1 July 2013

Sunflower Downs 2013

After I had loaded up the car with sunscreen, music and beer I cut four 1/4" inch squares from the booklet of lyrics you will find in Neil Young and Crazy Horse's "Psychedelic Pill." The first one I swallowed and hit the road. I was not going Furthur, I was going to Sunflower Downs for an afternoon of psychedelic horse racing.

The police, they say they have the roads covered like a hen on her eggs on long weekends because so many of us are out there trying to kill ourselves and any motherfucker who gets in our way but there were none to be seen as many thousands of us made our way out of Dope City like we had seen a ghost or something. I tried to keep to the right side because no matter how fast I tried to keep up there were a hundred assholes in a BMW who had an even faster pace in mind.

The acid kicked in, as I expected, just as I passed Hope and cornered into the young mountains of the Manning Park region. Water splashed off their green backs from the morning rain which had just ended and deer grazed by the roadside like wild horses with a death wish.

Soon the heat of the sun began to cause the rain on the roads to steam, forming clouds of vapour to take mysterious shapes as I made my way upwards. Not the sort of thing you really want to have happen when on a hallucinatory holiday. Made Hunter Thompson's visions of giant bats on his epic journey to Las Vegas seem pretty tame all those shape shifting ghosts did as I drove determinedly through them, smashing them to smithereens, only for them to reform behind me in my rearview mirror where they would be waiting for my return later that evening.

I stopped, as I generally do, for a piss at the top of the pass where people are freely entertained by the 10,000 or more marmots who thrive on the handouts of peanuts and timbits tourists throw at them all summer long. The marmots appeared larger than usual. If they get any bigger they will begin demanding coffee with their doughnuts and peanuts.

I found myself driving with no one in front of or behind me to whole winding way down out of the mountains towards Princeton, on whose exhibition grounds you will find Sunflower Downs. Did a little shopping there in the Fields, where I found a cute top for Sonja, and along the town's main drag where I found a book called "Talk About Tough" by an American cowboy by the name of Frank L. Folkens. Book is a series of short chapters. I liked the one called "Gettin' Even With A Preacher."

'I worked for an Indian rancher named Jim White over in Montana when I was just a kid. He had a boy who was just about my age and he ran a horse outfit. I'd worked for him off and on several times and his boy and I got along pretty good.

There was a little church out there and Jim and his wife went most every Sunday to that church. But their boy figured out all kinds of reasons why he shouldn't go with 'em. Every once in a while they'd make him go, however. But he'd get out of it when he could. We used to have quite a time but what I was gettin' to was the preacher at that little ol' church. The preacher liked the way Jim White's wife could cook. He was always stoppin' by for Sunday dinner after service. He'd con ol' Jim White and his wife into invitin' him out for Sunday dinner.

Invariably this ol' woman knew this preacher liked fried chicken so just about every Sunday that's what they had and the preacher always wound up with all the choice pieces. Us boys would have to sit there and wait 'til everybody got their piece of chicken and he'd wind up taking all the ones that he liked - two or three pieces at once. We wound up with the wings and necks and a few bony pieces 'cause that's all there was left.

So one day this kid and I kinds got down on this preacher. We thought we'd get even with him for eatin' up all the fried chicken. We knew he had a little place pretty close to the church, maybe 80 acres or something, it was a little homestead like that. All he got for preachin' down there was donations and Sunday dinner once in a while or whatever anybody'd give him.

So anyway, after we got over pretty close to where this guy lived and this Indian kid and I went and caught a couple of tom cats. They were wilder than an acre of snakes and we just stuck each one of 'em inside of an ol' rubber boot and tied their tails together. Then we waited 'til after dark. This guy had a clothesline out behind his house, so we took these two tom cats with their tails tied together and draped 'em over that clothesline and pulled the boots off of 'em.

You never heard such meowin' and fightin' and scratchin' goin' on in all your whole life. Well, we got out of there just soon as we draped 'em over the clothesline. It didn't take very long, here come this preacher out there and he sees this cat fight goin' on. Evidently he wasn't thinkin' too fast. He just walked right up to 'em and grabbed hold of 'em like he was gonna take 'em off the clothesline, but he got clawed up pretty good doin' that! He got 'em off there all right but he got scrathched up pretty good. I don't know what the finish of that was but I was sure he wasn't usin' preacher language about then. We was soon out of earshot. After one session of that language, we went on home.

That next Sunday we seen him in church. He was all scratched up everywhere and everybody was askin' what happened and he was sayin', "Oh, there was a cat scratched me." He didn't get into it very far, but he sure snooped around tryin' to find out who'd hung those cats up there.

'Course we was real closed about that. We didn't want to get walloped for doin' that. But I think he had a pretty good idea who'd done it 'cause it was a Sunday or two before he was over again for chicken dinner.'

Once I had done with shopping I was beginning to feel hungry. Usually I eat at the Golden Bucket when I am in Princeton but I had noticed several Harleys outside a place I had been meaning to eat in for years so I went in there. Has a French name which I forget just now, it is right between the Fields and the main drag.

I did not need to eat. Eating is just one of the things we all do that makes us look a little less like hopeless drunks. Had some Growers, the heroin of cider, and mostly just looked at a veggie quesadilla and salad that looked like they had been painted on my plate by Pablo Picasso.

It was now about an hour before the races were to begin so I chased down two more squares of Neil Young's magic booklet and drove up the hill, past the dump, to my favourite Canadian racetrack, Sunflower Downs.

I have been going to Sunflower Downs for a long time now. Recognize people there from year to year the same way I recognize people from week to week at Dope City Downs. Do not talk to everybody but I try and have a word with as many people as I can when I am up there. People are not all grade A assholes in Princeton like they are in the city. People are friendly - the way people are meant to be.

First race was for quarter horses. I was by the walking ring checking out the starters when I heard a loud bang from where the gate crew were making sure everything was in working order. Did not take long for an outrider to come along and ask the first aid crew to go to work. From what I understand one of the assistant starters got himself crushed between the gate and the rail as it was backing into position. Not sure how bad he got hurt but after the ambulance had hauled off to the hospital with the injured man the police came by to investigate so I am thinking he got hurt pretty bad.

I had time to notice the police investigation because backing into the rail had broken something in the starting gate and a few thousand beer guzzling horse race fans and myself were waiting for a welder to get up to the track to repair the gate, a sensitive piece of machinery, so the horses did not have to race with a running start like they did in the real old days. Took an hour and a half to sort that out which gave us beer guzzlers time to enjoy ourselves in the sun but resulted in the crowd thinning out very noticeably before the feature race, the Similkameen Cup, finally went to post just a little before the sun set and the rain began to fall again.

Horse I bet on lost by a nose in the first race. That is the way it went for me all day. Seemed like every horse I bet on had trouble getting out of the gate clean (it looked like the previous night's rain had made it difficult for the horses to get a clean grip on the track, which while while dusty on top, was clearly still wet a few inches beneath the surface) or just plain did not like the track and would not run properly on it. The race I had counted on winning, and bet enthusiastically, was the 7th. My favourite interior jockey, Kassie Guglielmino, put the horse on an easy lead which it was extending as it made its way down the backstretch when it bore out and finished last.

That's horse racing. There are aspects of races you cannot predict that happen just about every day. Sometimes what you cannot predict helps you out, sometimes you just want to fucking scream at the unpredictability of the game.

I left before the Similkameen Cup ran. Wanted to get through the mountains before it got dark and the highway got littered with mule deer like it does every night. I was way too stoned for that shit.

Just as I was leaving I noticed the RCMP pulling in to check things over one last time. Saw another with a Corvette pulled over as I made my way out of town. Once passed by a couple fast paced fellow travelers I put the pedal to the metal and was home in time to watch the 11 o'clock news.

There are still three interior race days to go this summer. July 14th and 28th at Vernon's Kin Park and the Wine Derby at Osoyoos' Desert Park August 31st. Get out of the city and get the fuck up there.

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