Monday, September 24, 2007

writing's on the wall

If you are reading this, then like me, you have survived the 2007 New Mexico state fair. Either that, or you missed it completely. Dry those tears if that is the case. I didn’t even see a hint of a giant butter sculpture, so you really didn’t miss anything.

The vast majority of what I did see of the fair was out of the corner of my eye while perched in the crow’s nest at the end of the home stretch at the racetrack. I am of the opinion that the races are a big part of many people’s annual Fair experience.

A few readers have inquired about what exactly I have to do at the Downs. Basically, I shoot video of the horses and jockeys during the post parade- a ten-minute period leading up to each race where fans in attendance and those huddled together in smoke-filled off-track betting parlors around the world can make last minute decisions on specific horses, and tweak their wagering strategy as needed. I also shoot the entire race from starting gate to finish line, and that video becomes part of the official race record along with the feed from normally four additional cameras from different locations.

That part of the day passes extremely fast! Then there is a period of approximately 10 to 15 minutes between each race where I am not required to shoot anything. I don’t waste that time watching tv, reading or even blogging- although I could. Instead, I utilize that down time reviewing the results of the previous race on paper- you know, looking for patterns on why I failed to select the winning horses. Sure, I could think of reasons to blame the jockeys for failing to urge the “better” horse along quicker, but that really wouldn’t help me on future races. I also take advantage of the time and read the next day’s racing form and picking the ponies that when my personal handicapping biases are applied, literally “stand out” from the rest of the field in much the same way as those 3D posters work.

Usually I run out of things to “do” by the end of the 7th race, and am forced to entertain myself between races. I admit that I enjoy reading the graffiti on the walls of my 10-foot-square corrugated tin shack in the sky. At first glance, I assumed the scrawling represented the documentation of a person gone mad, not unlike what one might expect to find of the walls of a dimly lit prison cell wherein a lifer’s only companion was a black Sharpie. I realize that the writings may not “mean” anything, but that doesn’t prevent the anthropologist in me from attempting to categorize the various phrases. That said, I have developed the following four categories:

Anger Management:
A few examples of scribblings included in this category would be “Murder & Rose’s,” “ 99 Ways to Die” and “Testament (All Lies).” It is worth noting that there are several areas in the walls where a sharp object has been jabbed through the tin. I can’t imagine anyone thinking they weren’t getting enough air to breathe, so I am left assuming they were simply practicing handling a blade when they weren’t working on their penmanship.

Race Horse Names:
Tell me you wouldn’t be tempted to include one or more of these in your next superfecta wager- “Highway Jones,” “Frog Stomp,” “Sweet Life,” “Mama’s Fool” or “Drive it Home.” Personally, I wouldn’t hesitate to lay $2 on “Right to Cheese” across the board!

Band Names:
Sure, “Garden Groove,” “Bong Hits” and “Spitting Clam’s” could all be names of horses, but I just like the idea of a bunch of Albuquerque kids hanging out in a garage playing covers of Kiss tunes and arguing what they should call themselves. Eventually, of course, the band would break up citing artistic differences as the root of the problems, and the lead guitarist would be forced into seeking a summer job (perhaps operating a video camera at the racetrack).


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