2004-09-05 - 4:15 p.m.
I was upgraded to first class for both legs of my flight. Whee. Breakfast was omelet and crumb cake -- and a celebratory glass of wine, which seemed rather naughty at that hour of the morning, but the flight attendant seemed eager to get my vacation off to a cheerful start.
A huge black limo picked us up at the Philadelphia airport, but the driver was a little weird. He didn't help with the bags, and he put in a movie, Field of Dreams, which we wouldn't have the time to see all the way through. We'd had a long layover in Detroit, so night was falling as we were whisked toward our destination in Atlantic City. I won't get too specific, but if you're guessing that the resort in question might be named after an egomaniac with a bad hairpiece, you're probably on the right track.
Our suite was on the top floor, and it was somehow designed so that we had windows overlooking both Atlantic City to the west and the beach to the east. The hot tub was lined with mirrors, even on the ceiling. For that matter, even the cupboard holding the large-screen TV and DVD/CD player was hidden in a mirrored cupboard. Frankly, I could do without endless reflections of myself everywhere I looked, but I did greatly enjoy the terrific views outside.
I had the whole day to myself, and I first headed for the beach, where I enjoyed feeding and photographing the four species of gulls. I know. I'm easily amused. I walked to the Hilton's beachfront along the water and then, after a brief rest in my suite, went all the way down the boardwalk to Oriental Avenue, where people were fishing off the pier. I stopped in the art museum for awhile, where I learned about the "sand art" created on the beach in the old days and somehow hardened with a cement glaze. There was also a rather odd display of hooked rugs done on the theme of playing cards; for instance, the six of spades might be a hooked rug with six gardening spades on it.
I don't know the story of the old, broken mosaic floor on the ground near the Oriental end of the boardwalk. Was it the last sad remains of a once-elegant resort from decades long forgotten?
At one point, I stopped and purchased a Pennyslvania Dutch Birch Beer for refreshment. I don't have to do that again. It just didn't stack up to good old-fashioned root beer.
I met D. for dinner at the Italian restaurant, where we spoiled our appetites a little with the wonderful bread basket complete with delightful sweet red and yellow pepper strips, roasted garlic cloves, and huge olives.
Did I mention that we had our own butler? So far, we'd put him to the rather unimaginative task of fetching a bottle of wine, but this morning I discovered his real value. While regular guests calling for room service were trapped in the endless nightmare of "all our lines are currently busy, please wait, and your call will be taken in the order in which it was received," I could contact the butler directly to order my steak and eggs.
A person could really get used to this.
It was another day on my own. I fed the Laughing Gulls and Herring Gulls on the beach, then took the bouncing jitney to Gardner's Basin. I first visited the Ocean Life Aquarium, where I noticed a colorful Mandarin Dragonet in the seahorse exhibit. It was sitting very still, and I was asking myself, Is that thing real, or is it a toy for the seahorses? when it noticed my camera and began to swim off. It's hell being beautiful and having those flashbulbs go off in your eyes all the time...
Afterward, I took the dolphin watching tour. The captain first went seeking the dolphins around Brigantine beach but didn't have any luck. Finally, he gave up and began to give us the tour of Atlantic City. Then, opposite the Hilton, among several smaller boats, we suddenly encountered a huge pod of 50 to 60 dolphins, mostly females with young. There were some show-offy males who came to body-surf our wake, though.
In the evening, I met D. for dinner overlooking the water in the Chinese restaurant, where we shared a magnificent Peking Duck for two.
D. wasn't so busy this morning, so he joined me for feeding the gulls and studying the birds on the beach. I was eye to eye with three Willets. The best sighting was the fully adult Great Black-Backed Gull, who dived into the ocean, caught an approximately 10 inch fish, and then took it back to shore with two younger birds trying to get it away from him. While he dined on sushi on the beach, I swear that one of the birds actually pulled his tail to try to distract him from his catch. We were so close that we could see the sparkle on the scales and the blood on the fresh fish. Unfortunately, I hadn't brought down my camera, since it was a somewhat gray, rainy day thanks to the leftovers of tropical storm Gaston. I bet it would have made a great picture.
Another casino gave D. a DVD player, so we picked it up at the club and rode back to our own resort in one of those rolling straw wheelchair rides that have to be pushed by strong men since motorized vehicles aren't allowed on the boardwalk. That was fairly hilarious, although I kept flashing onto a grotesque image of what I'm pretty sure were these same type of rides in the movie Midnight Cowboy.
It was a lazy day, and I might as well admit that when the sun came out, we enjoyed beach drinks -- a margarita on the rocks for me and a strawberry daiquiri for him -- while watching a young Laughing Gull get right in his parents' face and beg in their ears. Both adults gave marvelous impressions of being completely and totally stone-deaf. Or maybe they're not even faking it by this point. Young Laughing Gulls are shockingly whiny.
Dinner at the steakhouse, where we actually had fish instead. Maybe that Great Black-Backed Gull had inspired us.
Note: You have just read part one of my New Jersey vacation. Part Two, featuring Cape May, is coming up next. Don't forget to visit my bird list right here.
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