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Sunday, July 30, 2006/9:30 AM

Fear and Loathing in Tioga?

Holy Crap. Last night I had such the surreal experience at Tioga Downs with my family. It as my parent's 34th anniversary so of course I joined the annual expedition to the horse track. Our family enjoys going once a year to watch harness racing (horse racing with buggies or carriages for those of you non-horse knowledgeable folks). This time they all wanted to see the new track at Tioga Downs. Sounded reasonable enough to me so I joined up. Little did I know I would have the strangest Hunter S Thompson-esk night (sans drugs or alcohol... I know that doesn't sound right but bear with me) that I have had TO DATE. Anyway, in honor of the strange trip I had last night the rest of this post will be written in a horrible homage to Hunter, written in as close of a writing style to him that I can muster (which isn't very close lol...). Enjoy:

The Pellet and Pedal,

Horse Manure and a run in with

the narcs

We arrived just before dusk. I remember hearing someone mutter something about how we should memorize where the car was and then the chaos that ensued. For nine rows, nothing but stickers that read Lot 2. No cross section. No other markers what so ever. Madness. We hadn't even stepped through the doors and I could tell that this was indeed a bad omen. In the end I pointed out the ugliest car we could find and prayed that the pitiful bastard who owned it would be too smashed to drive it away before we got back.

The sunset kept my interest as we made our way to the track. Beautiful. So much so that I nearly forgot about the parking horror. All around us elongated golf carts with angry drivers , honking ridiculous tiny horns zipped by. But this did not deter the long line of people with fists of cash and hopeful eyes from pressing closer and closer to their monetary Mecca.

The races started in a hour and yet by the looks of it one would guess ten minutes. Various characters passed by us, most with their noses pressed intently in the race sheets. All around us, a circus to match the crazed interior design of the building. Someone had let loose Liberace's stylist with a paint brush and yet it fit.

To my left I could hear a strange high pitch hum. At first I ignored it, sometimes that works. Pretend it's not there, find a drink and have a seat. Often it will pass. But no, as we grew closer to the casino side of the building it grew louder until finally at risk of screaming and running off to the bathroom, I stepped out of line and wandered off to find the source of my irritation.

There it was. The real heart of the place, the slot room. Above its archway, they had the gall to hang a sign that read: Casino. There was no blackjack, no poker, no cards to speak of. Other than endless rows of electronic slot machines there was nothing there which one might expect to find in a Vegas lounge. And yet there it was glowing a sad yellow neon: CASINO.

A skinny teenaged boy jammed into a dark green sports coat and forced into penny loafers nodded to me as I passed by. He tapped his ear and spoke into his lapel, answering some question that only he had heard. Seeing my second glance, he flashed me his braces and said "Enjoy the slots"

I was in. backing away would only attract attention now. It was best to just wander about as though I belonged. What harm would come from a once over, I thought and so I moved on.

Row after row the animals had lined up. Empty troughs with spinning cherry's and limes let out individual medleys. Each song rising up and intermingling with the next until the entire room had a sweet hum of one single off-key electronic song. It lulled me as I traveled on. The further in you went, the more the rats had perched themselves at the edge of the chairs, paws scratching against the pedal, occasionally drawing a pellet or two. Some looked fresh and ready for the game. Others showed signs of not sleeping the night before. The excitement and prospect of sitting there was too great.

I could see the door, it was only a few steps away now. Another pimple faced Hoover guarded it as well, but I was certain that the fat rat in the moo moo who held his attention now could let me slip by unnoticed. The trick is to keep your head low. Move fast, but never run. The pigs notice runners. Never look them in the eye. Subservient, this is best. The fuckers never care about the little man.

Outside, I took a deep breath and smiled at the sweet smell of manure and track dirt. Safety at last, I took a fast right to get out of the way of oncoming traffic. It's never wise to get between a gambler and the betting window. This often leads to angry words or bruised body parts. At the very least you get a look that could kill. Leaning against the glass windows I scanned the track seating for my party and promptly stifled a scream.

Two rows down he was getting up, cash in hand. A nightmare, something I certainly did not want to encounter. One of the worst things you can see when out on the town. A former coworker. Worst of all, a coworker who lapped up all the idiotic dogma which previous employer served. Having no interest to be caught in a conversation with a lunatic, I made my own mad dash for the door again (nearly taking out another woman in a moo moo, apparently it was Hawaiian night. No on had informed me of this, mental note sort that out later). The Narc was with a tall slim woman who looked so perfectly poised and overdressed that I could only assume that she had to be either a) his twin or b) his yuppie girlfriend. Together they went to get into the long betting lines and soon were swallowed up by the circus that surrounded them.

I waited another minute to be sure. Men passed by ripping up tickets and cursing as they qued up for more. Why bother? No one seemed happy. Not one smile graced their faces. Turning around, I could see that the lines had doubled now that the racing horns had erupted. Most of the men would not reach the window by the time the race began, they knew this. Yet they pressed on.

I settled back into my seat and watched the skies grow darker. As the horses lined up chasing after the moving gate, I couldn't help but think of those men still in line and the rats at their pedals.

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