EASTERN U.S.A. & CANADA TRIP REPORT:
Can Vegas Learn From Atlantic City?
Long-time Las Vegas-based advantage player, casino critic, and frequent Blackjack Insider contributor LVBear offers his opinions on things that sometimes go wrong in the world of casinos. Current and past growls can be read, and comments posted, at LVBear's website,TheBearGrowls.com. This month LVBear offers his opinion on places he saw and visited on a trip to the Eastern part of the U.S. and Canada.
It has long been a goal of mine to visit every state. Prior to this trip, I had been in every state except Delaware and the six New England states. I have now been to all fifty. The main purpose of this trip was business in Toronto; the tour through the seven states was just to finish off that project.
I lived the first eight years of my life in Indiana; thereafter, in California, Arizona, and Nevada. I donít like cold weather, donít care for large clumps of trees ("forests"), and Iím not particularly interested in visiting old historical sites or rundown buildings. If you reside in the northeast, please take my criticisms of your part of the country with those facts in mind. No offense is intended to my friends or anyone else whom, for whatever reason, is forced to or chooses to live in the northeast.
I think we should give New England to "old" England, and include New York and Delaware in the package. Or see if Canada would like to annex that area. I simply found those states to be uninhabitable, particularly in view of the fact that they are covered with horrible snow part of the time. During my visit, the weather was beautiful, but just the thought of snow made me cringe. The traffic was bad enough, and the drivers are crazy enough that in snow, I cannot imagine what happens, except that it is probably a constant cleanup of traffic accidents.
My three main gripes regarding driving in New England: The lack of coordination of traffic signals, the toll roads, and the bad drivers. I realize most of the traffic control systems are probably fifty years old, but to have to sit through entire cycles of left-turn arrows, when there are no cars turning left, is absurd. Why canít they modernize the systems? Moreover, the toll roads ó how can such stupidity exist? Why not just raise license plate fees a few dollars, or raise the gasoline tax a few cents per gallon, and do away with the nuisance of the toll roads? Bridge crossing is silly as well; I had to pay five dollars to cross the Tappan Zee Bridge in New York Ė ridiculous.
A place that was a pleasant surprise was Atlantic City. I expected it to be a bum-infested slum, but I felt safer there at night than in downtown Reno. The Boardwalk is nice, the casinos nicer than expected (except for the blackjack, of course), and the streets surrounding the casino areas not as bad as expected. I feel more danger on East 4th Street in Reno, or anywhere inside the Cal-Neva in Reno, than I did anywhere I went in Atlantic City.
Atlantic City service people were a pleasant surprise as well. Everyone we dealt with was top notch. I did not expect this at all. Las Vegas could learn from the service-oriented people in Atlantic City. I did not play any casino games, so I cannot comment on the dealers or the special breed of Atlantic City ploppies Iíve been told about, but the hotel desk employees, valet parkers, restaurant wait staff, hotel maids, etc. were all pleasant, polite, and efficient. All spoke English, another improvement over Las Vegas.
Other Atlantic City observations: The apparently-standard $5 valet parking fee is ridiculous, though I was able to avoid it with proper-level playerís cards. Our suite at Harrahís was nice, but a few oddities: The sink and toilet are black, which was weird, and the floor is wood, which also felt weird. Apparently as part of some water conservation idea, the shower water turns off automatically every two minutes or so and comes back on a few seconds later. The windows were covered on the outside by ugly screens, which distorted the beautiful view of the water. The screens should be removed. Other than those issues, Harrahís was nicer than expected. On a weekday morning at 10 am, the buffet was inexplicably closed, but the coffee shop was good.\
Another surprise was that Harrahís is overrun with hookers. When my wife and I checked in at about 2 am, there were more prostitutes milling around than there were casino patrons. It was as if there was a hooker convention there. In a bit of hooker comedy, in front of us at the check-in line (only one clerk on duty at that time of night), a young man was trying to find out why his room key no longer worked, with a hooker standing about ten feet away, listening. Finally, he turned away from the desk clerk, and said to the hooker, "Weíve been evicted." The hooker, apparently not as bright as she was otherwise well endowed, replied, "What does that mean?" They walked away together, while he explained it to her.
In Philadelphia, we enjoyed a terrific dinner at Famous Daveís BBQ. I was disappointed to later learn that itís a chain. I thought we had stumbled upon a great mom-and-pop restaurant. A sign outside announced that the restaurant was "Built 100% by union labor." I wonder why that would be important to customers. Apparently, management believes it is. The place was busy and good, so who am I to argue with managementís decision to put up what I thought was a silly sign.
After a brief visit to Wilmington, Delaware, we spent an hour on the I-295 bridge crossing into New Jersey because of lane closures for roadway repairs. We would find many roadway repairs on our trip; apparently, there are only a few months in the year where roadwork can be done because of the otherwise terrible weather. A silly thing we noticed in several states: Police cars with lights flashing parked at construction zones. I donít think all of them even had officers in them; maybe cardboard cutouts of officers, like Metro used to do in Searchlight, Nevada. (Maybe Metro had a blow-up doll of an officer, I donít remember.) If there really were officers in those cars, it was a waste of taxpayer money. I didnít see a single motorist receiving a ticket for speeding through the construction zone, so no revenue was being generated by having those police cars sitting there.
In New Jersey, we went the scenic way, US 40 to Atlantic City. We went through many small villages that seemed to have no purpose for their existence. In one of them, there was an unusual little arena featuring a statue of a religious figure, "Father Pio."
After an overnight stay in Atlantic City, we ventured north on the Garden State Parkway. What a nice roadway. I particularly liked the rest areas in the middle of the road, accessible from both directions. They were clean, well maintained, with good stores. An unusual feature I had never seen before was unisex public restrooms. From out of the past, there was an area with many pay phones.
We decided to avoid New York City entirely. A Green Chip member, who we had breakfast with in Atlantic City, gave us a good route to avoid the core of the Rotten Apple. My wife had recently been to New York City and said she never wants to go there again. Though I have not been there for years, I also never want to go there again, so around it we went.
Heading north into Connecticut, we stopped in Stamford, a hardscrabble town that has seen better days. We enjoyed watching some kids practicing hockey in a nice indoor arena that was part of a municipal park. Itís very late in the hockey season; maybe they play year-round there?
Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun Casinos were impressive, other than their mostly-lousy games. I was surprised at the lack of adequate signage approaching them from I-395. There seemed to be a lack of billboards throughout the region, which is unfortunate, because billboards would brighten up the place and relieve some of the monotony of miles and miles of nothing to look at but trees.
Providence, Rhode Island was nicer than I expected. The downtown area was clean and the place appeared to have community pride. It reminded me of downtown Milwaukee.
In Peabody, Massachusetts, we watched through a window at closing time as two police officers got a giant free bag of doughnuts from a Dunkiní Donuts. It was hilarious to watch, because of the humorous stereotype of police officers and doughnuts. A friend told me later that "Peabody" is not pronounced as it would appear, but instead "PeeBUDee." It seems so many towns in the northeast have weird pronunciations of their names.
New Hampshire is a state that would probably not even be missed if it fell into the ocean. The first highway exit when entering the state on I-95 is amusing: "Liquor Next Exit." I later found it has something to do with stupid restrictions on liquor sales in Massachusetts, causing Mass. residents to sometimes drive to New Hampshire to buy liquor. Didnít that nonsense go out with Prohibition? I guess not.
There is nothing I found in New Hampshire worth visiting. On the other hand, I was surprised to learn that Dartmouth College is located in the tree-infested, literally backwoods town of Hanover. Perhaps I missed some things on our quick pass-through.
We spent a night in York, Maine at a motel called the Microtel Inn and Suites.
Vermont was my fiftieth state; a very forgettable place. I think it last welcomed a tourist in about 1900. We went up I-91 towards Canada, stopping in a dumpy little village for deli sandwiches. When I tipped the woman who made our sandwiches, instead of "Thank you," she muttered, "Ummm hmmm." Welcome to Vermont!
Crossing the border into Quebec was no trouble, unlike four years ago when we were hassled and our car and luggage searched when trying to enter Canada near Winnipeg. This time we were the only car, and were politely waved through after a couple of simple questions.
My favorite place of the trip was Quebec City, a beautiful old city. Though Quebec Province is primarily French speaking, everyone we encountered knew a reasonable amount of English. Everyone was welcoming and friendly. I regret that we didnít have more time to explore this place. It is the only city on the entire trip, besides Atlantic City, that I would consider for a return visit in the future.
We saw part of Montreal, which was disappointingly gritty, and Ottawa, before reaching our destination, Toronto. Toronto appeared bigger than Los Angeles, and similarly spread out. However, it was cleaner and more pleasant than Los Angeles. We conducted our business there and had a fine dinner at the Toronto Marriott Downtown Eaton Centre Hotel.http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/yyzec-toronto-marriott-downtown-eaton-centre/
On the way to Toronto, we stopped in Napanee, Ontario, the birthplace and childhood home of one of my favorite singers, Avril Lavigne. I saw the fried chicken place from which she was fired as a teenager.
After our stay in Toronto, heading to Buffalo, NY for our flight home, we made the slight detour to Niagara Falls, a major disappointment. I felt as disappointed as I did when I saw Mt. Rushmore; much fame for little reason. We viewed the falls from both the Canadian side and the U.S. side; it reminded me of the water falling in the Jacuzzi in a suite at Montego Bay Wendover. Whatís the big deal about this place? We were hassled by a bum on the Canadian side; the only bum that accosted us during the entire trip.
Our return to the United States was as easy as our entry into Canada; again, we were the only car, and the process took less than a minute. I think there is universal agreement that Buffalo is a dump. We drove through some scary-looking slums before making our way out to an airport hotel for the final night of our trip.
The Buffalo airport is efficient and surprisingly nice, especially considering the city in which it is located. I rate it right up there with Reno and Little Rock as the most efficient small airports I have used.
We took a nonstop flight, which was fortunate. I tried to sleep most of the way, but the flight was The Travel Ploppy Express. Many of the people behaved as if they had never before been on an airplane. They stood up and walked around while the seat belt sign was on, much to the consternation of the flight attendants. One woman opened the overhead compartment, removed her suitcase, and appeared to be rearranging its contents for some unknown reason. Little kids ran screaming up and down the aisle.
When the well-meaning captain announced that the Grand Canyon was visible from the left side of the aircraft, a dozen or more people from the right-hand side stood in the aisle, some pushing into the left-side seats to try to get a glimpse of it, again while the seat belt sign was illuminated.
When we were on approach to McCarran Airport, someone shouted, "Can anyone see The Strip yet?" When the plane landed, many people applauded. I suppose I should be glad weíre getting such enthusiastic, unsophisticated visitors to Las Vegas. I assume that many of these folks played 6 to 5 blackjack at Harrahís. Thanks for the money.
I was happy to see the familiar brown, parched, dusty desert. I could see for miles with no trees blocking my line of sight. And the dry, craggy mountains! Home Sweet Home.
It was an enjoyable trip, but there is no reason to ever go back, except to Atlantic City and Quebec City.
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