-- Tue 9/4 thru Fri 9/7, Phoenix, AZ:
Uneventful flight back to Phoenix from Albuquerque.
Surely these can be considered the "salad days" of the Free At Last tour. At least when McChump #2 is in charge. Twice he brought home "bag o' salad" from the store. You won't find eatin' like that at McDonald's, no sir.
Lazy salad days, too:
McChump #2 off to work. His big cardboard box home is all mine. Breakfast. Or maybe not. Do some dishes or laundry. Write a story or two. Surf. Read. Finished "Elmer Gantry". Goof off. Nap.
McChump #2 gets done with work mid-afternoon. Head to the OTB for a few bets. (And by the way, he blew off all those winnings on Labor Day, when I was in New Mexico. He is no longer the True American Hero. Fame is so fleeting. At least he was rich long enough to buy that steak dinner.) Done with OTB; visit the TeePee for excellent Mex food, or maybe the Monastery for cribbage, self-service burger grilling, and cold brew outside under the soft light and palms in the fading heat of a Phoenix evening. Maybe a late bar in Scottsdale. McChump #2 is the king of NTN Trivia. And pinball.
Movies some afternoons and nights ... "Apocalypse Now Redux", "Hedwig and the Angry Inch". One thing I miss about Phoenix is the Harkins theatre chain. Home. Sleep. Stretch lazily next morning, and work out the back kinks from sleeping on the floor. Brain frying in the heat.
It's a tough life.
One thing, though: The blistering 1000 degree heat every day, and the vinyl of the ChumpMobile visibly cracking on a daily basis, soon reminds me just why it was I left Phoenix for Chicago lo those many years ago. Someday soon I gotta get going. Any day now, chump. I think I said that the first year of the eleven I lived in Phoenix, too ...
Okay, two things. The Marge Mattress is still totally deflating and dumping me on the hard floor each night. I complain endlessly.
On Wednesday, McChump #2 came home from work at lunch time and disappeared into his room. Soon he reappeared, wearing only swim trunks, and carrying a diving mask in one hand.
"Okay chump, grab that mattress. We're going to the pool."
This is one trip I had been dreading, ever since it was first proposed, several years ago. But there was no getting out of it now. McChump #2 had apparently finally tired of hearing me whine about the incredible shrinking Marge mattress and the relative discomfort of his floor, and my vague threats to purchase a replacement Marge Mattress had grated on his sense of fiscal responsibility, especially since it was so patently obvious that this was one air mattress with much potential useful remaining life, if only it didn't leak.
And so the apartment complex enjoyed a unique spectacle that afternoon: Me, deflated Marge mattress under arm, and McChump #2, in swim goggles and swimsuit, with 1952 hair dryer and extension cord under arm. Both marching to the complex pool.
Locate an outlet. Plug in the extension and the 1952 hair dryer. Use same to inflate the Marge mattress. Proceed with leak detection, according to the following procedure:
Me - Push the fully inflated and somewhat unwieldy Marge Mattress down into the pool, at various angles.
Marge Mattress - Resist getting pushed into the pool at every turn.
McChump #2 - Swim under water, in the goggles, choking and coughing only so often, seeking those pesky leaks.
Onlookers - Gawk, most assuredly in awe of our native genius.
I am not sure about McChump #2, but I found this extremely entertaining. What he found for sure was two leaks. Good work, schlub.
The onlookers' reactions were unrecorded.
An unanticipated and welcome side benefit was that all the ancient cat hair and dirt had been washed off in the pool, to the benefit of all. Except, perhaps, subsequent swimmers.
Back to the apartment. Then McChump #2, to the pool store for a patch kit, and back to work. And me, applying patches in the hot afternoon sun, wondering how I was ever going to get my fingers unstuck from each other.
When all was said and done the Marge Memorial Air Mattress was restored to its former glory. That night it deflated only partially, slowly over the course of the night, onto the floor.
I was pretty damn proud of us.
-- Saturday, 9/8, noonish, Pomona, California, and environs:
McChump #2 had assured me he knew how to get from the Ontario airport to Fairplex, so I hadn't printed any directions. But we had to get off I-10, as it was a parking lot, and so are engaged in some surface street action. So far Fairplex has not appeared, though, and we are soon in towns I've never visited before. Charter Oak. Covina. McChump #2 inquires, "This isn't going to count as a gettin' lost incident, is it?" No, I assure him. It would have never happened if we hadn't got off I-10. Probably. We won't mention it, chump.
-- Saturday, 9/8, shortly before 1:00 pm, Fairplex:
Despite McChump #2's unfounded and cruel charge that I am now just "driving by the seat of my pants" (i.e., ignoring the navigator), Fairplex is soon discovered. Parking: $7. Ouch. Fair admission: $12. OUCH!
This track is set smack dab in the middle of what is billed as the largest fair in the world, the Los Angeles County Fair. And this is indeed one big monster of a fair. That automatically makes it good. Lots of great fair food type stands, including my favorite, a Mex stand just around the corner from the track that sold tacos al pastor, very good ones, for $3.75 plus tax. There were also parades of Clydesdales down the midway, and all the really good rides including The Zipper and Tilt-A-Whirl. There was this one really cute little kiddies ride with black and yellow bumblebees for the kids to ride in. However, McChump #2 declined to allow me to photograph him in front of it. I am not sure what is becoming of that man's sense of humor.
Unlike at Cal Expo, this track was visible from everywhere, and all we had to do is aim for it and go. Program, no pp's. $2.00. ouch. DRF to have some actual pp's: Whatever. That pain has long ago dulled. And right there to greet us again was McChump Tour friend Stuart S. McChump #2 made another discovery - also in attendance was legendary trainer Phil Oviedo, who trained a horse who was forever "comin' around" to several near-victories for us. Lots of company today.
I'm pleasantly surprised by Fairplex. Based on all the whining and moaning I've seen on the Internet about this track and meet, I was expecting a dive. But it's not that way at all. It's a very nice facility.
The grandstand is a perfectly acceptable big old fair type monster, with what looks to be concrete and cinder block construction, painted an interesting shade (sea foam) of green. Main seating is a huge open area of wooden benches with backs (all free) up top, open boxes down along the front, and very nice boxes with individual TV's up at the top of the clubhouse end, all under one of those ancient style roofs of wood held up by steel I-beams and a spidery metal latticework, tan in color. Announcer box up top on the front, occupied on the day by a pretty good announcer. Trevor something.
No first floor concourse that I encountered, but I overheard someone talking about "the dungeon" accessible down under the right end, so maybe there is something down there. I never checked it out. Great big, but dark, 2nd floor concourse, with a high expanse of "bottom of the seats" ceiling and a nice tile floor, where one could find betting windows, concessions, a few tables, and a few TV's for watching simuls, hung from the support stanchions. There's really kind of a dearth of TV's here.
Down at the clubhouse end there's a fairly wimpy gift stand, and the big huge expanse is divided into two levels so there's both a 2nd and 3rd floor. This is obviously a step up from the grandstand end, with nice furniture and furnishings, and much better simulcast facilities. Didn't cost any extra to wander through the clubhouse.
Overall the impression is that of an older, slightly decaying, structure built in the days when race tracks were built solidly and built for a crowd. I'm always a sucker for real tracks, as opposed to the new style crackerbox simulcast house with a track out front. So naturally I found this place quite acceptable.
Out front, below seating level, is a big asphalt apron that had a few beer stands on it (Corona, quite expensive, like $5.25), and a nice Winner's Circle set into it near the finish line, with attractive flower arrangements and a low but attractive ornamental iron fence around it. The apron also featured something that one would only find in California: The Invisible Petting Zoo. A local jokester had taken up residence in a small fenced area by the rail, and was trying to convince passing kids that the little pen contained invisible animals to pet. The moms and dads mischieviously joined in, petting the invisible animals in an attempt to fool the kids. For the most part, the kids looked at the jokester and the parents as though they'd recently arrived from Pluto. I was proud of them.
Down to the left there's a big open apron area in front of two rows of low buildings containing betting windows and concessions. Furthest left is the paddock, a rather narrow, nothing fancy affair of loam dirt walking ring and covered stalls, with a small grassy area in the center. Jocks' quarters in the rear.
There was generally some famous So. Cal. handicapper or another, usually Professor Gordon J., on a small dais next to the paddock talking into a TV and sharing keen insights on the upcoming race. I listened once, the handicapper was proved wrong by the results, badly, and thereafter the handicapper became just part of the background. But it was kind of cool. Don't see that at every track.
Out front is a very nice track, 5 furlongs of soft looking dirt surrounding a very nice infield of manicured grass with some landscaping, primarily stands of tall palms set in flowerbeds. Big full function tote set back from the track a ways behind an open dirt show ring, used at night for fair shows, but today the scene of some bewteen-races entertainment, such as the dancing horse that performed to "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof", and such as the acrobats that performed on horseback. Hedges and a green fence surrounding, barns out back, and big mountains in the background, unfortunately mostly obscured on this day by quite a veil of smog. Overall, very nice, except for the smog.
The card on the day consisted of eleven races, all for thoroughbreds except the first Appaloosa claimer, and the two turn 6-1/2f race seemed to be the most popular. Field sizes from 6 to 10 in these mostly claiming and maiden claiming events. Purse of $10,000 for $6250 claimers, $18,000 for $12,500 runners, $15,000 for the maiden $20k horses, $34,000 for a straight maiden for Cal breds, and on up to $50,000 for the feature of the day, the Phil D. Shepherd Stakes at 1-1/16 miles. Overall, not too bad.
Jocks and trainers on the day were all familiar from either the California or Arizona circuits. Matt Garcia, Martin Pedroza, and Iggy Puglisi were burning up the standings, being freed of the presence of the "big" So. Cal. jocks. Cowboy Jack Kaenel even rode a race. Name trainers, too, M. Stute, Aguirre, West, Abrams, Sise, and so on, plus some good trainers from AZ. At one point I accompanied Phil to make a bet and he started talking to a nice looking older gentleman at the windows. Soon he turned to introduce us. "Mel, do you know McChump? McChump, Mel Stute." Of course he didn't know me. C'mon, Phil. As I shook Mr. Stute's hand I remarked that I'd heard his name a time or two, and he just chuckled and said, "Yes, we do manage to find the Winner's Circle now and then." I decided he was an okay guy, that Mr. Stute.
On the betting front, the crowd was putting up good pools, like for instance $163,218/56,085/29,880 WPS in the 6th. Unfortunately, I wasn't really finding the key to making any of that money flow into my pockets. When all was said and done, win bets, exacta bets, quinella bets, tris, you name it, the spare change bankroll had made like the Marge Mattress and partially deflated, to the tune of $19.60. There was better news for UPF, however. McChump #2 selected a $9.40 winner, Cryptic Witch, in the 5th, Stu and Phil took Awesome Daze in the 9th, who disappointed, and I was going to take Grey Memo in the featured 10th. But I didn't like the way he was walking, so changed my bet (with witness) over to Literal Prowler, a Mike Mitchell trainee, who won and paid $12.20. Stu said Grey Memo would have won had he not been blocked in the stretch, but I knew better: It was the way he had been walking.
Unfortunately it was necessary to leave after the 10th, and I'm sure I would have made back all my money in the 11th, as I could feel many keen insights coming on, but that's the way things go. Overall a very nice day at a nice track, in beautiful weather, with a big fun crowd, and good enough racing. I really don't see what everyone on the Internet is whining about so I am going to flaunt this in your face: Big thumbs up for Fairplex.
Miles travelled to get to this track (from Ruidoso): 875 (220 ground, 655 air)