By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
His mother, Carol Derrick, chose the former. She did the best she could by her brood--Hunter has two older sisters, Juana and Joy--putting in long hours as a card dealer under the artificial light at Caesars Palace. It's been her post for the past 22 years.
Derrick raised her children in an intimate two-bedroom apartment and warned against the seductive cry of drugs and alcohol. It worked. Her kids never got into bad trouble, she says. She's not a big woman; she didn't yell. She just had this gaze. A glare, as Hunter calls it. She would cock her head and narrow her eyes and stare.
"That's how I brought my children up: I'd give them a look," Derrick says, laughing. "See, you do that when they're young, you understand? You do that when they're young, so that when they get older, they know better, and then it always works. But Pete never got into anything where I had to snatch him and say you're doing the wrong thing."
No, but there was one time that Hunter recalls getting the worst look he ever got from his mother, the worst look you could ever imagine. He was 18 and a senior in high school. His friends were always smoking weed or running with gangs or whatever. That was never Hunter's bag. He'd just as soon lie on that carpeted floor and watch the Eagles, or maybe the Discovery Channel. But this one time, he relented and went out with the boys. They got some beer and drank themselves drunk. That's what a lot of teen-agers do, and it was all pretty innocent and harmless. Or it would have been if Hunter hadn't been Carol Derrick's son.
"I was always scared of my mom," Hunter says with a bit of gravity. "I love her, but I was always scared of her. I'm glad I was. She did a good job of raising me. I never got locked up or put in the back of a police car, and that was 'cause of her. I didn't want to disappoint her. That night I did. I came in the house tipsy drunk. I was a kid, hanging out with the high school guys, doing the high school thing. I came in the house and my mom just looked at me with that look, and all she said was, 'You remind me of your dad.' That hurt me...man, that hurt me to the fullest. That ended everything after that. I won't even drink now. I don't touch the stuff now because of that."
His father and mother don't talk. His dad had a drug and alcohol problem that led to a stroke when Hunter was 15. Today his father is partially paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair. His dad went to the Eagles game Hunter played in; they're not estranged. But you understand what Derrick was getting at--that wasn't going to happen to her son.
So she did all she could. She didn't force them to work, but Hunter got a job anyway to put some spending money in his wallet. Early in high school he was a lifeguard at the beach. For the unfamiliar, the beach in Atlantic City is broken down like this: two parts nasty, gritty sand, one part garbage (discarded food wrappers, syringes and tourists). That got old quick, and he moved to that valet parking gig at Trump Plaza. Just across the way is Caesars, where his mother worked. She used to visit him on her breaks. They would talk or give each other a hug and then get back to the grind. The rest of the shift was Hunter alone with an assortment of deviants. Sunrise couldn't rescue him quick enough.
"That was crazy," Hunter says, shaking his head. His arms tense. "If you live there, it's hard to find things to do because everything is set around the tourists. What do you do for fun? Nothing. I played a lot of sports and kept busy working. But my friends, a lot of them took the wrong route--drinking and selling drugs, getting into gangs, getting locked up, that sort of shit. Just trying to stay focused in that area is really, really hard. Hell, just trying to play football there is hard. No one thinks football when they think of A.C. Not a lot of colleges come there to recruit. I mean, it's crazy because, the year after I graduated--this will give you an example--the year after I left, they won a state championship, and none of those guys went to college. Not one of them. No senior went to college."
Hunter can sympathize. He was an honor student in high school and a star on the field, and he almost didn't make it out. Few colleges bothered to contact him; fewer still came to see him. When he looked through his scholarship offers, it didn't take long because he had only one: Virginia Union, some school in Richmond that he'd never heard of and wasn't all that thrilled over.
When you're limited to a single choice, at least you don't have to suffer through a taxing decision process.