Paving the road to nowhere, one word at a time.

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Location: Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico

American born, living in Mexico since 1992.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Of Time And Potato Chips

Time makes more converts than reason.

- Thomas Paine

* * * *

I waded through the week like it was some sort of a bog, some swampy stretch of road from there to here. Joshua hadn’t called me, maybe that was a part of it. Usually at work, time slips quickly by, frighteningly fast even, like pulling a potato chip out of a bag that is suddenly now empty, where did all of the chips go? Friday, then, was a jumbo-sized bag of chips so far as time was concerned. There was plenty of it. I finished everything and left a bit early.

I was in the Dandy Del Sur with a Tecate in hand at five o’clock, a very rare occurrence.

At seven, I left the Dandy Del Sur and wandered down Calle Sexta to El Fuente, expecting to take in the Padres game. Charlie was already there, his portable radio pressed to his ear, and the bar was crowded. The Padres game was not on the television, there was some novela, some Mexican soap opera, and Chela refused to change the channel. I wasn’t angry, at least not outwardly so, but the prospect of watching some soap opera while a ball game was on – in a bar no less, would have had my stomach churning had I stayed to have a beer with Charlie (who is too blind to see the television, thus, the radio pressed to his ear).

So I got out of there.

I walked north and then around the block to the race and sports book, figuring that the game would be on one of the thirty monitors there. It was a slow evening at the book, except for the sports section, filled with loudness and yelling at the screens and so on. All sorts of games were on; every monitor seemed to have a different game on it, except for the Padres game. Except for the one event that I wanted to watch.

I guess that nobody had a bet down on it, either way.

I ordered a beer and thought about going down to the book on Calle Cuarta, but I was tired. I went to the area where the horses and the dogs were running, sat down, grabbed a leftover Racing Form for Los Alamitos, first post was about seventeen minutes away. I still wasn’t angry, but I sure was puzzled as to what it would take to watch the Padres, short of a long walk, or actually travelling to Petco Park, about an hour away from where I was.

I had been away from the horses for a long time. Years ago, I would spend every other Saturday and some Sundays at that race book, not to mention the occasional bet during the weekdays. And there I sat, wondering what in the hell I was doing there, looking up at the screen, at the first race at Los Alamitos.

Thirteen minutes to first post.

* * * *

My mind drifted back to a time, so many years ago, when I would show up at Los Alamitos on a Friday night, cashed paycheck in pocket, gazing out over the track. The shadows were friendly, the warm air was thinning out the smog-filled skies, clearing a way for the weekend. In those days, before off-track betting, the potato-chip bag of time seemed to always be full, no matter how much I ate. It always seemed like forever until first post.

The first time that I went to Los Alamitos it was with Big John, who taught me about handicapping and how to read the Racing Form. He was my first mentor, I don’t know whatever happened to him. He taught me about speed ratings and workouts and told me stories about track tips and so on. He would tell me about his adventures to Caliente racetrack, right down the road from me, back when the horses ran there. I never imagined myself here in Baja back in those days, Mexico might have well as been the moon so far as I was concerned. For a few months, we would meet on the lower level where for three-and-a-half-dollars you could get a nice buffet, and he would tell me about all of these fantastic stories. Soon after, I showed up even when he didn’t, and then I never heard from him again.

Life is like that sometimes.

Back then, time only seemed to speed up right before post time. For whatever reason, when I had my eye on a possible overlay – a horse that the betting public was willing to not bet at odds far above his morning line, time seemed to fly by. Each time I would rattle the bag, there seemed to be less chips, they were disappearing logarithmically. Many times, I am sure, I was live at the track watching the tote board, seeing the same thing that I was looking at now, only through the magic of a monitor in Tijuana Mexico:

Ten Minutes to first post.

* * * *

The Joshua Experiment has failed – at least the first part of it, and I have no idea if there will be a part two. Beyond the big metal fence, he is somewhere out there, and I wish him much luck, he is going to need a lot of luck. He could be in Florida now, since he told me he needed to be in Florida, or else he could be back near Oceanside. Or else, he could be anywhere. Joshua could be anywhere but here.

I am not surprised, just sad. I knew that this was a possibility all along.

Joshua left one week ago on Friday with a few hundred dollars in his pocket, clothes packed up into two small packs, with a belly full of hamburger and fries. Rick and me took Joshua with us to the bank, took him with us to our biweekly long lunch, and dropped him off at a trolley station. Wherever he was off to, he had plenty of daylight to work with. Rick and me went back to work and I have been mostly silent about it since then.

He told me that he loved me, and I believe him, and he knows that I love him too. But he won’t listen to any of my advice, and I refuse to be lied to. So it goes. We made no promises to each other, so there is no contract to fulfill. Our time here together was mostly great, and I hope that he leaves here having learned more than just a few Spanish words of questionable origin. And I hope that he returns someday with a desire to become responsible to himself.

I hope for that more than I hope for anything.

Someday, sooner that he thinks, Joshua will be looking at time a bit differently than he is right now. The transition will become apparent in a scary way, like looking up at life’s tote board and realizing that there is a finite amount of time in order to get your bet in.

Like in the race book on Friday, when there was only eight minutes until first post.

* * * *

Through all of the cloudiness in my head, I had my eye on a horse in the first race at Los Alamitos. His morning line was a little more than four to one, but I recognized his sire, a fast horse who has thrown fast progeny, and here we were in a maiden race and a horse bred to show speed is dismissed at eight to one. At least, with seven minutes to post, not too many people liked him very much. I liked him a lot, and now he was a nice overlay.

Quarter horse racing is easy to handicap. It is all about speed. There is no rating, no tactical speed, no closing. The idea is to get out of the gate clean and run hell-bent for the finish line. Not a single horseracing venue offers such a simple and straightforward strategy for winning, for handicapping, and for betting. Therefore, it is always a surprise when an overlay presents itself in quarter horse racing.

With five minutes to first post, my overlay was at eleven to one.

I got up, I couldn’t not get up, it was almost an involuntary reaction like when your baby cries and you have to go see what’s the matter. What was the matter with the betting public? The two horses that they had thrown all of their money on were nice horses, but at little more than even money, why bother betting them? If I got up, in a sense, it was because the betting public was a crying baby that needed its diaper changed. After all, my bills were paid, I had extra money in my pocket, and someone was going to cash in a little bit of owed karma. I bet twenty dollars to win and place, and boxed my overlay with three other horses inside of a tidy trifecta. I spent sixty-four karmic dollars with two minutes until first post.

The race was anticlimactic, the overlay, who wound up going off at fifteen to one, led wire to wire and won by a half-length. One half of a length in quarter horse racing is like four or five lengths for the thoroughbreds, and in fact the order of finish was exactly the same as the order that they got out of the gate.

Sometime, life is that easy.

The trifecta only returned one hundred and thirty eight dollars, which is mighty disappointing when a fifteen to one shot lands on top. But the thirty-three dollar win and eight-dollar place was nice, especially when multiplied by ten. I cashed for five hundred and forty-eight dollars and ninety cents, left the window clerk ten dollars, and noticed that the Padres game was finally on one of the screens on my way out of there.

I had to laugh about that.

* * * *

I had a nice wad of cash in my pocket, and as I walked down Avenida Revolución I thought about Joshua and about last Friday. I thought about how he had a nice wad of cash in his pocket, and I thought about being eighteen years old again and maybe having a nice wad of cash in my pocket at eighteen years old. It would never have occurred to me to go to Florida, but who knows what else might have occurred to me at eighteen?

I probably wouldn’t have listened to my father, either. But then, I wouldn’t have lied to him. I can’t simply shrug that off to some indiscretion of youth. But someday, I am sure that I can forgive it.

I went back to the Dandy Del Sur and watched the Padres lose yet again, smugly drinking Chivas Regal while pondering what to do with an extra five hundred dollars. I thought that, perhaps, I could jump on a jet to Florida, go find my son, and tell him all about the bag of chips, and so on. I thought about that, but I quickly realized that eighteen-year-olds have no interest in a bag of chips, that sometimes time is forever until one day it isn’t.

I was eighteen, once.

I came home and slept on my five hundred dollars, and took Anna with me yesterday and spent thirty-three dollars of it on some Chinese food that we brought home and ate. And it was good. And maybe I’ll save the rest. Or maybe I’ll spend it on bags of chips.

Or maybe I’ll go buy some Padres tickets so I can actually watch a game in its entirety.


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