George, John, Charlie, And Dan…….

by Ed Meyer

posted on July 7, 2010 in General Discussion | No Comments >>

This probably has the ring of a super group…. Not this time.   But in their time, they had as much fun… Long before the days of simulcast and people staying at home betting on the computer, fans used to make a day out of going to the track. And if they could not, these men made it easy to get your bet on… They were kings of their time. They made good money, and knew everyone.

The fellows listed above did not all work together. Matter of fact, they knew of each other, but may have even been competitors to a degree. As always, I will keep last names out, as I have known all of these guys, and it is with great respect to the past that it will be kept that way.

There was some really good times, and for a few, there was even some jail time. But, that my dear punter, is part of the occupation.

There was a small town that looked like Mayberry. The only difference was there was a bar on every corner. In the back of one of those lovely little nooks was a backroom filled with men reading the DRF, and making bets with the guy at the bar. You bet, and you were paid. Or, squared up on Monday. There was the wire system long ago which could be likened to that great scene in The Sting. All except for the suits and ties, as this was a small blue-collar town. The suit bets were called in, or called off to bigger bookmakers. The group never stiffed, and unlike the youth of today who enjoy betting with the book, the old-timers used to payoff without a bitch. Young guns today get down $400, and you can bet that the police will get your number and have knowledge of your operation. I guess the good times are over for good in that respect….

At the end of the day, a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken was sent for. Drinks were bought, and it was the place for gamblers. No trouble, and the bar was directly across from the police station… Ce La Vie?  You would get hooked for $50, and there was a small card game in the side room. It was Vegas ten minutes from your house.

I was with my dad as a young boy. He was betting, and it was Derby Day. He enjoyed a drink or ten, and loved to play cards. I remember him sitting with gamblers just as he was…. As the day took on, he had to excuse himself to the little boys’ room… I would reach into his stack of money, and pull out a ten, or a couple of twenties. He was good, and he was doing well…. His horse bets were in, and he was on track to make the river rise by the hour… Every time he ran off, I reached into the stack. My mom didn’t approve of my apprenticeship at the foot of the master. She came and got me about six hours later. She felt that horses and cards were no place for a boy… I couldn’t have thought of a place I would have rather been…

The next morning after he came in very late, and his Derby horse did not hit, I asked him how he did… Now, I was just a young boy. When most were watching cartoons, and sleeping late, I wanted to check-in with him to see if we would be going to the track. He had a bad headache, and said we would be staying in…. I said that it was a shame as I handed him $500… About twenty minutes later, we were headed to the ponies, and I was allowed to make a few bets courtesy of dear old dad…….Oh, and his bet with the boys did hit after all. He just forgot that he made an exacta box wager….Now, that was service…….

These guys did well. They mainly took action from locals. It was a good gig, and it rambled from my grandpa, dad, and eventually to me…. The rites of passage were in the backroom of a bar, and older men would welcome you as you were a legacy. This fraternity was all fun. I got to cut my teeth with the last of the old ways.

Dark days did cometh as two of the crew did some time in “school.”  It was always when they would reach outside of the bounds of comfort, and try to push the envelope with strangers. People always get caught when they go too far into that cookie jar. One was horse-related, and the other was when he took to taking baseball wagers to make the take even better. It seems to the outsider that things always went to the left when you stepped up your game and lost your bearings. The old saying goes: “The pigs get fatter, and the hogs get slaughtered.”

I guess going back in the time machine to easy times is a great trip. Playing horses didn’t always allow you to make it to the track. Some men were married, others had to work late, and some had football practice…..To some, it would be too much…. I didn’t run wild and try the other side of youth as many did over the years. The bookmakers of old gave me my start. I really liked the play, and listening to them on the radio. There was no TVG, or online betting. Al Gore had not yet invented the Internet, and we all piled into a car for a trip, or made a call to the above fellas….

I kinda miss the old days. I can wager in minutes, and even later I will make some plays online. But, it will not have the give and take and banter about the ponies with a customer service rep taking my bet. The things I learned from these gents could not be read from a book, or a course in night school to get caught up. So, thanks guys…. I enjoyed the times we interacted, and the memories are like a fine meal that is savored over time.  Next time you are at the track and see some older everyday players, you can bet they would make the call, or they may have even been the man on the other end of the phone. It was a time when men and some women had fun. I love the instant action, but the memories of how I got started by these good fellas gives me a lump in my throat.