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Down and out at Yonkers Raceway and everywhere else there's Joker Poker (Jacks or Better) and an ATM


The classier sorts (pay 2 more dollars) sit in the new Empire Terrace with
its unenforced dress code (shirts w/ collars), the track's attempt to
refurbish the raceway image away from sleaze. The Empire Terrace
is a wrought-iron gated-off area broken up into a collection of
mini-living rooms. Each living room consists of a wood paneled,
wide-screen color television surrounded by
anachronistically absurd attempts at a British drawing room,
replete with pleather red armchairs and couches. There are
chandeliers, potted plants and a coat check.

The racetrack is also a place that attracts disproportionate numbers of the
disabled. Yonkers has about 25 or so handicapped parking spaces and
all are usually filled. There are wheelchairs, walkers, canes, midgets,
the limping, the hobbling, the geriatric, the poor and the very fat.
The track bar does a brisk business on a weekday afternoon and
there is as much smoking here as at an AA meeting or a state institution.

The track is a male dominated arena. It’s common to see women
sitting in the same spot, immobile, the entire night They sit doing
nothing, occasionally managing a tired look around, but most often
with their heads resting on upturned palms while their husbands or
boyfriends bet and their children run in circles around them. One
very pretty woman in her early 30s is always in high fashion - - makeup,
hair done, nice outfits - - as she sits on a bench in the same
spot each night from post time at 8 PM until the end of the 11th race
at around 11:30,while her husband, estranged by the game, studies
the program and places bets. Some of the women sip alcohol and
smile dutifully at high points in the gambling anecdote their husband
is telling a fellow player. Night after night

Above the patrons' heads, televisions are mounted on pillars and
the horses again make their rounds, watched originally, then
postmortem, by little crowds of the celebrating and the frustrated.
Those people unable to place their bets root even more enthusiastically
for their would-be horse to lose than if they had placed the bet
and were cheering for him to win, so torturous would be the regret
(Ironically, the word "sick" is often used by gamblers who have
missed these golden opportunities, as in “I’m sick, I’m just sick about
it").  About half the people there will watch the race on television
inside while the race is going on right outside.

 

The Yonkers crowd is filled with people who study diligently the
facts and figures of the horse literature. These people typically have
the official track program as well as two or three secondary and even
tertiary texts (newspaper analyses, daily horse racing papers, tip
sheets). Handicapping has become complicated sport these days,
involving computer analyses of a horse's win percentages, post
position, finishes, drivers' and trainers' win percentages and the
hundreds of other variables listed in the micro-point fraction- and
figure-packed Harness Line. In addition, there are a variety of what are
called exotic bets - -  these include triples, triple box, triple wheel
triple key, partial wheels, double exacta, exacta box, Pick 3 or 4 or 6
or 7, daily doubles, quinellas and the familiar win, place or show- .
each with its own odds and betting pool and possible payoff depending
on myriad combinations.

Often you'll see a player after a race is complete, settling down with
his coffee and cigarette, pen and paperwork, some with clipboards,
some with ca1cu1ators-a relaxed, engaged look upon his face. In
few otherp1aces can you see so many so engaged in literature. The
past-performance guide probably has a stronger claim to being
today's demotic literature (as well as an uncredited precursor of
interactive literature) than Clancy, Sheldon, Michener, the aforementioned
Steele, et al.

 

Across from the betting windows are concession stands and bars where
those who bet with hourly paychecks eat overpriced food. A man named John
runs one of them. He knows a good deal of the raceway crowd by first name
and he offers a steady dull patter of sympathy, underpinned by unrevealed
disgust.  He has worked at the raceway for 28 years. John doesn't bet and says
it’s because he sees these  “degenerates… night after night on the balls of
their ass. ..and they always lose."

He points to someone. "See that guy over there? He never does
nothing nice for himself, never buys himself a pair of pants, shoes,
nothing." His whole life is the track.

And they come up to him one after the other, this parade of
the self-inflicted.  Patty, who looks to be in her 50s, hobbles
over to order two coffees.

John asks her sympathetically (surprisingly fake) how she's doing:
almost almost almost, she begins to explain, "we would've had it if…"

He doesn't listen (nobody here does), interrupts her narrative, tells her
that the night is still young and pretends at understanding.

They are all complaining, bitching, accusing.

John counsels (again, all fake):  “Would you like a nice hotdog, they're a little spicy but they're good - - here, how ‘bout some nice water, you want a little ice with that ..save your money, put it in the bank.”

One after another they come to him with their laments and
losses and he offers hot chocolates and beers and kind words for
them and they tip him and say thank you and go back out there
to get hurt some more. When pressed for an analysis John concludes
that they enjoy what they're doing.

"I gotta’ stop coming here," one old man says, mostly to himself,
as he opens a creamer and it spills all over him. He blames this on the
same fate that has him down however many dollars.

"I gotta’ find a new hobby ...you can't win here," says a young man
to his companion, who is not listening.

 

One man on winning: "At least I beat that Case [a very winning driver --
now locked up in prison for many things], that’s all I wanted to do, that’s
all I wanted. After what that son of a bitch did to me in the fifth..."

Still, the ugliness inadvertently spawns the beautiful (or at least the
kinda’ nice). Where else do groups of young and old socialize on
cement steps? Where else do Rastas and rosy-cheeked white men
(in those lying Members Only jackets) exchange laughter, advice,
agreement; in what other place(casinos excepted) do homegirls
and groups of white suburban boys bond under the television in their
joint appraisal of corrupt drivers; where else do young black men
in street gear pat the backs and grab the hands of old, white,
retired union men and vice versa, as they both excitedly go to collect
a payoff on a boxed triple?

They smoke a little weed under the grandstand, gleefully buy one
another hotdogs, hug (when they win). Nothing else is going to
make some of these men as happy as they get when they pick a
winning horse, having and sharing their little cash orgasms every
fourth or fifth race. Nothing else could please them more than to win
money without earning it (Fuck you Ben Franklin/Mommy /Daddy /
immediate supervisor/ grades K-12).

But mostly these poor bastards lose. And that very weekend in Atlantic
City, you'll see these very same boys in the alcoves where the credit
card and automatic teller machines are, trying card after card to find
one not yet tapped out, offering to their buddy, who is invariably not
listening, that little lying piece of American Dream verbal refuse that
they cling to like a winning pari-mutuel ticket:  "What the heck, it’s a
day out, I had fun."