1:15 pm, Saturday, May 3rd. I am missing Aqueduct terribly.
Instead of zipping from my neighborhood to the Big A in thirty minutes on the A train, I am motionless on the BQE, as I have been for the previous twenty minutes. Road work. Two lanes closed. “It’s a mess!” the traffic guy on the radio cries gleefully.
My kingdom for a subway.
At the end of a 90-minute journey that generally takes a third of that time, I arrive at bucolic Belmont for the first Saturday of the spring/summer meet. It is all so green and lush, so expansive; and people are scattered everywhere: near the paddock, in the backyard, on the apron. Road rage begins to ebb.
From above, I look down the awesome vista of the Belmont stretch, and see…white picket fences?
I crane my neck for a better view. Yes, there at the top of the stretch, where the round tables with umbrellas used to be, are what appear to be little paddocks for humans, surrounded by white picket fences.
Intrepid race track troubadour Ernie Munick and I venture down the stretch. We see—smoke? And smell—burgers?
We do more than look and smell; we ask questions. “$8 a person,” we are told. No matter how many people? “No matter how many people.” Can we take your picture?
Looking slightly uneasily at two random people bearing cameras and asking questions, they tell us (reluctantly?), “OK.”
Ernie asks if he can buy a burger for $5. Now they really think we’re crazy. We keep talking. He’s a proud Wings fan, hailing from Windsor, Ontario; his Wings (on the ice, not on the barbecue) are up 1 – 0. (Now, they are down 2 – 1.) Ernie asks again, “Can I buy a burger?”
The Motor City Grillmaster says, “Let me ask my buddy—they’re his.”
The Buddy comes over, takes one look, and says, “Hey! You’re the guitar trivia guy who plays in the backyard!” Ernie is famous, and I feel like a groupie.
Now, the burgers are not only on offer; they’re on the house.
And mighty tasty they are, too.
They’ve got about half a dozen people in there, snacks, sausages, condiments, coolers, beer. They’re watching the toteboard and the infield screen, and the horses flying by as they come off the turn.
They’re in their own little white picket fence human paddock, and for $8 a person, it’s a bargain.
I just figured out where I’m having my birthday party.