"Let's try to go do something worthwhile."
"Can't," I said. "I'm going to the horse races."
"Fair enough. Stop by an ATM and I'll get a hundred bucks."
"A hundred might not be enough."
"It's a tough card?"
"It's in California."
"I'm going to LA for the races."
" ... The simulcast joint here is closed?"
"No. I like going to different tracks to watch the races live."
"Why would anybody do that?"
"It's relaxing. Believe it or not, I win more at the live races. It's easier to focus. There aren't twenty races going off at once on TV screens."
"You're kidding, right?"
"No. See the new high-powered binoculars on top of the suitcase there."
"Didn't know they still made those."
"Great for grandstands. The glasses are so strong you can see the clock inside a good jockey's head."
"You're flying to LA? Renting a car? Checking into a hotel ... "
"More like a junior apartment with a kitchen ...
"To go to the horse races."
"Do that often?"
"I've sung beery songs with race-goers in York, England. Been handed a towel by what appeared to be a 100-year-old spa attendant in Hot Springs in Arkansas. Escorted an elderly man to his car at Las Alamitos after he hit a big late Double. Bought a $700 Amish quilt after the races in Pennsylvania. It was delivered a year later. Sat next to a fancy politician in Kentucky. He lost every race. Was tipped a hundred-dollar bill at Lone Star for talking a man off a loser. Going to a track as a destination is like going to Manhattan for a play and a hundred-dollar piece of fish. Only you can't break even on Broadway."
"In case you run out of money and don't make it back for a while, why exactly am I to tell people that you went to some faraway horse races?"
This is a version of a conversation I have all the time, leaving people incredulous as a result of my radical decisions to actually travel to live horse races.
It is the facility itself that helps to make for an appealing destination. Even refurbished race tracks, or those with big rooms full of slot machines going as casinos, have this air about them: characters welcome.
Out of town on business?
Like to see the pursuit of hope in action?
Need a smile?
Find a track.
Besides horse race tracks, about the only other place where characters are welcome is a rehab facility.
Write to Jay at firstname.lastname@example.org