Gamblers hang over their slot machines like factory workers
When they tore down the Greenwood racetrack at Woodbine and Queen to build more homes for monsters, I wrote to my friend the Minimalist Jug Band in Vancouver to tell him the sad news.
Min plays the ponies for a day job. He wrote back with a political statement: Horses Not Houses!
I used to go to Greenwood with my mother, who seemed to know just a little too much — things like, “No, that trainer’s no good.” I was, like, “Ma! How do you know that?” “Oh, you know — you hear things.”
It was fun to put $2 on a horse just because the jockey was wearing salmon-and-purple silks. I even found the loophole in the cafeteria. Mashed potatoes or side vegetables were only 60 cents. It was presumed that they’d be ordered along with a big, expensive winner-sized steak.
Winners eat steaks. That’s why there was the Mecca Steakhouse across from the track, its walls lined with racing photos. There was also the Diamond, but they both disappeared when the little brick barns where the horses caught the lake breezes between contests came down.
I miss the old track. Even more now that I’ve made the awful trip to the new Woodbine casino (and racetrack).
I’m not feeling too lucky sitting waiting for the Islington 37A bus. There’s nothing to do but watch the dull parade of droopy-drawered boys and stretchy-flared girls.
Finally, my bus comes in. We set off north on Islington, past well-kept houses with neatly groomed yards. It’s hotter up here than downtown. Here, the magnolia petals are already starting to fall. The ride gets uglier the farther we go.
We pass the MartinGrove bus, which has “Go Leafs Go” flashing across the front. Can drivers program anything they want up there? I bet (four bucks!) we’ll never see “Down With Harris” or “Go Gay Bowling Team.”
There are lots of billboards advertising Killex for lawns. This is the first hot day of the year, the fourth of May, and there is already smog. We cross over the 401, and I don’t have time to count all the lanes of cars spewing the toxic haze that hangs over the city.
We turn down a road bordered by wasteland, and I suddenly have the impression that we’re all heading to a prison camp disguised as a “freehold townhome.” Just when I think I can’t bear any more, we come to my stop. Cross the road and there it is. Woodbine.
I just have to hike in about half a mile through parking lots that stretch off to infinity. There are thousands and thousands of free parking spaces.
Meanwhile, I must be careful not to get run over by the free shuttle bus that carries patrons who are too excited or lazy to walk from their cars to the entrance.
Jet planes are roaring in just overhead, and there’s a terrible noise emanating from speakers along this parking-lot road. No doubt the electronic cacophony is meant to complement the bursting fireworks imagery on the giant videotron stuck on the front of the building.
Two muscle-bound security men guard the entrance to the slot room. Luckily, they don’t ask to see a bank card. Inside, the same type of horrible cranked-up noise that was coming from the outside speakers is blaring unbearably. Loud!!! = fun! Bells, whistles, lights — even the carpet is noisy.
Hundreds of good-timers are seated, glassy-eyed, at their machines, methodically feeding quarters into the slots. It’s like some kind of pointless factory work performed in bad conditions with a mere hope of a payoff. There’s a bill and coin changer built right into each fun station, so there’s no need to leave an almost lucky spot. I just can’t picture myself cashing in my little $20 and sitting there going, “Darn! Bar, bar, pig again!” 79 times.
The horses at Woodbine are up the escalator. They’re running live someplace else and here on TV. I’ve got the wrong day and time to see any thoroughbreds here. A crowd of men watch the TV screens and place bets at touch-screen wagering terminals. An ambient stink is provided by some of the few women present, who are frying hamburgers at the depressing little fast-foodery.
I’m sorry. I am a failure as an investigative reporter. I cannot take one more second of OPIF (other people’s idea of fun). I hack my way through the smog to the bus stop that’s covered in posters for New Star driving school.
It takes me seven hours to get home, two on transit, the other five recovering from the trauma of my trek to year-2000-style heck. I’m so relieved to be free from the spectre of mechanized leisure that I’m spending my $20 on extreme frivolities like a kilo of cheesecake.
Woodbine and the Ontario government’s loss is the local economy’s gain.
I can’t resist the tree-limb walking sticks in front of a dollar store. I ask where they come from. The lad thinks Alberta, but shows me a tag — Cape Breton.
“My, aren’t you looking good,” smiles an island woman when I catch her staring at me. Certainly, the stick does complete my western gentleman getup.
“Now that’s a classy outfit!” states a fellow streetwalker. Two compliments in one day! I should quit and go home while I’m ahead. I take a chance on staying out, but the brotherhood of nasty men is always around to make a lady pay.