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

And in years since, I have visited repeatedly and have gotten to know Yonkers Raceway well. I will describe the place in detail because - - ah, but this is a savvy readership, none of this contrivance (from someone who calls you reader) oftopicality or attempts to fit Yorkers Raceway into a current trend that includes cyberspace, militias and Rent.

I don't need a marketing hook this late in the game, do I? You'll read about Yonkers Raceway just for the mere hell of it as you should.  More specifically: 1) you can take the IRT ( Woodlawn, catch the 20 bus and it will let you off right in front of the raceway. And 2) let's not kid ourselves;  there's an anti hip, dead-end Clerks-like banality (Woodlawn! Yonkers!) about this 97-year-old quasi-urban, low-rent shithole of a track that somehow makes it worthy of our interest


" Yonkers Raceway is one place where people can come to enjoy themselves and spend fun-filled days, afternoons and evenings."  - - Yonkers Raceway General Manager Robert Galterio in a letter to the local Reporter Dispatch newspaper, citing the "economical and psychological support" that the track provides to the city of Yonkers.

Galterio lies.

You can smell the horse manure as you walk the road behind the back gate. And it adds just the right spice to the stew of baseball hats, fedoras, Cagney caps, Eldorados, Caddies, Schlitz, cigarettes, exhortations and expletives in Spanish and Jamaican patois.  Black working class still in their work clothes; white lower-class wagering relief checks; old men handicapping with their gesturing, punctuating cigars and expressions of inappropriate viciousness toward slow horses and incompetent jocks.  Wads of money being anxiously counted; nervous bitchy screams to hurry up on the betting lines; faux young-adult wiseguys who actually spend their time grouping around IROCs in department-store parking lots rather than soliciting whack contracts in southwest Brooklyn arguing about who owes who money.

ON ANY WEEKDAY AFTERNOON FROM 1 TO 5 P.M. there are approximately 1300 to 1500 people betting on televised simulcast races, the majority of them over age 60 and male. The men start coming at around 11 for a 1 o'clock post time. They sit separately with their coffees, Table Talk pies and programs, just like arriving for work those last 30 years

At 12 o'clock the hundreds of televisions in the building show the American flag in full screen, in various pull-backs and close-ups, the National Anthem at high volume. The old men all over the building stand, remove hats, bow heads, put hands over hearts and affect solemnity. The few young men fidget around, seem distracted and leave their baseball caps on.

The men who arrive first buy the Daily News only for its racing section and rip pages from it, placing the sheets on the two or three adjoining seats to their right and left. This is done in some cases to reserve the seats for soon to be arriving buddies; mostly, though, it is indicative of nothing more than the pervasive greed that fills the place.


The old men know each other by name or face; they come every day or at least regularly, with magnifying glasses and filled plastic grocery bags.  There is much joshing and handshaking and asking after fellas who haven't arrived. Mostly they bet combinations for $2 or $3 and take both the handicapping and the race very seriously (standing up clutching those plastic bags, trembling fists, eyes open wide and desperate, hoarse or shrill begs at the screen). When they leave early they --ritualistically, wordlessly - - hand their program to an entering bettor who wordlessly accepts it

They have their language ("I threw the two out..take him down ... state bred seven furlong $10,000 dollar claimer with mud caulks ... prepare to tear ... that three is a monster ... take the hole''); they have their social circle ("Yeah, Charlie was in the hospital, we didn't see him for a couple of days"), their jokes ("You know why he only bets a dollar? Because he can't bet 50 cents,"  as they hit each other's plaid). There is constant talk concerning the various prices of and errors in racing forms and about the inadequacies of contemporary fast-food specials (not enough meat, cheaper at different franchises).

They are here for the fellowship as much as for the activity, because handicapping more closely approximates the components of employment than sitting in the park, and because watching the days' races on television in a crowded stadium  with a personal stake in the outcome is less alienating, less lonely, less sedentary, than watching the soaps, the game shows, the calendar, the walls.

At night, however, the demographics change.  At night the fedoras and Cagney caps are replaced by the young and middle-aged's Giants and CAT baseball hats and
the windbreakers of Knights of Columbus, NHL, NFL, Local Union #s, Softball Champs, etc.
And yes, at Yonkers Raceway there are still remnants of the past and, as is often reported, the track is filled with a collection of colorful characters: caricatures of the well-dressed; fellas on the fringes; the fast talkers, the smooth sharpies, the men of Harry Hopes', the man's man, Ring Lardner characters, the Life of Riley boys (fat and talking cynically with a mouth full of fries, as a skinny, constantly commenting sidekick who is
always tapped out sits with a program speculating authoritatively and often in hindsight).


But before we go Damon Runyon by way of a Knight Ridder, Gannett, NewTimes, Jennifer 8 Lee feature article (hell with you all) consider:  the white lower-middle-class blaming welfare and a number of ethnicities for their money problems;  quick with a "nigger" and then a look around or a "Jap" and no look around, culling their politics from Howard.  Forty-year-old glam rock Manilows with long, dyed, silvergray hair, Chams DeBaron sleeveless shirts and cowboy boots; the businessmen money-slumming; regional salesmen (mustaches, firm handshakes, "you got it" valedictions), proudly wearing Members Only jackets and believing it.  Ma in stretch pants who sits in the same seat all night reading a TV Guide, with Danielle Steele as backup, as Pa handicaps; the big night out.


OCCASIONALLY GROWN MEN, SEEMING IN DRESS TO BE REGULAR SORTS who know how to drop a working hard or hardly working?, will crouch down to sort through a swept-up pile of mutuel tickets looking for an accidentally discarded winner.

This is a multicultural, multigenerational, monoeconomic crowd of mostly men and a small amount of couples whose children run around collecting the discarded mutuel tickets as entertainment.  Here also are the people who show up every day not to bet but
because they have nothing else they want to do. The bullshitters
providing information and analysis (invariably incorrect) with that so common tremendous authority about everything, projectively mocking one another for being losers, laughing about who never showers and who lives in a welfare motel, playing the dozens with
more venom than humor.

There are the men coming to Yonkers every night, every day, talking in endless, useless, cynical monotony: about Atlantic City and the stupid women hitting on 17s in the anchor chair; the playoffs (and how much money they lost); last week's race (and how they played the 4-7,and how they threw out the 2 at the last minute and
how much money they would've made); who's got it made now, whose way of gambling is self-destructive, who's working now, whose wife won't let him come to the track.

The phrase “colorful characters” is a euphemism not really appropriate for men so intimate with despair and bitterness, as even the breezy featurist would concede, were he to encounter a "colorful character" outside the parameters of the zippy paragraph. 

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