29 January 2010

Not Vegas

This week I was faced with a good news / bad news scenario. Given that choice, I prefer to try to extract and enjoy the good news.

It’s January, which traditionally means a big company meeting, in and of itself is neither good nor bad news. But since last year’s meeting was canceled because said company was in bankruptcy, the fact that we’ve been bought by another firm and are having a meeting certainly edges us into the good news category.

The bad news is that it’s being held in a big casino hotel, which means having to navigate to and from meetings and events through and around the twenty-four hour a day cloud of rancid cigarette smoke emanating from the unavoidable casino, not to mention the pathetic sight of the slot addicts churning their life away, a quarter at a time, any time you care to look toward them. Not an attractive atmosphere to a non-gambling runner.

The good news is we’re not in Hell. Er, I mean, we’re not in Las Vegas, our usual venue. Instead we’re in Atlantic City, that famed Monopoly board, come to life, sort of, on the New Jersey coast. Atlantic City wants to be Vegas, but fortunately it doesn’t really succeed. Yes it’s big, and it tries hard to tell the world that that is so, but it still pales next to Vegas. From my hotel room window, I can watch the Vegas-like light show on the neighboring high rise casino – which, whether you like casinos or not, is unarguably cool – but it’s still not Vegas. It’s a smaller, somehow friendlier version, not quite as packaged. How do I know this? Well, it’s anecdotal, and we’ll get back to that.

Plus, of course, it’s got an ocean, and a boardwalk. Not just a boardwalk, but the Boardwalk. So the good news is that there’s a real interesting run just begging to be had. But the bad news is that we’re cooped up in one of the few hotels not on the boardwalk, indeed, several miles away. It’s a fine facility (aside from the gambling and smoking bit), but it’s one surrounded entirely by highway ramps, impenetrable by pedestrian access.

An aspect of this running thing that I truly appreciate is that on any given day, the act of going for a run is very green. Yes, I know that our shoes are made of petrochemicals, as are probably more than half of the synthetic fibers we wear, and yes, I know we travel for races and so on, but we’re not firing up the ATV and grinding ridges in sand dunes or sucking down fossil fuel in our speedboats. We’re just stepping out and manufacturing sweat. Driving to a run is something I like to avoid. I frequently run to meet my compatriots for club runs, though admittedly I’ve hitched a ride home on plenty of occasions. So being trapped in a hotel with no non-vehicular means of escape just bugged me.

Make lemonade, dude, get over it.

We planned our trip to have a morning off, and co-worker Bruce and I drove out of said freeway-bound casino and parked at a boardwalk-bound casino. In minutes we were on the famed walk on a spectacular morning, forty-ish, a bit of a headwind as we headed south, with the sun rising over the rather active spray of the Atlantic to our side. I’d planned our start point to get us out of the casino zone quickly, so soon we were enjoying the neighboring beach homes as well, having left the Majorly Tacky stuff behind.

In the early morning in Vegas you might see a jogger or two, but mostly you see the stragglers from the casinos, bleary, hung over, and visibly distressed from the walletectomies they’ve just endured. If you can get away from the casinos in Vegas, you see beige concrete, no road shoulders to run on, and dry dusty scrub, interrupted only by the beauty of the distant mountains. But on the boardwalk heading south out of Atlantic City you see people who actually want to be there, walking or running, all enjoying the aforementioned sunrise and sea spray. They greet you. It’s refreshing.

Of course, the hills on the course are murder. We did notice one spot with a lump, perhaps three to six inches of elevation change. And we did have to detour once to get around the “screw crew” as we named them, the team that methodically replaces boards as they wear out. Now there’s a job: replace a few boards every day, and by the time you get to the end (the boardwalk is over five miles long), it’s time to start over. Lifetime employment. And the twisting and winding course? Following this course was tricky. We did have to negotiate a bend. About three degrees. Bring a map.

OK, so you don’t run the boardwalk for big topological variety. You run it to soak up the ambiance. And it’s pretty easy on the feet, too.

We reached the south end, a block south of Washington Street (where the Atlantic City Marathon is forced to depart for city streets on its course to the end of the island and back), stopped for a few photos, then meandered back north, detouring onto a pier over the water, and later onto the beach to stick our fingers in the Atlantic. I’m not a big one for lots of stops during a run, but let’s face it, we were tourists, plain and simple, and figured we might as well enjoy it. Then, back to the casino zone with a finish at Brighton Park. A fine run, indeed.

Now, about that comment on Atlantic City being a little smaller, a little friendlier, a little not Vegas? As we pulled out, the garage attendant smiled and asked us how our run had gone. There’s that moment where you wonder, how’d she figure that? Yes, we had running gear on, but cold weather gear, and being in the car, really didn’t scream “runners”. Our puzzled looks quickly brought on the explanation, “I was coming into work and saw you running out onto the Boardwalk.”

Cool. Kinda’ small town, in a way. That would simply never happen in Vegas.

The next two mornings I was restricted by time to a much less exciting venue, what looked like – on paper – to be a rather miserable route: a mile-long path from my hotel to the next one. But this being Not Vegas, even that turned into a bonus. Frankly, while not long, lacking in hills, and quite windblown on the return trip (which explained the nearby turbines which I always like to see), the path turned out to be a delightful meander along the bordering salt marsh. At the turnaround point, the view extended under a bridge toward the open ocean, where lap by lap I was treated to a magnificent boiling orange sunrise. Wednesday’s was truly spectacular, a giant orb framed by bridge and sea. Of course, I wasn’t carrying the camera Wednesday, it always works that way. Thursday’s, with camera in hand, was merely sublime, yet still a treat, especially for one like me who is rarely truly conscious at the hour of any sunrise, sublime or not.

The conference itself? Legitimately optimistic, something I haven’t seen in corporate life for quite some time. Call it all good news.

1 comment:

  1. Great to get perspective from someone not from the AC area. I will be sure to share with other runners visiting the hotel. It was a pleasure meeting you.

    Jamie, Borgata Concierge - Atlantic City


Humor me. If you read it, if you liked it, even if you didn't, let me know!