We are the Silver Horde, and we are descending — on chartered buses, on Chinatown buses, and on the Greyhound “Lucky Streak” express bus we come, on crutches and canes, lapping obesely over the seats of mobility scooters, adjusting oxygen tubes, discreetly nursing Big Gulp cups full of tequila and Pepsi through bendy straws at three in the afternoon, doing serious damage to complimentary troughs of Cheez-Its and Famous Amos cookies. We are getting comped. Free passes to the all-you-can-eat buffet? Whatever: We have our own dedicated train, Amtrak’s Atlantic City Express Service (read: ACES), and we come rolling and thundering down the tracks bearing our Social Security checks, our welfare checks, and quite possibly our rent checks. We are the blue-rinsed, unhinged, diabetic American id on walkers, and we are scratching off lottery tickets the whole way there as we converge from all points on the crime capital of New Jersey — because we are feeling lucky.
Funny thing about Atlantic City: Nobody feels really obviously lucky to live there. Its population is declining (it has lost 40 percent since its peak), and among the foot soldiers of the gambling industry — blackjack dealers, scantily clad cocktail waitresses, cab drivers — it is difficult to find anybody who actually lives in it. One lightly clothed entertainer working at a particularly gamey establishment along a row of empty commercial buildings, video stores, and the occasional storefront mosque, all within a couple minutes’ walk of the casino district, snorted derisively at the notion of living in the city. “Oh, hell no. Too dangerous.” That’s AC: It’s a great place for a visiting go-go dancer, but she wouldn’t want to live there. Touring the local landscape of decay and disorder, it is hard to imagine why a whole range of American politicians — from such likely suspects as Ed Rendell and Andrew Cuomo to lots of otherwise conservative Republicans who really ought to know better — look at the city’s depressed and depressing precincts, its sad coat of glitz (Sinbad! At the Tropicana!) and say to themselves: “My state needs to get some of that action!”