I don’t know about you, but I grew up with National Geographic. The little yellow magazine with the portrait-frame logo inspired me to, as an adult, travel to far-flung destinations around the world. I collected the maps. I giggled at the occasional breast shots. I paid 25 cents at yard sales for issues I was missing. But the 123-year-old Society’s reputation took a major nosedive last week when it declared Atlantic City’s Boardwalk one of the best in the nation.
Perhaps the judges got their information from watching the entire first season of HBO’s newest hit, Boardwalk Empire. Or maybe one found a 500 Club matchbook in her great aunt’s hope chest, from the night that Frank Sinatra sang “Too Marvelous For Words” there in 1960. Speaking of ancestors, I have a black-and-white photo around somewhere of my maternal grandmother, a triplet, in her bathing suit on the beach in Atlantic City during the multiple-births convention that the town used to host each year. My father, may he rest in peace, once did a magic show on Steel Pier in the late ’60s. That is all some wonderful nostalgia.
But those days are over.
Take, for example, a recent weekend trip I took to Atlantic City, one in which I strayed from the solace of the Water Club on the marina to visit a new seafront beach bar. The cab ride took me past the pawn shops, bombed-out buildings, hustlers, prostitutes, and drug dealers that make up downtown. After arriving at the bug-infested, litter-strewn beach, I cut my stroll short once I realized that the homeless man in my path was masturbating. In broad daylight. I guess this is why the Water Club shuttles sand-seeking guests to the beach in Brigantine.
After about five minutes on the Boardwalk, under a blazing sun, I witnessed a group of 10 or so African-American kids and teenagers on bikes (take note that bicycling was prohibited at that hour on the boards) surround an elderly Asian man, verbally torment him with racial epithets and mockery of his broken English, and, finally, throw things at him. With not a cop or any kind of security personnel in sight, I called 911. Ten minutes later, the police arrived. The kids had dispersed a bit by then, giving the old man a chance to make his escape, and the cops locked up the bikes for the rest of the afternoon. That’ll learn them.
“They’re a bunch of fucking punks,” said the one cop, who seemed to shruggingly acknowledge that Atlantic City was a no-win situation.