Sunday, March 26, 2017
I did something the other day I haven't done in years. I went to the horse track. When I say "years" I mean I'm talking at least 15. I tend to measure my life in terms of when I was able to leave government service. Which was over 5 years ago if you can believe that. And I scarcely can. So it had to be 10 years before that.
I hadn't really thought much about the horse game before about this time last year. I'm not much of a gambler. I haven't set foot in a casino since Ole Miss quit putting on the Mid-South Bankruptcy Conference-get this- at Horseshoe in Tunica. I barely play the NCAA basketball tournament anymore.
But over the years I became friends with a guy who is a professional gambler. Seriously. He makes his living betting on horses. Whether he augments his income with other sports investing opportunities (shall we say) I do not know. I do not want to know. Anyway, my friend knows that I am something of a photographer and he encouraged me to come out and try my hand with race photography. My teaching duties kept me from going down last year. But my schedule this year is much more flexible. So off I went last Friday.
Oaklawn is located in Hot Springs, Arkansas. I like Hot Springs despite the fact that it is an old cathouse of a town that to this day is the epicenter of vice in this state. Well, at least it is when the legislature isn't in session. At least Hot Springs, unlike the Solons on Woodlane Avenue, is not hypocritical about it. It is a gambling and drinking town. Pretty much any itch you got you can get it scratched in Hot Springs. Twas ever thus.
I accept these things.
Indeed, the only time in my life I have ever been propositioned by a lady who provides companionship in exchange for rent (again shall we say) was in Hot Springs. And I used to live in New Orleans. Anyway, I was standing outside the Arlington Hotel (speaking of cathouses) at dusk waiting on some friends of mine to pick me up for dinner.
"Hey baby," I heard a voice behind me say. "I sure hate to see a handsome man all by himself."
I turned around. Brunette. Heels. Huge purse containing God knows what in addition to a a probable Glock. She was not bad if you could separate the aesthetics from the business plan.
"I'm sorry," I said. "I'm waiting on some friends."
She shrugged the shoulder that wasn't burdened by the anvil sized purse she was packing.
"That's too bad," she said. "I mean, I don't know your friends but I bet I'm more fun."
"Tell you what," I said as I pointed back to the Arlington. "there's a convention going on in there. There's a bunch of guys at the bar and you look like you could use a drink."
It was my turn to shrug. She laughed as she clicked off toward the hotel lobby.
"You have fun tonight, Baby," she said over her shoulder. "Tell your friends 'hello'."
These are indeed the memories that will sustain me in my golden years. But enough of this.
Once inside the track I ran into my old buddy K. K is a pretty serious horse player when he isn't practicing law. He asked me if I wanted to get a bet down on the upcoming race.
"No," I said. "I'm here to take pictures." I held my camera up as if that proved anything.
"That's it?" he said.
"Well I will drink a beer before I leave. But M has no use for gambling and so I won't."
I could see the cogs turning.
"Technically, pari-mutual wagering is not gambling because you are competing against everybody else. Which makes it a game of skill. At least that's how they sell it to the hypocrites in the legislature."
"A technical defense will not work with her. Or any other woman in my experience. Besides, she's a Deacon in the one true, apostolic and universal United Methodist Church. Both it and her are opposed to gambling. So I won't bet. I promised her."
At that point in time Martians must have been landing behind me judging from the incredulous expression on K's face.
"What?" I said.
"When did you acquire principles?"
Which was not necessary and hurtful even. But that's what old friends are for I guess.
With that I excused myself. But not before he pointed out an older man that was walking past us.
"That man there is the only bookie the old guys will use," he said. "He keeps it all in his head. Doesn't use a computer. Just like the old days. So nothing to trace. The old players, they don't trust technology."
Which I have to admit was pretty much the most fascinating thing I had heard all week. Hey, this method of communication worked pretty well for Bin-Laden.
I spent the rest of the afternoon shooting pictures of the horses and the railbirds. The horses, kinda like that hooker back at the Arlington years ago, are beautiful in a twitchy and dangerous sort of sense. Speaking of which, along the rail you really get a sense of how dangerous riding one of these hay-consuming heat seeking missiles must be. Especially when they are all bunched up together coming down the stretch. The sound is amazing.
I drank a beer during which time I let a 12 year old girl try to take a picture with my box. Her mom said she wanted a camera and was fascinated by mine. Sure. Why not? So I managed to perform at least one good deed there in that den of vice, where a sweet kid can exist in a kind of symbiosis with an elderly bookie who carries the bets in his head.
I left pretty early because I wanted to get home in time to watch basketball (speaking of vice). I got to take my pictures and I didn't place a bet. It was a win-win for everybody.
Hot Springs is an old cathouse of a town. But it can be managed.
I like it over there. I had fun and I got some good image. I will get back to Oaklawn sooner than later.
Maybe M will come with me sometime.
Maybe. But I wouldn't bet on it.