My parents did take some time off now and then from working in our restaurant. It was usually a Monday as that is a slow day in the bar and restaurant business.
I missed many a Monday at school on family outings. Finally after several missed classes a note was sent home from the powers that be with a few remarks explaining what might happen if that were to continue.
Anyway, on this particular Monday we took the train from Santa Ana to the Del Mar Race Track in Del Mar. That race track was owned by Bing Crosby at one time by the way. It as a fun trip for a young boy like myself and I soon made a new adult friend along the way.
I wondered down the train car and found an unsuspecting victim and sat beside him. We talked a little. He was going to the track as well. I suppose many of the people on the train were out on the same adventure.
I struck up a long conversation with him. What can I say? That is who I was and who I am today. I make no apologies for being friendly and interested in others.
I was discussing world issues I suppose when this man I was talking to took out a two dollar bill and wrote something on it for me and placed it into my pudgy little hand.
“Show this to your parents and have them bet this money on this horse whose name is written here on the money.”
Sounded simple enough to me. The bill had “Aldershot” written on it.
I don’t know if you know the importance of the two dollar bill here, but in most cases those with two dollar bills in their possession are government employees. I say that to indicate that I took him at his word. They help put these bills into circulation. I guess it never caught on because I never see them round anymore.
Anyway, the man written “Aldershot” on the bill and told me to tell my parents to bet that money on that horse for me. He suggested that the horse was a shoe in and I agreed after reading the racing form with him. It seemed obvious. Aldershot liked a few days rest between races and a dry track. It’s amazing what you can learn reading the Daily Racing Form.
Why this pleasant man took interest in me, I have no idea, but these horse players are an odd and difficult lot to fathom. Don’t look a “gift horse in the mouth” comes to mind as I write this.
As we walked into the track after leaving the train, all I can say is that it reminded me of Disneyland. The grounds were well manicured and colorful with blooming flowers and the scent of them wafting through the air. There was a statue of a racehorse and jockey right in front. It was enormous.
What a sight for a young and impressionable boy to see after a long train journey. The owners of this place seemed to have a great business plan no doubt and it seemed to be working. I was mesmerized. The place was packed with people who probably should have been at work and who were walking around with a beer in each hand. I guess that’s heaven to some folks.
We found a nice place to sit and my father lit up his cigarette and drank his beer while looking over his racing form. I watched my mother’s face develop a deep frown as I was transfixed by the thousands of strangers ambling around us.
My father got up after a short time and placed his first bet on the first race and returned. He waited patiently for the outcome. My horse was running in the third race, so I had to cool my heals and wait for the slow passage of time. My father bet on each race as my mother watched and grew more impatient and discouraged. The results were less than stellar. The beers arrived and disappeared quickly.
Obviously I was too short to reach up and over the counter to make my bet for myself. If I could I suppose those working behind the counter would have taken my money just as from the adults. That is my suspicion anyway. They certainly have no morals, that goes without mentioning.
I watched the first two races with interest and growing excitement as the third race approached. Soon my mood turned to glee as the race with Aldershot was at hand.
My father made his bet and my bet and handed me my ticket. It all seemed natural and the easy route to happiness and all that was perfection. Everything wonderful would soon be in my grasp.
We waited for the horses to get settled into the gate. The four horse was acting up. Not unusual for that young black stallion. He has more speed than sense. His jockey was tense and he transmitted that to the horse. He wasn’t the best jockey. Everyone knew that.
Finally the man operating the machinery was satisfied that the horses were as calm and as ready as they ever would be and the gates sprang open all at once.
Aldershot was out second and away like a bullet. He chased the four horse from his spot in the fifth lane and never looked back. The tow horses ran ahead of all of the others and were soon neck and neck at the beginning of the back stretch.
“Go Aldershot,” my father yelled and I followed suit. “Go aldershot,” my baby needs a new pair of shoes.” This is appropriate behavior at the track, or so I had been told by many men in the area who were enjoying their large mugs of beer. Some looked like they needed a nap, by the way. I was too excited to nap. I would nap later if needed.
Aldershot ran a great race of course and beat all those running with him, by a mile. It was in doubt at first, but he proved to be the best on that day. It really was no contest once he passed that four horse. But the contest was still very exciting as I had money on that race.
In a few minutes the horse stood in the Winner’s Circle with the garland of flowers covering his neck. The photos were snapped and the event was recorded for posterity. The tiny jockey wearing his bright colors disappeared into the crowd as he climbed down from the back of the horse.
I had won my first horse race bet at around eight years of age. What a thrill that was. My two dollars had turned into around twelve bucks. A grand fortune as far as I could tell.
As is often mentioned in lore, fables and by one’s parents, a fool and his money as soon parted.
No, I didn’t bet on another race as most of the adults on the train did. I was satisfied with my meager winnings in my pocket. But as we left the track a plan of action occurred to me. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast and I was getting a little hungry.
I had noticed the dinning car and had smelled the offerings available there as we boarded the train earlier. It looked inviting even when I wasn’t hungry. Now it looked positively delightful.
I now had money and thought that I should be a gentleman and have a nice meal and take in the sights on the way home from that dinning car instead sitting with my parents.
As usual, they thought that was good idea also. The less of Ray seen in close quarters, the better, was there motto.
So after getting permission and perhaps even a soft shove from my parents, I soon found myself seated in the dinning car behind a large assortment of sandwiches and other goodies. Needless to say I was the only young child there.
Most other children my age were incarcerated in the public schools on a Monday. The large men in their white uniforms seemed more than willing to take care of me and my every whim.
I ate my way from San Diego back to Santa Ana and had a great time doing it. The view of the ocean does do wonders for your appetite, I must say.
Those men working the dinning car are very friendly and have interesting life tales and lessons to share but those tales are for another day.
The trip was probably around an hour or so in each direction. In that hour I had eaten my way through my winnings from the track and had perhaps created some debt as well.
It was a grand adventure and I would not change the outcome of the trip for anything. I had an exciting day watching the thoroughbreds run and had eaten a kings meal as I watched the Pacific Ocean slowly pass by. What more could a child wish for? I do prefer the fast pace of the quarter horse races as my brother does, but I will not complain.
I had met a few new friends, seen the horses run and made a few bucks. I had eaten a fine meal and had safely navigated a large crowd with little or no damage that could be detected. The fact that I had missed school was an added bonus.
What more could a young boy desire?
I don’t think my mother had as much fun as I did.