There is perhaps no worse feeling than being thatclose to something, only to see it slowly slip away. Luckily, 29 years of living have prepared me well for that feeling, so my recent return to Atlantic City and, more important, "The Price Is Right Live," wasn't as crippling as it could've been. But it wasn't exactly a cakewalk either.
After finally taking a bus ride to Atlantic City that didn't involve some heinous traffic delay, I arrived at Bally's Park Place a good three hours before the 3 p.m. "Price Is Right Live!" show. So, I headed up to register and get the all-important price-tag nametag that marked me as a potential contestant, ready, willing, and able to come on down at a moment's notice. As I looked around, it was clear that I was the only rube who had actually dropped money on Ticketmaster. Everyone else (most several decades ahead of me) was clutching coupons and vouchers that offered some sort of discounted seat to the show. An older man whose mouth valiantly hung on to a few lower teeth asked me if I knew of anyone on the line who didn't have a coupon. When I told him that I was one such soul, but that I had prepurchased my ticket on Ticketmaster, he expressed his sorrow that I would not be able to take advantage of the deal spelled out on his coupon. As far as I could tell, it would have involved a significant discount for both of us. Oh well.
The gentleman, a repeat attendee himself, continued to express shock that someone had actually ordered a ticket in advance. The mere thought that someone might've paid full price for this thing seemed to offend him. A lot. He asked if I could cancel my order, which I, of course, could not. He then kept repeating what a shame that was, but I stopped listening at some point and just kept moving forward.
Soon it came time to get my ticket, register, and bid on the two prizes that would determine who made it up to Contestants' Row. Those who came closest to the actual retail price in the year in question would find themselves with a chance to take home some lovely prizes. Unfortunately, the first item was a bedroom set from 1998. Whenever bedroom sets pop up on "The Price Is Right," I zone out. I've never bought one, never really want to buy one, and just generally don't care. So I just bid close to what I heard some people coming out of the registration room say they had bid.
As it turns out, those people were very dumb. Or else they were really shrewd and intentionally threw their fellow contestants off by talking about fake bids. In any case, a few hours later, I discovered that I was roughly $8,000 off. Oops.
I felt a little better about the second item, a ratty-looking sailboat from 1974. It couldn't have been that much, so I went with the old birthdate and typed in $1115. That sounded about right to me.
With the bidding done, I headed back out into Bally's and grabbed a bagel and a doughnut at the little coffee shop next to the brightest casino area I've ever seen. As I grabbed a seat, I noticed that my dear friend from the registration line was lurking around. He went up to the cashier, asked for something, and was quickly denied. As he wandered around, I tried not to make eye contact, as I wasn't in the mood to talk to him anymore. I did a good job. But it didn't matter. And soon I was eating my bagel next to some strange, bleary-eyed guy as he peppered me with questions about my bidding.
"What did you bid on the sailboat?"
"Um, I don't know [long silence, during which he just kept staring at me], like, $1100 something?"
""Yeah, I bid $1102. What about the bedroom set?"
And then I told him my bid and he kinda started yelling at me. I assured him I didn't care that much. I thought maybe our conversation was wrapping up.
"So you actually bought your ticket in advance? Man..."
"That's too bad, I coulda gotten you a deal. And I coulda really used that five bucks. The slots have been killing me."
"Sorry to hear that."
"Are you staying overnight?"
"Um, no. No."
"Yeah, they said they'll give me a room, but I gotta give them my credit card to hold it. And I aint doing that."
"Oh, I don't bring credit cards to the casino."
"Well, that's a smart idea."
Finally, my disinterest in having breakfast with a guy who doesn't have 5 dollars to play slot machines started to show, and he wished me luck and went on his way.
Just to let you know that this story has a happy ending, the guy wound up winning a microwave, a portable DVD player, and an air hockey table after conquering the "Clock Game." On stage, he said that his son would love the air hockey table, but my guess is that it was quickly turned into quarters and nickels.
Apparently, they do the same pricing games at every "Price Is Right Live" show, because I once again saw "Race Game" (during which a woman just gave up with 10 seconds left), "Hole-in-One (Or Two)," "Cliff Hangers," and the rest of the games I saw on my last visit. That was only slightly upsetting, because the games are dandies in the show's oeuvre. Still, would it kill them to play "Plinko"? Or "Safe Crackers"? "Shell Game"?
Another slight disappointment was that my man David Ruprecht isn't the host anymore. He has been replaced by J.D. Roberto, who has hosted a bunch of subpar game and reality shows, the most popular being "Shop 'Til You Drop," which never really held my interest in the post-"Supermarket Sweep" timeslot and still doesn't do it for me. He also apparently cohosted "E! News Live" for awhile. When they showed a clip of him next to Giuliana DePandi, a palpable feeling of awe enveloped the room. But he's no Ruprecht. I didn't even want a picture with him after the show.
But it would've been nice to have a pleasant contestant-to-host chat with him on stage. When he announced how the contestants were chosen toward the end of the show and revealed the actual retail price of the bedroom set, I had a really strong feeling I wasn't getting to Contestants' Row. But there was still a chance with the sailboat, which would make me part of the Showcase Showdown. It's pretty hard to win the Showcase Showdown, as, unlike the actual show, you have to come within $100 to win the showcase. And there's only one showcase for the two contestants to bid on. However, the person who comes closest without going over does win something. And it's nice to win something, which, in this case, would have been a pool table.
So, after the final pricing game, J.D. cued the announcer to call the names of the two people for the Showcase Showdown. Knowing this was my last chance at getting up on stage, I was desperately hoping that my name would be called. Sure, it wasn't the real "Price Is Right," and Bob Barker was on the other side of the country, but it was sort of like the real thing. And what red-blooded, TV-watching child doesn't one day dream of being in the Showcase Showdown? Please don't actually answer that.
Anyway, I thought my bid was pretty reasonable and might just get me up on stage. The other four people at my table were a little on edge, too, though one of them had won 1,000 Total Reward Points during one of the between-game giveaways, the actual value of which neither she nor her husband could quite figure out. But it was something, albeit not time on the big stage. That was the true Total Reward, and we all wanted it.
"Our first contestant is...James..."
What? Is that a mistake? Did the announcer read it wrong? No one's getting up. He must've read it wrong. He meant to say "Sigman," but he screwed up and now...
Oh. James Simmons is the old guy in the fourth row. There was no mistake.
I wasn't the second contestant either.
The dream had died.
But the worst, it turns out, was yet to come. As James Simmons and the other guy were escorted backstage to be debriefed on the rules, J.D. explained how they were chosen? Already knowing the process, I just wanted him to get to the point, to reveal just how ridiculously far off I was on the price of the sailboat.
"And the price of that sailboat in 1974 was... $1137."
Sonofabitch. You're telling me that I was only off by $22 and somehow I didn't get up on stage? I smell a rat.
After telling my tablemates that I was only $22 off, and accepting their condolences (or apathy, I can't remember which), I briefly considered cornering James Simmons after the show and demanding that he tell me what he bid. But he seemed old and frail and I didn't want to induce any heart attacks and/or seizures, so I let it go.
To make matters worse, the bid that I concocted in my reeling head during the Showcase Showdown would've made me the owner of a brand-new pool table, since both of the elderly morons overbid. That pool table sure would look nice crammed into my living room, either in place of my futon or with my TV and stereo on top of it.
Luckily, I was able to rally my spirits later in the day. My actual reason for being in Atlantic City was to see former "Nashville Star" contestant Miranda Lambert at the House of Blues in the Showboat casino. It was actually the second show in three days in which I saw a contestant from the first season of "Nashville Star," a season that has not been and likely never will be topped in the show's history. Two days earlier, I had seen first-season runner-up John Arthur Martinez at the Ace of Clubs in NYC, where he put on a pretty damn entertaining set.
So, as you could imagine, it was an exciting three days. What? You can't imagine? You've never watched "Nashville Star"? You suck.
And I wasn't just going to the Showboat to see Miranda in concert. No, there was also the Miranda Lambert Fan Club meet-and-greet beforehand. Yessir, I am in the Miranda Lambert Fan Club, making me an official "Ran Fan." Wanna make something of it? Look, I think she's got some good songs (particularly "Kerosene") and she covers John Prine, The Band, and Steve Earle in concert. And she likes Old Crow Medicine Show. Pretty cool. And, oh yeah, it's been brought to my attention that she don't look so bad (pardon my red eyes...why are you looking at me anyway?).
Take that, James Simmons.