Unemployment can drive a person mad. Rather than helping the situation, the compulsion of checking online job boards multiple times in a single day compounded the frustration of not receiving any calls for interviews and the uncertainty of when this waiting would all end. Nowadays, I check once in the morning, send out some resumes, and then seek a distraction.
My distraction this past Tuesday was Atlantic City.
I braced myself for a six-our round trip bus ride to the casino wonderland of the East Coast. It was just the 4 of us on board – me, two sweet-natured retirees (whom I’ll refer to as the Golden Girls), and a garrulous bus driver who looked a lot like Harrison Ford (so his nickname will be Harrison).
“You’re back again?” Harrison bantered. The Golden Girl yelled, “Retirement is boring!” I laughed along without saying anything.
No, we definitely weren’t the gambling sort that subsisted on adrenaline and dreams of hitting the jackpot. The three of us gals were just restless souls seeking to kill another day with a change of scenery and a bit of fun.
One of the Golden Girls sat front row and spent the whole commute chatting with Harrison. The other one sat behind me and read her newspaper quietly, occasionally interjecting a thought into the conversation.
I stared out of the window, as they regaled me with stories of a quirky character named George who was also an Atlantic City bus regular. Their personal revelations and the way they talked about their children and their hangups made them all the more endearing. Until listening to them, I never knew gossip could be so lyrical.
Carsickness sent me to the restroom. When I came out, I noticed the bus had been parked. Huh?
Golden Girl and Harrison were smoking a cigarette outside and talking all the while. Their conversation continued when they returned inside. I stopped paying attention to their talking and focused instead on the background music – the hum of the engine accompanied by the rumbling of the air conditioner.
I just remember the lady kept filling in the pauses in her train of thought with, “Life’s too short. It really is.”
She must have been at least eighty years old, but she seemed blessed with good health. Her vivacious persona convinced me that she would survive well into the triple digits and still be talking the way she did that day. Maybe she’s right about life being too short, though I disagreed and thought the passing of time as unbearably slow.
When we reached Showboat Casino, the one behind me tapped me over the shoulder and gave me detailed instructions on which part of the ticket stub to tear off and which to keep for boarding the bus on our return. The Golden Girls knew their way around. Clearly, I was a novice and certainly a lucky one to be traveling among experts.
Since it was just the 3 of us, we were able to negotiate an earlier meet-up time with the bus driver who also wanted to go home early for dinner. None of us wanted to stay in the casinos for six hours. That was too much! According to the Golden Girls, the longer you stay in a casino, the more you lose, so we agreed to meet an hour earlier than scheduled.
One of the Golden Girls eagerly introduced me to the Total Rewards card. “Do you have one of these? ‘Cause you’ll need this to play the machines,” she said. She instructed me on how to use it, and directed me to the Main Cage at the casino where newbies received their rite of initiation. We bid goodbye and good luck to one another, as we went our separate ways.
After receiving my Total Rewards Gold card with my name imprinted, I felt a surge of pride. I was in!
My first impression of the casino…Wow! Hotel-style corridors! Flashing lights! Interesting name for a slot machine?! Maybe the zombie-like facial expression while pressing the slot machine buttons is good luck…I’ll give it a try! Dealer at the table looks so bored. Nice carpets! Retirement…another 40 years for me? Immaculate restrooms, abundant stalls!
I only used the gambling vouchers provided to me by the bus company. In the first 15 minutes, I won the exact price of my bus fare + my lunch money + a reasonable tip for the bus driver. The number was so utterly coincidental that it must have been the doing of a Higher Power. (Alright, I exaggerate. God shorted me 20 cents, but I won’t hold it against Him. It was still very impressive for an amateur.)
I took my winnings and darted out of the casino into the great outdoors – the Boardwalk.
Here I spent the remainder of my day. I set my cell phone alarm for 4:40pm and removed my wristwatch. I refused to wait. I refused to anticipate. I just took in the sea air and watched the seagulls descend beside me before taking off on another flight. I imagined how difficult it was for the men pulling the rickshaws to make a living. I tried to imagine the value of each bead of sweat but couldn’t. The strength of their spirit to push forward was too great to quantify.
After finishing a slice of pizza, I stepped down onto the beach. Perhaps, this was where I belonged right now, I thought. The warmth of the breeze felt welcoming enough.
Here’s what I learned from my trip: Just as the waves of the ocean crests and falls freely, many things in life are beyond our control. How we respond to these changes, is however, our choice.
Ultimately, I realized the choice was mine as to how I would fill this pause in my life. I chose to fill it with a view of the ocean, the song of seagulls, and peace because, “Life’s too short. It really is.”