I’ve always really liked air travel, and I’ve spent the last few years trying to figure out why. Amidst the staffing challenges, the pandemic challenges, the inflation challenges, and the “today’s your lucky day to get jerked around by the transportation gods” challenges, it can be tough to love flying.
After an eventful day spent winging my way cross-country to attend the Racing and Gaming Conference, see my family, and watch horses turn left at Saratoga Race Course, I think I’ve figured it out.
I do some of my most active thinking on planes.
I try to avoid paying for the overpriced airplane wi-fi that cuts in and out. When you’re cut off from the technological luxuries we take for granted every day, you’re left with nothing but your thoughts, especially if you can’t sleep on planes (and I usually can’t).
My trip started at 3:30 am Pacific time Sunday, when I left my new apartment in Northern California’s East Bay with a suitcase in one hand, a carry-on bag in another, and about a dozen boxes left unpacked and stowed away in a spare bedroom so my cat can’t wreak havoc on what’s inside. It included arriving at San Francisco International Airport at 5 am and falling victim to a 7 am flight being delayed twice and, ultimately, cancelled.
Despite this, my dad insisted on waiting for me at Albany’s airport. He’d originally planned to pick me up at 6:40 pm. He did so at around midnight, despite an impassioned attempt on my part to let him off the hook so he didn’t have to drive from the Hudson Valley, to Albany, to Saratoga Springs, and back to the Hudson Valley in the dead of night. Say what you will about us Champagnes, but one thing’s for sure: We show up.
(Love you, Dad.)
In the meantime, I watched the first six races from Saratoga. Fire Sword made me look great, bringing home nice scores in both the wallet and The Pink Sheet’s bankroll section when he wired the field in the fourth. I gave horse racing Twitter something to do by rounding up a few dozen followers to guess how much my breakfast cost. I made conversation with a few people scrambling as best they could, just like me.
“Where are you headed?”
“You work there?”
I got re-routed to go through Chicago, my 6’5”, 235-pound frame stuffed between two poor souls by a customer service agent who seemed just a bit too happy when she said, “middle seats only.” My day didn’t get better when I pulled out the tray table to mark up Wednesday’s Saratoga past performances and lowered my head for a look at the same time the 5’4” person in front of me decided to recline her seat.
I got through most of Wednesday’s card. In the seventh, there’s a horse named Oh Donna. That’s my mom’s name. She’s planning to be with me at the track Wednesday, and I half-expected the person in front of me to recline the seat back into my head again for effect.
(I love you, Mom. See you Monday night. Table for two, that’s T-W-O, at Morrissey’s.)
I must’ve been scribbling pretty hard, because I got the attention of the Dutchman sitting near the window. We talked for maybe 15 minutes about what I was doing, how I did it, and the machinations behind it.
“Do you gamble, too?”
“Do you do well?”
“At Saratoga? Better than most.”
We exchanged contact information. He was headed to Chicago for a meeting before flying back to Amsterdam. Nice fellow, I thought as I plowed through an Italian beef sandwich at O’Hare Airport’s L terminal. It wasn’t particularly good, but there was a lot of it.
I sat down next to a family with two college-aged kids accompanying their parents. An older sister was taking great joy in teasing her younger brother.
“I think she knows she’s right,” I said while leaning over, “and she’s never going to let you forget it.”
My interjections vary in how they go over, which drives friends and loved ones insane, but on this occasion, the two targets began howling with laughter. I’ve got an older sister, too. She’s an equity partner at a major law firm, is the toughest act to follow in the history of mankind, and is raising three kids, two of whom will make their maiden voyage to Saratoga this week.
I passed some time reading a book called “Gods at Play.” It’s written by Tom Callahan, a longtime sportswriter who has spent time with pretty much every renowned athlete of the last 60 years, and there’s a section on Roberto Clemente that hit me like a ton of bricks.
Clemente was seen as an egotistical jerk by many. He was also arguably the best all-around player in the National League, with a sniper rifle for an arm and a body that seemed to creak itself into just the right positions to spray line drives around the ballpark.
“The ability was true,” Callahan writes. “The confidence was fairly true. It was the bravado that was false. As great as everyone knew him to be, he felt undervalued—and he was. As unlikely as it sounds, his principal feature was a kind of loneliness.”
As I write this, I’m tied for second in the all-media handicapping standings. I’m five wins back of John Shapazian from The Saratoga Special, who I topped last year with the best summer of my career in horse racing. This weekend was a really good one for me, one that saw me climb back into contention in a contest that has seemingly picked up a bit of interest on social media.
I love this game, I love Saratoga, and I love it when my opinions help people make money. There were things said and whispered about me following last year’s meet that I haven’t forgotten. Let me be clear: If you think for one second that I’m going away anytime soon, you’re sorely mistaken.
I’m in Saratoga all week. If you’re at the Racing and Gaming Conference Tuesday and Wednesday, or at the track Wednesday through Saturday, come say hi.