Explorations

I’ve never been to Vegas.

I’ve been invited, like a hare-brained idea, by my friend Frank Orio, said among me and my group of high-school friends like the sort of hyper-kinetic thought only expressed passingly, sometimes realized, but only with a  sort of conviction found unrelated to the initial thought.

I’ve had friends go to Atlantic City, mostly Magic Card friends, exchanging gaming for “gaming”, one card game for another or maybe just slots or hookers, “running the hooks” or “big hooks” was what that last one was known as, applying card game terminology.

But I’ve never been and never really been tempted. I guess years of reading and playing RPGs has made me more addicted to an immersive experience or world than just a simple pull of a lever or hit of a button. It’s why I’m so much more frightened of an MMORPG than I am a casino.

That said, I wanted to see one when I accompanied my father down for his birthday to the Aqueduct Racetrack.

It was clear that I was asked as a sign of respect or at least almost as some sort of birthday present. As a child of around 8-12, I used to accompany my father with his two witty, weird friends Bob and Steve to the racetrack where I would handicap races arbitrarily based on names I thought were cool and bounce up and down and eat from a hot-plate buffet, while listening to people bang their Racing Forum on their table yelling at first subdued and then louder and louder: “Come on, Red!” as if the intensity of their cries need correspond to the nearing finish line of the race.

These were fond memories, like my father giving me sips of his Diet Coke, which I was not normally allowed, it meant a vote of confidence, a feeling that I was a big guy, worthy of hanging out in the clubhouse with my Dad’s friends.

But driving out down the BQE, Dad told me Bob doesn’t leave New Jersey anymore and Steve died recently, though he lived a long and good life, I was the only one left from the old Aqueduct crowd.

My dad’s admonishments that the place would be packed, that we might not be able to sit, that we might be stuck with the crazies down in the grandstand seemed strange to me, but he seemed excited about it, so I shrugged my shoulders. I was still proud to be there, still wondering how it would match to my memories.

But when we arrived down Rockaway Boulevard, it was clear that the Racetrack was now second fiddle as there was no sign for it, only a large placard advertising “Resort World: New York City”.

“We’re going to get the valet.” My father told me.

“We’ve never gotten the valet anywhere.” I told my father. “Besides we’re driving a goddam Camry.”

“I’ll say how we park the car.” He replied. “And watch your fucking mouth.”

With a smile.

But as we drove past the glossy new building of the casino and found the adjutant, shabby racetrack, we were informed “no valet for racetrack” and were directed to a giant lot where parking was two dollars.

“I brought you a sports coat.” He told me. And I wore it out of the car.

“The Turf Club” My father pointed out, looking at the sign in the elevator. “Too fancy for our blood. Equestris will do just fine.”

We went to sit in the third floor restaurant, the place we’d gone that I recognized from memory with its panel windows and miniature TVs.

Unlike my memory, the place was deserted though, with a smattering of staff, just hired for the season.

When I asked about the buffet, they told me “sandwiches and soups”.

And when I looked for the Turf Club, the dour security guard told me:

“Closed forever.”

We had an hour to the runs, so I asked to go to the casino with Dad and found it bustling on a Friday morning. People, mostly older and multi-ethnic (there was a large enough population that one of the food court options had a menu in Chinese) sat playing all video machines, no dealers, no servers or anything.

“How did they even let them build a casino in New York City?” I asked my father.

“A lot of work, 10, 20 years in the making.” He told me. “The argument must have been on one hand more jobs and revenue for the state and on the other that it’s tax on the poor. And the job interview must have won.”

But the compromise was only video machines and there they were in great number, penny, two penny slots with patterns I didn’t even recognize. I went to the very small “high-stakes” room for a second where the buy-in was a mighty two dollars.

“Here,” My pops said handing me five dollars. “Let’s play.”

I put it in a machine and pressed the button a few times and then the five dollars was gone prompting me to say:

“I mean that just seems pointless.”

And my father, who looked like he was excited maybe to gamble with his son, eventually agreed.

The only redeeming part was the food court where I entered a long line filled with men in hard hats for some Popeye’s.

There was a corridor back to the racetrack, but it was closed.

When we walked outside and returned back to Aqueduct, there were more people. It was closer to the afternoon. People ate the sandwiches and soups at Equestis. I had some Bocconcini that wasn’t half-bad with my Popeye’s and I sat as we bit Exactas and Exacta Boxes, avoided favorites and mostly lost money at a slower rate.

The men there at Aqueduct were older men, we were among the youngest there.

But at least they cheered, at least they felt something.

We bought a “cheat-sheet” off a guy named Rick, “Rick’s Picks”, a photo-copied hand-written affair standing near the escalator. We still heard those men, as if unchanged, banging their Racing Forums and saying “Come on, Red.”

We bet the Breeders’ Cup and watched astutely.

Bob said he’d try to send in his picks from New Jersey and my dad quoted Bart Simpson at him saying “I can’t promise I’ll try. And I can’t promise I’ll try to try. But I’ll try to try to try.” But Bob sent in his picks for what it’s worth.

We spent enough time there and it filled as we left.

They didn’t have Diet Coke anymore, so I drank a lot of Diet Pepsi.

We never got our new-fangled betting-machine/TV to work. And we didn’t go back to the Casino.

But when I went to the betting tellers to get change for a 20 for a tip for our waitress. He told me:

“Good man! You used to work here right?”

And my father cracked up at that.

***

As I’ve said before in these pages, I like my job.

My boss is pretty cool, has great ideas and projects and gives me a lot of flexibility with my hours.

Pretty much all that you can ask for.

But there is of course one compromise that’s difficult to stomach.

He lives in TriBeCa.

Which is a fucking wasteland for food.

Any time anyone says they live in a “family neighborhood” like the UWS or TriBeCa or Brookyln Heights, they mean a place where people over-charge them for Brunch and they become acclimated to mediocre things because they’re a relief from the every-day grind.

My options down there are go to that bistro and hope they have something under 12-dollars or walk over to C-Town and try to hope I get a 1-hour lunch break.

But my boss is food-literate and conscious of these things and so the place he directed me to near him did not disappoint.

Peace and Love looks like a coffee shop, but actually has very serviceable sandwiches.

The woman behind the counter was older and spoke with a heavy “Franch” accent so I assume there’s some influence there, but they have a menu of sandwiches that all seemed interesting and ended up being well-made.

I indulged the “Aruba”, a chicken sandwich served delightfully warm with on multi-grain baguette with melted fontina cheese, mixed greens and red-onion. Light, but very filling and it came with a small side of a not-overly-mayonaissed Pasta Salad.

It was quick, it was filling, it was 10 bucks.

It was less of a rip-off than I expected.

Which I guess means, I’ve acclimated to a family neighborhood as well.

***

PEACE AND LOVE

The Aruba (Chicken, Mixed Greens, Red Onion, Fontina) w/Pasta Salad- $10 even

NW Corner of Greenwich St and North Moore St.

1 to Franklin St, 23ACE to Chambers St.

***

P.S.- Don’t worry, there’ll be stuff about how depressed I am that I am not getting girls now that I’ve lost all this weight, next time. :p

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