I walked out of my apartment on the Upper West Side to a SUV that had driven from Mohegan Sun in Connecticut. Melissa, who works for the casino’s PR department and Angela “Big Ang” Raiola traveled from Uncasville to pick me up. We were headed to Resorts Casino in Atlantic City, a property that Mohegan manages. The casino booked the “Mob Wives” star for a series of “Reality Check” events, and I was tapped to host the question-and-answer sessions in Atlantic City as well as Mohegan Sun Pocono in Wilkes Barre.
When I hopped in to the car, I immediately noticed one person missing: Ang. She had walked across the street to my bodega for a pack of cigarettes. On the way back, a few fans stopped her for photos, and she happily obliged.
“So you live around here?” she asked me once we hit the road. I mentioned that I had been at my apartment for at the time, a little over a year. “Nice neighborhood. A lot of good brunch spots.”
There are many things I’ll never forget about that weekend; hearing Ang, in that trademark Staten Island drawl of hers, offer up Yelp-like reviews of the brunch options on the Upper West Side is certainly one of them.
Another was during the trip down I-95 to AC when we diverted to a rest stop for food. I wasn’t too hungry so I just grabbed a coffee; Ang wanted to hit up Auntie Anne’s. We finished our purchases and head back in to the car. Ang bought pretzel dippers with sauce. And if you know me and my eating habits, you know they usually don’t involve pretzel dippers, with or without the sauce.
“Honey you want one?” asked Ang. I politely declined. I could tell that she was a little annoyed but we continued making small talk.
She asked two more times before finally offering up a look that is all-too-familiar to fans of her show.
“No, really. Have one.”
Before I could respond the pretzels were right in front of my face.
If you’re like me and you grew up in an Italian-American household, you’re probably having flashbacks and rightfully so. Ang was a tough but loving mother from Staten Island; not one to mince words and always making sure those around her were taken care of.
And like any good Italian mother, if she offered food, you’d better accept.
Despite our pit stop, we arrived in Atlantic City with time to spare, so we headed over to the outlets that are a stone’s throw from the boardwalk. Yes, I went shopping with Ang. She was looking for clothes to buy her grandkids (always taking care of others); I was just happy to spot H&M.
Being out in public with Ang was an experience in itself. It didn’t matter whether it was a bar, nightclub, store or open-air shopping center: the woman always became the center of attention regardless if she was seeking it or not. Not only did everyone know who Ang was, but everyone felt like they knew Ang. She was as authentic as they come, especially for reality TV, and that’s what endeared her to so many fans.
“Ooh look at you! You made out!” she exclaimed when she saw the amount of clothes that I purchased. Of course, Ang had accumulated a few bags herself.
The event in Atlantic City went well and the next day we took off for Wilkes Barre. Another part of the weekend that’s unforgettable: Ang was always on time. She enjoyed herself, but she knew that we were there to work too.
The trip from AC to Northeastern Pennsylvania was a long one. Traffic on a side road the driver took was brutal, and by that point in the weekend, Ang had grown a bit tired. We made it to Mohegan Sun Pocono just in time for the appearance and of course, it was the best of the weekend. Ang was in great spirits on stage, trading barbs with me and the crowd while sipping on an alcoholic beverage; it was Cinco de Mayo after all.
“I’m not here for a long time; I’m here for a good time,” she said during our chat at MS Pocono, one of the last quotes she offered up before we wrapped.
I surely won’t forget that either. She truly was one-of-a-kind and someone who lived life on her terms. Ang – thanks for the memories, and the pretzel dippers.