Every horse player should break on through to the other side.
I once trained to be a horse race teller, thinking, as quite the youth, that this might be about the best second job imaginable.
It was, but not in the way a person might have expected.
The most vivid memory from this experience was when a man won around $500 and tipped me exactly $2 and said, when I said nothing, "What do you say?"
"Ouch," I replied.
I believe he was looking for: "Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you!"
He didn't particularly enjoy what I said and I don't blame him because the last thing you want at the races is a teller who might turn your luck with a dirty look. But a two-buck tip on a $500 win, please, it's almost demeaning, but not so much that you would refuse in protest to accept the money.
The hot shot tipping roughly three-fifths of a percent said something like: see when I tip you again.
I thought: see when you win again.
The unwritten race-track teller's motto is probably something like: The average bettor may be an idiot, but there's nothing we can do about it, and a person has to eat, drink and whatever else.
People do things at the betting window you wouldn't believe.
One is count change.
Another is chatter.
Another is place food and drink on the betting window counter.
Another is show cleavage.
Another is read the Racing Form.
Politely ask somebody at the front of a long line to catch up on as much of his reading as he can at his seat and he'll probably throw a fit. Running a betting window can be like manning the Complaint Department for the Street Department. Complaints will be steady. A person might throw a fit at the betting window if you're right and he's wrong. People who are supposed to be home but are on the wrong side of bets instead can't throw fits at horses. Tellers are like bartenders. They hear it all. Right before the barroom brawl breaks out.
During my brief stint as a teller, I almost got into several fights while doing the job according to rule book.
You print tickets and don't hand them over until you're paid. Otherwise you might find yourself having given tickets to somebody running off through the crowd. Tickets used illegally are easily traceable now, but who needs the trouble.
"You think I'm going to cheat you?" a man said as I held his tickets until he came up with the money.
I explained that I had to make up any shortfall in the cash box. He interpreted this as an affront aimed at him and his family and went looking to file a complaint.
What's the most consistent occurrence at the betting windows based on my time on the other side?
A friend of mine teaches first grade. She says that at the end of the first few days of class, she can tell by moods and carriage and personalities, which students have the best chance of maintaining happiness, and those who will have to work at happiness as though it were a tough math class. Seeing children in a rut at age six or seven, talking about earning a paycheck: raises for all first-grade teachers!
Most looks are not deceiving.
Working around a horse race track can't cause you to pick winners. Just look at what's parked in the employee lot. But being on the other side at the races can teach you one valuable lesson, how to spot losers.
Write to jay at firstname.lastname@example.org