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Oh, SmAlbany!

Daily posts and occasional longer essays about politics, culture, and life in the Capital Region...updated M-F, midmorning


"I write this not as a booster of Albany, which I am, nor an apologist for the city, which I sometimes am, but rather as a person whose imagination has become fused with a single place, and in that place finds all the elements that a man ever needs..." -W. Kennedy, from O Albany!

Spinning and Stooping

Spinning and Stooping
: Went up to the track on Saturday with some old friends from college. Notice that I mentioned we went on Saturday. I never go to the track on Sunday. That's because it's giveaway day, and on giveaway day there are about 10,000 residents of SmAlbany who lose their collective mind. Yesterday was a classic example. As the TU reports today:
the announced attendance was 70,792, close to NYRA's record of 71,337, set [on another giveaway day] Aug. 17, 2003
The important phrase here is "announced attendance." The giveaway days are not actually breaking attendance records in the "number of people at the track" sense (that record is always held by a Travers Day - current record is 66,166 from 2003) . Actual attendance does go up on Sunday giveaway days when compared to non-giveaway weekend days, but the reported numbers are vastly inflated because of "spinners," people who pay the admission fee, get the coupon for the giveaway, leave the track, get back in the entrance line, pay the fee again, get another giveaway coupon, repeat. There are people who do this 3, 5, or even 20 times:
Drew and Dora Myers from Clifton Park headed for the exit after they finished collecting 20 giveaways. Dora Myers' parents, Jack and Pearl Sausa, went through the turnstiles five times to help the Myerses gather the giveaways. "And I'm 82," said Pearl Sausa.
And what on earth is so valuable that they are willing to do this? Well, the giveaway days this year are: bobblehead doll, T-shirt, Hat, beer stein, and yesterday it was a logo blanket:
red stadium blankets decorated with the word Saratoga were given away with the price of admission
I totally understand if you want to go to the track on a day where you can get a free stadium blanket that says Saratoga. The giveaways at the track are usually of decent quality, and who doesn't want some nice 'toga merchandise? What I can't understand is why you would want to get 20 towels, especially given what happens to the lines at the admissions gates:
The promotion drew tens of thousands of people to wait in line for up to three hours after navigating bumper-to-bumper traffic on the Northway, Union Avenue and Nelson Avenue.
Good lord! Someone once told me that a lot of spinners give out the giveaway items to their relatives for Christmas. Unbelieveable. Can you imagine opening a Christmas present and finding a Saratoga blanket that your uncle got for $3 at the track? And then seeing everyone else in your family open the same gift? Just astounding. And it causes problems for people who just want to go to the track and get one beach towel, or just want to go to the track. And forget it if you got there late - the blankets were gone by 2pm, leaving you just the option to fork over a Jackson to get one on Ebay.

Now, I think people who spend three hours in line at the track in order to spin for some extra giveaways are nuts. But on the hand, the "stoopers" make the "spinners" look positively sane. Stoopers are people who walk around the track all day picking up discarded betting slips off the ground hoping to find an accidentally-discarded winning ticket. As last year's New York Times article noted:
"It used to be that as a stooper you could make really decent money, I mean do nothing else but stoop and make a living from it," said a stooper who spoke on condition that he be identified only as Donald. "Today, it is almost impossible to make minimum wage by stooping. People have become smarter at the track and technology has helped them." These days, bettors do everything from placing bets to getting their parimutuel tickets to receiving winnings at computer terminals at the track. Because a bettor can put a ticket into a terminal after a race and see if it is a winner, fewer novices fail to collect on winning combination bets like exactas, the stoopers say. And with results displayed on hundreds of video monitors around the grounds, there are fewer horseplayers who miss the call of a race, fail to see the result posted and discard a winning ticket.
That's a shame, because apparently stooping was once ridiculously profitable:
"I can remember, in the heyday, there would be 300-plus stoopers out here trying to make as much money as possible," said Donald, who began stooping in Florida back in 1978 and quickly began earning enough money to leave his carpentry job to stoop full time. "Today, there is maybe about a dozen of us here and none are doing well."
I actually saw a guy stooping at the track on Saturday. He was definitely a testament to the reduced profitablity of the enterprise.

Other notes from the weekend in Saratoga:

Note #1) Although I had been to the track once already this year, Saturday was my first day in the picnic area. The most noticable fun change out there this year is that the track now pays a teenage girl to sit by the Big Red Spring and hand out small plastic cups, which used to just be dispensed from racks attached to the posts of the spring. The upshot of this is that it has become insanely easy - probably unfairly easy - to fool your rookie trackgoing friends into trying the hideous sulfur-water. Having a worker there simply adds too much legitimacy to the situation for even a skeptic to object to your coaxing. Plus, it never hurts that 3 or 4 old men are downing the stuff like it's the fountain of youth.

Note #2) The IceHouse bar on Putnam street has been completely revamped. I mean completely. What was once a trashy little coverted mechanics garage has now become a serious beach party! They've added an enormous outdoor deck, live bands on the weekends, spring-break style drink machines, and - god help us - two ping-pong tables so that college kids can play beirut and beer-poing. They've even upgraded the jukebox. Yikes.
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