All team-building, co-worker-bonding aside, these things usually suck, and I usually hate them. Let me tell you why. Here's a little brainteaser for you: Hypothetically, assume you have ten people. To make this easier, also assume 5 people are active and athletic, and 5 people are sedentary and overweight. Assuming the coefficient of friction is zero, what activity would allow all members to participate and be happy about it? Paintball? No, that involves not only moving, but actually running around and quite possibly sweating. S&O people want none of that. Rock wall? Whitewater rafting? Get serious. Sit around on a riverboat, sniffing diesel fumes and eating mediocre food? Bor-ing. A&A people will end up jumping overboard just for something to do. So, you see my point. Well, it turns out that one of the things that apparently appeals to a majority of people who aren't me is: "A Day at the Track."
Up in my neck of the woods, this means horses, jockeys and a big dirt oval. I live in Saratoga, and I cannot, for the life of me, understand the fascination with this whole process. Maybe you need to be a gambler to appreciate it. I am not. I went on one of these trips last year. Not to Saratoga, but to Ohio. Yes, I left the home of one of the most historic thoroughbred racetracks in the world to go to Thistledown Raceway in Urine Gulch, Ohio. It was really the first time I had ever gone to a live thoroughbred race. (Before you say anything -- yes, I know, the dead thoroughbred races are really boring.) What I mean is, live, in person. I had seen races at the OTB parlor before. My great-uncle played the horses and we took many a sidetrip to the OTB when I was a youngster. At any rate, I had no idea what to expect. Of almost my own free will, I was at an honest-to-god Betting Establishment. It was a hotter-than-hell Thursday afternoon, and the place was deserted. The only other people there besides our group were a bunch of old, skinny retired guys wearing white socks, wrinkled suits and fedoras. Almost to a man they were sucking on soggy stogies that smelled like roadkill. There were also a couple of homeless dudes who had come in from the brutal heat to enjoy a spot of air conditioning. They also smelled like roadkill. I am pretty sure one of them was actually carrying roadkill, so that could have been it. Needless to say, I learned a few thing my first time out. I will list them for your reading pleasure.
1. The horses (are you ready for this?) only go around the track once. One time. That's it. Race. Over. Seriously, wtf? I was all primed for some Nascar-like action. I am not a big Nascar fan, but at least if there's an accident you might actually see something exciting. Once around the track? That's incredibly lame. I wanted to see those big bastards run until there was only a single horse left standing. I wanted mid-air collisions! Excitement! Horses biting other horses on the ass! I wanted to see jockeys foaming at the mouth and kicking at each other as they passed. Basically, I wanted to see this:
But no. Once around and back to the ticket window. Goddammit, I'm glad there was beer.
2. You have to know what you are doing at the window, or people behind you will get pissed. There is an entire list of codewords you have to know in order to just place a bet. There's crap I won't even get into here, but suffice to say that unless you want the fat, bald guy smoking the cigar behind the ticket counter to sigh and exhale smoke at you, mutter something that sounds a lot like "jesuseffingchristonapopsiclestick" and then wave you away with a motion that looks like he's fanning a fart, you had better find someone who knows what the fuck they are doing to prep you. Better yet, just hand that same someone your money and say "Uh, bet this on the blue guy"* which is pretty much what I ended up doing until my money ran out, due to #3, below.
3. Don't listen to the guy in your group who tells you to bet all your money on something called a "long shot." Why? Because (and remember this, it's important) "long shot" is actually fancy horse language for "half-dead-loser-piece-of-shit-glue-factory-reject." I bet on one of these "long-shot" horses, and he was so far behind the other horses that the cameraman for the jumbo screen couldn't even keep him in the frame. I'm serious. This horse was so slow, he looked like he had escaped early from the next race.
The "highlight" of our day was that we got to have our picture taken with the Jockey who won against the crippled, asshat donkey carcass I blew my wad on. My personal highlight was actually the race where John was screaming "WHIP HIM! WHIP HIM HARDER!"at the Jockey riding the horse he bet on. When one of the women on the team told him he was cruel, he said, "Horses are like babies. They don't feel it when you whip them." That single line made the entire day worthwhile.
4. Up close, horses stink. Not-so-coincidentally, they stink like horse shit.
5. Up close, jockeys also stink. The only difference here is that they smell like sweaty horse shit -- with aromatic undercurrents of Old Spice.
6. Invariably, there will be someone who is never you, who knows even less about horse racing than you do, who will win big on something you never heard of. There's something called a Trifecta, for instance. Just so you know, this is not a device used on Star Trek to scan for life signs on hostile planets. No, the Trifecta is the name for the phenomenally impossible task of picking the first place, second place and third place horses, in the exact order they cross the finish line. My odds of ever winning this are roughly the same as my odds of ever knowing how to actually bet on it.
*Note: This is not an effective betting strategy.