Bonus Feature! McChump's Travel Tips (tm)
Volume 163: Air Travel Etiquette:
Some say there is no such thing -- many say -- but I beg to differ. I hereby offer up McChump's Air Travel Tips (tm) to help you become a better and more pleasant companion for your fellow travellers.
Friday evening, May 17th:
Within two minutes of putting the Rent-A-ChumpMobile on the road out of BWI, it started raining like hell. Great. The perfect topping on the ice cream sundae of air travel.
Saturday morning, May 18th:
It was a dark and drizzly morn.
The "free continental breakfast" crowd in the Hampton Inn dining area was in a surly mood. All the poppyseed bagels were gone, and the bananas weren't quite ripe. Me, my onion bagel, and my pp's took up a table as far away as possible from the rest of the snapping, snarling guests, expecting a riot to break out at any moment. A nice gentleman who was in charge of the breakfast area offered me helpful hints on playing Pimlico. A child wailed.
The riot never exploded while I was sitting there, but there was still an hour to go till the breakfast bar closed down, and trouble was brewing due to the dwindling supply of Sugar Frosted Flakes. The MauryMobile pulling up at the door was a welcome sight, and I was glad to get out of there with my skin.
A few minutes later the MauryMobile pulled up in front of a little bakery in quaint Ellicott City, and the occupants piled out to score up a continental breakfast. For some, their second of the morning.
The stop in Ellicott City had cost precious minutes, however. As the MauryMobile navigated a roundabout and scenic course through the west side of Baltimore toward Pimlico, I correctly observed we were never going to make the 10:30am first post. With no pressure on me, I volunteered to the entire car that I knew for a fact that the winner of that first race we were going to miss would be Malvern Rose. Not a wise move when you're riding with real horseplayers, as it turns out. There were quickly phone bets on Malvern Rose on behalf of all four occupants of the car. Gulp!
All these years of track and race travelling, and I had never been to any Triple Crown event. Not a one. Those big crowds just didn't appeal to me.
But this year was different. Internet discussion list lurker, racing economist, and friend, Maury Wolff, got hold of me and let me know there was a ticket with my name on it for the 2002 Preakness. Some sort of box seat somewhere, bazactly where I had no idea, but at least outside. Plus it was a KG event, and to date KG events were thumbs up in my book. So I agreed to show. Enthusiastically.
Now as to the KG's: They're a shadowy bunch, alright, and the best I can explain it is they're sort of like the Kelly Sampson Fan Club, but with International stature. They're also a bit more serious about their wagering than we of the KSFC, but pretty much (so far as I can tell) it's the same sort of outfit. Today's group was Maury, Walt T., Dave T., and Roxy Roxborough, all of whom I'd met before, plus Steve D. and the brothers S., who were new to me. Not bad sorts at all, considering the fact that some of 'em are - gasp! - gamblers!
Then we walked into Pimlico and looked at the results of the first: Malvern Rose a winner, $6.80. I'm the King of the horseplayers, a real champeen, yes I am. Got me a rep, now. With witnesses.
Roxy Roxborough and Maury Wolff
Not too bad a set of seats that Maury and Roxy had scored up for us, either. Right on the front of the outside grandstand box section, between the 1/16th pole and the finish line. It had quit raining by the time we got to the track, and once Maury showed me where those seats were, I hardly moved from the spot all day. Others may have been in and out, running about, but not me. These were the greatest.
Well, maybe a little running around. For instance, I had to go inside for beer and to bet.
Also for instance another Internet correspondent Ron B. had told me where he and his group were going to be, so I looked down just below us, and there they were. That required a little field trip or two, and profitable ones they were. Ron's group had brought the most delicious crab cakes from some small stand in the Lexington market, grilled to perfection by one of his group, as well skewers of barbequed shrimp, and sweet treats like brownies, and a cooler with Yuengling beer. We were also joined by Internet correspondent and fellow Horseracing Abroad outins traveler Jeff D., who had seats somewhere up in the grandstand behind us. A pretty good day get togethers, all told. Huge thanks to Ron and his group.
Good people watching inside the grandstand on the 2nd floor concourse, too. Not like you'd think, with huge KY Derby hats and so on, but the biggest collection of Sopranos-looking characters you ever saw. None of these guys ever had to wait in the beer line with the rest of us schlubs. Can you say, "Tres cool!"?
There was racing, too, of course, on a glorious card that the MJC had put together for the day. Thirteen races, with a jillion horses, and eight stakes races including the Preakness. Hardly any scratches, either. Despite a long time between races, the day just flew by, with excellent races, clearing and warming weather, the beautiful Pimlico infield laid out in front of us, a big buzzing crowd, bikini contests on the infield jumbotrons, and good friends to swap stories with all day long. If there's things other people want to complain about regarding Pimlico, you'd never know it by me. However I must say that the official drink of the Preakness, the Black Eyed Susan, is bad news, especially at $6.50. At least the collector's glass it came in was okay.
I don't have the record of what I bet during the day leading up to the Preakness, but I remember winning a cheap tri somewhere in there, cashing some other tickets, and losing a few. By the time the Preakness rolled around, I was down a big $7 for bets and quite a bit more for beer. Whatever I'd been betting, it had been fun, and I only skipped one race.
All too soon it was time for the Preakness. I laid down my $2 bet on Harlan's Holiday and then parked myself in my seat, with camera in hand. The grandstand boxes behind us were finally full, for the first time all day, everyone standing and straining to see the horses coming down the track from the far turn.
A huge Baffert contingent led War Emblem by the stands, with Bob exhorting the crowds to cheers as they walked by. Most of the horses saddled up on the turf course right out in front of the stands, but a few including War Emblem disappeared into the indoor paddock. Singing of "Maryland, My Maryland". Long, colorful, drawn out post parade, camera whirring away. Horses disappearing down to the far turn.
Then they're off, to the cheers of the crowd, and by the stands the first time, with Menacing Dennis on the lead. How will War Emblem react to having a horse in front of him? But none of the other so-called speedsters is really doing much as they round the first turn and disappear onto the backstretch. Fast fractions!
At the top of the stretch it's War Emblem putting Menacing Dennis away, and Proud Citizen coming menacingly up in the stretch only to fade after a brief bid, then a last rush from the outside by ... Magic Weisner? But War Emblem has hit the line first and I don't even care about my $2, punching my fists in the air, and looking around to the KG's for their reaction.
They, however, were headed out the door at a furious clip in a plot to beat the traffic, and I didn't even have time to put my camera back in its case before I took up the chase.
Pimlico / Preakness 2002
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Saturday evening, May 18th:
It was a bright and sunny eve.
The MauryMobile, the same which had delivered me from the humorless continental breakfast that morning, had somehow navigated the streets of downtown Baltimore, and delivered its load to Germano's Restaurant in Little Italy, a favorite of Roxy's. Joining the group of KG's were my Euro trip buddy Jeff D. and a writer friend of Maury's. Lots of good food and drink, and lots of good stories during the course of a long, pleasant evening, including some helpful hints for playing Pimlico (including, in the case of some of our number, how they hit the Preakness superfecta). No near-riot impended, the Germano's staff was outstanding, and no food or drink item threatened to go into a shortage situation. Best of all, I didn't have to drive. Or, for that matter, pay. These guys are too kind.
Sometime later, the MauryMobile poured McChump out its door at the Hampton. I'm proud to report I only forgot one thing in the trunk. No evidence of any riot damage at the Hampton, though something of a riot ensued in the room next to mine until about 3:00am. Ah well. Let 'em party. Maybe they were at the Preakness, too.
Thanks very much to Maury, Roxy, and the rest of the KG's for one of the great racing weekends of my career. You guys are great hosts.
Sunday morning, May 19th:
With only one small gettin' lost incident, the Rent-A-ChumpMobile had finally managed to make its way to the Hampden neighborhood of Baltimore for a breakfast that can't be beat at the Cafe Hon, and a visit with old friend PhC Marianne. A flyer at the desk revealed that the big Baltimore Hon Fest is coming up June 8, chumps! Get your beehive hair-dos and Elvis duds ready!
But all too soon it was time to head on back to beautiful BWI, the only airport of Our Nation painted flat black, turn in the Rent-A-ChumpMobile, and get ready to brave air travel, once again.
Too short, too short.