Visiting Ireland in Atlantic City

Ri Ra Irish pub in Tropicana Casino in Atlantic City, Bartender Junior
In my quest to travel on a nonexistent budget, I use to plot out trips that would take me the farthest while costing me the least. I would start with my most ideal destination and work my way down.  Clearly Italy would have to wait. I need at least 2 weeks to eat my way through that country. Next up London. I could do it in a weekend but the theater and shopping would cost me, which brings me to Dublin. I could be happy hanging out in pubs talking to Irish people.

Fast forward to now. My travel plans mostly extend to Atlantic City. Not that I like to gamble, but my mother lives for the slots. This gets her a free room, a meal and an occasional movie at the Imax theater at the Tropicana. I tagged along thinking I could get a travel story out of it. I also collect my mom’s winnings, so she didn’t put them all back into the slot machines. I did a little research and found the first Atlantic City International Film and Music Festival would be going on.

When we arrived at the hotel, my mom and grandma hit the slots and I hit the bed. I wanted to be ready the next morning to get to work as a serious writer and photographer. I’m not exactly an early riser. I decided start the day with a workout, something I hadn’t been inspired to do for months.

Finally dressed and ready, me, my mom and grandma stood in the middle of the casino deciding what to do next. Oops, it was already 3 in the afternoon. No matter, I was going to continue with my plan. But first, I needed to eat. Alas, one of my mom’s perks was a discount on lunch at Ri Ra. After a friend and I had gone on a quest to find the best fish and chips in NYC, I had a hard time passing a pub without being tempted. Mom and grandma had already attached themselves to a slot machine, so I went off by myself. I found a spot at the bar to indulge in one of my favorite comfort foods. I played with my phone, so people would know I was too occupied to be bothered by eating alone.

The bartender greeted me in such a friendly manner I was taken a back. I must be jaded.  He asked if I wanted some Irish soda bread. Oh yes. I’m a bread lover and carbohydrates don’t count on vacation. When he came back, there was more conversation, asking me what I was doing in Atlantic City. I thought these kind of bartenders were only in the movies. I played along. I told him about the festival. He hadn’t heard about it, so he was interested. I recognized his Irish accent. I asked him what part of Ireland he was from, in my head guessing Dublin. He said Cork. I only had 2 references. If you sound like Bono, you’re a Dubliner. Liam Neeson, then you’re from Ulster. Glad I had never mentioned this theory out loud.

The bartender, Junior, moved on to talk to a group of people sitting at the bar. I heard a familiar sound, a New York accent. This was like a symphony to me having lived in and loved NYC. The woman noticed me and immediately engaged me in conversation. It was sports talk and her lack of interest in it. I chimed in about my beloved Yankees.

When the bartender placed the fish and chips in front of me, I dived in. The woman asked me about the yellow LiveStrong bracelet I was wearing. She was the first person to ever ask. I had once asked a girl about the purple bracelet she was wearing, which I knew was for pancreatic cancer. It was my first attempt to connect with someone since my father had died who may have shared my experience. The girl had looked at me strange as though I had violated some unwritten rule. I never mentioned it to anyone again although, I’ve seen a stream of yellow bracelets. I had never noticed them before.

The woman told me about her 21 year old son who had recently survived testicular cancer despite not having health insurance. I told her about my father. This caught the bartender’s attention. His mother had also died of pancreatic cancer, only living for a few months after she had been diagnosed.

I kept looking at my watch knowing I was missing my story. Annie, I later learned the woman’s name, and I moved on to why we were visiting Atlantic City. We needed to get away. We deserved a break from life.

I gave up on attending the festival and enjoyed another piece of soda bread. Annie had taken to this hotel for the Irish pub. She was of Irish descent. She had come all this way to sit and have a beer in the pub just like at home.

Before I left, I took some pictures of Junior and the pub. I even came back the next day to take more pictures with another lens more suitable to the dark lighting. I’d hope to see Junior but he wasn’t there.

I agonized over how to start this blog, wanting to write the perfect explanation of what the blog was going to be about. But like that day, I’ve decided to let it flow to wherever it takes me.