Dear friends, there is no more appropriate state to hold the title of "Official State of Tinsel and Rot" than my beloved New Jersey. And to prove as much, I regale you with stories of travels in the Garden State that served as the bread for the government shutdown sandwich lovingly prepared by Governor Jon Corzine at the beginning of the month. If this posting doesn't bring in billions of tourism dollars, I don't know what will.
Weekend #1 began, once again, at Newark Penn Station, as I headed out to see one of New Jersey's patron saints, Southside Johnny, headline a night at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, NJ. And if that weren't enough reason to go, there was also a set from Maybe Pete in the hours leading up to the show. And a fine set it was, capped off by a guest appearance by Bobby Bandiera, who plays guitar in the Asbury Jukes (Southside Johnny's backing band) and is a New Jersey music legend in his own right. Or so I'm told. I'm still a little new on this Jersey thing. But I'm learning as fast as I can.
Anyway, Maybe Pete gets better with every show. And I don't say that because members of the band occasionally read this blog. I say it because it's true. See for yourself someday. How about the Bitter End on 7/22?
Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes played for about two-and-a-half hours on the outdoor stage at the Pony, and I finally had to bail to catch the train back home right about the time they started singing "The Star-Spangled Banner." I don't like leaving shows early, but I also don't like being at the Asbury Park train station at midnight. I doubt you would either. But don't take my word for it. Try it for yourself; maybe you'll dig it.
In a horrible, dreadful turn of events, Phil Lesh and Friends and Trey Anastasio were at the PNC Bank Arts Center that same night, meaning the train home was filled with burnouts and pseudo-hippies once we pulled out of the Aberdeen-Matawan station. To make matters worse, one of the kids in front of me started having a loud discussion about that day's events in the World Cup. Combining the Grateful Dead and soccer into one train ride is like shocking my testicles while kicking me in the face with a steel-toed boot. Not fun. Nor did it get any more fun when some burnout started screaming out "Free Kicks?" and "Pele" repeatedly, egged on by the morons in front of me not engrossed in World Cup chitchat, who found it hilarious. Then he would stop for a minute and the storm appeared to be over, only to be ramped up again by the Phish nuts. Soon he started yelling out "New York Cosmos" for a change of pace.
It was a long ride home.
It was also a long ride to Atlantic City the next day, as the bus from the Port Authority traveled about five miles in 90 minutes because of an accident on the Garden State Parkway. Anytime I try to get to Atlantic City for a time-specific event, things like this happen. I foolishly assumed that getting the 10:30 bus from the Port Authority terminal would get me to Atlantic City well before 3 p.m.
Wrong. We pulled into the Sands at 3:10 p.m.
And to make matters worse, the Sands, unbeknownst to me, doesn't give you cash back. Instead, they give you a $25 card that you can only use to play on the slots. Wow. There's a great deal. You might as well just punch me in the face and take $25 out of my wallet. Or at least give me a $25 card that I can only use to play pinball and skeeball in the kiddie arcade. It would be more enjoyable and only slightly less profitable. And I say only slightly less because I did win back $7.50 on the quarter and nickel slots. Whoopee.
Anyway, the main reason for going to Atlantic City was to see "The Price Is Right Live!" at Bally's (the 3 p.m. show) and "Family Feud" (at 7 p.m., and, of course, I'd already missed this once). But, because of the late arrival, I couldn't register for "The Price Is Right Live!" and could only watch as other people came on down and played "Race Game" and "Cliff Hangers." A tragedy.
Actually, it wasn't so bad, because, as it turns out, the host of "The Price Is Right Live!" is none other than David Ruprecht. That's right: the host of TV's "Supermarket Sweep," a killer show (not a Top 10er, but real good). That was almost worth the price of admission right there, particularly with the photo op afterwards (the other guy is "The Price Is Right Live!" announcer, Dave Walls; I don't know him from Adam, but I couldn't bring myself to tell him I didn't really want him to be in the picture...seems like a swell guy, though).
I was able to register in plenty of time for "Family Feud" (hosted by the much less cool Michael Burger of "Mike and Maty" fame...or nonfame), but I didn't make it on stage. You have to guess the number-one answer to survey questions, using those fancy push-button mechanisms you see on "Love Connection" or "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," to get on stage, and I was a dud when it came to that. My best chance came when the computer broke and they had to switch to random selection. Still no luck.
The most fun I had was sitting next to a group of young tykes, who were at that age that reminds me that in about, say, seven or eight years, I may have to start looking for friends who are barren, impotent, or simply hate children. Since this version of "Family Feud" isn't really geared toward kids (they can watch but aren't eligible to play), the questions on the in-theater TVs were occasionally slightly randy. This led to one of the kids asking the inevitable question, "Daddy, what's a condom?" Daddy deflected it. The kid decided it was another way of saying "condo." Then the word came up again in one of the "Family Feud" clips shown in between games. I think the kids were starting to get suspicious. One of them wondered why you would put a house on before you go to bed.
Overall though, "Family Feud" was not quite as enjoyable as "The Price Is Right Live!," despite the fact that there was still the illusion that I might make it up on stage at the former. I wish I had been able to help the woman who was going for the $17,000 Fast Money jackpot at the end of the show. She had come by herself, so she decided to enlist the woman sitting next to her to help her win the dough. But then that woman only managed to answer four of the five questions in the allotted time, offering that a skunk was a kind of animal you would find in the desert. It didn't work out well.
With some time to kill, I walked down the boardwalk and suddenly heard the sounds of what sounded a lot like Eddie Money outside of Trump Plaza. And then I remembered that Eddie Money was playing the Beach Bar, a completely pointless business venture in that you can here and see the show just fine from the beach, without the embarrassment of having to spend $25 to see Eddie Money (though many did fork over the cash, God bless 'em). So I watched and waited, hoping to hear "Two Tickets to Paradise" or "Take Me Home Tonight" or even "I Wanna Go Back" as the big closing number. Apparently, he gets those out of the way early, because I didn't hear one of them in the half-hour I stood on the beach (though I did hear "Walk On Water," a song I had almost completely erased from my memory). And in that half-hour, he must've thanked the crowd about 189 times. Every time he started thanking people, I assumed the show was over. But then it would just go on. And then there'd be really uncomfortable stage patter, such as "Aw, I'm sorry I got old, guys" and "My in-laws are over all the time. I didn't marry them. They love the kids so much, they can have 'em." Or, my personal favorite, this completely incomprehensible monologue:
"You guys remember when 'Saturday Night Live' was good? They had John Belushi and Gilda Radner. Man. And there was this skinny guy from Long Island, wearing dirty jeans and, God, I don't know what else."
And then he just started playing a song. Was Eddie Money in the original cast of "Saturday Night Live"? Did I miss something?
Just when I thought the night was over, I came upon this scene between Caesars and Bally's Wild Wild West. Let me see if I can describe this for you. The woman with the mask on was posing as a mermaid. The guy in the wheelchair was having some sort of conversation with her. The women between the two were protecting the mermaid.
What? You want more?
Earlier, I had noticed the presence of the mermaid. She was striking various poses and, I guess, if you paid her, you could take a picture with her. Wow, I remember thinking, that's dumb. Then, after the Eddie Money Experience, I tried desperately to find reasonably priced, mildly nutritious food not part of a buffet in the casinos and was coming up empty. So, as I popped out of Caesars, I came across the above scene. When I got there, it was just the amputee in the wheelchair and the mermaid talking kinda close (that's a sentence, by the way, that can only be born in Atlantic City). There was a fairly large crowd gathered, and many were shouting at the guy to leave the mermaid alone. But he wasn't listening and kept at his "conversation." Eventually, a guy came out of the crowd and wheeled the amputee a short distance away. This brought cheers from the assembled. Until the guy just rolled right back. Then, a few seconds later, this scene was repeated with another gentleman. Again, cheers, followed by groans upon the amputee's return.
It was at this point that the Wall of Women went into effect. Several women formed a protective wall around the mermaid, with their backs facing the amputee while ensuring the mermaid, "Don't worry. You've got us to take care of you." And so one of them was in charge of encouraging the amputee in the wheelchair to get lost while the others secured the well-being of the mermaid. It was at this point I took the above, flash-less picture. Perhaps you're thinking, "Hey, why didn't you take charge and wheel the guy far, far away?" Well, if I were confident that I could win a fight with an amputee in a wheelchair, I surely would have. But I'm not so sure. The best I could do would be to outrun him, and even that's iffy.
Anyway, eventually someone did wheel the guy away and then some other guy called the cops while the amputee tried to restart his conversation with the mermaid.
Satisfied with this conclusion, I went to catch my bus home. I wound up getting home at around 2 a.m., just in time to get a good night's sleep and get back on a train to Asbury Park to see another of New Jersey's finest, the Hudson Falcons, at Club Deep.
And after that, I rested.