I spent the day at Suffolk Downs yesterday with a couple of old friends. I’ve spent a handful of days there in the past, but it officially closed two years ago, had a handful of live racing days this year, and will have a handful next year. After that, it is more than likely gone. There are some thoughts that if they get slots there they might be able to have a few days of live racing each year, but I don’t think many people are betting on that, so to speak.
Suffolk Downs is a 2.5 mile drive from where I grew up, but less than a mile as the crow flies (or more likely sea gulls). The only thing separating my street from the edge of the racing oval was a narrow inlet and a whole lot of marsh. The men in my neighborhood drove or took the subway over, placed a few bets and drank a few beers. On a hot August night in 1966, we stood at the bottom of my street and listened to the Beatles playing there. My memory tells me we heard the screaming more easily than we did the music.
I am neither a horse lover nor a gambler. I do like how handsome a horse looks, but from afar. My wife loves them, can tell me 1000 thousands about them I would never learn on my own. As for gambling, I like my own money too much to have it leave my hands without much telling me it’s going to return.
Still, I do like watching horse racing and I liked being with my friends. I went there prepared to lose the money in my wallet and nothing more. I came home a few bucks up.
Mainly I enjoyed being with my friends. I can remember standing with the same two guys–Grizz and Butch–at least 30 years ago. They were as smart about it all then as I am still ignorant of pretty much every detail. I did used to know how to read the racing form, and I was a little disappointed it was cryptic to me yesterday. I won more when I was guessing than when I was making what I imagined was an intelligent choice. That probably says something about me, or gambling, or both.
I was struck more than a few times about the place was winding down. Some of the regulars are old, some using walkers or just moving slow. Most of the employees–save the jockeys and other people working with the horses–are my age and older. I don’t think too many people besides me were all that philosophical though. It was a beautiful day, and I think they were doing their jobs the way the always had, and that included the gamblers.
I do think there are many stories to be told there, though. I didn’t take many pictures, but if I had, it would have been of the people working. When the track officially closed two years ago, I read that 325 employees would be losing their jobs, and “thousands” of contractors would lose work. That’s a major economic dislocation any time, but Suffolk Downs is the only horse track left in New England. (The next closest one is Saratoga Race Track.) It’s one thing to be a bartender or a computer programmer and lose your job; there’s likely one in the same town or a few towns away. It’s another thing entirely for you to work in a field where the only employer in your region goes away.
What does it mean when the only job you’ve ever loved–or maybe even ever known–goes away and isn’t coming back?
There’s a story in that. Maybe I should write it.