Fairmount Park, Collinsville, IL, May 21

-- Thursday, May 21, 6:30 am, McChump Industries HQ Midwest

Last minute check to be sure we've forgotten enough stuff to make this trip a huge success: Cheesy foreign built travelalarm left on table? Check. Toothbrush still in medicine cabinet? Check. Big handful of socks blindly grabbed from the sock drawer in the dark hoping at least some of them match but as it later turns out hardly any do? Check. Camera with no film? Check. Grand total of $10 cash money in wallet? Check. We're off!

-- 6:44 am, Amoco station at Howard and Sheridan on the very north side of Chicago

We're rollin' out the lot of the neighborhood Amoco, with plenty of gas for the Chumpmobile, and plenty of coffee for McChump, and about to head down Lake Shore Drive, with the sun shining off the lake and sail boats and the Hancock Bldg and Buckingham Fountain and all the structures on the museum campus. A glorious day!

-- 7:15 am, I-55 at the Cicero Ave. exit (southwest side of Chicago)

The "horrific traffic" that keeps some people away from the inner city tracks has mysteriously not been a problem, even in the midst of a work day rush hour. The Chumpmobile attempts his usual right turn to go on to Sportsman's, but by applying just a touch of right handed whip to get his attention, I keep him running straight in the 2 path.

-- 7:31 am, I-55 junction w/355 tollway (way way south and west)

I have no idea if the Chumpmobile even remembers that if we we were going to go to Arlington this is where we'd turn if we were ever to take such a roundabout way of getting there. I doubt it - it has been so long. He keeps running a straight line.

-- 9:15 am, just south of Bloomington

We're crawling along in a construction zone behind a truck that reads "True Value - Official Hardware Store of Major League Baseball". No doubt, this is where Albert Belle did his shopping for bat corking tools and materials. On the stereo, the hero of The Dusty Chaps' Sonoran swing opera masterpiece, "Domino Joe", has just been laid to rest after getting killed in the big shoot out at the Rocket Club.

-- 11:55 am, Fairmount Park, Collinsville, IL

Well gosh - what do you know - it really IS a long darn drive to get to live thoroughbred racing here in Illinois! Perhaps this is what people have been complaining about. But, still, the traffic wasn't really all that bad.

Parking: Still free. Admission: Free today for some reason. Must be a Thursday thing. Didn't even have to whip out the IL owner's license. Track program: $1.50. FP still has the crappiest food selection of any racetrack anywhere. This has not changed. Giant beers $3.25, also not changed. New this year, or at least soon to be new, is that Fairmount is starting up one of those frequent attendee membership card things, a la "The A Club", or "The Thoroughbreds". A big sign notes that this will be starting as of May 27.

As this was the first occasion I've ever had to see Fairmount racing in the light of day, I was really looking forward to it. Actually seeing the horses on the backstretch! And all the way from Chicago it had been bright and sunny, with glowing weather reports on the C & W radio stations from all the podunk towns along the way. But as soon as I arrived at the track, the sky started clouding up, ferociously, and by the time the first race went off, it was dark and about the same as watching at about 8:00 pm. (You who live in the West have *no* idea how dark it can get here in the Midwest when a thunderstorm starts rolling in). The second race went off in near darkness. Before the 3rd the skies opened up and we had ourselves a bonafide downpour and howling windstorm, complete with a lightning and thunder show, instantly changing conditions from fast to sloppy, and the weather from hot and muggy to downright cool. After a short while, the really fierce rain and wind passed on to the south (yes a storm that came from the north - weird), and the card went on in just a persistent drizzle that gradually petered out. But so much for seeing Fairmount in the light of day. It was not to happen. :-(

The crowd on the day had started out pretty puny, but got better as bus loads of bettors showed up from wherever the buses originated from. Some folks got a bit restless when some of the lights went out during the big storm, and some were complaining about the satellite problems with the CD and RP signals, but overall they were pretty decent. And as the storm drove everyone inside, strangers were actually talking to each other, and we all had a pretty good time bonding in there, drinking giant beers and wondering if there was going to be a funnel cloud associated with all that lightning and wind and rain.

Being inside made me aware that one of the NTRA's commercials was played on the monitor between each and every live race, followed immediately almost every time by a Fairmount commercial for the big all-you-can-eat pasta buffet that Fairmount is going to be serving up soon, like I think sometime this weekend. Perhaps they felt Lori looked like she could use some food. But if she came to FP looking for anything besides maybe that all-you-can-eat pasta buffet, I'm afraid she'd probably leave even skinnier that when she arrived.

The card on the day consisted of 10 races, with generally good sized fields like 8, 9, 10 horses, from $3000 claimers running for a purse of $3600 up through money allowance horses running for $9000 plus the $3240 bonus to an Illinois bred winner. Purses seem to be a little higher than the last time I was in attendance - no idea why.

Betting wise, I managed to hold my own, turning a $20 cash voucher into $28.50, handicapping right out of the track program. Caught a couple of nice place and show bets on horses that figured and that I figured were overlays in the PS pools, but heard plenty of the local patrons talking about "fixes" when these horses came in ruining their exactas and tris. Well, if the fix truly was in, then I'm glad I was able to figure it out.

Winner of the 7th was ridden by an apprentice jockey named Ramsey Zimmerman, and they announced it as Ramsey's first win. Ramsey looked pretty happy walking back to the jock's room, to get painted with black shoe polish, or doused with ice water, or whatever it is they do at Fairmount. Congratulations, and here's hoping for many more!

But I couldn't stay for the whole card, as there were still miles to go before I slept. So I packed it up after the 7th with my groovy $8.50 profit, and headed out.

Overall experience: Okay, nothing special. Cheap prices. Crappy food.

-- 4:01 pm, big, green, steel bridge over the Mississippi River

The odometer says I've travelled 319 miles so far, and the sign by the side of the road says there's 393 to go. On the stereo, Jerry Jeff Walker is singin' that "his wife's name is Bettylou Thelma Liz". And there's some big nasty looking rain clouds up ahead.