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Although I am not a religious man, I am absolutely enthralled when the holiday season kicks off.  While Christmas seems to take over the last few months of the year (I heard holiday music in a fast food restaurant back in September), it is after Thanksgiving when we get to the “money” part of the holiday season.  Gifts are being bought, party arrangements are being made, and the television airwaves are absolutely inundated with jingle bells and ho-ho-hos.

What makes the season truly special is that it honors the past.  Each year, we hear the same songs, watch the same television specials, and use the same old lights to decorate the house.  These traditions help us remember our past while, simultaneously, shaping our future – remember, there’s always someone out there watching Frosty or Rudolph for the first time.

With that in mind, let’s spotlight something that often gets overlooked: perennial Christmas commercials.  While many commercials are aimed to promote something short-term and are easily forgotten, the following commercials have managed to stave off quick extinction to become miniature holiday “classics.”

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With a marriage on the way, I swore that I would be reducing my trips to Atlantic City.  But then the Beerfest lured me.  Shortly after, there was the comic con.  And, of course, I had to have my bachelor party there.  But that’s it.  I was done.  No more silly drunken nights….

Then OB got free tickets to see Norm MacDonald at Harrah’s.

I have seen many, many stand-up comedy legends at Atlantic City over the years, but not Norm.  However, with the impending marriage, money is tight, and my luck has grown cold in Atlantic City over the last few trips (see the aforementioned Beerfest post for the bloody details).  So I set a few ground rules for myself before going down:

1. Stick to “voucher gambling”.  Getting shellacked at the tables does come with some benefits now and then, as I had a couple free bets to redeem.  Taking these vouchers, as well as the $25 credit you get when taking the bus, and I had small bankroll.  Enough to soothe the gambling beast, but not enough to spend the whole night.  So what else to do?

2. Drink.  It’s the cheapest way to kill time in Atlantic City.  Believe it or not, I felt somewhat “in control” my last few trips down (the wildest time being last summer).  This trip, I’d be testing my limits.

3. Go for the all-nighter.  As youngsters, OB and I would go down without a hotel room booked, and would stay up all night in Atlantic City.  However, as we progressed throughout our 20s, hotel rooms went from optional to necessary.  The last true all-nighter I pulled was way way back in Chapter 3.  Could I do it again?

So with the stage set, let’s see how I did sticking to the rules.

11:00AM – My goodness, the bus line.  Word of advice, folks – if you are taking the bus from Port Authority to Atlantic City, make sure to get there very early and know what gate you need to stand at.  During the busiest times, which seem to be Friday after work and Saturday morning, it will be mass pandamoneum.  Being the experienced bus veterans that we are, OB and I were promptly in line and had first row seats to the fracas as people who couldn’t make it on the 11 AM bus tried to cut into the 11:30 line.  There was mass screaming, and threats to call the “line police.”  I just put on my sunglasses to avoid making eye contact with anyone.  OB and I grabbed seats in the back, and let the drinking commence (I started with cheap-o whiskey, OB preferred Captain Morgan).

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It’s here.  After three years, and 21 posts of varying quality, I am having my bachelor party in Atlantic City.  Sure, there are places I could have thrown my bachelor party that would be cheaper, easier to get to, and more fun.  But it’s me.  Not having my bachelor party in Atlantic City would be exactly like cheating on my future wife, only worse.  I could not risk any bad karma prior to the wedding.

Along with me were 13 of the crassest, dirtiest scoundrels the east coast ever produced.  Sure, almost all of them are 30-years-olds in committed relationships, but that didn’t prevent them from drinking in slightly-above-moderation and spending a slightly-above-responsible amount of money.  All the AC Diary All-Stars were there: Keith, OB, Finn, and the little-seen Steve (from way back in Chapter 9).  There were many more, but I’ll introduce them as necessary along the way.  Let’s get this show on the road!

Saturday

2:00PM – My groomsmen (OB, Steve, and two new characters to the diary: Sharma and my brother) and I had spent the previous night drinking in beautiful Cape May, NJ.  If you’ve never been to Cape May, you better get your butt in gear!  Cape May is a quiet beach town, where old people will smile at you, every business has “Cape May” in it’s name (i.e. Cape May Brewery, Cape May Peanut Butter, Cape May Gynecology), and the bars actually play Semisonic’s “Closing Time” at closing time.  It’s basically bizarro Atlantic City.

Therefore, when we arrived in Atlantic City, we experienced quite the culture shock.  As loyal readers know, the bus from New York City is my preferred method to get down to Atlantic City, and it definitely prepares you for the world you are arriving in.  Going from Cape May to Atlantic City was like walking out of Disneyworld and into a slaughterhouse.  Everyone looked like they wanted to kill us.

Our hotel this time was Caesars.  For those planning a bachelor party, I would highly recommend Caesars as a base of operations, mainly due to its central location.  When checking in, OB realized he left his wallet in the car, and had to run back.  This left four of us abandoned in the lobby area, awkwardly waiting and slowly adjusting ourselves to Atlantic City’s angry nature.  Then we met Caesars security.  Yes, the following below was an actual conversation.

Security guard: You guys checking in?

Us: Yeah, we’re waiting for a friend.

Security guard: Did you guys just arrive?

Us: ….yes.

Security guard: Were you here last night?

Us: ….no….

Security guard: So you just got here, and weren’t here last night?

Us: …yup.  That’s correct.

Security guard (eyeing us suspiciously): ….alright.

You gotta love that AC hospitality!  So charming!

Keith Stone: Rory would’ve loved the bus ride down. The door to the bathroom was open the entire time and it smelled like Nets all-time great Gheorghe Muresan had just evacuated his bowels after an all-you-can-eat Indian food buffet. I survived by drinking vodka out of a soda bottle for my 83rd consecutive bus ride down to AC. As we were disembarking, two cute girls were confused about the casino vouchers that come with the bus ticket. Being the gallant gentleman that I am, I tried explaining it to them, but it turned out that the problem was that they were only 18. I took that as my cue to leave and meet up with the guys.

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This past weekend, Atlantic City hosted its first comic book convention at the Atlantic City Convention Center.  Dubbed “Boardwalk Con” (or ACBC, if you will), it was the jewel of South Jersey’s attempt to cash-in on geek culture.  And, in terms of guests, it was pulling out all the stops.  Stan Lee!  William Shatner!  Kevin Smith!  Others To Be Announced!

I am a long-time geek.  Aside from gambling, drinking, Bruce Springsteen, and Nets basketball, comic books are my one true love.  So, inspired by Atlantic City’s attempt at something new, I decided to shake up the diaries and try a new approach.  I would be a) making it a day trip (there in the morning, back at night), b) go by myself, and c) almost completely not gamble.  The results?  About what you’d expect.

7:30AM – With the convention starting at 10:00AM, I wanted to get down early to maximize my hours at the show.  So, I looked into the earliest bus from New York to Atlantic City.  Now, the buses to leave Atlantic City generally run at all hours of the night.  However, to go there?  The earliest was 7:30AM (the last bus of the day is at 11:30PM).  I would think that buses would start rolling around 6:00AM – how else can you catch the breakfast buffet?

The bus was packed with an array of the usual degenerate gamblers and the unusual comic nerds.  Yes, there were people in strange make-up carrying lightsabers onto the Atlantic City bus, something I’m sure made the bus regulars wonder if they were in the midst of a stroke.  Towards the end of the trip down, many of the regulars were shouting at the bus driver to go faster.  Clearly, the gamblers had had enough of the nerd talk that dominated the ride.

10:30 – First stop, the AC bus terminal.  Many of the nerds shuffle off at this stop.  However, I cannot suppress my gambling side, and remain on the bus until it reaches Caesar’s.  I turn my $25 bus voucher into a robust $14, and head over to the convention center.

In the last diary, I bragged about how lucky OB and I were to get a cab.  Unfortunately, I did not realize that the convention center is a 5-minute jaunt from Caesar’s.  Take note, fellow readers (who will be going to the AC Beerfest next year because I told you do and seriously you should because it’s the best) – if your event is at the convention center, stay on the Boardwalk.

Getting there, I was greeted by the all-too-familiar site at comic conventions: lines.  There was a line to pick up your tickets from will call.  Then once inside, there was a line to pick-up tickets to get autographs or see a panel (I had bought tickets for the Kevin Smith Q&A).  Why you couldn’t get your admission tickets and your autograph tickets is beyond me, and is a complete screw up.  I’ll forgive AC because this is their first year, but it is a problem they seriously need to address next year.  The waiting time totaled over an hour but I am a comic con veteran, so I had built up the stamina for long waits like this.

1:00PM – The most disappointing moment of the day was finding out that Stan Lee had cancelled his appearance.  While I hadn’t paid the exorbitant fee to get an autograph or picture with him, I was supposed to see him at the Kevin Smith Q&A.  The man is 92 years old so I don’t know how many more times I’ll have this opportunity.  It definitely put a sour note on the start of the convention.

However, I was treated to a 3-hour session with Kevin Smith (with guest appearances by Michael Rooker and Jason Mewes).  It was originally supposed to be just an hour, but due to it starting late and the lack of Stan Lee, they decided to move around other panels in the schedule and keep him there until 4:00PM.

I know Kevin Smith has a ton of haters, and I’m not going to claim that all these haters are wrong.  However, Smith has a very specific style that amuses a very specific audience, and I am definitely in that audience.  His Q&A wasn’t very groundbreaking – I’ve heard many of his stories on previous episodes of his podcast, but it was the first time I had seen him in person, so I was proud to support the man.  Plus, at conventions such as these, sometimes it is better to just sit and be entertained for 3 hours rather than meander aimless through a sea of people.

4:00 – However, I would be remiss if I didn’t get that meandering time at the show.  As described on Dinodrac.com, this convention was the perfect size – not too crowded like San Diego or New York, but big enough to feel like a true event.  I circled the show floor several times, taking in all the vendors, exhibits, artists, and what not.  The thing I noticed was the large emphasis on cosplay.  In my comic convention going heyday (roughly 2000-2004), cosplay was a novelty.  Now, there are booths dedicated to cosplay “stars,” as well as vendors specializing in selling cosplay wares.  Cosplay at comic conventions is a phenomenon I’m proud not to “get” – everybody needs something they can sound like a cranky old man when talking about.

Towards the end of the day, I would walk through the hall, vowing it would be my last time, and then I would leave.  This plan would go awry as I found a new booth that interested me.  If I found this booth interesting, maybe I missed another interesting booth?  So, one more trip around the hall, and THEN I’ll leave.  But, yet again, I’d find another cool booth.  You can see where this was going.  It took me four or five “final walkthroughs” before I called it a day.

5:30 – I’m on the bus back home, thinking over my day.  My final haul: three hours with Kevin Smith, a handful of free comics, two drawings from comic artists, seeing random celebrities and cosplayers, and $14.  Not…. great.

I don’t regret going to the ACBC, but it falls into a very strange category: an event that I feel I got my exact money’s worth.  I don’t feel cheated, but I don’t feel that I got a great bang for my buck.  Furthermore, it just felt strange to be going back on the AC bus within 8 hours of having ridden it down, completely sober and not having gambled.

So, unlike the AC Beerfest, the ACBC is a “wait and see” proposition for 2016.  My attendance next year will be dependent on several factors, but mainly I want to see what guests will be there.  However, should I go, I will definitely want to make a weekend out of it.  Not gambling in AC…. I feel so….. unclean.

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Two thousand fifteen.  Such a huge number.  The year we are in, some would say.  And this is a string of four pointless sentences.

I haven’t been to Atlantic City this year, so we are way overdue for a diary.  Usually, around this time, Keith and I would have hit AC on some kind of crazy adventure.  However, he made the horrible mistake of abstaining from alcohol for Lent.  This time, it is OB and myself, Harrah’s, and the Atlantic City Beer (and Music) Festival.  We begin our day of activities with a buffet….

2:30PM – The ride down was fairly uneventful.  We were pleased to find that the buses now go straight from Port Authority to Harrah’s (a game changer!), and I slept the whole way down.  OB, unfortunately, made the error of not printing out his ticket for the beerfest before leaving.  We ventured out to find the hotel business center, but Harrah’s seems to be determined to hide it away from all human contact.  After two separate elevator rides and a meander through both the casino and the barren halls of unused meeting rooms, we found the business center.  It was inhabited by another poor soul who, too, had forgotten to print up his ticket.  However, this jabroni fills us in on his current woes: the printer isn’t working.  A friendly staffmember arrived, but after a series of complicated e-mail transactions, we were still without our tickets.

I decide to take matters into my own hands.  I look at the printer.  It says “No Paper.”  I use all my MacGuyver skills, and remove paper from the fax machine and stick it in the printer.  Problem solved.

Harrah’s, I’m available to be head of your IT department.  Just give me a call.

4:00 – After a quick shower and some squats to get the blood flowing, we headed down to Harrah’s Waterfront Buffet to stuff ourselves with crab legs and rotten shrimp.  We went as the buffet opened, so we were surrounded by the elderly in their natural habitat.  However, our eyes were distracted by the Harrah’s Pool, which was actually hopping.  I don’t seem to remember it actually working as a “pool,” but rather a nightclub.  Yet today, on the first semi-nice day of 2015, the ladies (and gents) were out in their skimpiest outfits.  It was quite a sight.

5:30 – The.  Beerfest.

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Honestly, this might be the most fun, best run event I have ever been to in Atlantic City.  I can’t even begin to properly describe it.  So, without ado, here’s my top six list of the best things about the Atlantic City Beer (and Music) Fest:

6. It’s very well-organized. The space was large and brightly lit.  The event started on time.  It was insanely easy to get through security.  The cabs after the event were easy to find (granted, we left about 20 minutes early to avoid the rush).  Given that there were about 10,000 people there with the express purpose of drinking, it could’ve easily been a shitshow.  Instead, it was the greatest party of the year.

5. There’s food!  Unfortunately, we weren’t able to partake much in this aspect, having eaten before.  But, we passed by a bunch of smoked meats that smelled absolutely mouth-watering.  Free samples, to boot.  Speaking of free…

4. So much swag.  I live for swag.  Stickers, coasters, buttons.  Aside from the beer, you can definitely get your money’s worth in useless crap.  I love it.

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3. There’s so many activities!  Drinking tiny beers for four hours can get a bit boring.  So why not try on kilts?  Or listen to music? Or do some yoga?  You can do all these activities for as long or as short as you want, depending on how much time you need to rest. (I would like to note that this is the second time we were at an event in Atlantic City featuring Everclear.  And it is the second time we chose not to watch Everclear.)

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2. The crowd rocks.  You had groups of drinkers celebrating people’s birthdays, some trying to do the “Wade Boggs Challenge,” and others dressed up as wrestlers.  And, for such a large event, there were almost no bad apples in the bunch.  Nobody was sloppy or vomiting, and nobody was being a jerk (fighting, pushing, cutting lines, etc.).

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But, we all know what number one is…

1. Four hours of beer.  You are given a small glass, and the recommended sample size is 2 ounces, but come on – you got unlimited beer from some great breweries.  For free.  For four hours.

I will make it my duty to be there next year, come hell or high water.  And you should too.  And I am getting no money to endorse this.  This should be the last line of the diary.  Unfortunately, the night keeps going.

10:00 – OB and I take our drunk asses back to Harrah’s, and the rest of the night is a blur.  We have an excellent midnight dinner at McCormick and Schmick’s, and OB passes out early.  I make the unfortunate mistake of staying up gambling.  I get beat at the slots.  I get beat at the blackjack tables.  I get beat when I bet small.  I get beat when I bet big.  I get beat when I play with bad blackjack players.  I get beat when I play with good blackjack players.

Bottom line: I stink at gambling.

7:00AM – After a short nap, I take a morning stroll on the Harrah’s waterfront and take stock of my life.  This may have been the greatest trip I ever had in Atlantic City, but then I had to go gamble.  Which brings up the challenge: can I “Do AC” without gambling?  Is that even possible?

Stay tuned.  The next AC Diary will be coming in June.  And trust me, it’s going to be a doozy.

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Last year, life was grand in Atlantic City.  I ran a half marathon, and the city had 13 casinos.  Since then, we’ve both downgraded: I’m running half the distance, and Atlantic City has nearly half as many casinos.  This is my first trip to AC since the massive bloodletting of September, where Revel, Showboat, and Trump Plaza closed their doors.  All reports I’ve heard about Atlantic City the last month made it sound exactly like the town Bruce Springsteen sang about on Nebraska.  But, still, I had to go down there and see it for myself.

Friday

9:00PM – Let’s set the stage for this trip, as many things are quite different.  First, let’s introduce the main players.  There’s me, my girlfriend, an already intoxicated Keith (not so different from previous entries), and Keith’s friend Realtor, a long-time AC Diary fan making his diary debut.  I can’t imagine what it must be like to be a fan of the AC Diaries and then, one day, finding yourself IN it.  It must be like turning on The Simpsons and seeing yourself drinking at Moe’s.  Yes, it must be exactly like that.  We are lacking OB, who was called away on official duty. (I can’t go into the details, but it has something to do with Albania.  Am I serious?  I don’t even know anymore.)

We are also not staying at a casino, but at the Chelsea Hotel, a funky hotel with pink neon lights, situated right next to the Tropicana.  It was easily the cheapest hotel I could find in AC that didn’t look like I’d find a severed head in the toilet.  My room had a cracked mirror and a wine bottle in the mini-bar that looked like it had been opened then resealed.  So, yes, I’d give the Chelsea two thumbs up, and would stay there again.

Keith Stone: After a bus trip filled with the usual drinking of liquor out of soda bottles, practicing blackjack on my phone, and old ladies politely ignoring our inappropriate conversations, Realtor and I had a little less than half a bottle of vodka left upon arrival at the Chelsea. We agreed to meet Rory and Mrs. Rory downstairs in about 20 minutes. I’m not exactly sure where all the vodka went but it was gone by then. My high school cross country coach always did stress the importance of hydrating the night before a race.

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In the last edition of the Atlantic City Diary, I was just there for less than 12 hours.  Summer wouldn’t quite be complete without another trip to AC.  However, due to boring household maintenance issues, this was another short affair.  Let’s get started:

7:00PM – We (my ladyfriend and I) arrive at Bally’s, with a bus ride that was the exact opposite of the trip from Chapter 17.  The bus was brand new, the seats were comfortable, the smell was unnoticeable, and the traffic was fantastic.  Departing around 4:30PM, we made good time on a Saturday afternoon, arriving in just under 2.5 hours.

Upon arriving at the Bally’s terminal, we were greeted by a man named Kirby, who worked for Bally’s, distributing the bus vouchers.  Mr. Kirby wasn’t taking any guff from the ornery bus passengers, scolding them like children each time they tried to hurry them for their bus vouchers or try to cut the line.

In the line for the bus voucher, a poker player with a Seven Stars card was regaling us with tall tales, such as 16-hour poker sessions, winning $6,000 last time he was here, and staying for 5 consecutive days on comped rooms.  Upon swiping his Seven Stars card and receiving his bus voucher, Kirby gives him the stink-eye.  “What’s wrong, my man Kirby?” I ask.  Kirby just responds, curtly, “That wasn’t his players card.”  Oh, Atlantic City, never change.

Finally, we check in, and head to our room on the 25th floor.  On our floor, a boisterous drunk gentlemen greets us, bellowing, “WELCOME TO THE FLOOR!”  We respond in kind, of course.  So, for those of you keeping count, we’ve already met three strange characters on this trip, and we haven’t even entered our hotel room yet.  In terms of entertainment value, I’m already playing with house money this weekend.

8:00 – We went to have dinner at Harry’s Oyster Bar, which was a huge hit with my ladyfriend.  I stuck with the lobster, while she got a half-portion of the raw bar sampler.  But, more importantly, Harry’s Oyster Bar is one of the few places that serve beer from the Cape May Brewery.  We discovered it during a trip down to Cape May earlier in the summer, and have been itching for it since.  Unfortunately, the brewery is still in its early stages, and hasn’t migrated much north of AC yet.  But it was definitely a great compliment to the wonderful seafood.

Other notes on Harry’s Oyster Bar: first, looking around, you could tell it was the dog days of the sports calendar.  With tons of flatscreens, Harry’s would be a great place to catch a game.  Unfortunately, the only things on were a meaningless baseball game, a practice for USA basketball, and some guy giving a speech for the Football Hall of Fame.  If that doesn’t epitomize early August sports, I don’t know what else does.  Secondly, Harry’s was promoting a deal where you would buy cosmopolitans and some of the proceeds would go to breast cancer charities.  It is a noble effort, but what sells it is the “lady fish” logo.  It looks like the Mrs. Pac-Man of the original Harry’s logo.

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9:00 – After dinner, the ladyfriend needed a nap (after a long Friday night), so I decided to walk the boardwalk.  It was a beautiful night, and I love taking in the bustling atmosphere that is a Saturday on the Atlantic City Boardwalk.  I stopped in to the Trump Plaza to pay my respects to the establishment in the most suiting way possible: I used the bathroom, and immediately left.

My main reason for going was to visit the Playcade arcade.  I am currently toying with the idea of starting a blog dedicated to reviewing old arcades, and I figured I’d give this place a test run.  I’m not quite in the mood to break down the Playcade after this trip, but it’s quite tiny and could use more variety.  It was mainly one wall dedicated to skee-ball, then littered with various games that are a bit too quick to play for my liking, such as coin-push games, slot machines, and crane games.  There were four basketball shooting games by my count, which seems like a bit much for just one arcade.  I played some Mrs. Pac-Man, drunkenly thinking I could set the new high score, and failing miserably.

After goofing around in there for about 30 minutes, I took my odd collection of coins and tickets and earned myself a whopping 725 points.  Normally, I like to buy a bunch of little random crap, but the girl behind the counter had taken a liking to me (I wasn’t particularly charming – this may have simply been a case of being the only guy to come into a place normally frequented by small children and mothers).  She was offering me the “big prizes”, such as handcuffs or slime.  Thinking handcuffs would be a bit risque, I settled for the slime.  Unfortunately, the slime was 800 points, but I just batted my beautiful eyelashes and ended up with grade-A slime from China.  Totally worth it.

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10:00 – I get back to the hotel room, and continue drinking and hanging out with my lovely ladyfriend.  At this point, I’ve finished about half a bottle of wine, and make the awful decision to shave my beard.  Twenty grueling minutes later, and I look like I was attacked by a feral cat.  OB and Lady OB show up at this point for more drunken revelry, and the night begins to get hazy.  Here’s the recollection of the night, as it comes back to me slowly:

  • We went to the Wild Wild West, and I ran away from the group to go to the bathroom, convinced that I was still profusely bleeding from my face.  Allegedly.
  • There was a cover band at the Wild Wild West, and I serenaded the ladyfriend and Lady OB with my tear-jerking rendition of “I Want It That Way.”  Allegedly.
  • I played table games at the Wild Wild West (a welcome return to form, WWW!), and was doing fine, but for some reason left to play games at Bally’s.  I then lost $90.  Alleged–crap, I did lose $90!

2:00AM – I’m back in the room, with just $50 in my pocket.  While I try not bring too much money to Atlantic City, every gambler knows that going down with just $50 means you’ll lose it immediately.  So, I’m ranting to my ladyfriend about how I want to take out $400.  She says that’s probably a bad idea, and convinces me that maybe I should just take out $200.  I agree with her, then immediately fall asleep.

9:00 – I wake up, very fortunate I didn’t take out any more money.  Thank goodness for ladyfriend!  That girl is alright!  If it wasn’t for her, I’d easily be $400 lighter.

I grab my favorite hangover cure, the pretzels at Bally’s, and we peruse the Boardwalk, getting some desperately needed fresh air.  We aim for an 11:00AM bus, but when that line looks too long, we decide not to risk it and get a ride back with OB and the good Lady OB.

Overall, these last two trips, when taken individually, were not enough AC for me, but together, they form a magical summer memory of Atlantic City.  We’ve lost some good friends in Atlantic City this summer: the Revel, the Showboat, my memories from 10:00PM to 2:00AM on August 2nd, my $90, etc.  However, new friends have replaced them: the Wild Wild West’s table games, Kirby, the Cape May Brewery, and slime.  Enjoy the rest of the summer folks, and I’ll see you in the fall!