Driving Finish: Archie, Guido and the art of a big score

- -

Editor’s Note: The characters in this story – some of them anyway – are real or close to real. The story itself? Well, it could happen.

Archie is where he always is on Tuesday afternoons, the bus. Driving, stopping, opening the door, closing the door, driving, opening the door.

“Good morning to ya. Yeah, this is the bus to Fenway. No, it doesn’t stop at the Old North Church. Yeah, you can catch the next bus to Wonderland. No, I don’t know where Bobby Orr lives . . . Pahk! How the hell should I know wheh you can pahk yah cah. I’m a bus driver, not a pahking lawt attendant.”

And then he woke up.

Archie The Bus Driver wasn’t on the bus, he was in Saratoga – where he dreams to be whenever he’s driving the bus. Saratoga, where the horses run fast, where time runs slow, where people still tell stories about horses and jockeys and money lost and money won, about big scores and tough beats and tips and touts.

“Archie, Archie, wake up. You’re having a nightmare. You were yelling at the tourists again,” yelled Archie’s best mate Guido. “You’re at the bed and breakfast, Archie, across from the track. Remember, we drove over yesterday. Went to Panera’s for dinner. The owners Cindy and Don came back from SPAC and we talked a little while, then I went to bed and you said you were coming. It’s 5 o’clock in the morning. You must have fallen asleep out here on the porch. Quit yellin’ or you’ll wake up Seabiscuit over there. .”

Archie The Bus Driver and Guido the Telephone Repairman go to Saratoga every summer. Weekends only, with the crowds.

They work Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, double shifts on Thursday, half day on Friday and drive over for the last few races. It takes 3 1/2 hours, but the time passes. Guido drives, mainly because Archie drives all week but also because Archie handicaps. Archie knows people. Archie finds things out. Archie is the guy who wins big at Suffolk Downs or at the dog track, or even in the Super Bowl pools at the bar. He always, always, knows what to do with a signer. Archie doesn’t so much as bet, he gathers information, then he pounces. With both fists.

Early in the meet, he won so much money it was falling around at his feet when he tried to walk away from the window. Little kids followed him around, just scooping up the leftovers. You know the story about the gambler who left the track in a Brink’s Truck? That was Archie. And he drove. The Brink’s driver stayed in back with his gun drawn, just in case somebody tried to get in. Archie’s like that.

The Brink’s Truck thing was years ago, and only happened because Archie The Bus Driver knows Robert The Groom who works for Tom Voss. Archie knows a guy, who knows a guy, who’s related to the guy Robert used to work for. Now, Robert works for Voss but he still keeps in touch with the guy who knew the guy who’s related to the guy.

Anyway, for special trips to Saratoga, Archie and Guido splurge on a room at the Saratoga Sleigh. It’s across the street from the track. Across the street, I tell ya. It’s been for sale for years. You know the place. Archie and Guido get to town Friday afternoon, try to hit the late Pick Three.

Then they check in at the Sleigh, tell some stories (lies) and go to Panera’s for dinner. Guido gets a “bowl of lettuce.” Archie gets an extra large coffee, two Santa Fe turkey sandwiches and a side of sourdough bread – just like Ma used to make. Then they handicap. They read the Form, they read The Special (crazy information in there if you read it all), they don’t even touch the Pink Sheet (bad luck), Archie calls the guy who knows the guy who’s related to the guy Robert used to work for. Guido writes it all down. Then they go back to the Sleigh – on the porch – and hash through it.

Mainly, they argue.

Guido bets old phone numbers from his days working for New England Telephone which used to be part of the Bell System. Remember the Bell System? Whatever, the numbers just pop into his head sometimes – the doctor’s office, the dentist’s office, the pet shop, the sub shop, Red Auerbach’s old home number – and Guido bets them. He loses, but can’t help himself.

Archie laughs, scoffs really, and gets to work. He uses a variety of systems honed during years of handicapping at Suffolk, Narragansett and Green Mountain.

Archie used to drive tour buses to see the leaves in Vermont, which gave him a lot of free time sitting around parking lots of antique shops. He stashed old Forms under his seat, studied the charts, came up with the 62 1/2 Stars System. It’s based on a horse’s average speed figure over its last five races, plus the number of syllables in the horse’s name and also takes into account track bias, jockey win percentages, post position, the number of layoff lines in the past performance and the total of all the numbers in the track’s zip code (that’s 23 in Saratoga).

Add it all up, run it through the formula and the closer you get to 62 1/2 – without going over – the better.

Well, all that figuring must have gotten to Archie because he fell asleep in a rocking chair on the porch and woke up Saturday morning shrieking at imaginary passengers to get off the !@#$%^&* bus already for Paul Reveah’s sakes.

Since they were up anyway, Archie and Guido walked to the track for morning workouts.

They don’t know what they’re looking at, but they like to sit in the boxes and pretend to be big shots. On this morning, the guy who knows the guy who’s related to the guy stops by the box with a tip.

“Psst. Hey boys, I got it right here. Everything you need to know. Eighth race, today. The eight horse. Can’t lose. It’s as sure a thing as a three-pointer from Bird. Robert told the guy who’s related to the guy that I know all about it. I know it’s 30-1 in the program. Don’t tell nobody.”

Well, Guido and Archie bet. OK, Archie bets. Big. Hundreds, right on the horse’s nose.

Guido takes the information, mixes it with the area code in Boston and part of his fifth-grade girlfriend Peggy’s old phone number (she’s his wife now) and comes up with 6-1-7-2-8-5. He buys a Pick Six ticket and leaves early because Panera’s is having a special on bowls of lettuce.

Archie stays at the races, cheers the eight horse in the eighth across the finish line. He can’t wait to tell Guido the news. The horse won. Won. Archie won. Big. He asked about the Brink’s truck. They told him it was out on a delivery. Archie bought a dozen Dunkin’ Donuts (hold the donuts), stacked the money inside the box and hustled across the street with his loot.

“Guido, you shoulda been there. It was amazing,” Archie bellowed when he saw his friend on the porch. “The horse was last, last, still last and then he came running, came running like Bill Rodgers in the Marathon and he won. He won I tell ya. We’re rich. Hey, where were you?”

His buddy didn’t answer back, didn’t even look up from his spot at the table on the porch. He, Don and Cindy  sat in front of a stack of papers – and a champagne bottle.

“Archie,” Guido finally said, “welcome home.”

The Brink’s Truck was parked out back.