Locks on the Doors; Portland Meadows is closing.

Locks on the Doors; Portland Meadows is closing.

“You think they’ll run here next year?”

Just past the finish line. The toteboard is still there, and to it’s right, the old Portland Meadows Golf Clubhouse. There was a 9 hole course in the infield for years.

From the time I started working at Portland Meadows in 2006, every Summer that familiar question came up hundreds of times.  “You think they’ll run here next year?”  My answer was usually the same to everyone.  “I think so.  I hope so.”

Dr. Jack Root who has been a long time owner/breeder/trainer/veterinarian in Oregon told me once “Jason, I’ve been coming here for thirty years, and every year I hear from countless people that Portland Meadows is closing.  It’s been closing for thirty years!”  But then Dr. Root followed that statement up with another.  “What will happen is some day, I think several years from now, we’ll show up one day, and there will be locks on the doors.  That’s when we’ll know it’s finally closed.”

Well for me, this past Sunday, when I walked up to the front doors and saw the locks, Dr. Root’s prognostication finally hit home.  I only stayed there for maybe thirty minutes or so on Sunday.  Walked around and saw the grass growing over the main track.  The inner rail torn down in places.  The lights removed from the toteboard.  The old golf course clubhouse empty.

PM from out front. The neon horse was still running, but the front doors are now locked.

I talked with one of the security guards who I’d known from my time at Portland Meadows.  He said the day before was the last day of simulcasting.  This coming Saturday would be the last day of poker.  Then January 1, the new owners, a logistics company of some kind, would take over ownership.  They’ll turn the property into some kind of trucking/shipping facility, the grandstand will go down, and life in North Portland will go on.  I’ve seen it in other places.  Where my beloved Longacres once stood there is now a Boeing building and a bunch of walking trails.  Where Playfair in Spokane once ran races there is now a business park.  Yakima Meadows is still standing but it looks condemned and I believe is only used to house motorcycle races.

Portland Meadows opened on September 14, 1946 and was the first North American Thoroughbred track to offer night racing according to the track about page on the website.  The track survived a flood in 1948, a fire in 1970, and several different ownership groups.  Gary Stevens career took off there and in 1982-83 he won 126 races before heading down to Southern California and creating a Hall of Fame career.  Bill Shoemaker won the Portland Mile in 1989.  There were other great things that happened on the track, but those things are all just PM’s biography.

To me it will always be about the people.  I used to love to walk the backstretch and talk with wonderful trainers like my friend Ben Root.  Folks like Dr. Ryland Harwood who was a career dentist and became a trainer, owner, and breeder in his retirement.  Small barns like Bubba Bullene, and GD Khalsa, who despite never having a huge stables, are fabulous horsemen.  Jockeys like Joe Crispin, and Mark Anderson, Javier Matias and Juan Gutierrez.  Portland always had many female riders as part of the colony.  Kathy Mayo won several titles there.  Shawna Barber, Becky Abernathy, April Boag, Connie Doll, Debbie Hoonan, Marijo Terleski, Shawna Whiteside, Darlene Braden, Anne Sanguinetti, and in recent years Kassie Guglielmino and Eliska Kubinova.

Whatever track I go to I always make sure to make friends with the jockey agents.  They always have the best stories and usually have some useful information.  Steve Peery was an agent there for years and became one of my best friends.  Keith Drebin was always fun to talk with.  I remember at the first Portland Meadows Golf Tournament I played in, Mike Delnick was the leading agent and was in our group.  I muttered at the first hole “Well I hope we can win today guys.”  Delnick looked at me and said “Don’t worry, I’m keeping score.  We’re gonna win.”  I laughed and then he said “Jason, the most dangerous wood in my bag isn’t my driver.  It’s my pencil.”   We won the tournament by a stroke.

I also used to love to hang out with the tote room guys.  Brothers Lucas and Ben.  One racing night they were having a contest who could fit the most grapes in their mouth.  So I participated and stuffed like 10 of those buggers in my yapper before eating them.  After I finished them I ran upstairs to call the next race.  As the horses reached the gate I could feel the acid from the grapes bubbling up in my stomach.  I reached down and hit the mute button and let out a big burp.  Then I heard my burp echo over the loud speakers.  I looked down to my mic pack and saw the light was still green.  The TV department even made a video of it which you can see HERE.  It’s pretty gross, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I know the racing wasn’t world class or much class at all.  But it was our track.  I called those races like they were the most important races in the country because I knew to the owners, trainers, jockeys, and gamblers, they were important.  I always felt a sense of pride that when an owner would watch the DVD of their horse winning a race, even years from now, that it was going to be me who got to describe the victory and call their horse.  What a privilege.

When I left Portland Meadows in late 2014 to pursue another announcing opportunity, I remember being very sad about it.  Even though I was taking the next step in my career (which I would of course completely blow), I didn’t like leaving.  I remember tearing up saying goodbye to Jerry and Vestal in the main office.  Shaking hands with Will who was my boss and is now my friend.  I get emotional thinking about Will because he always supported me even though my professional time at Portland Meadows was the height of my personal life mental health struggles.  One year my panic and agoraphobia got so bad that I would get crippling anxiety if I had to be far away from my car or medical help.  So Will set up a huge TV and a microphone in the downstairs office so I could call off the TV and be close to the parking lot and the nurses station.  I eventually made it back upstairs, but I told him countless times if he needed to fire me I would understand.  I look back at those times and feel bad that it was such a struggle.  But I also now have such an incredible appreciation for a boss who didn’t give up on me and ALWAYS had my back.

That’s why seeing Portland Meadows close up hurts so bad.  I haven’t gotten a paycheck from there in 5 years.  But I still am friends with many people from there.  I still have memories of that tiny booth.  The view of Mt. Hood and Mt. St. Helens from that booth.  The good times and the horrible times.  So many of both were had on that plot of land at 1001 Schmeer Road.

The two tracks most dear to my heart have shuttered.  I love horse racing and hope to be involved with it in some way until my final furlong.  Just gotta keep working to make sure it can keep going, and god forbid, maybe thrive again.  I urge everyone who loves the game and might particularly love a certain track.  Treasure the times there.  Take photos.  Take videos.  Make memories.  When and if the doors get locked at your track, the photos, videos, and memories will be what you have to take with you.

 

A tour I did of Portland Meadows in 2011 can be seen HERE .  My youtube page there has several videos from PM as well.

Travel Vlogs

Long time no post!  I’ve been busy traveling and staying out here on the East Coast in New Jersey.  I’ve been fortunate to get to do some announcing at beautiful Monmouth Park and have been documenting my travels with short videos on Youtube.  Here are links to a few and if you get a chance hit the subscribe button so you can know when new videos come out!  Thanks!  Jason

 

Racing and Poker

Racing was my first gambling love.  Poker was my second.  Racing, I was pretty much always terrible at.  Poker I was ok.  Just like a million other teenage kids in the late 90s, when I saw Rounders I was so intrigued by the idea of playing poker.  Here was a game that if you put in the work and made good decisions you could make money at.  I bought all the books, Super System, Theory of Poker, Caro’s book of tells, and like 20 others.  I studied, I played, I lost, I studied, I played, I lost some more, I studied, I played, I won a little, and so on.

My summer job was as a surveillance operator at my mom’s poker room.  I had 8 hour shifts to sit and watch hands and guess what I thought players would turn over for their hand.  It was great practice.  Then after college I started going back to horse racing (you can see how that went HERE) .  I occasionally played poker after that but never in any serious way.   Getting to the rooms was too inconvenient when you could just get all the racing action on youbet and TVG from home.

My first years working in racing, 2004 to about 2009, I remember there was always the constant talk of “poker did this (insert idea) and boomed!”  Almost every decision I heard management make was related to what poker did to create popularity during the explosion of 2002 to 2005.  Remember there was a time poker was EVERYWHERE.  In racing they tried, but it clearly never took off to the degree poker did.   I remember there was NHC coverage for a bit that was kind of similar to how they showcased the World Series of Poker.  I think I still have a DVD of it somewhere.  But it just never exploded or even really left the ground in terms of excitement and popularity like poker.

What poker did wasn’t all that complex.  They showcased the game, they talked of the mathematics, and they showed everyday people and pros winning lots of money.  Me and every other punk kid watching on TV said “I can do that!”  They didn’t shy away from the complexity of the game, but rather showed guys agonizing and considering all the dozens of factors that would lead to a fold or call.  I remember them talking about pot odds, implied odds, and concepts like that.  ON TV!  There was some dumbing down, but they never avoided going into the intricacies that really made the game interesting.  You could see people winning and if you wanted to look up a player’s results you could go to Hendon Mob or CardPlayer or other sites and look up all their results.  If I Google the Top 10 results from the NHC the first two links I get are from the National Homebrew Competition.

Part of the difficulty of being able to showcase winners in racing, is I don’t think there are many.  With the high takeout and other factors, it’s just hard to get over the hump to be profitable, let alone make a living at it.  I think I know two people who genuinely make their living betting the races, and I know a lot of people who bet the races.  I remember one racing entity I worked at once and asked how many of our VIP’s made money.  The answer was zero.   There are more pro poker players making a living in poker in a 1 mile radius around the Commerce Casino in LA or the Bellagio than there are pro-horseplayers in the entire country.  I really do believe that.   I’m not talking just about millionaires or anything.  Just someone trying to grind out 50 or 80k to make a living at it.  In racing it’s a huge achievement just to end the year in the black, let alone enough to make a living.  Obviously the many diverse participants in poker and racing have different goals.  Some just enjoy a day betting every so often.  Some are weekend players.  Some are serious amateur players.  Some are action junkies (holla)  Some want to be pros.  There is certainly room and need for all those kinds of players in both poker and racing.  Not everyone wants to be a pro and that’s fine.

But that brings me to something else I’ve noticed different about poker and racing and kind of what spurred on this post originally.   Some friends were discussing on twitter yesterday people talking about ticket structure.  A couple said it was annoying, and a couple said it’s helpful.  It’s actually something that’s not really talked about in racing circles hardly at all, whereas in poker, betting decisions are dissected CONSTANTLY and in many ways.  Hand analysis videos by people like Doug Polk have hundreds of thousands of views.  Go to Two Plus Two Forums and there are literally tens of thousands of hand breakdowns and conversations.   Poker Youtube star Andrew Neeme (highly recommend his vlogs) spends his videos discussing hands and working how he can get better at playing them.   There are also facebook groups like Hand History Lounge where the whole purpose is to get group feedback on how you played a hand.  My experiences have been in Poker, players actively seek out bettering their betting and play.  In racing, almost nobody does.  People seek out becoming better handicappers, but not so much better bettors.

In poker, most people are going to win with pocket Aces a decent chunk of the time.  In racing many people will be able to hit a Pick 3 or Pick 4 on occasion.  But did you play the Aces properly if you only got 4 bets from other players when you could have possibly gotten 6 if you played it differently?  Was your Pick 4 ticket a good one because you won and profited $200?  Or could you have played it smarter for less and still hit?  Or could you have hit it 3 times if you backed up your strongest opinions and were right?

In poker it seems that if you bring questions on strategy to players they will have a dialogue with you, and are excited to do so.  In racing, people think you’re just attacking them.  And in some ways I get it.  People post their tickets hoping to get encouragement from others and maybe have others follow along.  I always root for my friends tickets on social media, even if I think they’re making a bad play from a structural standpoint.  In my experiences, questioning their ticket structure has just led to them getting pissed, especially coming from me, who, well, you know.

I think good betting dialogue would be a good thing in general for racing and for people who are participating in betting.  But from what I’ve seen the desire to have those conversations, at least on social media, seem to be pretty dismal.   Maybe the thing to do is to create a forum or place where people can actively seek out advice and exchange thoughts on plays, as opposed to a more open forum like twitter.  And again, in many ways I understand why people don’t want to engage in those conversations.  People want to play the game, try and pick some winners, and have some fun.  Or they think they’re already great at it, despite what I’m sure their numbers would say.  Plus they don’t want to be corrected by know it alls, or pros, or anyone else.   As I said, I know many have different goals with playing the races or poker.  Just have been really curious to see why there’s such a massive difference in how poker players and horse players seek out/value those discussions.

Just thinking out loud, would love to hear folks thoughts in the comments.

2018 down, 2019 to go

I was driving back towards home from San Francisco today and was doing a lot of reflecting on the past year.  I suppose that’s what we do today right?  But it was fun to think back on what was truly an overall good year for me.  In 2016 on this same blog (read here) I posted about how I thought 2016 was my first “uptick” year in a while.  Where on the whole, I could say it was better than the previous year.  Now that wasn’t too hard considering 2015 was about as low as things could get for me.  But it was an uptick nonetheless.  And really the first uptick since probably 2006.  I hold so much anger and sadness over the fact that I really think the “best years of my life”, my mid 20s to mid 30s were so very much the worst years of my life.

2018 started out kind of terrible.  I was in the hospital for a few days and had to undergo a very minor procedure and even though it wasn’t anything serious, it was just a down start to the year.  But in all honesty, after that, things just got better.   My attitude was better.  I really succeeded this year at being present and enjoying moments, big and small.  I remember learning that anxiety lives in the past and the future, but not the present.  Being present was a great gift this year.  Whether it was being on a trip, or holding my sweetheart (more on her later) or calling a race again (more on that later too), I always made sure to be present in those moments and savor them.

I was also far more connected this year to other people than I have been in, well probably ever.  There were several YEARS in a row that I probably went to meals with people less than 5 times total in a year.  I didn’t go to Xmas or Thanksgiving or any family holiday events for years.  I was just far too ashamed of what I was and didn’t want anyone to see me like that.  Fat.  Sad.  Anxious. A failure.  I didn’t want to be loved cause I didn’t think I deserved any of it.

I truly don’t remember really turning a corner towards being happier.  I just honestly started doing more things.  Being more active made a HUGE difference.  I know just walking more and adding stamina has made a world of difference to me.  I also pushed myself out of my comfort zone more and more in 2018.  There were literally years when I wouldn’t go more than a few hundred feet from my car cause I needed a way to escape.  I rode a mobile scooter anytime I had to be around crowds cause I’d get so nervous.  In 2018 I made great strides in going to crowded events and being around people and not just being in and around them, but enjoying them.

I made wonderful new friends in 2018 and also reconnected with several old friends.  I got to shake so many people’s hands this year that I knew from social media, or who were listeners to my podcast, or were just people I had never even heard of.  I also made efforts to visit with some of my old best friends and it was great to connect with them, sometimes if even for just a meal.  I met a wonderful woman this year who I got the pleasure to travel with, spend time with, play guitar for, walk with, and much more.  She’s been a great influence on me and it’s been fun to share time like that with someone special.  Thanks buddy 🙂

I saw a whole lot of North America in 2018.  By my count I took trips to Vancouver BC, Sequim WA, Portland OR, Brookings, OR, San Francisco CA, Los Angeles CA, San Diego CA, Las Vegas NV, Phoenix AZ, Miami FL, and many spots in between.  I put about 40k miles on my car this year.  And I love roadtripping and really enjoyed my travels this year.  So many memorable experiences, meals, and wonderful people I got to see in my travels this year.

My trip to Miami in November was probably the biggest thing of my year for many reasons.  I was so shocked when Pete Aiello called and asked me cause I really felt like I’d never call another race again.  Pete told me on the phone “I tried to think who would really appreciate and enjoy the opportunity and I thought of you.”  That guy’s got a heart as big as Pegasus.

Funny thing is when I told Pete that I could fill in for him, I kept telling myself “this is my chance to write a better ending for my announcing career.  This is a chance for me to prove to myself I could still do it.”  It was very much a me vs me thing in my mind.  Now what really actually happened on that trip was I realized just how many people were in my corner rooting for me.  It wasn’t just me vs me.  Or me vs. my old demons.  It was me with the love and support of many many friends and supporters.  I got so many amazing kind notes and words from people about the trip and my announcing.   Someone I’d only known from social media invited me to his family’s Thanksgiving dinner.  Other friends I’d only known from social media let me stay at their houses on the way home.  I was showered with love and support that entire trip and I just remember thinking after it was over, this wasn’t about me vs. me at all.  It was about realizing how loved and supported I am.  And I think these same people like me announcing or not.  Which is something I wouldn’t have thought a few years ago.  I’m still flabbergasted by the love I was shown and still am shown by people.

Just a great way to end a very good year.

So onto 2019.  Hope to make it another step forward.  I’m not a resolution person but I can think of a few things I really hope to accomplish in 2019.  And If I don’t, hey there’s always 2020.

–Fly in a plane again
–Call a Graded Stakes race (still never have)
–Finish a second novel
–Write a song
–Be as creative as a I can be and remember how much fulfillment I get out of creating things
–Eat healthier
–Continue to walk more and more
–Be in nature more often
–Tweet less, read more
–Not die yet

What to do next?

If you follow me over at my twitter page (@beemieawards) you know I recently got home from a trip calling races at Gulfstream Park West in Miami, Florida.  It really was the trip of a lifetime.  I even did a vlog about it HERE .  On the drive home I finally got some time to reflect on it.  When I agreed to do the fill-in gig, I really approached it as simply an opportunity to do something I had once done but hadn’t in a few years.

In April of 2015 I left Louisiana and drove home to interview for the job at Emerald Downs.  I didn’t get that job and didn’t want to go back to Louisiana, so for the first time in 10 years I was no longer working in racing.  In those next couple of years I really struggled with my anxiety, agoraphobia, and all that stuff.  I applied for a few announcing jobs but never really got a sniff.  I think word was out that I was probably wasn’t someone you wanted to be the voice of your track.  And they were right in thinking that.  I was struggling to even go to the grocery store.  Yet I was gonna call races?  No shot.

Starting last Spring I really started to focus on being more active and trying to get back out and see and do things.  I started making lists of things I wanted to do again.  #OperationTakeMyLifeBack had started.  Sometimes it was as simple as go to the shopping mall.  Or sit in a restaurant with a friend.  Or walk a mile.  Eventually the walks became 2 and now about 3 miles in the morning.  I found with the increased stamina it became easier to do these activities I wanted to do.  I went to a baseball game.  Took several trips.  Went on some great hikes.  It really was a great summer for me on several levels.

Calling the races at GPW was another big thing to check off.   So now back here on my couch, I’ve been thinking, what’s next?  What is next to try and do that maybe I used to do, or have never done?   I’m thinking about taking a trip on a train.  Nothing too long, but somewhere.  I’m way too attached to my car and for years saw it as a “safe place”.  If I can get to my car I can get away from whatever I was anxious about.  So I think taking a train trip like that might be a good exposure therapy exercise.   I want to go to the top of the space needle or Columbia tower.  Heights are still not my favorite and last time I went up in the space needle i had a knee buckling panic attack.  I also thought maybe I could go to an open mic night and play some songs on my guitar.  I haven’t played in front of people since probably 2013 or so?

The real big thing I hope to do again someday is to fly.  As a kid I loved to fly and when I was 21 I started having bad anxiety on a couple of flights.  My last flight was coming back from Las Vegas on my 21st birthday weekend.  I was completely panicked and when we landed I remember thinking “I’m not doing that again any time soon.”  I developed a total phobia of flying and just seeing a plane or seeing video of people in planes would send me into heart palpitations and sweats.   So now 17 years later I’m finally feeling open to trying again.  I’ve been watching youtube videos of people on flights.  I think I would try a short one, maybe from Seattle to Portland.  It’s like 25 minutes in the air.  I’m sure i’ll be scared, but I keep reminding myself of how proud i’ll be of myself when we land.

Part of me thinks getting older has eased the fears.  While I was scared of dying in the plane crash, i know the odds are miniscule.  For me, I was always scared of having a panic attack and freaking out and being stuck in the plane.  That’s the big fear.  Dying was a big part of it cause I always have been obscenely scared of dying.  But as I’ve gotten older I’ve found that fear just isn’t as strong.   I know it’s coming, and I know it’s probably coming sooner than later given my weight and health.  But If I have 10 or 20 or even 30 years left, I should take advantage of them and live and do things.  I spent so many years trying to avoid the outside world and scared in my little cocoon of fear.  It’s been so empowering pushing back against that past.  I have regrets that I can’t change it and get those years back, but I do take some comfort in the fact that I’ve emerged from those years in a better place.  Atleast for now.

My Best Day at the Races

Well since yesterday I wrote about my worst day at the races, it seemed only fitting to also write about my best day.  I actually thought about a few different options for what I would label my BEST day at the races.  There was hogging the Pick 4 on a monday night in October of 2005.  There was hitting the Longacres Mile trifecta in August of 2005 with a 60/1 shot on top.  There was all those days with my dad at old Longacres.  There was calling races at River Downs, or Louisiana Downs.  But instead I chose a day from Portland Meadows.  My last day at Portland Meadows to be exact.  December 28, 2014.

There weren’t any big races that day or really anything memorable on the track or in my calls for that matter.  But I remember it being an emotionally fulfilling day for a lot of reasons.  The first live racecall I ever made was in that booth at Portland Meadows back on January 8, 2006.  A Colt Named Sue won that race and I remember almost everything about that first race call, including how awful it was.  Portland Meadows gave me a chance to call some races early on and it allowed me to make a demo tape and get hired by River Downs in March of 2006.  Midway through that first summer at River Downs I was told that Mike O’Brien, the regular announcer at PM, was not going to be coming back cause the schedule was shifting more to weekday racing and Mike had a regular 9-5 job.   When I was offered the job I remember being so thrilled.  I was 5 months into being a racecaller and I now had two great jobs that ran perfectly opposite to one another.  I was a full-time racecaller.

I did two seasons at Portland Meadows as just the announcer and a few months after I left River Downs in 2008 (you read about that yesterday) they offered me a year round position as guest services manager/media contact and announcer.  It was great, I had health insurance for the first time in my racing career (also the last time lol) and learned a ton about management from my boss Will who now is a big wig with NYRA and one of the smartest people I know.

I eventually gave up the full time job cause I went to grad school starting in 2012, but they let me stick around and be just the announcer.   From 2010 to 2013 I struggled with many of those same anxiety/depression issues I’ve written about.  It was a lot of peaks and valleys as far as my mood, but overall I did ok.  But for some reason when our 2014 season started I was doing well and feeling well.  And something strange happened.  I really started to like racecalling again.  My passion for calling was at an all-time high and I was really feeding off those feelings.  Studying and prepping harder, warming up better, memorizing better, just really doing my best.   I was feeling so good about racecalling that when the job at Louisiana Downs came up and was offered to me, I took it.

Portland Meadows had cut from 76 days down to 39 and it just seemed like the next logical step.  It was more days, more money, better racing, more exposure, etc, etc, etc.   So I gave my boss about a months notice and told him my last day would be December 28th.  I’ll admit it was kind of fun being a lame duck announcer.  I made a few YOLO calls, some impressions, just was having fun with it all.  I remember one day Frank Stronach showed up with his whole crew of corporate guys.  They stopped by the booth while getting a tour from Will and Mr. Stronach, who I’d never seen there in the nine years I worked there, said to me “I hear you are leaving us?”  I nodded yes and said it was nice to meet you and thank you for employing me for nine years.  I sincerely meant it too.  He always got a lot of flack from some of the horseman and fans at PM, but I always felt like that group supported our little track.  But for me the date cuts just meant not enough income to survive.  lad1

So to the track for my Best Day, December 28, 2014.  I got there and the office crew had a cake made for me.  The tote guys got me a real nice card (see right).  Even just walking up to the booth that day I had bettors pull me aside and wish me luck and say some really nice things that meant a lot.  I had always taken a lot of pride being the announcer at Portland Meadows.  So it was cool to get that appreciative feedback for the work I’d done.

All of that was great, but the real reason this was my best day at the races was because I made such an effort to be present and in the moment.  Anxiety is generally fear of what will happen, not what is happening.  I knew in my heart I wanted to savor this day cause I was never going to get to do this job at this place ever again.  So each race I made sure to enjoy the feeling of talking over the PA system.  Enjoy the excitement of the people out front cheering as the horses came down the lane.  Enjoy getting to use a talent I had worked a decade on improving.  Enjoy getting to say the names of these jockeys and trainers one last time.  I really made such a point to soak it all in throughout the day.  I was so thankful and when we got to the last race, I really got emotional.  This was the ending of a nine year chunk of my life.  This was leaving a city I liked and the few friends I had.  And when they crossed the line and the last race went official, I just said thank you very much for letting me call these races.   Then clicked the mic and headed downstairs.

I cried a little hugging our Assistant General Manager Jerry cause I love Jerry.  And I cried a little saying goodbye to Will cause I love Will.  But I got in my car and drove out of the parking lot and hit the road that same night to Louisiana.  Two days later I was at Santa Anita park.  Two more after that I was in El Paso.  Two more after that I was in Shreveport.   But to this day I can still remember that feeling of calling those last races.  It taught me such a great lesson in savoring moments that you know might be important.  I”m glad I still have memories of my best day at the track.

My Worst Day at the Races

I remember once in a writing class our fearless leader told me to write 5 to 7 pages on a day that changed my life.  I found the exercise to be very rewarding and that prompt actually helped me to develop an essay I wrote that was published in Perceptions Magazine (you can read that HERE ).

I’ve been trying to write recently and have kind of been coming up empty.  I mean, I’m writing, it’s just nothing worth keeping.  But that same teacher always told me the best cure for not being able to write is to write.  So the other day when I heard a friend at Emerald Downs say “this was my worst day ever at the races” I thought it could be an interesting prompt.

Now I’ve had some brutal days at the races.  Both while working and while firing away at the windows.  I’ve had a couple minus two grand days back in my heyday of betting, but while those days might make it into my top five worst days at the races, number one is a different kind of bad.

It was May 3, 2008.  Kentucky Derby Day.  But let me start a year or so before that.  I’ve written on here before about my struggles with anxiety, in fact I’m sure some of you are thinking “please not another anxiety blog!”  Well, this one isn’t that.  Nope, this is a depression blog!

My first year at River Downs in 2006 was amazing.  I just loved everything about being a racecaller and living in Cincinnati and meeting new people and traveling.  It was such an amazing year for me.  When I came back in 2007 for year two I was struggling a little bit.   My anxiety was high and I had ended a somewhat short relationship but I was still bummed about it.  I had also lost a friend in a motorcycle accident and I bought a condo that Spring, so I’m sure stress played a role in all of that.

Somewhere in the middle of that Summer of 2007 I remember standing in line at a Chipotle restaurant up on Beechmont Avenue.  I was standing there feeling weirdly numb and then I just started crying.  Right in the middle of the line.  I didn’t know why, but I couldn’t stop.  The crying continued for about two or three weeks.  I had what I realize now were many of the classic depression symptoms.  Struggling to get out of bed, super lethargic, no appetite, and just no excitement about anything.  With the help of a new counselor I seemed to “work” myself out of this “funk” and thought I cleared a hurdle.  I went back to Portland Meadows that winter and everything was going well and came back to River Downs hoping for a great third season there.

A week or so into being back into Cincinnati I felt those same depressive thoughts and feelings starting to come back.  Within a few days I was really having a tough time.  I remember climbing the stairs up to my announcers booth suddenly started to become a huge task.  Standing up to call the races seemed exhausting.  I remember around the last week of April I bought an air mattress and put it up in the booth.  I would lay down between races cause all I wanted to do was lay down.  This was the first time thoughts of suicide ever came into my head.  I remember really wishing I would die although I never had a specific plan.

So that brings me to May 3, 2008.  My worst day at the races.  I remember calling my mom before the races that day in tears.  I had hid the depression episode from her and most other family and friends the year before.  But this was another level.  I was terrified.  I gave my anxiety and depression so much power over me.  My mom reassured me that if I did my exercise and ate well and got back with my counselor that I’d work through it.

I got to the races and went and hid up in my booth.  I remember calling the first race and just losing it afterwards.   I was so done with it all.  My pattern for that day was to call a race, lay down on my air mattress, cry for 20 minutes, then get up and do it again.  Finally the 7th race, start of the late double came.  This time I couldn’t stop crying and the horses were coming up to the gate.  I got myself together as best I could.  The race went off and I was going along ok but mid-race I started to lose my composure a bit.  My voice cracked a little.  I paused and took a deep breath, then went back to it.  A horse named Outta Tune hit the line in front (he eventually became a really good horse for Maggi Moss).  I turned off my mic and collapsed to the floor and broke down.  I had thought I was at least functioning for work, but I wasn’t at all.

I picked up the phone and called my friend Vince downstairs.  Vince was my backup announcer but luckily I had never missed a race so he never had to call one, which I know he did not want to have to do.  But i needed him that day.  I just couldn’t compose myself to even talk anymore.  I was shaking.  Vince came up and walked me downstairs to the main desk where a nice lady who worked up there named Nancy sat with me and asked if I needed to go to the hospital.  I was so embarrassed and shaking and just nodded no, but within a minute of that, she told me that I needed to go.

We pulled out of the lot and as we did I could hear Vinny announcing the post parade for the 8th and final race.  I felt so bad for putting him in that spot.  He’s one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met.  Not just in racing, but in life.  I love him like a brother, even though I haven’t seen him in over a decade now.

I got to the hospital and as I sat there I started to calm down a bit.  The doctor came in right about 6:25, which as it happened, was post time for the Derby.  The doc talked to me and I told him was announcing at the track and couldn’t keep myself together.  So he sat at the foot of my bed and we watched Big Brown break from the 20 hole and draw off to win.  I called my mom and told her “I think I need to come home.”   She was on the first flight out the next day and helped me pack up.  I went back to the track to give Mr. Hannessian my formal resignation.  We parked at the 1/16th pole and I remember I couldn’t even watch the horses come down the lane.  It made me sick to my stomach and just brought me back to Derby Day.   Mr. Hannessian told me he understood and that he wished me the best and wanted me to get better.  I left River Downs and never went back.

There’s been 3 times when I thought my career in racing was done.  That was the first time.  The second was in spring of 2012, and the third was after I left Louisiana Downs in 2015.   For some reason I’ve stayed and for some even stranger reason they’ve let me stay.   My relationship to the sport is a lot healthier than it ever was when I was a racecaller.  And once in a while, for some reason or another, I might have a lousy day at the races.  But I can’t imagine any day being as bad as that one in 2008.

Some words, Between Me and You

I was on my morning walk today and on my playlist came up a song by Brandon Flowers called “Between Me and You.”   Brandon is the lead singer for the band The Killers, who have been one of my favorite bands the last ten or fifteen years.  But this song was off one of his solo albums, 2015’s The Desired Effect.   It came out in the Spring of 2015 and it got me thinking about that time, April of 2015.  It was just a few weeks before American Pharoah would start his run through the Triple Crown.  A few weeks before my 35th birthday.  And a few weeks after I called my last race as an announcer.

When I left Louisiana Downs in early April that year I drove back to Seattle, interviewed at Emerald Downs for that announcer job, and didn’t get it.  I was heartbroken and angry and figured my time in racing was done.  I deleted my twitter account, went off the map a little, and started driving Uber.  While driving people all around the Seattle area I would usually just put a CD in and play it at a low volume.  Well in mid May when Brandon’s album The Desired Effect came out, I bought it, and played it on a loop for weeks.  It was poppy, cheery, and wonderful.  But every time it got to Track 5, I’d turn it up just a little.  And when nobody was in the car, I’d turn it up a lot.   The song is called Between Me and You and there were some lines it that just punched me square in the gut.  I’ve always gravitated towards music that makes me sad as opposed to that makes me happy.  And this song made me so sad, but in the best way.

“All my life.  I’ve been told.  Follow your dreams.  But the trail went cold.”  

I was 35 and felt I’d come to the end of the line on my dream.  Every time I heard that lyric in the song I thought “That’s me.  The trail has gone cold.  What the hell am I gonna do?”   For the next six months the answer was I was gonna drive people around Seattle.  I’ve said before on here driving that six months actually made me really appreciate the blessings I had to call races for nine years.  I had an incredibly fun job for 9 years and got paid to do it.  How fortunate I was.  But at the time, I sure felt like a total failure.  And as I applied for other announcing jobs, Turf Paradise, Lone Star, Zia, and others, I kept getting the “thanks so much for applying, we got many terrific applicants and we’re going with NOT YOU” emails.   I just kept feeling worse about myself and my future.  I applied for all sorts of jobs in so many other industries.  It became clear that racing and announcing were probably over.  Then I’d go back to that song again.

“I was just too proud to know.  There’s a power in letting go.  I never thought that it’d be so hard.” 

There was a power in letting go.  I think sometimes in my life I’ve held on to things just because they’re familiar.  Racecalling became an identity and if I didn’t have that identity then I was a loser.  People wouldn’t like me or care about me.  The things we make up in our heads.  Truth is anybody who liked me before would still like me.  And those who didn’t, still wouldn’t.  Regardless if I was an announcer or an uber driver or a bum.

“And I feel like I got nothing to show for this life that I’ve been wondering “What am I supposed to do?   But I’m doing my best” 

Three years later and when this song comes on I still relate to the lyrics, even though the circumstances are different.  They aren’t job specific as much as trying to let go of other things in life that I’m maybe holding on to.   Accepting what is and what still can be.  Trying to find purpose at a different stage of life.   Letting go of the idea of certain things that I grew up always assuming would happen and maybe won’t.   Which is ok.  There is a power in letting go.

I remember reading an interview with Brandon where he said he never likes to say exactly what his songs are about, because he wants people to make them about what they want.  And I think that’s what I’ve done with this song.  It’s meant different things to me at different times.  And I’m sure next year and the year after that it’ll mean something totally different than it does now.   I’ve always felt music

 

Vlog of trip to Sequim, WA

One of my favorite things I’ve learned in the past year is video editing, and I love to do small Vlogs (video diary kinda things) of my various day trips.  Here’s one I did of my New Year’s Eve travels to Sequim, Washington.  While you’re there please subscribe to my Youtube Channel.   There’s lots of vlogs and other fun little things on there.  One of my goals in 2018 is to do more video stuff, just cause I really find it creatively fulfilling.

Portland Meadows season

So the Summer has turned to Fall, which can mean only one thing, no more heat!  But also means it’s time for Portland Meadows to open up.  Sloppy tracks, $2000 claimers, Javier Matias winning three a day, there’s nothing like it.  The track opens up on Monday and got me thinking about my time there as I actually am in Portland right now writing this.  The city has changed a bit, but overall it still seems very familiar.  This was home from 2008 to 2014 as well as a the winters of 2006 and 2007.  Lots of moving during that time, lots of Russell Street BBQ, and lots of memories, good and bad.

The announcers booth at PM is a rickety shack on top of an old building.  It moves a lot when people walk down the hallway.  In my mind’s eye I can still remember a lot of the times up there.  But now a couple of years removed from announcing, I do feel like I’m forgetting a little bit of what it looked like through the binoculars to call a race.  I’ve kind of put to bed the idea of racecalling anymore as I just think it’s not a great fit for me in a number of ways.  I do feel like I was good at it and I have some great memories of doing it, particularly at Portland Meadows.

I called my first race ever in that booth.  6th race on January 8, 2006 I believe it was.  A Colt Named Sue got the win for my good friend Ben Root.  I called about 8 more races that winter and was hired at River Downs.  By the time the River meet was ending in 2006, Portland offered me the job to be the announcer there.  I was 6 months into my announcing career and had near year round work.   I remember my first day in 2006 as the full time announcer being much more confident than I had been when ‘Sue won back in January.  I was still pretty green though.  I think I settled into stride as a racecaller about 5 years in.  I think it really does take that long to find your voice and really get confident in what you’re doing.

I remember 2009 Opening day and Kruger Park winning the Inaugural, although I didn’t call the race.  I was starting to have bad panic attacks around then and basically had a meltdown after about the 7th race.  Our racing Secretary came upstairs and called the last two, including the feature.  I missed a couple of days and came back.  My first day back I was almost through the last race when the panic attacks came back.  I started to walk down the hall, I called the racing secretary up, and I was ready to honest to god quit.  I stopped, took a deep breath, and knew I’d regret it if I did.  I got through that day and turned things around.  That was such a small moment in time, but at the time, was a HUGE moment for me.

I just looked up the charts for 2010 and 2011 for opening day and don’t recall much from those opening days.  They must have gone ok 🙂  2012 and 2013 Portland shifted to a summer meet, which everyone said would be a disaster, but kind of only was half a disaster.  Locally, on Friday nights, it was really fun.  Big crowds, racing under the (terrible) lights, it was a blast.  By this time I had stopped working at Portland Meadows full time and was now just the announcer.  I must be the only idiot who gives up a year round, salary, benefits, racing job because of anxiety.  Oh the stress of working at the track.  But it was what it was.

2014 was my last year at Portland Meadows, and in all honesty, probably my best.  I was working with a trainer, lost some weight, was feeling good, and it showed in my announcing.  I was really back in love with it.  That’s when the Louisiana Downs job came up and I was feeling so good I wanted to push myself and give it a try.   Leaving Portland Meadows then really did feel right.  They were down to like 39 days a year, LaD was 130.  But also I just felt ready to move on from there.  I remember the goodbyes being pretty emotional.  People were so nice to me there.  I’d been a part of that community for 9 years and really loved the people there.

But man, I can list a million things that happened while I was at Portland Meadows.  I was 25 when I arrived there and 34 when I left.  So much changed for me, but the people there make that place a great place.  I know the racing isn’t much on the quality side of things, but I was always so proud to be the voice of Portland Meadows.  Really proud.

Last totally random PM story.  The announcer who was there about a decade before I got there, Jim Sorenson.  I never met him, and really didn’t hear many of his calls.  But our equibase guy would always tell me stories about him.  He’d always say when a horse was out front “Out there a couple a three”.  And that always made me laugh as a way to say 2 or 3 lengths.  When I was warming up the fields, I almost always would say “he’s out there a couple a three” and amuse myself.