Day four brings us to Atlantic City, the storied "King of the Shore". To many of us, the streets were familiar long before we ever heard of Atlantic City. From Boardwalk and Park Place to Ventnor and Vermont Avenues the streets of downtown Atlantic City became the backdrop upon which Monopoly was built. Such was the renown and object of Americas desires to be a part of the Atlantic City tradition in the 1930s. Through the early 1960s every band that was anything in American music wanted to play two places: Madison Square Garden and The Steel Pier in Atlantic City. The rise of Las Vegas took away some of the nations attention, but Atlantic City is still full of energy, even in the middle of the week.
We started our Atlantic City experience at the center of it all, Trump's Taj Mahal. Until 2011 Donald Trump also owned The Steel Pier, which lies at the heart of the Atlantic City boardwalk and directly across the boardwalk from the Taj Mahal's back doors.
Before hitting the boardwalk we stopped for lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe, which lies inside the Taj Mahal. The Hard Rock has a well earned reputation around the world now, and Atlantic City's location did not fail to meet that standard. I had the Local Legendary Burger which is different at every Hard Rock location, and in Atlantic City they honor the local Italian population by topping it with essentially a caprese salad. Fresh mozzarella, basil, tomato, and roasted red bell peppers drizzled with basaltic vinegar join the party to make a very delicious burger.
The burger was perfectly cooked medium-well as ordered, and the flavor combination worked very well on a burger. I'll do them at home this way once in a while I think, it was that good with the beef. The only change I would make is to remove the lettuce they had on the bottom. With the peppers between it and the burger patty it didn't serve it's normal purpose of preventing the bun from getting soggy, and it really detracted more than it added to the experience of the burger. The other thing they did here is add Sriracha to mayo for use as a dipping sauce for the fries. An interesting flavor combination, and one that I may use at home as well.
With our stomachs full it was time to hit the boardwalk.
When you walk out the back door of the Taj Mahal you are greeted by the imposing view of the Steel Pier seen above. Once home to the famous "Diving Horses" and Diver's Bell as well as host to everyone from Frank Sinatra to The Beatles, the Steel Pier is an international icon of Atlantic City's heyday. It is currently home to an amusement park, with everything from midway games and food stands to a roller coaster and other rides.
One of the amazing things about this trip is that in the Fall of 1994 I was a student at a small christian college studying religion about 75 miles from Atlantic City just outside of Philadelphia. At the same time Coop was stationed just a couple of hours away from me at Ft. Meade, MD. One weekend his ability to get a weekend pass coincided with a free weekend for me and we made our first trip to Atlantic City. To find ourselves back here 20 years later with all of the changes we both have gone through in the years between was a bit surreal, but very cool.
The Steel Pier provided a great view of the beach. As you can see, there are quite a few fewer people here than there were at Ocean City the previous day. I think Atlantic City is more of a weekend and older crowd than Ocean City. The people we saw on the boardwalk certainly seemed to indicate that at least. Some families with young kids, lots of seniors, but not many teens or people in their 20s and 30s.
Even the type of shops along the boardwalk seem to cater to an older crowd. Far fewer food stands, no stand alone drink stands, and fewer healthy options for food and drink than on the Ocean City boardwalk for sure. Many more psychics, massage parlors, and shops selling hookahs and knives than shops selling souvenirs and beach toys. For two cities right next to each other on the shore the vides were completely different.
One of the oldest attractions at Atlantic City is Ripley's Believe it or Not, and since Coop is a sucker for the strange and unusual, we had to make a stop. We have one of the few Ripley's left back home in Oregon, but each is different and this one is much larger than the one in Newport.
The featured exhibit of Ripley's was George Tomosco's "Chateau in Miniature". Hand carved by the Atlantic City native it took more than 30 years to complete and includes 27 rooms recreated by hand. It's gorgeous, and was first exhibited on The Steel Pier in 1950. It contains almost two tons of wood and more than forty gallons of adhesive. Simply amazing and worth the visit.
What I am realizing most on this trip is that it is awesome to me that I still have friendships that have lasted as long as I have known Coop. We have gone periods where he was deployed or stationed overseas that we went months or years without talking, but when I found out he was leaving Ft. Drum and his life was essentially starting over it didn't even occur to me to do anything but turn to my wife and ask if she minded me taking a few weeks to go on a road trip.
We headed back to the hotel after a long day in AC and decided on a lighter dinner. I wanted a simple light salad, so did a watermelon salad with feta cheese. Very simple recipe, just take pieces of watermelon and sprinkle with crumbled feta and fresh shreds of mint leaves. The store where we stopped didn't have fresh mint, so I had to do without, but it was still a great light dinner and filled in the corners.
From Atlantic City we head to Baltimore to put the Jeep on a ship for Hawaii and pick up the rental car that will take us cross country to Oregon. Here is our trip plan, which we will update as we firm up the plans moving across.