Railbirds

I’ve been too busy doing nothing so I always try to make it a rule that if I’m doing nothing, I need to be busy doing something.  I like rules.

We all have rules.  Some mean something and some mean nothing.  Yet, we all have rules.

I incorporated a rule, a rule I brought from my track days as a child, given to me from dear ol’ Dad and firmly hardened into my family like the solid rock of George Washington’s Rushmore chin.

mt-rushmore

Now I can’t tell you the exact three words of the questionable rule because it’s top secret but when it is asked of you by another member of the family, you can not tell a lie, not even a white lie, not even a bit of embellishment is allowed.

You must tell the absolute truth.  The rule is an honor rule.

This rule I brought forward in life, given to me by my Father, has caused me so much grief and so much anxiety that I’ve questioned my level of stupidity.  He once used the rule on me when he suspected I was smoking.  There were spies amongst us.

I fessed up completely and remember only one thing he said after he asked the rule to find out if I was smoking.  I answered with a nod.

“Always tell the truth.  Thanks for doing that Billy.  Now go on outside.”  I turned to the screen door knowing he already knew I was smoking even though he smoked and couldn’t smell it on me I thought.

As  it squeaked open he called out from the kitchen, “Billy, remember not to smoke inside this house ever.”  I left that day liking rules.

 This rule is paying off like a straight superfecta.  I wasn’t grounded.

Lady Tater uses the rule religiously on me whenever there’s even a doubt of my ramblings.  I want to use the rule on her someday but she’s as shiny as a peeled egg at Christmas dinner while my life seems to be more like, ‘What’s in the dressing this year?’  Her middle name is Verity.

But yet, I like rules.

This year during the wonders of The Breeders’ Cup, we used a rule and the rule came through again as it had before.  The rule is the Code of the West.  It’s a little like our Code of Conduct.  The rule is number eleven in Gene Autry’s ‘Ten Commandments of a Cowboy’ just after the tenth, ‘A Cowboy is a Patriot’.

It’s that important and we use the rule every time The 365 Club gets together for a day at the track.  Little did any of us know the rule would come into play soon.

We pulled the Elantra into the massive parking lot of the infamous Race Place in Arcadia in anticipation of the coming event, The Breeders’ Cup Classic Stakes and coasted around the painted stripes until we found an open spot.  Right on the center walkway only a few lanes away from the entry gates’ turnstiles an open one awaited us.  ‘How lucky is that?’ I said.

Slowly I eased the rental into the special slot and reached around the wheel to remove the key.  The engine mumbled off.

Water bottle filled with Vodka, check.  WiseGuy Bet Sheet, check.  Writing pen, check.  Cash, check.  iPhone for betting online from the seats using the wonderful TVG call-in, check.

See, we’re from Arizona and the government in Arizona is so ass-backward that us Arizonan’s can’t wager online but can do it if we call in to TVG or another provider of fun.  Simm’s is stupid or is he smart?  He has his own online so why wouldn’t he use his corrupt Gaming Commission to make it a stupid law.

Sunglasses, check.  Wifie, Lady Tater, check.

I open the car to the wonderful smell of horses and dirt and maybe some tailgater’s spilled beer but mostly horses and dirt.

My feet were adorned in the luckiest shoes in the world, my Cole Haan creamy suede plain toe oxfords with a fully cushioned footbed capped off with a reddened rubber sole.

Slowly my toe of my first foot pressed against the sacred asphalt.  The trumpeter sounded the ‘Call to the Post’ in honor of their possessed luck.  First race was still an hour away and I could hear the bugle announcing our arrival.  I thought I heard the un-hearable announcer say to the crowd, “Racing fans, the Prez of The 365 Club has arrived.”

I’ve always bragged about the bucks.  They’re more than lucky.  They pick up chicks without even trying although Lady Tater might disagree just from jealousy. They’re super fashionable, finely constructed and the color they have would make the finest rainbow cower in fear.  Did I mention ridiculously comfortable?

“How lucky is that parking spot?” I admiringly asked LT.

Her smirk of an answer felt more like the words, “Really, we’ll see how lucky you are in just a little bit.”

As we walked to the entrance I could sense other experienced players eyeing my papers.  They could smell the luck of the WiseGuy Bet Sheet.  They knew there were winners passing by.

I had already attached my ticket to the purple Breeders’ Cup lanyard from Friday and placed it assuredly around my neck.  I was strutting tall across the entry apron.

As I clicked through the turnstile the attendant at the ticket counter yanked a stranglehold on my sore neck as he grabbed the lanyard to scan the ticket, “Good luck,” he said as he released his hold.

“See?  He knew this was a lucky day for me.  He knew,” I said to Ms. Tater.

“Yeah, yeah.  Keep moving,” she answered combined with a backhanded flick of her fingers while turning her head around to avoid me.

“Did the contraband make it through without leaking?” I asked.

Lady Tater reached into her bag and unveiled the secret pocket of the track purse as she gathered the makeshift ‘hundred-dollar-bar-tab-savings-coupon’ of a water bottle with the clear alcohol.

I shrugged for a response.  She smirked annoyance at me again.  I shrugged again.  “Check,” she murmured then smiled.  We’re always on the same page.  Maybe not always.

“Perfect.  That was lucky too.  They would’ve thrown you in the clink,” I blurted.  “Let’s find our seats.”

We were still a little disjointed from Friday’s races and especially from the ride back to the hotel in our spacious rental car.  I had agreed to let our newest 365 member, the infamous Homeless Johnny Carson, ( he was a late show and he slept in his truck on a freeway Thursday night.  Don’t ask me to explain it ), and his babe Del Rio to ride along with Lady Tater, The Rican and myself.

We crammed into the car and headed to the best hotel in Burbank, the Burbank Marriott to party, eat and sit at the fire pit laughing until late into the night.

Only minutes on the congested pot hole riddled freeway, the effects of the empty plastic bottles were starting to show vigorously on some of my rear passengers.

The Rican broke off a nail as she jammed her finger in her ear hoping to  isolate her body’s aura and tortured soul from the onslaught of louder than normal laughter seated next to her.

Lady Tater left nose marks on the passenger window from jerking her head while she stared into the darkness in fear of the voices.  I had to hold down on the emergency brake as the car was trying to set the brake by itself from fear.

Yet another rule is needed.  The Uber Rule even if you’re paying for someone else’s ride.  I like new rules.

We made the seats for the first race of The Breeders’ Cup day and spirits were high, filled with expectations of cash and quality.  The tellers were going over their rules of the day when they got word of The 365 Club being in the house.  They broke huddle and went to their windows.

The first race wasn’t even over yet.  The horses were at the 1/8th pole when the ripping sounds of thousands of tickets could be heard echoing in the great grandstand.

The winning horse was that far in the lead.  I touted the usual cover for the WiseGuy Sheet picking the wrong horse again.  Just like Friday’s picks.  Losers.

“Oh I had him, just didn’t play him,” I countered as the torn tickets I had thrown  into the air fluttered down onto the filled seats below us.  One partial ticket landed on an older lady’s oversized hat just right so I could relive the wrong horse’s number  I had picked.

“Anyone have that?” I asked.  No one down the entire two rows of seats we owned looked up.  “Okay, so what’s next?” I whispered to myself as I opened the bet sheet.

Races were run and done.  Vanished in time but not as fast as the magnetic strip on the ATM card I was using once my cash was depleted.

Race number 6 finished and the hat below me was getting covered in small half paper strips.  My phone was dead from all the TVG calls and I stared at my sheet seeing if one of the numbers would shine more than the others on the paper.  Maybe a winner?

Minutes later I noticed horses running on the track on the backside, no announcement and no bell for the start.  That’s how terrible the sound system or the announcer was this year.  Opposite of Churchill where it’s so loud that the system was blamed for spooking horses.  One reared, hit its head on the ground and died from the shock of loud speakers.

At the neglected Santa Anita, dubbed, The Great Race Place, you can’t hear anything over the speakers and you can’t see the video screen.  I thought they hired Charlie Brown’s teacher to call the races.

charlie-brown-teacher

 “Who won?” Pitboss asked.

No one in both rows knew.  Reno and Lady Reno just shrugged.  The crowd was all looking at each other.

Sir Riblet spouted, “I thought it was the two.”

“That would be good.  I might have just hit one.  Finally.”

I’m looking at the odds of the two horse and it’s gonna pay a few bucks but nothing huge.  I looked down at the littered floor under my lucky shoes and cursed through my clenched jaw at the smeared sticky filth.

Minutes later Pitboss sits down and says, “That’s a nice one.”

Somewhere in the crowd I hear a questioned callout, “Someone cashed?”

“Yeah.  Nine hundred, sixty eight bucks for a ten-center.”

Even the horses in the paddock for the next race perked their ears.  I turned my stiff neck toward his direction.  “You picked the two?”  He shook his head no.  “Then how’d you win?

“The teller picked the 2 horse accidentally.  I asked for a super box, ten-center on the one, the three, the six and the twelve.  She typed in the one, the two, the three, the six and the twelve and it came up twelve bucks.  So I questioned why it wasn’t two and a half bucks.  She offered to cancel it but I said to myself what’s another ten bucks on the floor right now?  I said no and I handed her the twelve bucks.  I cashed this baby at her window and she couldn’t believe it either.  I gave her twenty-five bucks as a tip.”

“Beer buyer!” I screamed aloud.

They must have been out of beer.

Finally horses for the Classic are about to enter the track.  My pockets are inside out like white elephant ears.  Some members were calling in loan favors.  Pitboss seemed happier than normal drinking his beer.  The WiseGuy Bet Sheet is all over Arrogate to win so I said to myself, ‘Don’t  go with the sheet this time and bet the farm on California Chrome.’

railbirds

As tradition has it, The 365 goes down to the rail for the Breeders’ Cup Classic Stakes to take a club picture and see the race close-up.  We each found a place on the rail before the onslaught of Railbirds comes down there.  Everyone wants a space on the rail as this is the biggest and best race in the country.  I noticed there was beer everywhere but not in my hand.

adjustednonraw_thumb_a3a

I squeezed in between Sir Pinkalot and Cauz.  I leaned forward to look down the rail to the finish line.  “Look how many Railbirds there are.  This place is packed.”

Joe answered after he took a gulp of the Beer Buyer’s sponsored beer, “Yep, crazy packed.”  I licked my dry lips and nodded.

I saw horses go by for the first time and it looked like Chrome had taken his favorite spot.  The opening song, ‘Win or Lose’,  in the classic horse racing movie, ‘Let It Ride’ grew louder in my head.  A special restroom scene came to mind.

Chrome is thundering around the turn in the lead and flying to the top of the stretch.  The massive sounds of horse hoofs racing at top speed made goose bumps prickle on my entire body.

“C’mon Chrome!” I yelled as loud as I could.

I looked up at the clouds then down at my lucky shoes.  I noticed a scuff in the soft suede on the top of both shoes as the thoroughbred  F-16s screamed by me.  I was pushed back from the rail as the sonic boom crushed into my chest.  ‘How was it I didn’t notice the scuff marks before?’  I blinked several times at them hoping the marks would fade.

I looked  up at the grainy video screen, “Uh oh.  That’s bad luck,” I said in my head.

When Chrome went by me in a flash, Arrogate was second and closing on the outside.  The finish line was only lengths away.  I heard screams of joy and anguish.  I knew then Chrome had been beaten.

arrogate

I collapsed onto the railing holding my last losing ticket in front of me.  This one would fall whole to the ground.

I nodded my head, “Well, at least Pitboss knocked them out.”

Johnny Carson was standing behind us with most of a Beer Buyers beer in his hair.  I was still empty-handed.

He said to the three of us, “Yeah, can you believe he didn’t cancel the bet when the teller typed in the wrong number?  I probably would have just because it was another ten bucks.”

Cauz turned halfway to him with one elbow on the railing, “Never ever, ever cancel a bet once it’s made.  No matter what.”

“Why would you not?  What if it was a lot of money?” Carson asked.

Sir Pinkalot released his hold on Princess Hazel’s hand and turned completely around and put the heel of his cowboy boot on the foot ledge John Wayne style.  I leaned slightly to listen hoping to hear Joe over Charlie Brown’s teacher’s voice calling the final finish results over the crappy speakers.

He took in a knowledgable breath, squinted his eyes in a threatening way and leered at Carson.

“Because, it’s the rule.”

The End

“The best part of life starts at the top of the stretch.”
The WiseGuy

Click here to read more stories of The WiseGuy

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