Sunday, January 28, 2018

The day I couldn't lose..literally

The year was 1987. It was a turbulent year, and the end of 2 or 3 very turbulent years in my world.
My parents, who had issues going for about 20 years, finally had split up a year or so before. It was an ugly day when it happened, and I was in the house when it all blew up. You never forget moments like that, but really, it was for the best. My parents were both great people in their own ways, but they were oil and water together much of the time.
Splitting up is never as easy as just walking away. Money was involved, and my dad had issues that tied us to him and his issues were in ways that weren't easy to remove from our lives. One of those was his penchant, almost vocation, to get in trouble with the law and then make it worse by doing more bad and stupid things. Before they split up, he had done such a thing and because his bail was so high, we had to put our house up as collateral to get him out.
When they split up, my father eventually went to California to live and run more of his scams. Scams was his business, and he was always in business. So, when it came time to come back for the trial for the previous scams, for which we had put our house up, he wasn't coming back. The crown and judge made it clear if he didn't, they would take the house. My mother was terrified. Something she was a lot and came to her easily. We were sitting on my bed in my room, and discussing what to do about it. I hatched a plan to get us out of it, and in the end, it worked. It took some creativity, and some fudging the truth on the stand by me, although I didn't lie, just left some things out, but at the end of the day, she kept her house, which eventually she sold to me, and I now live in.
The plan was pretty simple. It was August of 1987, and I had worked all summer since University had ended. I had saved up enough money for the coming school year, so I didn't need to work the rest of that month. My father had invited me to come visit him in Los Angeles, where he was living. To be more specific, Anaheim. I accepted. Somehow, my mother got involved and she came with. By then, my parents were getting along. They did get along long as they were apart. We flew together to L.A., and the plan was to try and convince him to come back and face the music in Toronto, then my mother would be off the hook for the bail money. In addition, it would be a nice visit for 3 weeks. Staying at his house meant it cost nothing, and my father being my father, he paid for the plane fare. It would end up costing nothing, and again, my father being my father, I came home 3 weeks later with a lot more money than I left with. A lot is all I will say. It wasn't small bills, suffice it to say.
Right away I knew there was going to be trouble. My mother started talking about taking him back. I told her she was crazy and had a very short memory. Just remember the plan and the goal, have fun with your trips to Disneyland and the movie studios, and try to get him to come back and save your house. She wasn't easy to convince, and my father could be very persuasive. It didn't really matter, so I just let it go while we were there. I knew when the day came, I was getting her back on the plane and then that would be that, and she would come to her senses. Which she did. Three entire weeks with my father was plenty enough to convince her that he hadn't changed one bit and that he never was going to. He was the same crazy workaholic, over eater, excessive compulsive and con man he had always been. I make him sound bad there, but he really wasn't. He was a good, stand up guy who would give you the shirt off his back and take a bullet for you, but he had major personality flaws that he could never overcome. I took him for what he was, and saw him for what he was. He was always very good to me, as you will see in this blog.
For me, it was a chance to see places I never had before. I was going to take full advantage of that. The only thing I had to do was get up very early and drive him to work. In Los Angeles, even at 4am, that is a chore. Why? Because there was traffic everywhere, all the time. L.A. traffic is not a Hollywood made up story. Its very real. But if I wanted the car all day, its what I had to do.
He had to get up that early because of the 3 hour time difference. He said he needed to be at work at 5am because that was 8am eastern time. For whatever scam he was running, that was necessary.
Luckily for us, he was able to use the 2 or more lane to drive to work. That saved time. I asked him how he was able to do that by himself when we weren't around. He said he put the dog in the backseat and when he got stopped, he pointed out to the police that it said 2 or more, not 2 or more people. As I understand it, because of his bullshit argument, he forced them to change all the signs. That was my father. He also had a stack of tickets because of it, and of course, he never paid any of those.
Every day, I would ride with him to work and then take the car for as long as I wanted, then pick him up at 5pm. That meant I could go wherever I pleased. Most days, that meant going to play golf. That is what I did most in those days, and the weather was great in L.A. Starting out as early as I did, meant I could get out before the crowds and play the entire round, finish before noon, then get some lunch, and head to the beach until he was ready to go home. One of those days I went to Redondo Beach, and it was a great place to be. Some years later, the entire area burned to the ground, so at least I got to see it first.
When we got back home, each night I would do something different. One night, I went to Dodger Stadium to see a baseball game. In my entire life, I have never seen a baseball palace like that. It was heaven. The tickets were very expensive, but it didn't matter. My father said he would get me one, and he would pay whatever it cost. On top of that, out the door, he would give me an extra 50 bucks in case I needed anything. That was a trend that continued the entire trip. Fifty bucks a day times 21 days ended up being 1000, and there was an extra envelope to go with it for the plane ride. It was more than I made the entire summer before I came. He also paid for all the golf course fees, and any food I wanted. Another night, I went to Anaheim Stadium, which was just down the street from his house, and he paid for all that as well. We also went to San Diego and Tijuana for the day, and to San Francisco for 2 nights. I wanted to play Pebble Beach, because that was a dream of mine, but on the day we went, it was raining, so I didn't. We drove around the entire course though, so at least there was that. If I had played, it would have been 250 to play it. That was a lot of money to me, being only 22 and a student, but my father said if that is what you want, play and I will pay it. For all my fathers faults, that is just who he was. He would give you anything if he thought it made you happy.
Other than the golf, the beach, the baseball games and the short trips, I had one bigger plan in mind for myself. I had a day trip of my own in the works. Towards the end of the trip, on a Saturday when my father didn't need the car, I was going to drive to San Diego to watch the T breds run at Del Mar, then come back at night and go to Los Alamitos for the standardbreds. It was a day road trip for horse betting, something some players like to do. I was one of those in those days. When that day arrived, it was a bright, perfectly sunny California day. Many of the days while we were there were very overcast and rainy. People who have never been to LA don't realize that is more the reality of the weather there, but you do get the sunnier days too, after the early morning smog lifted. In those days, the smog was horrendous. On this day, there was neither.
I drove out to San Diego to go to Del Mar. I got there early, so I was able to walk around and take the place in. It was massive and a palace, much like Dodger Stadium had been. You never forget those things when you see them. In those days, there were no camera phones, so the video is just something that lives in my head. Before I left, since it was a longer day, my father wanted to make sure I had enough money to get me by the entire day, even though I had about 1000 saved from all the other allowances to that point, so he gave me 150 this time. In those days, I never bet more than 5 a race, and I didn't that day either, even though I could have. I didn't feel comfortable doing that at that point.
I bought the Daily Racing Form, but really, I didn't know much about the T breds, so, I expected to lose. Big fields of horses I didn't know, jockeys I didn't know, and a style of racing I had no real clue about. For whatever reason, on this day, that was not going to matter. For you see, on this day, I literally could not lose. We all have a day like that, and this was my day.
I stayed at Del Mar for about 6 races. I bet 4 of them. I hit them all, and not just favorites. I think I was up another 50 before I left. When you are a bettor, you think in terms of betting money and the rest of your money. So, while I had 1000 back in the room at my fathers house, and 150 from him for this day, in my mind, I now had 50 to play with at night for the Los Al card. That is the way you think when you play horses.
Off I went, on the 2 hour plus journey back to LA to Los AL. I was hungry, so I stopped for some dinner along the way, and because of that, I was late and missed the first 3 races. I think there were 10. For some reason that night, and that night only, they had a fair there in addition to the regular harness races. The fair included quarter horse racing. I knew zero about that style of racing, and to this day, I am still in that boat. All I know is that they line them up in the gate, it opens, and they run like hell for 8 to 10 seconds in a straight line and then its over. I caught the last quarter horse race just as I walked in. I bet 5 on something, and it won. Just barely, right on the line as another passed it. I just couldn't lose on this day, no matter how foolishly I played.
Then the harness races started. I had been going to the races for about 4 or 5 years by then, and I knew what I was doing. But, at this track, I knew none of the horses, the drivers, or really how they raced. But I didn't care. I was playing with free money and it was more about the experience anyway. On this night, they had the Sire Stakes also, and many of the races were those. There were many heavy cinch favorites, so I didn't have to be that smart to pick winners, if that is what I wanted to do. I did.
The first 3 were heavy chalks, they all looked good to me, I played them, and they all won. I still could not lose. The next one I didn't like as much, and a 5-1 shot looked good to me. I played him. He came out of the clouds late and picked off the favorite right on the line, which was maybe a 3 minute photo to wait on. This was crazy. I had now hit 9 in a row. 9 in a row. I've been at this now 35 years, I don't think I've ever hit 4 in a row, before or since. There were just 3 or 4 races left. I was up at least 200 on the day by now. That was a lot of money, even though I was already going home with way more than that if I had lost the entire 150 I started with on this day.
I decided to bet exactors this time. Not boxes though, just straight exactors. Something I never do, to this day. But, this day was different. I had the confidence that I was going to win. No matter what. I played two 2-1 shots in the next race, and they hit the line together, and my top horse clearly was ahead. But, there was an inquiry, on the winner. It seemed to flash forever, but when the inquiry came down, my horse stayed up. 10 in a row. Yes, 10 in a row.
By this time, it had been a very long day, and I was getting tired and a bit sleepy. But the rush of all the wins kept me going. I was going to play one more race, win or lose, and then drive home. These were the best horses they had in California at that time, the Open horses. There were only 6, but it was a very evenly matched field. All 6 looked to have a shot. I watched them parade, and I picked a 5-1 shot to win over a 6-1 for 2nd. Straight. It was paying about 100 bucks if I cashed it. I had to lose though, nobody keeps a run like this going forever. The race was contentious start to finish, and all 6 were in it as they turned for home. My 5-1 shot was hopelessly boxed and blocked from going forward. My 6-1 shot was on the outside, but he was hanging. I was pretty certain I was going to lose this one. Then, the red sea parted, the 5-1 shot shot through in an instant and got up right on the line, with 4 others noses apart beside him for 2nd. My 6-1 shot looked to be 3rd, so I was still going to lose. They put the numbers up that way. I thought the run was over. Then, they announced there was a drivers objection. The horse that finished last against the 2nd place horse. That one also took a long time too, but..he came down, my horse moved up to 2nd, and....a perfect day was complete.
I walked out with about 300 plus my 150, less dinner and gas, which my dad insisted on giving me money for when he found out I spent 30 extra on gas and food.
You would think all of those things would be the most vivid memories I have of that day, but it is not. The one thing I remember most is that there were some people standing beside me at Los Al, and they had noticed I won every bet. They looked at me by the end of the night like I was some 3 headed freak. It seemed I was that day.
Home I went.
Two days later, on Monday, we flew back to Toronto. My father gave me the extra envelope just before we took our luggage out of the trunk. He told me not to open it until I got home. I didn't. Lets just say it was enough money to buy a car if I wanted to.
On the plane, my mother told me that my father had assured her he would come back and go to court. I knew it as a lie, she knew it was a lie, even though she wanted to believe it. It was a lie, but that was okay. It was enough.
We went to court a few months later. They called him. He wasn't there. So, he was convicted, and now a felon on the run. When lunch break was over, we had to go on the stand and tell them why they shouldn't seize our house. My mother was very nervous, as she was prone to be anyway. I told her to just tell the truth. She did. The crown asked her what she did. She told them we went to California to convince him to come back, he said he would, and that she did all she could do. She said he was not living in hiding, she knew where to find him if they wanted him, and she couldn't have done anymore.
Then it was my turn. I wasn't so honest, but I did what I had to do to save my mothers house, which is all she had left at that stage. The crown asked me what I knew. I said I heard my father tell my mother that he was going to come back. That wasn't entirely true. I didn't hear him say that, but my mother told me he did then told me. I told them I was certain he would come back, but of course I knew in my heart and mind he wasn't going to. The judge said we had done enough, and he let us off the hook.
I have a theory of why they did that.
As it turns out, they didn't want him back. They were happy to let him be California's problem. It cost more to prosecute and deal with him than just let him be. In any case, they weren't even trying to extradite him and he was easily findable, and he wasn't trying to cross. They were just happy for it to be over. I told my mother she should take that as a sign and be happy herself to be done with it, and let it be. She did in the end.
On that trip, and in court, I just couldn't lose. It just went my way, for whatever reason.
My mother hated when I played the races...but she loved it when I won. She was like that. When I told her how much I won that day in California, she was so happy. Everyone likes a winner and when you are that winner, you feel like you can never lose. That is perceived by others, but all of us know that the winning wont last. It didn't. The next time at the track back home, I couldn't pick a winner to save my life, and I went on a run where I lost my next 60 or 70 bets. Karma evened up the score, as it always will. But it can't take away my stories or memories of that month in August, where I could not lose.

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