Saturday, February 20, 2010

in which the bright lights of Biloxi threaten to set my soul on fire

Last Friday afternoon found me in a panic. Nick and I were supposed to leave for New Orleans (by way of Biloxi) after work, but there were two inches of snow on the ground and more falling. This wouldn't have been a huge problem if basically the entire state of Alabama hadn't been dumped with something like SIX inches of snow that morning, which meant our entire route was likely to be iced over/impassable. In places with normal climates that are used to getting snow, the roads would be plowed or salted or whatever lickety split and everyone would be on their way, but I had serious doubts as to whether or not Alabama contained a single salt truck or snow plow. I had been saying all along that I would crawl on my hands and knees to New Orleans to make it there for Mardi Gras and I was starting to feel like that was going to be my only option.

But Nick was resolute and ALDOT and GDOT and all of the internet agreed that the interstates weren't in terrible shape, so I loaded up the car with all our stuff and a special We Might Have To Sleep In The Car survival kit with two big warm blankets, three canteens of water, enough food for a few days, a flashlight, and some kitty litter for traction if we got stuck.

As you might imagine, the fact that I went to such lengths virtually guaranteed that the ride would be completely unremarkable, and luckily, it was. Despite the many inches of snow visible around the roads all the way through Montgomery and even further south than that, the roads were completely dry and safe.

When planning our trip, we realized that it was kind of silly to have to pony up for a hotel room in New Orleans for the Friday night before Mardi Gras when we'd be getting in in the middle of the night anyway, so we decided to take a detour to Biloxi to stay in the [much-cheaper] Treasure Bay Casino. My reasoning was that we could crash, hit the slot machines or something in the morning on our way out and get to walk on the beach (which never fails to thrill me), and then be only an hour and a half or so from New Orleans on Saturday morning, giving us plenty of time to roll in and meet Ashley and Dave and Sam for Endymion Saturday afternoon.

In college, Ashley and Joe and Colin and I hit up Biloxi a few memorable times. I think I even remember Meghan coming with us one time when she was in town? Every time the giant Treasure Bay Casino--a barge moored in the Gulf dressed up to look like a ~pirate ship~--ended up seducing us to stop the car and swim in its shadow. There was a great little souvenir shop across the street for beach necessities sunscreen or a church key with dolphins on it, a bar for a round or two before the drive home, and parking right along the beach. I found a great picture from the early 90s that shows the ship/casino, the pink souvenir shop, and the inviting little nook next to the ship where we always swam:

On the long, cold, late drive from Atlanta to Biloxi, I talked up Biloxi to Nick--how trashy and comforting and Gulf South and wonderful it was, how nice it would be to walk on the beach and gamble in a pirate ship.

When we finally pulled onto the road that runs along the beach in Biloxi, I set the Google Maps directions aside. "Now we just look for the pirate ship!" I chirped, excitedly scanning the ocean side of the road.

But what we found was a nice little hotel on the inland side of the road with absolutely nothing across from it. As we pulled in, I double-checked the sign. Sure enough, the Treasure Bay Casino was nothing like I remembered it.

I did a little research when I got home and it turns out that, sure enough, my beloved pirate ship had indeed once been exactly where I remembered it being.

And then in 2005 Katrina, punisher, taker of lives, added insult to injury. She drowned my city, she murdered my neighbors...and she took my pirate ship?

November 15, 2005--During its years of operation, the Treasure Bay was more of a photo opportunity for tourists than a Gulf Coast gaming leader.

Today, the site sits amid a section of the Mississippi coastline ravaged by Katrina's 135 mph winds and 30-foot storm surge. Motels, restaurants and bars and souvenir shops that were neighbors to the casino lay in ruins. In the Treasure Bay parking lot, casino debris was strewn about. Discarded "Silver Crew" slot club cards were scattered in the sand.

Before Katrina hit, the Treasure Bay had 978 slot machines and 47 table games on a 41,000 square foot-barge built to resemble a Jolly Roger. In addition to restaurants, the Treasure Bay operated a small hotel across Highway 90.

All were damaged beyond repair by the hurricane on Aug. 29. The barge broke from its moorings and came to rest about 100 yards from its dock, dragging two of its four 60-inch concrete and metal-cased pylons.

Full Text Here

Apparently the owners decided to scrap it altogether and focus on rebuilding a really nice casino+hotel on the inland side of the road. I didn't get a picture of the beach now and surprisingly I can't find one online, but here's an aerial post-Katrina shot. All that's left on the ocean side now is what's left of the pylons and the concrete dock.

Despite my crushing disappointment that my beloved pirate ship was gone, the new Treasure Bay Casino proved to be pretty wonderful anyway.

The air smelled like Gulf sea salt and casino smoke. The casino was hoppin like it was noon when we got there past midnight. The original plan had been to crash and possibly hit the casino in the morning, but we were enticed by the siren song of the free drinks and flashing lights so we headed down to the floor around 1am.

I don't think we saw anyone even within ten years of our age range the entire time we were there. We had to consult with the fine staff at the "Players' Club" to get outfitted with the Players' Club Cards that allowed us to gamble.

hit the players' club for 'bout a month or two

We played the slots and roulette tables in tiny increments, stretching $20 to last over the course of several hours. It was far more fun than it had any right to be. Nick won $8 or so on the roulette tables and I won a few bucks on the penny slots. I didn't take any pictures because I figured that might get us thrown out, but it was basically like this:

The next morning, we got up bright and early to hit the "Infinity" breakfast buffet. As I was happily tearing into my huge omelet, it occurred to me that I basically had the Infinity breakfast buffet every day in college. Oh, meal plan. Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got til it's gone.

Before we left, we decided to blow the ticket for $1.67 I had left over from the night before on the penny slots. I played on the ~lucky machine~ that had coughed up a few dollars the night before, and lo and behold the thing started flashing and beeping and I won $12. Not bad for the penny slots. I cashed out immediately. I understand the concept of luck running out.

We went and climbed on what was left of the old pirate ship and kind of kicked around on the beach before we left. The beach was so cold and grey and barren--it's always strange to me to be at the ocean during the winter time.

I said goodbye to what was left of the pirate ship and we set off for my city with $12 in my pocket.


  1. Ryan and i frequently talk about that trip. Remember get a lb of fried alagator and daquiris all around at "the Daq Shack?" They played "Strokin'?"


  3. That's such a shame that the pirate ship was no more! It sounds like you guys had a blast anyway, though. I'd love to hear about your Mardi Gras adventures! I wanted to go this year, but silly me I planned my classes on Wednesdays and Thursdays and I wasn't sure if I could get back.

    P.S. I added you to my blogroll! I can't believe I had left you out, lady!

  4. Nice job planning. What you're prepared for never happens; that's why I learned Braille so early.

    Cody and I love a good stretching-out-of-twenty-bucks at a Casino. Did I ever tell you about our way of parking easily for 24 in the quarter for only a dollar?

  5. Jinah--I promise an entry about New Orleans today! Thanks for the add to your blogroll :)

    Katie-Kate--please tell me your parking secrets!!