Looking back at my 2016

So every Christmas Eve I always send personal emails to many friends and colleagues and wish them Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays etc.  One of my good friends wrote me back and said “Keep up your momentum, you had a better 2016 than 2015.”  My initial instinct was to poo poo the comment.  I’m a glass is 1/8th full kind of guy and tend to view most things negatively.  And I think I’ve convinced myself that I’ve gone backward in many ways in my life and those are what I’ve focused on.  But as I think back, I think my friend was right.  The year may have featured some backward steps in some avenues but I think there were more forwards than backwards, so i’m counting it as a “W”.

I started a new job with BetAmerica doing a daily podcast called the BetAmerica Radio Network.  In December after interviewing with them for another job, we decided I wasn’t a good match for that position.  But a week later they wrote back and said “Pitch us something, we want to work with you.”  What a feeling that was to hear someone wants to work with you.  After driving Uber for the previous 8 months since leaving Louisiana Downs, and getting turned down from Emerald Downs, Turf Paradise, Charles Town, Oaklawn, and a few others, it was pretty great to hear someone wanted to work with me.  What I found was a company that is growing and filled with amazing people.  I’ve never felt so inspired about a company I worked for as I have with BetAmerica.  I’m beyond excited for 2017.  In January I got to go to Las Vegas for the National Handicapping Championship and meet tons of great handicappers and racing folks and can’t wait to go back in a few weeks, only this time with a shorter commute (more on that later).

On my way home back to Seattle from the NHC I got a call from Portland Meadows asking if I could fill in for a day.  I jumped at the chance.  It was a little weird and I didn’t have my own binoculars, but for me it was about closure.  I savored being up in that booth one last time and I also savored getting to call what is now my last race in a better head space.  A year earlier in Shreveport I was not in a good place at all and calling races was not any fun.  So since I don’t think any tracks are knocking down my door to announce for them, it’s possible that day at PM was my last and I’m so glad I had fun with it.  Coming to terms with the fact that announcing might be done for me has been very tough.  Not necessarily cause I loved it so much but because I had made it far too much of my identity.  I was “Jason the horse announcer” and it was far too much a part of me than it should have been.  Now I will say, I don’t think I’ve called my last race.  Ideally I’d love to call a short meet somewhere at some point of the year while working for BetAmerica full-time.  BA has always encouraged something like that and I’m hopeful it happens.  But if it doesn’t, so be it.

I got to spend several days down at Santa Anita this past year.  Most spent with my buddy Raider Mike up at the Gallop Out.  There’s still no better racetrack experience for me than that place, even though right now they’re kind of being poop heads about some stuff.

So I’m not really a “best friend” or “best day ever” or best anything kind of person, always seems odd to single things out like that.  But I had a best day this year.  April 6th.  I ate at one of my restaurants and got to see probably my favorite band right now, The Killers, play the opening show of the new arena in their hometown.  The bone in ribeye i had at Gallaghers Steakhouse was beyond good.  It was one of those things you close your eyes while you eat cause you want to turn off as many senses as you can so that the incredible taste feels even stronger and better.  It was blindingly good.

Now, anyone who knows me or has read this blog before knows I hate crowds.  Hate them.  Avoid them.  I’m a panicky scared person.  So a rock concert isn’t exactly fun for me cause I just focus on how nervous I am in the crowd.  But I did the most important thing I could that night and that’s part of why it’s the best night of the year.  I said “this is too important to me to let my anxiety win and have me run away.”   In fact most of my best moments over the last decade aren’t when something great happened to me.  They’re when I stood up to my anxiety, even if it was just to go to a family event.  So The Killers come out and launch into Mr. Brightside first with all the arena lights on.

killers

The Killers! Dave Keuning (left guitar), Brandon Flowers (center singer), Ronnie Vannucci Jr. (Drums), Mark Stoermer (far right, Bass).  

The place went nuts, and I went nuts.  I danced.  I screamed.  I high fived with the people next to me.  I let my guard down and I sang every lyric and my god did I have fun.  I cried my eyes out at the end of “Bling” cause when the ending comes on it always gives me the chills on the record.  And when I heard it in person, it was even better. “We’re gonna make it out of the fire”.   And during “Dustland Fairytale” I beat my leg so hard from drumming on it I had a bruise the next day.  When they finally got around to “When You Were Young” I was so tired, and drained, and happy.  I went home and could feel the adrenaline still pumping and the lyrics still in my head.  Best night of the year.

In late April I started going back to Emerald Downs again as a fan. I was crushed when I didn’t get that announcing job the year before.  It was the dream job.  I probably watched five horse races from April 2015 to October 2015 and I think they all involved American Pharoah.  I think the break actually did me good though.  I do think it’s time to have breaks from things you’re intertwined with so closely on a daily basis.  But this year, I left my ego in 2015 and went back and just tried to enjoy my hometown track again and I found that I did.  So that was nice.

I got to do a part in a movie on Labor Day weekend.  It’s called “Lean On Pete” and it’ll be out in 2017.  I did the race announcer voiceovers and the coolest part was my trailer, YES I HAD A TRAILER, was next to Steve Buscemi’s and I got to talk with him for like ten minutes and he was just the nicest guy.  He really had a lot of questions about racing and was gobbling up knowledge.   He’s playing a trainer in the movie.

As the summer ended, i packed my bags and moved to Las Vegas.  I love Las Vegas.  Not all the strip stuff although that’s pretty and fun and stuff.  But I got a short term rental.  I woke up each morning and walked while the sun rose over the mountains.  The desert air smell is so great.  At least twice a week I’d drive out to Red Rocks and walk around and enjoy what is maybe my favorite place on earth.  I’ve made changes in my directive that I want my ashes spread out there.  If I gotta be somewhere forever I want it to be a view of this.

redrocks

Photo Credit Red Rock Scooter Rentals!

I came back up to Seattle in November for an extended holiday trip and my plan is to kind of just split my time between here and Las Vegas.  Go back to Vegas for Jan, Feb, March probably then Seattle for the summer then vegas for a bit in the fall.  I can be wherever I want for my job so it’s a neat perk.

The Beemie Awards went off for the third year in a row, and kind of went off without a hitch or anyone getting too offended.  It trended nationally for a while and it really is cool to get to be part of a fun night that many in the racing world seem to enjoy (and many probably hate as well).

There were plenty of other little things that happened in 2016 and I probably even forgot a few of the biggies, but just wanted to try and go thru and note what I did this year.  I hope anyone reading has a great 2017.  Baba Booey to you all.

Buried, but with a view

I went and visited my dad’s grave today.  I try and go when i’m up in Seattle every so often.  We had him buried at Hillcrest Burial Park cause the spot where he’s at overlooks Emerald Downs.  We spent his last days there together.  It’s a special place for us.  So I love that he can see the track from his burial (yes i know he’s dead and can’t see it, but I like the symbolism ok!).   Whenever I go visit him I walk a few feet towards the edge of the hill and stare at Emerald.  Here’s a pic of the view.  Sorry i’m not Barbara Livingston.

grave2

I thought about when I got to call some races at Emerald.  They asked me if I’d come call four races so Robert the regular announcer could host the TV show on Comcast.  I jumped at the opportunity.  My only real dream in announcing was to be the announcer at Emerald Downs.  So to get to call races there was something I was so excited about.  I was very nervous that day.  I think it was June of 2009, but might have been 2010.  As the horses for the first race were warming up I was trying to do my best to calm my nerves.  As the last horses were loading, I turned the mic off and took a deep breath and looked up at the hill where dad’s buried.  He’s right over the 3/8th pole.  I asked for a little help.  I called the race and did fine.  And then I cried.  I mean I really cried.  I was bawling.  Calling a race on a random Saturday at a mid-level track isn’t the Kentucky Derby, but it was important to me.  I shut the door and just allowed myself to feel the strange mix of pride and sadness.  Then a knock on the door came.  I composed myself and answered.  It was Duane Hamamura, who was a great photographer in the Northwest.  Duane said “hey let me take a picture of you announcing.”   For those who know Duane, that was the most words he ever said to me.  I smiled as big as I could even though I knew my eyes were probably bloodshot.  Here’s that photo.

meannouncing

I thought about that day today as I stood at my dad’s grave and cried some more.  I’ve been crying a lot lately.  I struggle with sadness sometimes and lately have been struggling more than normal.  Which I know my dad would respond to with “cut it out you pussy”.  That’s just how he was.  But I still miss him and think about him and when I visit him, I always remember to try and enjoy the view of the big green roof.

grave

When someone famous dies

It’s been quite interesting to watch how people on social media and in person react to the news when a famous person dies.  Prince died this week and to be honest, it really didn’t hit me at all because I never really connected to his music in any way.  He was monumentally talented and a great guitar player, but as I said, his music never had any effect on me.  So it was strange to sit back and watch the outpouring of support and memorials to someone I really hadn’t seen any of my “friends” online ever mention.  I don’t doubt that many were huge fans, but he hasn’t done much since the age of twitter so it makes sense.  I found that most of the week consisted of people being really affected by the news and sharing online while many of us who weren’t affected were texting one another saying “people are going crazy about this.”

At some point I had the thought, jeez these people are overreacting.  That was until I thought about how I felt when musicians I did connect with died.  But Jason, “you didn’t even know these people.”  That’s a line that comes up when referencing people’s reactions to when famous people die.  But here’s the thing.  I could argue that I spent more time in my room and my car with Layne Staley and his singing than I did with most of my friends and even most of my family.  There’s a reason when artists die the reaction is often more severe than when someone merely famous dies.  I’ve never had any real reaction when a president died or like when Steve Jobs died.  I mean, it’s sad anytime anyone dies, but to me artists share emotion through their works and that’s where the connection comes from.  There were people who were grieving to Prince’s passing this week who had danced to his songs at their senior proms, at their weddings, on roadtrips, and a million other life experiences.  That’s why their reactions were so visceral.

The other question I saw pop up this week was “does how someone dies effect your thoughts on them.”  For me, 99% of the time the answer is no.  If someone hurts or causes injury to others in the act of their death, that’s the exception.  But if they hurt themselves, or overdose, or cancer, or jump of a bridge, that doesn’t effect how I look at their life.  Because the death is only one part of the life.  And while it’s often the freshest memory at the time, it’s not what’s important.  I don’t care if Prince OD’d or had cancer or AIDS or slipped on a banana peel.  He impacted millions of people in a positive way.  How could that ever be a bad thing?  I’ve always hoped when I die be it at my own hand or from being so overweight or from a car crash or old age, that my friends and family would focus on the good times we shared.

Anyways, a bit rambling but I found the reaction on social media and my reaction to the reaction interesting and wanted to jot down some thoughts.

Happy 2nd Birthday Southbound!

southbound full cover

Today is a happy day for me as it was 2 years ago my novel Southbound was published.  I’ve been fortunate to get to do some cool things in my life.  I’ve travelled and seen most of the country.  I’ve gotten to host radio and tv shows.  I’ve recorded a CD with my band Stabone, and gotten to announce horse races for a living.  But of the things I’ve done, Southbound is probably the thing I’m most proud of.  Not because it’s some great literary accomplishment, although I do think it’s a good story.  But because it was something that I set my mind to and accomplished.  It was a 3 year process from when I first started typing it up to the publication date.  Which I’m told is actually not that long in the book world.

The first draft poured out of me.  82,000 words in just three and a half months.  My fantasy at the time was to run away and become a full time gambler, even though I knew it would end badly.  But I had quit gambling 7 months before I started writing it and honestly it was all I thought about.  Southbound changed quite a lot from first draft to publication.  The great people at Pandamoon Publishing offered tremendous insight and ideas.  The biggest change was the original ending to the one that is in print.  Southbound was originally a suicide note of sorts.  Not necessarily of life, but of a lifestyle.  It was me putting the bullet in the head of the gambler in me.  It really did start out just as a therapeutic exercise and turned into much more.  A bit of an irony is that my original ending had the character perishing in a cheap hotel room as that’s always how I saw that fantasy ending.  And I’m typing this from a cheap hotel room 🙂

I could go on and on about Southbound and what was happening in my life during the writing, editing and eventual publication.  Things were not good.  It was a painful time for me.  But part of what helped get through that time was Southbound.  It was always there for me.  I remember sitting at home the day it was published and thinking “What the hell am I going to do now, I have nothing to work on?”  For three years I had a project to focus on and now it was done.  It was a strange feeling.  But I love you Southbound and am as proud of you at 2 as I  was the day you were born.  Thanks for being in my life.

Remembering Humie

Today I heard of the passing last night of another friend and colleague from River Downs, H.M. “Humie” Johnson.  Just a week or so ago we lost another member of that racetrack family, Jeff Riedel.  Humie was a character of the racetrack, one of my favorite folks there.  He was probably 70 or more years old when I got there in 2006 and his office as the “stall man” was right behind my desk where I took entries in the morning before the races.  Humie was a long time trainer and eventually switched over to working on the backside at the track.  He was ornery but extremely lovable.  He took to me right away.

I’ll never forget a few days into me being there he said “Hey Mr. Announcer, come here,” summoning me to his office.  “Where you from buddy?” he asked.  I replied “I just moved here from Portland.”  Humie sat back in his old creaky chair, I could tell he was going into deep contemplative thought.  He replied, stone cold serious, “Portland, that’s up in Seattle right?”  I died laughing.  He thought Seattle was a state.  I never corrected him, so I like to think he went to his grave thinking that.

Humie also gave himself the nickname “The Big Dicked Daddy from Cincinnati.”  He claimed that all of his female admirers called him that but I’m pretty sure it was self diagnosed.  He’d come strolling in “here comes the big dicked daddy from Cincinnati,” with a big grin on his face.

Humie kissed my mom’s hand when she came over to visit and he’d ask me all the time how she was doing with the look of love in his eyes.  She was probably 25 years younger than him but he didn’t care.

He was a lovely guy and a total character.  This has been a tough week with both him and Jeff’s passing.  I had only talked to Humie a few times since I left Cincinnati in 2008 but each time I did he was always excited and we had a great conversation.  I’ll really miss him.

My Twitter Ten Commandments

Been some drama on the old twitter machine lately.  People fighting, arguing, unfollowing, blocking, and being called the “Wrong Crowd”.   When I decided to come back to twitter I made My Twitter Ten Commandments that I’ve been trying to follow.  Sure I stray from them like anyone, but I always come back to them during times of strife on the net.

  1. Thou Shalt Not Retweet Compliments

Don’t do this.  All your friends will DM behind your back saying “what an arrogant asshole.” or “we get it someone liked Southbound”.  But I’ve yet to meet anyone who likes when a public handicapper RT’s people telling them nice pick.

2.  Thou Shalt Not Tell Others who to follow or not follow

It’s nobody’s business who you follow other than yours.  If you like someone who everyone else thinks is an asshole, so what.  You find something interesting about them.  If I hate seeing someone pop up in my timeline cause my friend is talking to them, just block the person I don’t want to see.  But don’t ever let someone tell me what I should have on my timeline.  Ever.

3.  Thou Shalt Not Get Mad When Someone Unfollows

I used to use one of those Unfollow tracker services and all it did was bum me out.  Then I realized, it shouldn’t.  That doesn’t mean they hate me.  It means they didn’t want to read my stuff at that point in their life.  And that’s just fine.  So followers, please come and go as you wish.  I have times when I have to take a break from people who I genuinely like, but they are tweeting about annoying shit.

4.  Thou Shalt Not ask “Follow me so I can DM you”

My email address is on my website in the contact section.  And if you don’t want to look there it’s jballscalls@aol.com   I’m just not a big fan of this move cause then when I unfollow a couple hours later you’re going to think I’m a dick.  Which I probably am.  So don’t make me have to do that.

5.  Thou Shalt Not Say “THIS” and nothing else when posting a RT

I just don’t like it so I don’t do it.  You can keep doing it but just know I hate you a tiny bit when you do.

6.  Thou Shalt Not Answer Jokes

I still do this and it’s the hardest one for me on the list.  When someone says something funny I should just laugh, tell them it’s funny, fave it, RT it or just nod my head in approval.  Not try to add to it and make it about me.  I hate when people do it to my jokes so why do I step on theirs?

7.  Thou Shalt Not Say “I/We gave out that trifecta”

No you didn’t.  You picked 4 horses and 3 of them hit the board.  You didn’t give out shit unless you specifically said box the 4 horses in the trifecta for $24.  Also…..nobody is gonna box your 4 horses in a tri box.

8.  Thou Shalt Not try to take away anyone’s livelihood

This one really pisses me off.  Because I don’t like someone on twitter doesn’t mean I should @ mention their company and say they’re bad just cause I don’t like them.  That person is trying to eat and feed their family and make a living.  Never do that.

9.  Thou Shalt Not Out anyone

If someone has their account on private or posts under a pseudonym, they must be wanting the privacy for a reason.  So I shall let them have that.  And if they are rude or mean or whatever, I shall simply unfollow them and move on.

10.  Thou Shalt Not insult people whose politics are different than me

Seriously, nobody likes political twitter person.  But if I’m gonna make political posts I should never put someone else down or insult them cause they don’t agree with me.  We all have different pasts that have led us to our present.

 

New Year, New Job

So haven’t posted in a while so thought I’d check in on here.  I’ve started working with BetAmerica.com as we’ve created a radio network there doing daily shows and some other content.  It’s been a ton of fun.  They’re based in San Francisco and have been really great to work with so far.

You can check out shows and information here:

BetAmerica Radio Network

Or just click on “latest episodes” on the top bar .

Happy Birthday Hairball

Today is the Hairball’s birthday.  His birth name is Jared but I don’t think I’ve called him that in decades.  I met Harry when I was 10 years old.  He had just moved to the Seattle area from Orlando and I was coming off a 9 year old season that saw me hit .660 and go 6-0 on the mound.  I was king shit around CVAC Little League.  Then Hairball showed up.  He was blasting 220 foot homeruns all year long.  He had 12 homers in our 16 game season.  I just missed hitting .700 but Hairball was the story of little league that year.

We played baseball together every year after that all through high school.  From ages 11 to 15 we were best friends.  He lived about two miles away and I’d ride my bike over there every day in the summer.  We’d play baseball using a tennis ball.  We’d play ping pong at his aunt Donna’s house.  Play with his dog Scamp who he called “Geebert” which I never understood.

Oddly enough two of my favorite Hairball stories involve going to the bathroom.  Hairball could strip paint off the walls.  When we were 12 years old we were staying at our families’ cabin in Sequim, Washington and were gonna go salmon fishing the next day.  We were gonna get up at 3:30am to drive up to Sekiu so at 10pm my dad went to bed and me and Hairball went upstairs to do the same.  About thirty minutes later Hairball says “I gotta go downstairs and poop.”  Now my dad was a grumpy and sometimes mean dude, and that meanness was amplified by ten when he was tired or got woken up.  So me being the genius I was told Hairball “Be quiet and don’t flush cause the flush will wake dad up.”  Good thinking Jas!  So 3:30am arrives and instead of getting woken up by the alarm clock, we were woken up by my dad screaming about the deuce someone had left in the toilet and not flushed.  We got downstairs and the whole floor smelt like a sewage plant.  My dad started yelling at me why I didn’t flush and I passed the blame on to Hairball and he lectured us both.  His great parenting advice included the phrase “When you take a shit, you flush the toilet.”  I’ve carried that advice with me ever since.

The other Hairball bathroom story was when we were 15 and in Chicago for the 15 year old world series.  Harry, Me and My dad were sharing a room and we played a morning game against Japan which we lost.  My dad seizing the afternoon off was going to Arlington Park.  Me and Harry were going to just hang out at the hotel.  Hairball had fouled the room the morning before and my dad told him “If you gotta shit go to the lobby, I can’t take another morning like that.”   So my dad heads out to the track and five minutes later Harry says he has to go #2.  I told him to go downstairs and he said “He’s gonna be gone for 4 hours, he won’t notice.”  So of course my dad comes running back in cause he forgot his Daily Racing Form.  He notices it’s just me in the room and asks where Harry is.  I nod at the bathroom door.  My dad instantly looked mad but also couldn’t help but laugh as he banged on the door and told Hairball “you better not be doing anything I told you not to do in there.”  Luckily my dad wanted to make the early double at Arlington more than he wanted to yell at hairball.  But the whole event still makes me laugh.

Hairball was our catcher.  I used to love pitching to him.  One time we were having arguments during a game in the dugout and out on the field.  I remember he said something to me about my pitches and I screamed to him to just get behind the plate, catch the ball, and shut up.  He replied “I will if it ever gets here.”

Hairball and I stayed friends and baseball teammates all through high school.  We didn’t have as many classes together as we went on so best friends became good friends and eventually became just friends.  During college he went to WSU and I stayed home and went to UW.  I saw him a couple times on visits over there.  We stayed in touch after college but never like it was when we were young.  Nowadays the only time I talk to him is when I call him on his birthday, which I’ll do later today.  The good thing is when I talk to him or the rare chance I see him, it’s always great and just like old times.  Some friends you always feel close to, even if there is now a distance, be it geographical or otherwise.

I think when you’re best friends with someone at a point in your life, especially as a youth, you’re always tied to them.  One of my favorite quotes in one of my favorite movies, Stand By Me, always makes me think of Hairball.

“It happens sometimes.  Friends come in and out of your life like busboys in a restaurant.  I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve.  Jesus, does anyone?”

Happy Birthday Hairball.