A Weird, Futile Trip to the Races

| 16 Feb 2015 | 04:38

    (Some of you may think you know where this is going already, but you're only half right.)

    I'd never been to Aqueduct before, so I wasn't exactly sure how to get to the track myself once we got off the train. That's always the tricky part for me. Figuring, though, that the stop was called "Aqueduct (North Conduit Ave.)," it couldn't be too hard.

    "We'll just follow the other people who get off the train," I said. It was an old strategy that I'd been using for years to make people think I actually knew where the hell I was going.

    "Ohh, I've heard that plan of yours before," Morgan responded. "And it's never, ever worked."

    "Well, we'll see."

    Half an hour later, we reached our stop and got off the train. And sure enough, we could see the track from the platform?the enormous white structure with the horses painted all over it. Simple as pie. Unfortunately, not much of anyone else got off the train?and those who did were at the far end of the platform, so once again my plan to follow them was all shot to shit right off the bat. Thinking we'd just figure it out once we got down there, we started heading toward the nearest exit, at the rear of the train, when Morgan stopped short.

    I tried to follow her gaze, squinting at the exit maybe 50 feet away. Two people, it looked like, were standing there, just inside the big nut-grinder turnstile, waving at us and yelling. I couldn't decipher what they were saying, the words being whipped away by the wind.

    Morgan took a few steps forward, then stopped again. I kept heading in their direction, but she grabbed my arm.

    Then I heard a woman's voice yell, "Call the police!"

    It was all very confusing?what do you do? You live here for a while?especially when it's only been a couple days since that Wendy's Massacre business?and your immediate gut reaction to a situation like this is that it's a setup. You know that one of these people?or someone hiding in the shadows behind them?has a gun.

    We took a few steps closer as the pair continued to yell?one was male, one was female, but that's all we could determine from where we were. One of them was banging something metallic against the bars of the turnstile. Morgan was eventually able to piece together that they were yelling for help because they were trapped?they'd gone through the turnstile, went down a few steps, found the gate locked, and now couldn't get out. Or so they said.

    Fortunately, there was a public phone on the platform, so Morgan called 911, explained the situation to the operator, was transferred to the Transit Police, explained it again to them and was told someone would be there in a few minutes. After she hung up, we finally walked all the way down to the trapped couple, and only then saw that they were both probably in their 60s. They seemed harmless enough.

    "We've been here for two hours," the man said.

    "We were on our way to the racetrack, came this way and got trapped," his wife explained again, still clinging to the padlock she'd been banging against the bars of the turnstile.

    Two hours? How many trains must have gone by in two hours? How many people ignored them?

    "And I just had heart surgery," the wife explained, tapping her chest.

    We assured them that help was on the way, then headed to the other end of the platform (where we'd be able to get out) to make sure the token booth clerk knew what was going on. Then we had some races to catch.

    The fat, walleyed?and quite possibly retarded?clerk behind the glass told us that he knew all about it and it would be taken care of, so we went on our way.

    Just as we hit the sidewalk, a police cruiser pulled up and stopped. When the cop got out, we gave him a thumbnail sketch of the scene.

    "They've been there for two hours," Morgan told him.

    "Two hours, huh?" he said, then chuckled enigmatically before going inside.

    "So, where do you suppose we go from here?" I asked. We looked around, and nothing was making itself obvious. No signs, no arrows. So I stepped back inside to see if the token clerk could help us out.

    "Uhhhh, excuse me?" I asked. It wasn't like he was busy. "But how do we get to the horses from here?"

    "Hor-ses?" he asked. Jesus, this guy really is retarded.

    "Yeah, you know?the track? Aqueduct? What's the easiest way?"

    "They haven't had any races there in quite a while."

    "You're kidding."

    "Not for a while now."

    "But I just talked to someone on Thursday who said that they were running today."

    "Hey, go see for yourself, I don't care. Go through the gate and follow the path. See for yourself."

    This can't be happening. But somehow, deep in my guts, I knew it was. I went back outside and told Morgan.

    "Oh, he's retarded," she said. So we climbed through the broken gate in the chainlink fence next to the station and started following a dirt path. Before long, the track rose into view, on the other side of a huge parking lot about half-filled with cars.

    "See? Look at all these cars. There's got to be something going on here." It was noon, first race was at 12:30, and I was hoping she was right. Still, though, as we began to cut across the asphalt, things seemed strangely silent. There were no new people pulling into the lot, no one milling about outside, no noise at all leaking out through the open structure.

    We kept walking. As we were passing a group of parked cars, Morgan asked, "Why do you suppose all these cars have plastic wrapped around the seats?"

    "And stickers in the window?" I added, as it began to dawn on me, slowly.

    "And why are they all the same model?"

    It took us a second longer to realize that it was a fucking car lot.

    Still, though, undaunted by that, we kept walking, looking for something?anything?that might prove that goddamn token clerk a fool and a liar.

    "Look at all those satellite dishes," Morgan pointed out. "Of course there's something going on here."

    But when we got to the club entrance, it was empty.

    We walked around to the main entrance, only to find the ticket booths locked and empty, too, the gates pulled down

    Why did that woman on the telephone lie to me? We walked a few yards away to consider our options, and I pulled out a cigarette.



    Just then, as if out of nowhere, a vision of hope appeared. A large, middle-aged Hispanic woman walked around the corner and pushed her way through one of the front gates, which turned out to be unlocked after all.

    We followed her inside, but she stopped several yards in front of us, turned and stared, an evil and frightened look in her eyes. She'd probably heard about that Wendy's incident, too.

    "Excuse me?" I called out to her, not stepping any closer. She didn't move. "Hi, uhhh...are the horses running here today? By chance?"

    She still didn't move, just yelled back, "No no no! No horses! No horses! They all go away! To Belmont!"

    Fucking Belmont.

    I waved a thank-you at her and we retreated back through the door.

    "Gosh, I'm real sorry about this," I said. "This is all very embarrassing."

    "That's okay. Somehow this morning I had a feeling that things weren't going to turn out exactly the way we had planned."

    "At least we saved some old people?and weren't locked in a turnstile for two hours."

    "I wonder if they're still coming over here after they get out?"

    We stood there a while more, looking around at the parking lot.



    It looked as if the day was already shot at noon, until Morgan said, "So, wanna go see some monkeys?"

    We walked back across the parking lot, back down the path and through the broken gate and got on a train heading toward the Bronx, in what turned out to be an even bigger mistake.