“Ever since I was kid all I wanted to be was a gambler.” OK, that’s enough of sounding like the opening scene of Goodfella’s. – After giving it a good think; it’s true. When I was a kid, I wanted to work in the parking lot to be closer to the races. Hell, I thought it was a position of great glory. When I moved up to run the parking lot, you would have thought I made my first million. It put me through college, and I began moving up the ladder. I made my way inside and became an up and coming middle manager. Then a bigger break came about, and I hit second base heading for third. I won’t have a billion dollar 401-k, but I haven’t regretted on single minute working at the track. How many people can truthfully say that? My dad told me something as a young man, “You can have the big money and big worries, or you can enjoy what you do and have a fun life.” For once, the old man hit it right on the head.
Angelo retired from Ford. Everyday he used to hold sway at this front table in the track restaurant. He didn’t bet much, and at 70-years-old he loved giving money to his adult kids and grand babies. “Angie” had the feel of a Mafioso leader, and I never saw him upset or raise his voice. He commanded respect, and always knew how to return the feelings. He had four friends who sat with him and he was the king of the table. They ranged from retired CEO’s to a bottom level bookie was who always broke. Angie always took care of the bill, and there was never a question about things. Angie was a player who had seen the best of the old days. He told me once he played poker for 72 straight hours. “I didn’t sleep, but they had a place to shower up and served up great grub. I lost over $23,000 in that stretch, but came back two weeks later to win $109,000. I bought my wife’s mother a new house next to ours. Boy, was that a mistake!” His sense of humor was one of a kind, and he kinda’ sounded like Henny Youngman. He laughed with his entire soul with his jelly-belly shaking the entire time. The track forgot to mail his tickets for the marquee race, and he didn’t get mad. He came to me and asked if I could look into this. I dropped everything and made my way over to the ticket office. They were sold-out and they asked me if I would apologize for this error. – No. This wouldn’t do at all, not for my man Angie. I went to the president’s office and told him of the problem. He didn’t hesitate for a second and said, “take my box in the clubhouse, everything on the house.” We had a solid relationship, and he never doubted me as I knew the real players. When I delivered Angie his tickets, he looked up and me and tried to give me $200. “Naaah, not between friends, Angie.” – “Ed, I won’t forget this, and thank you for taking care of this for me and the boys.” When I came in the next day, he asked if we could talk. I agreed, and we sat and talked before the doors had opened. “Ed, I like to bet. I have been betting most of my money off shore, and they give me a good rebate. I bet enough at the track to get our extra comps for the boys. I know your job is finding and keeping big players happy. I want to help you out. I am an old man, and one day I’ll kick off and leave $200,000 in my account never to be found as my wife doesn’t know how much I like to wager. Ed, can you always make sure the “boys” have this table and a few programs? I am going to start making all of my bets here. That should help your numbers a bit.” – “You have my word, Angie. No matter what, I’ll take care of things.” – “Thanks, Ed. I always knew you were a man of your word.” For the next two years Angie bet with both fists, and he always let it be known because I went out of my way to treat them well. As time went by, Angie would miss a day here and there. That was not his way, and his wife stayed busy during the day, and he was always home by 6p. – One day, Bill walked in with a gift wrapped box. He had some sad news, and informed me that Ange had passed on. Bill had a wrapped box for me, and said “Ange” wanted to thank you for friendship. I opened the gift was a box Cuban cigars and a gold lighter. Bill said,” he really liked you, Ed. We’ll never be the same without the chairman.” – “Bill, the table and everything stays the same any day you and the boys want to be here. Angie would have wanted it that way, and that’s the way it will be.” They came out the next week and the table and programs were sitting in place. At the top of the table was a larger chair and we had an engraved name plate on the chair. It wouldn’t be right to have just anyone sit in that chair, and it made the guys happy that Angie would always be there waiting to play the races.
Paulie loved to gamble. He would run up and bet numbers as soon as he walked in. No program, no problem… He just wanted the action. This went for years, and I always made sure he had programs, and a seat if he could sit long enough. He loved the action, and would be the first to tell you, “Life is for living, and you’ll get all the sleep you want when your dead.” Good guy, low maintenance, and always tipped the bartenders well. It was fair to say if I could clone him a thousand times, I could make an impact at any track in the country. – His wife fought cancer four times and beat back the bastard each time. But, she required a great deal of care. He had a visiting nurse come by around 3p, and she would bathe, feed, and get her ready for the night. -He would go to the store, and make an occasional trip to the casino. The track was too far of a drive, and the casino was minutes away from their luxury condo. His visits to the track dwindled each month. When his wife was in her final stages, his daughter moved back to the area to be close to mom. This allowed for more trips and more gambling. His trips got heavier and quicker, and he was getting every comp in the world. When his wife passed away he was in Las Vegas staying in a luxury suite. He had sold one of his vintage cars months ago, and was about to sell his 1966 Mustang. “I don’t need a fancy car anymore, and I’ll get something that gets a little better gas mileage.” He was on the train, and it was a fast moving kind that turns minutes into months, and dollars into memories. His kids tried to get to get him to stop, and there was no way he was going to listen. It was all or nothing, and he knew his fate. – I saw him late one summer, and he was working at a local bar. He was living above in the apartment, and he said he liked the place. He had sold, lost, and forgot everything. The man standing before me wasn’t that horse player who ran around the room chasing exactas and tipping bartenders. He had hit the wall, and the ultra fast paced world he entered was too much for his style. He passed away about a year ago and his daughter called the track to inform everyone. I read the obit, and showed up. The room was full of old horse players talking about the old days, and his family from around the country. They all loved racing, and never figured out why he stopped going to the track. I thought about it on the way home, and he needed something faster. It was almost like he was running from something and was looking over his shoulder. Either way, he was a special guy who won’t be forgotten. I saw his daughter at the track with her work friends one evening as they were having a Christmas party. She came up and gave me the biggest hug, and thanked me for everything I did for her father. “I told her I had something for her, and it would remind her of dad. I went to my office and took down a framed picture of Alysheba breaking his maiden. He loved this horse, and I remember him winning a heap on him that day.” She grabbed me again, and with tear filled eyes thanked me for remembering him. I don’t know if he ever won a dime that day, but for her it was a beautiful reminder of a place that made her father happy.