Sunday, January 20, 2008

Travelogue: Atlantic city here I come...

It was around a 3 hours journey by bus from New York to Atlantic city. There are numerous bus services running right through the night back and forth between Atlantic city and the New York bus terminal. We booked a couple of tickets for the 9pm bus. We had a couple of hours to kill – thought of squeezing a movie but found it wouldn’t be possible. And so we just loitered around the streets near Times Square. There was a guy on the street showing off his skills in spray painting – the kind of stuff that you get in email forwards. In less than ten minutes he finished drawing a beautiful picture of New York at night. There were a lot of people watching him but unfortunately no one was willing to buy the painting for $20. He set it aside near the others he had made and continued on to the next one.

We had dinner in the bus terminal before hopping onto the bus. It wasn’t long before I was fast asleep. When I woke up I saw lights all around outside the bus. We had reached the city of night life. We were heading to a casino called Taj Mahal. There were many others like Caesar’s and so on. We got off at the Taj Mahal and my first disappointment was to discover that I couldn’t claim a $20 worth coupon because I didn’t have my passport or copy of it. The $20 coupon was part of the bus fare itself – you pay some $30 or so out of which $20 is given back to you in the form of a coupon; kind of like forcing you to play something. My colleague got his coupon.

The first few minutes were spent studying the place; it was fascinating – it was the middle of the night but inside it was lights everywhere – bright and colourful as if it were the middle of the day. People of all ages were to be found and most people seemed to play alone (probably to keep their winnings and losses a secret!). The tourist groups were in pairs laughing and having a good time. My colleague explained the different types of games that were around – slot machines were in plenty, then you had the board games like roulette and then the famous card games (like blackjack).

The slot machine was something where you spun a wheel and waited for the result. Wherever the wheel stopped, that combination would yield you something (or nothing) depending on the rules of the game (combination would be formed out of 3 or 5 columns depending on the game). All machines had a electronic spin button – you push a button to start and stop the spin. In each spin you can increase your odds of winning by asking the machine to consider more combinations as winning combinations – but for this you have to pay more for the round. My colleague asked me to play but I was a little hesitant and so he used his coupon on a slot machine. And voila, after spinning a few times he made around $100 in profit! Talk about making a quick buck! You could pull out your money from a slot machine whenever you wanted to; there was no mandatory number of rounds to be played; want to stop then stop. But wanting to stop was difficult!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Travelogue: An American theatre experience

Evenings I would do my best to catch up with the Simpson’s half hour episode on TV; it’s been a very long time since I saw the Simpsons. Then by 10pm or so it would be time for offshore communication which could go all the way past midnight as well. We’d squeeze in some dinner in between at home. That was pretty much how the typical day went at onsite.

Next up on my “to do” list was watching a movie in a US theatre. We went to the AMC theatre one evening and decided to go for Spiderman 3. I had seen most of part II on some US channel – it had already been repeated twice. Since many a days I was alone at home I would spend a few hours watching movies on TV at night. The theatre building looked small from the outside. In the ground floor there were a number of ATM style ticket vending machines. Pick your movie, swipe your credit card and the machine printed the ticket for you; completely self service – eliminate labor costs! All the screens were located on the upper floors and I soon realized that the theatre was much larger than expected. There were numerous floors and each floor had multiple screens. The escalators to each floor were very lengthy and steep. Once you entered the upper floors you could basically step into any screen – the ticket checking was only at the entrance of each floor; so if you were fed up with one movie and there was another running nearby you could walk into that and there seemed to be nothing in place to prevent you from doing that. My colleague said that he had in fact tried it out a couple of times! The popcorn bags were huge just like everything else – the family size was actually like a small bucket.

The movie was good though not typically American movies –it was more of emotions than a thriller. Add a few songs and you would have had an Indian Spiderman movie! There was no intermission – I wondered why because that would be a good time for the catering business. So it is a straight two hours for a movie; buy all the snacks and drinks you want at the start and then enjoy the movie without getting up from your seat. You could walk out and walk into the theatre any time as you wished – no restrictions. We wrapped off the day with a burger and some soda – you never got bored of eating burgers in US!

The next item on my “to do” list was going to Atlantic city – the little Las Vegas present in New Jersey. The city has a lot of history attached to it – Mike Tyson fought many of his fights here. Two of my colleagues visited the place frequently on weekends. And casinos were something I wanted to see – you see them in movies as posh places and dream of wanting to be there at least once!