(Bloggers note: OK, sorry, real life and job change intruded on the aftermath of this episode, finally getting to this in late September, which makes me the slowest blogger in existence, I know. Furthermore, I have not finished it yet but the stories I have of a four-day stretch smack in the middle of this past August– while not exactly Joycean, are perhaps at least Perrasian in their view of Saratoga…Tales like these show why you don’t have to go anywhere else when summer is in session… and I am recalling it now, a mere month and a half later, as chill and dark of autumn descends… stay tuned, and keep scrolling down…)
In Paris, France, I understand, the majority of urban dwellers and workers take the month of August off and retreat to the countryside for a refreshing bucolic sabbatical. In Saratoga Springs, the opposite occurs– those of us who reside in the hinterlands tend to congregate back in the core of town more than normal, and feel the gravitational pull of Saratoga’s downtown charms while the tourist population is at peak density. It is a busy little city till all hours of the night, almost Every night.
So it was in the exact middle of this month…just last week as I start this. While I am assuredly Not in a position to take a 30-day vacation (nor is anyone I know!), it is fun to live and work in a town where you can switch back and forth to business and recreation at the “drop of a hat”– or by putting on a different hat altogether…
It began with an invite to the Saratoga Racetrack on Wednesday the 14th. Some people I know at Homestead Funding, a mortgage broker of some note in the Capital District, had convinced me to join them for lunch and drinks and friendly wagering at the most famous place to do so in this Upstate land… The Crown Jewel of NYRA’s Horse Racing Empire. Let me state here that I am not a “Habitu-ay” of the place– I work too hard for my money to donate regularly to the coffers of NYRA. Fortunately, I guess, I have not ever won enough large enough sums of money there to lapse into believing that I could beat the odds and have the Track contribute CASH BACK to me.
But I had not been there in a couple years and it was time to revisit. Some things were consistent: a small acoustic quartet played in the open walkway just inside the gate: Reggie’s Red Hot Feetwarmers, I believe: the venerable Saratoga icon Peter Davis playing guitar with an upright bass, fiddle, and banjo alongside. They have played music in this setting as long as I’ve lived here and I was glad they were stuill doing so.
Massively remodeled in recent years, I was a bit dazzled by the Track’s changes from what I recalled as I made my way to the Clubhouse upstairs, trying to find “The Carousel.” So-named for its circular shape and flow, there were tables ringed around the outside and a grand buffet positioned around the core, and the Luncheon provided was terrific. I wore a light summer jacket, thinking it would be required, but the dress was more casual than in the olde days, even up here, away from the hoi polloi, invitation only. On a gorgeous 75 degree day with blue sky and puffy cotton clouds, I quickly dispensed with that jacket.
Before connecting with my cordial hosts I took a ringside seat overlooking the Paddock to see the slow parade of horses for the first race, more for the aesthetics and the ritual than any betting prowess on my part. I bet a $2 double ticket on my son’s hoop uniform number, 44, or tried to, as one of the “4’s” had scratched. O well, I went 4-3 instead and the first “4” lost anyway. I ate an extra piece of tilapia with olives plus another braised chicken breast to make up for it, had my protein fix for the afternoon. I made up for the entry fee right there. Felt better and had one beer when offered by the Homestead contingent, that was it for the afternoon.
A guy named Rob Beaulieu, who will end up in this blog at the final moment of this recounting, was there with my friends (and former clients, way back when!) Vince and Annie O’Neill, and their recent college grad daughter, Jeannie. Vince is a vice-president at Homestead Funding, a key player in the predicting-of and reacting- to…the markets at large. His lovely wife is a friendly-rival Realtor locally with Prudential Manor Homes, whom I worked for 20-some years ago when they bought their first in-town home through me, on Jumel Place. A little-known builder named Sonny Bonacio had remodeled an older home on Jumel Place, and they bought it… to kind of help the young dude’s career get going a bit. (That worked.) I think their curly-hair’d girl was about 2 years old at that point, and seemed to figure out to know what was going on with the purchase of the new/old home. Now she was working with her dad’s company in the home-loan business, and inviting ME out to lunch. I was flattered, grizzled vet of the real estate business that I am.
I know this sounds like social-scene gossip at this point, but too bad– this is my only shot at that kind of reporting, for the 2013 Season, anyway. Had name-drop a little, that is part of the Saratoga tradition, and thatz part of what blogs are for.
Rob and I compared tales of woe and wonder, good times and bad we’d each had in our parallel, respective professions. I won’t go into that here but it is the stuff of t
Then I got the kind of call that you get no matter where you are when you think you can take some time off as a Realtor. Emergency situation with V.A. buyers, due to close the very next day and some unexpected costs came up. Buyer agent has to calm them down, understand the situation, and come up with a solution if any is possible. Some agents like to dump it off on the attorneys– “let them deal with it!”– but I just can’t do that, as I know they already deal with way more than they‘re paid for in these real estate cases. Paralegals, in fact, are the unacknowledged saints of this business– getting the nuts and bolts ironed out (mixing metaphors madly) and often acting as cartilage between the abrasive bones in many a contentious transaction.
Distracted and exasperated for a bit, I coulda been irked at the interruption but what did I expect on Wednesday afternoon? Not everyone is at the track. It’s a setting as nice as any to call an office, however, now that cell phones are in vogue. We are never really “out-of-the-office” as people used to be able to say. Some day I will have others to cover these kinds of calls, but for now I still manage them all myself.
Once the pre-closing math issue is settled, I quickly return to the cameo role of race fan. My cell call peregrinations had carried me past the circle of friends and lenders I’d started with, and I had gravitated to the legendary grandstand. I saw some neighbors and other Realtors and a politician or two and a guy who used to coach my son in AAU hoop (shout out to Joe Leone) who probably coulda & woulda given me some tips if I’d stopped him as he walked by in his droopy summer shorts and Converse sneakers, the dude knows what he’s doing there, while I am but a visitor, with a wad of bills, on his part…to prove it, famously tucked away…somewhere. But I was in line at the no-minimum betting window, and thought I’d rather see if my own intuition was working rather than casting for inside info, or tasty backstretch rumors, even if from Joe. His black cons disappeared in the throng.
My idea of a big gamble is a $6 exacta box (three horses, buck a bet) and I’ve got to admit it made the race exciting having my numbers and chosen silks near the lead the whole way. I’d strolled nonchalantly down the grand stairway right near the finish line and was surprised to find that –on a Wednesday at least–the formally-dressed fans were greatly outnumbered by the casual. Groups of guys from Long Island in Bermuda shorts and dockers, spread over a couple of rows near the rail, clearly well-lubricated by mid-afternoon, dispensed quips and barbs with each other like it was part of the sport, which it is. There were also a few groups of jocular women comparing notes on the names of the horses they either won or lost with so far. There was plenty of room in the prime seating on a Wednesday afternoon, I found, and I found myself with a phenomenal view of the video monitors and tote boards on the grand infield, back-dropped by the pond and the glamorous landscape that has survived and evolved for 150 years now. The pure beauty of Saratoga Racetrack struck me that day more than any previous visit, which all had been more crowded days than this one.
It helped my spirits and my psyche more than my wallet when I won a symbolic $17.20 for my intuitive efforts, with the 2-3 combo coming in, as I recall. Then I went big, having broken even already, and went for a trifecta box on the next race, and that one was a gorgeous adrenalin rush too. All through the backstretch I saw the three numbers I’d picked changing on the order board…out of nine horses running.
I felt, briefly, like it was my day and I was going to walk out a winner. It had never happened before so figured I was overdue. I think it was 1-3-9 I was banking on and next thing you know the 6 horse– a favorite I had blithely ignored– worked his way into the mix. I tried to jostle the 6 out of the top triumverate to no avail, and he crashed my party. I figured with one and a half longshots in the mix I woulda been good for $1700. or so if that 6 had tripped up, but such is the nature of the track experience.
After two full races on my own I sauntered back to the friendly financial group to see if any of them had won anything significant in my absence. Sumptuous desserts were being sampled, and they were better than vicarious betting thrills– cheese cakes and triple chocolate tarts, way more calories than a man should ask for on a midweek afternoon, but what the hell it goes with a day at the track, like free drinks do at Vegas.
When I bid my colleagues adios, and soaked in all the track ambiance on the way out to the Union Avenue front gate exit, I knew I’d had just enough but not too much of a racetrack sample.
(To be continued…)