Today is one of my favorite days of the year. Not because of all the great food. OK, that part was a fib, but the best part is gathering together. You put away your cell phones, iPad’s, and other techno gadgets that take you away from the moment. You sit back and bask in the moment, and break bread together. A long held tradition that was a daily ritual. Times have changed and people get caught up in the grind, and for some those days around the table are a long ago memory.
I went out to make a bet or two on “Turkey Day,” and ran into an old friend. Fred was a long time player in my neck of the woods. In his professional life he was an architect. His work took him all around the world, and eventually he moved his family to Memphis. He looked the same with a little less hair, and still had the swagger of a well-dressed professional. He immediately saw me, and came up to greet me on this Thanksgiving day.
“Eddie, you still look like that kid 20-years ago.” I guess I owe him a beer or two for the fine compliment, and it was great to see his face. “Remember this used to be the opening of Fair Grounds. You used to call it Cajun-Homecoming because you worked with a crazy fella from New Orleans.” Yep, he was right. Turkey Day used to be the kickoff for FG, and you would see the big time outfits move back south. As for the other guy, that part was true. He was goofier than an outhouse rat…
“Fred, what brings you back this way?” I asked. “Well, I sold some property I owned for years and drove up to close the details. Thought I would drop over for some racing action, but this place looks like a ghost town.” He replied. “Yeah, things have changed a bit. The days of standing room only have gone the way of the dinosaur. So, have you been gambling much? – How have the ponies been treating you?” I said. “Eddie, this is the first time I have been to the track in two years. My wife left me for an old golfing buddy back home, and my daughter hasn’t spoken to me for years. So, I took the travelling assignments to keep the married guys at home. I guess I should have thought about that myself. I’ve been to Singapore, Hong Kong, and believe it or not Greenland. I started playing cards instead of playing the ponies, and being back in the area had me missing the place,” He said.
Fred was a good gambler, and had real patience. This is not something you see everyday at the track, and he was a person you’d never forget. He used to astonish me back in the day. He would come everyday during the fall and winter meets, and quit ice cold until late September. He used to call it his “detox,” and this would bring him back to the game refreshed. For the time, it was a new outlook and was usually reserved for players who went tapped. But his patience would kick in, and during the beautiful months he enjoyed fishing and spending time with his family. “Fred, do you still take time to “detox” from gambling? ” I asked. “Oh, yeah. Playing poker can take a toll, and I play three -four months a year. I still love to fish, and I have taken up photography in a big way. I love to travel and see nature, and the seasonal changes call my name,” he responded. Fred hadn’t changed a bit, and he traded his racing program for a seat at the poker table. As we shook hands and had a brief hug, I walked away from a man who was in control. He was not one to give in to impulse playing, and kept the game as his muse. On my way to the car I thought about my encounter. Fred said he’ll be up in the spring to see Belterra Park, and would start following the ponies around March as they made their way to the Derby. I had picked a winner, and two thirds in my brief time at the track. Fred didn’t make a bet, and said he was waiting to uncork on a runner at Churchill in the 7th. It was a little runner trained by his old pal. His name was C’mon Cat. When I looked at the results after dinner, I saw his runner won and paid $14.80. Yep, it was the same old Fred. Patient as ever and still knocking them dead.