party which had other ideas and carried on a raucous convention for the next three hours. The only time they stopped talking was when they burst out laughing.
"Don't mean to be unkind," a little lady next to me whispered, "but I hope they lose. I hope they lose a lot when they gamble." She told us that she goes to Atlantic City once a week -- "So do a lot of my friends" -- and that last week she had won almost $50 at the nickel slot machines.
When we arrived at 2:30, Resorts International, true to the word, handed us our quarters; I headed straight for the slot machines where I first lost $3, then won back $4, and my husband strolled over to the dice table. He won, he lost, he won again, and he explained his theory to me as he played: "Stick with the $2 tables and you can play for hours without getting hurt."
After about an hour we decided to go out on the Boardwalk. The shops were mostly closed for the winter but a few were selling the usual T-shirts and ash trays and other things you don't know you need until you see them.
We found a cafeteria-style restaurant, Tiffany's: "2.99, all you can eat. Here's your paper plate. Pay on the way out," the waitress announced when we looked inside. We heaped our plates with surprisingly good fried chicken, sausage, meatloaf and salads.
After dinner we headed over to another casino which offered us $5 in quarters upon seeing our bus boarding pass. Out of gratitude, we stayed to try their slot machines. I lost $1, my husband won $5, and then he persuaded me to try one bet at the dice table. I put down my $2, shut my eyes, held my breath and won, doubled my money. "Let it ride," he urged. I did and won again. I grabbed by $8 and left. I couldn't stand the excitement.
Back on the bus we compared notes. There were no really big winners but fortunately no big losers either.One man won $150 at blackjack. The woman next to him lost about $40 in the slot machines, and a young couple in the back "just about broke even." Many of the people told us that they go to Atlantic City every week, and my husband began figuring. . . "We really can't go that often during the week, but how crowded are the casinos on weekends?" No one answered. The bus was quiet; everyone was sleeping. It had been a long day. a