Telling off the teller

Updated: August 2, 2000, 1:09 AM ET
By Jay Cronley | Special to ESPN.com

Tellers at the race track don't have to be the enemy. But sometimes this bit of wishful thinking goes by the wayside when you're standing at the window trying to bet $120 and you hear the track announcer say, "They're in the gate," and your teller is busy making a $2 show bet for him or herself. Tellers at the tracks in the part of the country where I go to the races--which is the middle part--tend to have gone the way of waiters and waitresses. There are few career ambitions. There is a lot of turnover. There is confusion. Whereas working the races used to be an every day job--even if it was part-time, the tellers did it regularly--now it can be something to do until better pay comes along. Come up short and you owe the money. Cheapskates don't tip. Sometimes breaking even is hard work on both sides of the windows. I have had some serious trouble lines at the races because of tellers. About the worst episode that I can remember took place at a little track called Fair Meadows in Tulsa, where I live. Fair Meadows does not race during a carnival or sit on a meadow. But it sounds pretty good. Artistic license is freely taken when tracks are named. Hollywood Park is not near much, if any, show business. It is by LAX. Penn National Race Course? A horse is a horse, of course, of course. That kind of course? National? The track a half hour from the Harrisburg airport, one stop after that to Europe. One night at Fair Meadows I had one that couldn't lose and was third in line behind somebody trying to get to $2 with loose change. Nearby lines were long. The teller was smiling at the person arranging dimes on the counter. As the horses approached the gate, I said in a tone of voice appropriate to the situation, "Come on up there, hurry." People who bet money--as opposed to people who bet silver--are not nurtured at some tracks. It's not like Vegas, where they'll send transportation and arrange fresh fruit for you. Even at some of the places where a minimum wager of $50 is required at a specific window, they'll let a person in front of you make 25 $2 place bets. People who bet serious sums of money on a consistent basis at the races should not have to beg for that right. Wagering should not be work. All right, so as the horses were being loaded into the gate, and they were still playing Rob The Piggy Bank up there in front of me, I will admit to attempting to lend urgency to my predicament by using a cuss word. The teller looked up, slowly, and told me to be patient and watch my language. And three dimes make one-eighty and four nickels makes two bucks, now which horse would you like to bet on, dear? They were off. I got shut out. An I let out a scream that could have probably been heard in the barns behind the track and informed the teller how much she would owe me if the race came in a certain way, exaggerating a bit, saying that I had been planning to nearly box the field. The grandstand here is open-air, the racing at night, nearly a full house on hand. What transpired next was eerie in nature and seemed to happen in slow motion. Imagine a grandstand with 5,000 people sitting quietly between races on a steamy summer night. Emerging from ramp entrance in the middle of the crowd were two uniformed guards--one enormous, easily 250 pounds, maybe more, he could have weighed 300. The security team had obviously not come to make sure everybody was hitting the trash receptacles with their beer cans. They were looking for somebody, and probably somebody dangerous, going by their side arms and frightful expressions as they shielded their eyes from the lights and scanned the crowd The quiet became almost surrealistic. Then the huge one pointed at the section in which I sat. And here they came, down an aisle, up some steps. Surely they were after somebody else, a robber, a pickpocket. My date asked why I was squeezing her hand so hard. Perhaps here a brief discussion of your average race track security should take place. Perhaps not. Suffice it to say it was not Columbo coming up the steps, and let's let it go at that. They were after me, and they got me, the huge one taking me by the arm and leading me out as about everybody in the house watched. It was a painful perp walk, taken in front of numerous friends and business associates. I thought about draping the Racing Form over my head to preserve my remaining dignity. They took me to a small space on some stairs behind the press box. The big one said that if I ever raised my voice to a teller again, I would be banned from the building. I explained that the teller got me shut out stacking dimes and cost me serious money. It was of no matter. One of the joint's biggest bettors was put on probation. The point is, if they hired gamblers as track security, there would never be a problem. What I do now is find good teller and tip him or her before the races, before a meet begins. Thus, it's the teller telling people with silver to move it, not me.