At the Track

Sure, the news today had stories about the fact that we now seem to be at war. There was also mention of the fact the Fred Phelps made his semi-annual visit to San Francisco on Friday (he’s done wonders for queers ever since we put him on the payroll as official spokesidiot for bigotry).

But today’s completely unnewsworthy story on horse racing at Golden Gate Fields was the one which caught my eye. You see, I grew up going to the horse races and I know what a wondrous thing it is.

About twice a year, my mom and dad and I (sometimes with my grandmother) would pack up the car bound for a little town called Charles Town, West Virginia and go to the races.

The trip was pretty similar each time. The first day, we’d drive up, check into our motel, hit that night’s races, and have a late snack at the diner downtown. On the second day, we’d drive to wherever there were races in the suburbs of Washington or Baltimore. My dad would watch the horses and my mom and I often hit a mall or whatever. Back to Charles Town that night for a repeat. On the third and final day, we’d either go to Washington (for culture) or one of the big theme parks in Virginia (for fun) and then home.

These were great trips. They weren’t really about gambling (although I did learn how to pick a winner). For me, and I suspect somewhat for my mom and dad as well, they were largely about people-watching. Some of the strangest characters in the world lurk about eastern race tracks: big fat drunk guys in plaid sportcoats, scary kids who looked like modern adaptations of Dickensian orphans, bored and damaged-looking mothers…

The food was great too: no frills pizza and hot dogs and hamburgers. There was lots of beer, too, but my mom and dad didn’t drink. The whole atmosphere was so incredibly seedy. I loved it. It prepared me for the pockmarked urban landscapes I love to this day. It was all about the working class (or maybe not even as well-to-do as that…)

Somehow, I can’t imagine that any track in the increasingly trendy and sanitized Bay Area could match up to Charles Town or Laurel or Timonium. No doubt, the uptight soccer moms of Marin County would be horrified at the idea of a child visiting such a place. It’s just too real for our sophisticated palates. I envision lattes and biscotti and sandwiches on focaccia.

But maybe I’m wrong. Anybody wanna check it out with me? Casino gambling bores me. Dog racing horrifies me. But I could be in the mood to hang out with the horses this week.