Saturday, August 8, 2015

Closing day at Hazel Park

After 30 years in exile, the ponies are back. 
Now they're leaving again.

Six hours before post time, and the clubhouse is already full. One by one, the old men amble in, floating up the escalator, staking out their turf, scribbling in their forms.

It is the last night of live racing.

The horsemen are pulling out. 
The money's all gone.

So today it ends.

Whether the ponies come back next spring is anyone's guess. 
Still waitin' on the morning line. 

I first came here in '74. 

My father brought me to see the buggies. I was 5.

Won 50 bucks that night. 

Now after another day watching the morning workouts and gallop girls, another day of Coney coffee and buttered toast, I make my way back to the clubhouse and find an empty seat. 

Table 709. 
Last one in Money Row.

Money Man is here.
So's Cabbie.

So's Old Man George, cloudy and stooped in his Kevorkian cardigan.
He is the constant. 

Between races, Rasheed bounces from table to table, picking the brains of his fellow horseplayers. He is animated and agitated. The horse don't lie.

I scan the channels for the feed from Thistledown, and I hear the voice of Kate Smith above the din.

Someone, somewhere, is blaring "God Bless America."

On a wall of monitors in the ragged clubhouse, I see a man on horseback at the Meadowlands clutching an American flag.

It is 18 minutes till the eighth race. 

On the other side of the glass, a man watches the races at Gulfstream on a monitor. He is using binoculars.

I am home here.
We are all home.