A Song and a Smoke

by Ed Meyer

posted on March 22, 2019 in Blogroll, General Discussion, Horse Racing, WinningPonies.com | 1 Comment >>

There’s a silence before a thought becomes a formulated idea. It smolders like a cigarette hanging from the edge of an ashtray. – You start feeling good, and before you know it’s yours. – Those were the thoughts from an older gambler I met along the way. – He’s been gone longer than I knew him, but the little thoughts he passed along the way stuck in the back of my mind for years.

He dressed like a fella’ fresh in from work. – The kinda job in a factory or on a dock. – Flannel shirt, faded work pants and two packs of Camel non-filters. – Quiet was his tone, and if he was speaking and you had to stand close to hear the wisdom. Always alone and never one to engage others. He was happy keeping to himself and smoking them one by one.

He never spoke about personal things for the first few years. – Simplicity and quiet. His exercise was going up to the windows about once every 15 minutes. Just another face in the crowd, but one who grew to be familiar. – We started with a word at a time and before I knew it we were sitting talking about things. This was the beginning of being surprised.

“Tom” was a well-traveled man. He lived in Miami, New York, Los Angeles, Nashville, and other places between. – I would have bet he was a railroader by his look but when he told me he was a studio musician I would have lost that bet for sure. “I’ve played with everyone. You name em’ and I’ve sat in. Piano, guitar, bass. – I even wrote some music over the years.” – Talk about a surprise. He was cool with a patience that was rare.

“I started playing the ponies with musicians, and various entertainers at Hialeah in Florida. Sinatra was the worst loser when it came to gambling. – Hollywood Park allowed me to rub elbows with everyone in the business, and Nashville had us taking the train to Churchill and Chicago on off days. – I met gamblers that really taught me the game, an others that showed me what not to do – Those were the days.” 

“I settled in Cincinnati as I started looking like an old man and cared for a friend who was ailing. – He said he was dying, but five years later and a hundred trips to the track he finally died in his sleep. What a way to go.- He played with the early R&B groups when Cincy was a hot spot for recording music. – That man could play the harp and every horn in the band.”

“I was married once but not for long. She took me for everything I had saved for ten years. – Never go back to the well where the alligator lives. – That was my love life in a nutshell.”

Smoking, drinking, and gambling was all I needed, and there wasn’t a town where I didn’t know a hundred faces. – Cincy was fine for me as it had a ball team and two race tracks within 20 miles from my front door. – I fiddled around and would play with a friend, but my music was limited to playing until the whiskey was gone at night. – Reading the Form and playing cards a few nights a week was like a hobo’s dream come true.

Tom started showing up less and less. – He even stopped smoking. – I assumed this quiet man was sick as his talking slowed and eventually stopped – Finally, he was gone. No note, big fanfare, or hullaballoo. He just faded like the pages of an old Daily Racing Form or music which faded away softly. – For months, I would glance out of the corner of my eye and hope to see that flannel shirt and a cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth. – It was gone like the smoke from a final cigarette or a note from the last song. – I was glad to have made his acquaintance and enjoyed knowing this traveling man. – Thanks for stopping by this way.

One Response to “A Song and a Smoke”

  1. Samuel Teller says:

    Poignant story. Thanks.

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