A Weekend on the Island + A Day at the Races…

Good evening, brothers and sisters. Here’s hoping the weekend treated you as well as it treated me. If it didn’t? Tough shit. Sorry. You’ll get ’em next time.

The last time we spoke, I informed you that I would be leaving the city for the weekend to visit my pledge son on Long Island. So, after a stressful-but-shorter day in the newsroom, I was on my way. The last time I had visited him (last summer), I misunderstood his directions on what trains to take and ended up taking the subway (rather than the Long Island Railroad) as far as it would go. I didn’t realize that I had messed up until I got off in Far Rockaway — a reportedly dicey area east of Rockaway Beach — and called to see where he was. Immediately after hearing my location, there was an “Oh shit. Stay there, I’m driving now.” I didn’t have any problems; if there’s anything I’ve learned after living here for months, it’s that most of the places people claim to be “sketchy,” are only sketchy if you make it obvious that you’re scared or paranoid.

Anyway, this time I made it a priority to get on the correct train and arrive at the station that’s located about a mile from his house. To do that, I had to take the subway up to Penn Station, probably the second biggest train station aside from Grand Central. Once I got to Penn, I had to find the LIRR tracks and buy a separate ticket. Unfortunately, I arrived at Penn at the same time as everyone else who commutes home to Long Island each day, so the lines for tickets were super long and I already missed the train I was supposed to take, twice. Eventually, I called Greg and got things figured out.

I had a good time that night. Greg’s family was extremely welcoming as usual and his friends were all very laid-back and fun to talk to. As usual, every utterance of my Kansan roots was quickly followed by the all-too-common flurry of questions that bombards every Midwesterner that visits New York. After dispelling rumors about cow tipping and questionable business decisions from the Royals’ front office, we got to drinking. Along with the sketchy “Long Island rules” for beer pong (i.e. cup is pulled immediately after shot is made, no re-racks until you have less than five cups, etc.), I got to know his friends pretty well and I hope I’ll be able to make it out there a bit more as the summer progresses.

I don’t really think I deserved the hangover I woke up with on Saturday morning, though. I felt like total shit and Greg’s family had places to be in the morning and was gone when I awoke, so I sat on the couch for about an hour watching Saturday’s Euro Cup games and swearing off drinking for the rest of my life. Eventually, Greg got back — and as is customary with swearing off drinking, I broke that promise about an hour later. That should be understandable, though; the Belmont Stakes were that day.

I’ve never been to a horse race in my life, but my dad has always been pretty enthusiastic about the sport. General admission tickets only cost $10, but I knew there was a significant chance that I would end up spending a lot more than that thanks to my inexperience with horse betting. The upper-tiers of the Belmont Park grandstand were reserved for people with actual seats, but the bottom level that extended all the way out to the track rail and the ‘backyard’, a dirty, booze-soaked and crowded area behind the grandstand, were open-game for us. We found a few of Greg’s friends from the night before — they had cleverly sidestepped the park’s brand new anti-BYOB policy and stowed away a good amount of drinks — and started betting/drinking.

After a few failed $5 bets, I looked into my wallet and started to worry. I knew that the inverse relationship between my rationality and blood alcohol content could pose a problem, not to mention the fact that adrenaline would probably cause me to get a bit ballsy when betting on the actual Stakes (the 11th race of the day). A ticket back to the city costs $11, so I pulled it out and stowed it away in my pocket so I wouldn’t bet it and get stuck on the island with no cash. I continued to bet about $5 to $6 on each race, but I split the bets up and only took horses with odds low enough that I could potentially break even for the day if I hit. It may have been a smarter strategy, but it didn’t work. By race 9, my wallet was getting pretty slim. We had been talking about wanting to be in the stands for the Stakes race, so we decided to cut our losses outside, finish our drinks and head in.

Once we got inside, they all bet on the 10th race, but I decided not to. I had called my mom earlier in the day and she told me that my dad had put some extra money into my bank account so I could make a bet for him. As I said earlier, my dad knows his shit when it comes to this stuff, so I consulted the betting program for a bit before calling him to ask for his input on bets for the Stakes. He asked for me to put down a 3-horse exacta box for his bet (you pick three horses, if two of them go #1 and #2, you win) and advised me to take two horses as long shots when I bet. I had been betting on underdogs all day and, though I had come extremely close a few times, I hadn’t won a dime. His bet cost about $12, but if I placed a 2-horse exacta box, it would only cost me six dollars. I liked two of the horses he picked (Union Rags and Paynter), so I put down an exacta for them and placed a $2 bet for each to win and for each to place (second). Now that I think about it, it was kind of stupid to bet more than half of my wallet on different combinations of two horses’ fates. If neither of them broke past third place, I’d be fucked, plain and simple.

(Paynter still in the lead, Union Rags seconds away from sprinting up to first)

Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. Paynter was in first place out of the gate and held it until the final stretch. Union Rags was towards the middle of the pack heading into the final stretch, but started hauling dick along the rail in the last 200 yards and passed Paynter to get the win. I was going fucking crazy. I had such a bad day at the betting window before that, but in the Stakes — the headliner, the biggest race of the day — I essentially hit the jackpot: my father and I both picked Union Rags and Paynter to go #1 and #2 and I had placed bets for both horses to win and place, respectively. I cashed my tickets after the race and not only broke even for the day, but had enough money to eat very well for the remainder of the week.

After waiting forever with nearly 100,000 people to get out of the park and board our trains, Greg and I got back to his house, ate a solid dinner and had a few beers. We had sobered up during the Stakes and the subsequent commute home and were exhausted. His neighbor was throwing a party, but everyone was planning on going to the bars and it isn’t too easy to get in if you’re underage where he lives. We decided to head back to his house to watch the Pacquiao fight — which I’ve been rather outspoken about, if you saw my tweets over the past 24 hours — and called it a night.

All in all, a solid weekend. The premiere issue of Huffington is finished and comes out on Wednesday. If you have an iPad, it will be available in the App Store/Newsstand and I strongly encourage you to pick it up. It looks tremendous and the iPad-only features are pretty badass. At some point, I remember hearing that .pdf versions of the magazine will be available, but I can’t really confirm that. I hope they are, because I’d hate for my non-iPad-owning family and friends to miss out. Anyway, I’ll probably write here again after the launch party on Tuesday.

All the best
AJ

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