People in Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey drive like they are auditioning to be bats out of hell — all the speed, none of the experience. I swear to gosh that at one point I was barreling down a turnpike at eighty miles per hour and cars were swerving by me on the left acting as though I was a little old lady from Pasadena.
Somehow we made it to Atlantic City, a peculiar strip of land that seemed to want to be Vegas, Tijuana, and South Padre Island smooshed into one, and doing an interesting variation of the three. Don’t get me wrong, Atlantic City was charming in a peculiar way, with an old-timey boardwalk that was mostly closed, casinos with ratty exteriors and well-groomed interiors, and outlet shopping. And we even made it to meet my date, Ronnie, who had agreed to check out the boardwalk with us. Despite being the off season, I wanted to see it.
I realized we were in for some serious trouble – or lack thereof – when I stepped foot on the boardwalk. No wonder Ronnie sounded a bit dubious about meeting there. Atlantic City is a seasonal destination. We were at a deserted boardwalk that was home to a feline sanctuary (no really, a giant pit of sand for stray cats designated by a sign), transients who were smoking something out of a spoon (I didn’t ask for details), and a beach that might have been tempting to walk on had it not been for the spoon-smokers and wild cats that may have been lurking in the dark.
At moments like this on a first date, it’s all about choices. You can lament the fact there will be no skeeball and that the date you envisioned just went ker-plutz. Or you can go with it.* I bounded up to Ronnie, gave him a hug, and said, “Let’s go explore!” There were silhouettes of naked cowgirls painted onto one casino, there was carnival-style amusement park tucked away on a pier that looked straight out of the movie Zombieland. There were drunk people. See, things to do! Or at least, laugh at.
Ronnie and I first attempted to sneak into the closed down amusement park, figuring taking photos of the creepy roller-coasters would be an interesting way to spend some time. We were immediately caught by the security guard and ended up have a really nice chat with him about the revitalization of the rides and how great the new owners were, and then discussed what scary movies he might want to download on his shift.**
From there, Ronnie and I went to the one vendor who had their lights on and ordered hot chocolate. The very nice man who was helping us proceeded to have to heat up water in styrofoam cups in a microwave and empty packets of powdered hot chocolate into the water and mix.*** It took almost fifteen minutes to get hot chocolate. Again, a moment where I could have pouted and been freaked out that while Ronnie himself was nice, the situation was awkward. Instead, we took time to talk to the very drunk couple who came up beside us to order hot dogs. Jokes about the man giving his wife a hot beef injection were made on their end, and they tottered off while we waited.
Not sure where to go next, Ronnie and I headed back toward the casinos, and passed the one other vendor who was open on the boardwalk: a palm reader. It took no coaxing to get Ronnie to agree to go in. An unimpressed, years-of-smoking-voiced woman gave no fanfare and no show. She sat us down for a ten minute reading (which took three minutes each) and proceeded to trace her long fingernail across the lines in our hands, talking fast.
I didn’t hear Ronnie or Megan’s reading, so I can only speak for myself. The first minute the palm-reader spoke to me, I was mesmerized by the fact that someone was touching me for a prolonged period of time. It has been a long time on the road, and no one has touched me for more than a short hug since I left the west. The reader mentioned my lifeline, then said something very strange: “You’ve been on a journey. You’re heading to California now.” A bit spooked by her intimate knowledge of me despite zero conversation between Megs, Ronnie and myself, I thanked her and stood up.
See. Just say yes. Not a bad date, if I do say so myself.
* I like to think of dating like an improv acting class. The first thing they teach you in improv is to say yes to whatever is suggested or brought into the scene. Don’t diss it, don’t dismiss it. Say yes and go forth with gusto. Works great for making comedy, and works great for dating.
** Love how we went from being total pretend teenage punks to being adults and having a conversation with the guard. The guard had never heard of Shaun of the Dead. I hope his movie-watching was forever changed based on that suggestion.
*** Better way to make instant hot chocolate, as taught to me by a very dear human being, Sean: pour powder in the bottom of the cup. Add a tiny bit of hot water. Stir all the powder into that little bit of water until dissolved. Add rest of the water. It’s so much better this way. And easier to make.