CHEAP EATS From Crawdad’s house in Berkeley, you can see Golden Gate Fields racetrack. I take her kids to the soccer pitch next door, to watch and run, and I walk their dog along the water behind the track.
When I was little, I used to circle my favorite-named horses in the sports section, then check back the next day to see how much I’d won. My uncles and aunts played the ponies. Punker and Gatorgator, they play the ponies. I have been invited. And invited.
I associate three of my favorite writers with horse racing, but have never been, not even once, to the track. Until last Saturday.
Damon Runyon, Charles Bukowski, Mike DeCapite, and now me. Finally, finally I can say with authority that I pulled a kazoo out of the septic in the sixth at Fair Grounds to show and he did! He seconded, paying 51-1.
Now, Hedgehog had a Li’l Loveable visiting from her hometown and this ‘un was marking her daughter’s 21st birthday by redefining herself, running a half marathon, eating weird things, and just getting a tattoo. Loveable was the only one of us with prior track experience, except, I think, that Hedgehog might have been once or twice too. A succincter way of saying this might be that I was the only one without track experience.
And therefore the only winner. Yep, after dropping tacos in the fourth and fifth on a couple of popular pinstripes who failed to impress, let alone deliver, I thought I would change majors — which was good timing because a can-do named Mayo was odds-on incumbent just then, and … yuck!
Hedgehog head-cheesed Mayo, and I — being a world renowned mayophobe — looked for the oppositest entrée, which was the horse called Crispy. Crispy was 20-1 when I placed my taco, but by gate was 51-1. Or, more than twice as losery in the imagination of the wagering public.
But the hard part was I couldn’t even scream as my quantum leap long-shotted across the finish line because we watched that inning from the field announcer’s booth, Hedgehog being the wig that she is. Our host was on mic, and that meant we had to be perfectly quiet, for the sake of the sport, while the unthinkable dreamed itself before my very blinkers. I bit my tongue real hard.
The integrity of horse racing thus preserved, I windowed up to collect my Cheerios. Come to think of it, I’m surprised more of my San Francisco friends didn’t come visit me in New Orleans once they got wind of the kind of column inches I was ethering home to this rag. Just Kayday, and I don’t even think she reads me.
Anyway, she was waiting at her hotel piano bar, so I nut-jobbed my winnings, kissed Hedgehog, high-fived her townie, and went. We had a two-dinner, three-bar date with Frenchmen Street, whereas Hedgehog and the Loveable were updressing for some gala or something. Oh, I was invited, but didn’t have anything to wear. Since Kayday ain’t my fairy godmother, the Cinderella story ends right there.
Things we ate that night included grilled oysters wrapped in bacon, fried crawfish, fried pickles, mac ‘n’ cheese with meatballs, and gumbo. So probably the ball-goers didn’t have anything on us, save maybe a higher dry-cleaning bill.
The next night I cooked for everybody, and the day after that, Kayday’s last, we thought we would go up to Riverbend, get a bucket of crawfish, and sit on the levee, which, my little master’s mama assured us, would be “the right thing to do.”
Except they didn’t have boiled crawfish at Cooter Brown’s, so we got raw oysters and pecan pie and that was when I blew my New Orleans food fuse. “I’m done. Tell me about home, Kayday,” I said, sitting on the grass, on the levee, watching barges on the Mississippi.
She said she had the best burger ($10.50) she ever had at Chez Maman in Potrero Hill. She said the waiter said everything in French, then English. She said the frites … the burger! she said.
“Was there peanut butter on it?”
“No,” she said.
Next week I write you from France.
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