After an evening of gambling and drinking those looking to return to New York City head down the escalator to the bus terminal. It’s a depressed place without any of the plush amenities of the Casino floor. Yellow plastic chairs line the walls of the smoky room. Overpriced snack machines sit in the corners. It looks like any bus terminal in America except for two odd features. First there’s the fence in front of the information booth, which instead of being a normal window instead resembles the fence you’d see on the Casino floor. The fence that seperates the cashiers from the gamblers. The only other sign is the throngs of people walking past clutching clear envelopes with cash. This is the money they’re given as a reimbursement for taking the bus, it’s supposed to be a way to encourage travel to Atlantic City.
The bigger differences lie outside the aesthetics. In this place catching a bus becomes a competitive pursuit: One last chance to get those juices flowing before returning to the reality of the big city. Crowds of returning gamblers congregate in the parking lot outside the actual terminal, in order to guarantee their spot on the next bus. No one wants to be left behind, missing out on one of the remaining seats after the bus has made its prior stops at the other casinos.
Everyone develops their own strategy for securing a seat. Some stand far out on the sidewalk islands, keeping watch beyond the rear of the parked buses, always ready to rush to the correct parking space, which has been numbered for their convenience. Then there are those who choose one spot and claim they are in the front of the line, no matter where the bus may end up. It’s the last gamble of the weekend as people shift around the parking lot, betting on which spot the Academy bus to the Port Authority will pull into.
They wait as other buses arrive and depart, tourists given their gambling money as they step off. Some buses don’t show up at all. Many people become restless and leave to try their luck at another casino’s bus depot.
With every bus that pull in and pulls out, strategies are refined. The first parking spot seems to be the most appealing during busy times, while the middles sports are where to park when the lot is empty. People move accordingly. Frequent reports come in on the status of the NYC-bound bus. It’s due any minute, then it’s fifteen, then it’s around the corner. None seem to have any truth behind them, all are simply stated to give the increasingly agitated masses something to chew on.
Then, finally, it arrives. The blue of the Academy bus starts to sneak around the corner. Everyone plans accordingly, picking up their luggage, moving around, trying to get to the front of the line, wherever that line may form. It’s a completely empty lot, the driver has his choice of the litter. Everyone tries to predict which he’ll choose.
When he finally pulls into number seven everyone congregates into an amorphous shape that is supposed to resemble a line. Pushing ensues as people jockey for position. No one wants to be left behind, not after the bus is an hour late. Everyone wants this experience to end, they’ve packed themselves up and have already mentally left this place. People are packed so tight and close to the door that the driver has to ask people move back in order to open it. Finally he peaks his head out to inform the crowd that there are fifteen seats remaining. At that moment that everyone raises their ticket in the air and pushes it in his direction. The idea is that no matter where you are, if he counts your ticket as one of the magic fifteen, you’re in.
Fifteen are chosen and board the bus as onlookers who didn’t make it look as though they missed the cut for freshman baseball. They’ve got to go through this whole experience again. Despite the fact that the schedule says thirty minutes from now, no one knows when it will really show up. Those who missed this bus have to go through the whole experience again, further refining their parking lot strategies.
How is it that an hour wait for a bus feels far longer than twenty-four hours spent in this town?