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"Immortality has been realized once the roar of the crowd has been united."

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Capture The Turnstile Gang

Sunrise. This one eases ever so gently out of bed. She turns back the down comforter and stretches her naked arms in the air to praise the glory of morning. Her gratitude does not end there. Recently painted toenails are guided into a pair of sheepskin slippers, and as she stands, the smell of freshly ground coffee begins to overwhelm her senses. She fashions her auburn hair in a schoolgirl’s ponytail as she saunters off towards the kitchen. An avocado omelet and the Daily Racing Form are awaiting her arrival.

This one is fast at work, desperately gathering up loose change from the four corners of his apartment. He tears back the couch cushions, and then proceeds to ransack the pockets of his previously worn trousers. The coins are deposited in a small plastic bag, yet they do not slide easily from the clutches of his clammy palms. He amasses just enough for bus fare, the entrance fee, and three six-dollar plays that have been mapped out with cautious optimism. It is almost time to leave, but before he can do so, a decision must be reached as to whether or not a shower or shave will be worth the added effort.  

This one refuses to depart without his lucky pen, and that one places an old Irish florin at the bottom of her aging purse. This one will not go without her multi-colored paper clips, and that one never forgets to slip three rubber bands over his right hand and onto his wrist.

1957 Ford Thunderbird
Daylight. A 1957 Ford Thunderbird is rolling down the boulevard. This one is married to a man that specializes in classic car restoration. Her delicate fingers fumble through a gaudy Coach Handbag as she searches for her instrument of choice. A small cylindrical gadget is then pulled from the bag and the rubbing of red gloss along her puckered lips commences. The rear view mirror has been positioned to reflect a lone image. She pushes the Maui Jim sunglasses up past her hairline, while smiling pretentiously into the glass. The Thunderbird is virtually driving itself as the reflection she admires is set to turn heads in the clubhouse. 

This one parks his powder blue Oldsmobile just inside the gates which separate the dead from the living. It is his last stop on the way to the track each and every Saturday morning. Typically, he brings sunflowers, but today a bouquet of white lilies is placed atop the grave he dreams of in his sleep. The headstone bears his last name and the year of birth inscribed is strikingly close to his own. A cardigan sweater clings to his arched back as he bends down to lovingly dust cobwebs off of the marble. He lets out a calculated sigh, wipes Saturday’s tear from his wistful eye and whispers, “Bring me a winner today, Pumpkin.”

In The New Colossus, Emma Lazarus once wrote, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Some believe the inspiration for these timeless words came from Lady Liberty herself, but to the horse player, these words imply something altogether different. Here they are, the huddled masses, converging in droves and making a mad dash for the entrance as first post draws near. They are spirited and filled with hope, a merry band of eccentrics fixated on success and yearning to breathe. This is the Turnstile Gang.

This one invests in Jimmy Jack's Jive Picks in the parking lot, and that one tucks a copy of the Daily Racing Form under his left arm. This one relies solely on her Nokia smart phone, and that one swears a program is all he needs to get the job done. Others require fewer visual aids. These are the souls who have already studied the card long into the wee hours of yesterday morning. Their plays have been painstakingly designed, and on occasion, a crumpled sheet of yellow paper is all that stands between them and a better way of life.

The Turnstile Gang Settles Into Place (Photo Courtesy of Eric Dives)
Families are here to enjoy a day in the sun together. Journalists are here to chronicle the efforts of the horses and trainers, owners and jockeys. The Fashionistas are here to make an impression, and the Grunts are here to grind out good fortune. The beauty of the track is that no individual is any more or less important than the next.

This one has budgeted ninety dollars for the day. Ten of these dollars went for parking, fifteen will be reserved for lunch, and twenty will be hidden in the secret compartment of his wallet, just in case of an emergency. That one carries no cash. She is here in admiration of the horses. This one flashes a Diners Club Gold Card near the automated teller machine, and that one pulls a chunky roll of bills from his sock each time he is in need of money.

Bets are made and wagers placed, some with deep thought, but others in haste. This one stashes the voucher back in her bra between races, and that one frequents the window of the teller who remembers more than simply faces. This one bets the jockeys, and that one bets the number nine. This one bets the trainer, and that one bets the horse that dropped their lunch not far behind.

The track offers uncensored exposure to a wide array of sights, sounds, and peculiar smells. This one is scraping Wrigley’s spearmint off the soles of his Nike Air Max sneakers, and that one is recounting her days in junior high band as she soaks in the majesty of the bugle call. This one is up to his elbows in an order of chili cheese fries, and that one has undoubtedly robbed local retailers of their annual supply of Chanel No. 5.

In Anticipation of the 77th Santa Anita Handicap (Photo Courtesy of Eric Dives)

The Turnstile Gang congregates in flocks. This one is part of the Baseball Cap Constituency. He is red in the face, laughing, and has been drinking the afternoon away sixteen splendid ounces at a time. The Preppies migrate to places inhabited by Silver Hairs and Hippies, while the Grunts do their best work alone or in small packs. This one sips pink lemonade through a straw and associates exclusively with fellow Lemonade Sippers and Fashionistas. That one speaks Mandarin and plenty speak Spanish. This one talks to a hearing impaired child with her hands, and God only knows what language that one is trying to speak.  
The races themselves bring out the best and worst humanity has to offer. This one prays to St. Christopher before each race, convinced that the patron saint of travelers will insure a safe trip for both the jockeys and the horses. That one paces incessantly during the post parade, while calling out to the track’s leading rider in hopes he might sit slightly off the speed. This one offers a high five to anyone within an arm’s length away, and that one seems to forget there are words in the English language containing more than four letters. This one screams until his cheeks have turned a shade of purplish-blue, and that one likes to toss her Stetson high in the air anytime her horse finishes in the top two. Let us also make mention of the Braggarts and Dancers, Program Slappers and Whippersnappers.

Celebrations break out among certain flocks, while tantrums are thrown and excuses become rampant in others. This is the way of things as the racing card lumbers along.

The Turnstile Gang springs into action for the last time as twilight closes in. This one cashes out at the window and makes a beeline for the ladies’ room. Once inside, she enters a stall and locks the door behind her. She tallies up the winnings in private, a firm believer that flaunting her luck in public will make for bad karma. That one begins the long, arduous walk over the hot asphalt and back to his car. A lump he has never felt before settles in like a potato at the back of his throat. He cannot breathe. He has barely come to terms with the fact that dinner this week will now consist of little more than Saltine Crackers in a watered-down chicken broth.  

Nightfall. This one puts her head upon the pillow and sleeps, dreaming of the day she will next venture off to visit the palace of infinite possibilities. That one curls his battered body into the fetal position on the kitchen floor. He vows never to return again to the scene of his financial undoing. This one is something like you. That one is something like me.

This one.

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The author is a horse racing enthusiast determined to offer a unique vision of the sport's most paramount stories.