One of my favorite titles. While "Embraceable You" or "These Boots Were Made for Walking" aren't of much use for further thought, the concept of the limits of what makes sense can be of daily use. If only to bypass understanding on the way to acceptance.
We recently took a short trip to Atlantic City, a place that lost its reason to exist after the craziness of the Prohibition era, and stayed, as usual, at the Borgata. Resorts have to be heavily used to generate a profit, and that means they are quickly physically degraded and in these dizzying times, look outdated in a few years too. Most hotels are sold at this point, exactly as planned by the original builders (too bad suburban developments can't be got rid of when they become more expensive to maintain than the revenue they generated in the first years of newness), and the deterioration is patched up by the second set of owners as minimally and cheaply as possible before the last slim profits are drained out and the project heads to the dumps. After 10 years, the Borgata underwent a subtle but thoroughgoing renovation, bucking the usual real-estate investment trend, and is still as attractive, pretty much, as ever.
The faux-Italianate design is paired with modern furniture and artwork, which works in not seeming yet another dive into nostalgia or over-stylish futurism alone. The limestone-looking columns and ceilings are surely some fake substitute material, but the marble floors are real enough (of course, I could be fooled) and close attention is paid to such high-wear areas as elevators and restrooms. Signage is actually updated -- something that often is neglected. Of course, too much was built and sits empty -- cashier booths replaced by machines and storefronts in dark corners that look permanently abandoned.
It's the stores and restaurants inside that seem such a jarring contradiction to your eyes, though: how do all the high-end crystal, jewelry and clothing stores jibe with the resort clientele, who don't look like resort clientele at all? Many families, even more very old and handicapped people, and, well, real slobs who dress far down from the U.S. mall standard. Flip-flops, tee shirts, dumb hats, shorts -- is this crowd really going to spend $80 and up on an entree or buy $5000 jewelry? The pizza place downstairs and the Starbucks always have lines, but the salespeople in the shiny places must be just short of falling over asleep. What in the world is the WalMart crowd doing here?
If you keep up with the damage being done to the developed world's over-financialized economy since it was completely freed from sensible restraint after the repeal of the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act (the unemployed and foreclosed-on thank you, Senator Phil Gramm), you have probably been amazed at the disastrous path taken by J.P. Morgan Chase megabank. They have paid an $80 million settlement for their credit card malpractices, a $920 million fine for admitted wrongdoing (and jaw-dropping incompetency) tied to the "London Whale" trading fiasco (which had already cost the bank $6 billion), and are facing a possible $11 billion settlement with the Justice Department right now for their malfeasance with mortgage-backed "securities" (there's a contradiction in terms).
Yet we know someone who has had a home mortgage with Chase for several years who was recently approached by them with an offer to reduce his interest rate to the current pretty low standard, with no closing costs. An offer that solely benefitted the customer, a.k.a. the usual victim! It took many e-mails, calls and much paperwork, but it was all done as promised and within a very reasonable time frame. The Chase people and their associated contractors made every effort to respond quickly and accurately, and even provided their superior's names and contact information if the mortgagee was unhappy with anything. How could this possibly be the same organization?
Individually, folks from New York, Philadelphia and New Jersey can be great -- lively, talented, with it, funny. They make you up your own game. That thought is hard to keep in mind on the highways into that vast metropolitan area, as drivers around you become deadly missiles obviously devoid of any good sense or manners at all. Crowding just drives people and animals crazy, I guess. The rich are self-centered and greedy beyond belief, and the rest seem crude, ignorant and predatory. People are like that everywhere, but the overcrowding raises the noise level beyond 10 far too often. After fighting to just get around (never mind finding a place to park!), every visit, you swear, is your last.
So we were invited to visit our neighbor's condo, which she bought this year in Ocean City, NJ, and where she's been happily staying for months. As we left Atlantic City for the day, we were pushed away from our exit onto the Parkway by a youthful moron driving video-game style, and had to double back and pay the tolls again. You're not leaving a good impression, New Jersey. We arrive in what looks like a very nice town, though -- much in contrast to A.C., obviously. Our neighbor has a fine location five blocks from the beach, which in itself was far superior to A.C.'s wretched, eroded one. Her family has vacationed there for many decades, and she knows it well.
She takes us on a short tour, and O.C. looks like it has what every town should have -- family-owned movie theaters, cafes and mom-and-pop lunch places, lots of nicely kept houses that don't betray their age at all. Seventeenth Street is her favorite, and we saw why, with a fascinating array of architecture ranging from three-story manses to narrow quaint cottages. One of the former was getting the finishing touches on a curved exterior stairway made of some beautiful wood. The street bends around, Old World style, and faces the bay on the back side, most houses having a boat dock or mooring. We didn't see one shabby area -- so is this a Disney Main Street without the sugary fakeness? In New Jersey?
I just don't know what to make of these contradictions. What makes sense? What works, maybe.