315 to 1

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“OK, you’ve had about 315 days to think about it. You good, or have you put it in the I’ll get to it file?” 

That was the text from my friend Allan Lavin at 6:10 Thursday morning. Far from good, I hadn’t written a word, today’s Cup of Coffee was filed – buried – in the, ‘I’ll get to it file.’ I had thought about the words to fill this space on the farm this summer, on the drive up the Northway Tuesday and some more Wednesday while we positioned the cannon for another year – our 18th as a newspaper. Squarely behind a long list of tasks, nothing had been decided, nothing had been typed. Writers need deadlines like addicts need fixes and here comes the first deadline, looming large and getting larger. Tom Law types, my brother Joe groans and I begin to feel the pressure, realizing that I had squandered 315 days.

Despite thinking about this empty editorial spot in the back of The Special, I hadn’t come up with a plan, an idea, an approach, relying on the ‘it’ll-write-itself’ crutch that felt so secure a few days ago and so wobbly now. 

The first one is about returning to Saratoga, right? I’ve written the same column every year since we started this madness back in 2001. You know the one, the sky’s the limit, the game is afoot, the Adirondack air, the magical and inspiring spell of Saratoga. Yes, things have changed and Saratoga has changed, but it’s changed less than most things in this ever-turbulent world. I go for a walk, look around, note the changes, see old friends, reminisce about old memories, dream up new ones and wrap it all up in 800 words. Done and dusted. Yes, that’s the column you expect to read and I expect to write. 

I’ll admit, the walk got a late start after Tom, Joe and I did a Wednesday night podcast at Henry Street Taproom (there’s a column in there somewhere), but I did go for the walk Thursday morning. With a golf cart on the other side of Union Avenue, walking is the only mode of transportation on the first morning. I should get out of the cart more often, it slows down the morning, slows down your thoughts, hard to write notes, but easy to make notes. 

I walk from my rented ranch house on Caroline, through Chad Brown’s annex, past a bay and a chestnut turning left and through outdoor dining nooks erected by the backstretch workers who manage to make homes out of hovels. I skirt past the Oklahoma Annex where I have so many memories – selling lemonade, walking hots for Dad and galloping horses for a couple of Hall of Fame heroes. I hear Jeremiah Englehart instruct jockeys on a gate work, watch Nick Santagata bolt out the gap on an orangutan who wants to be anywhere else, catch up with Tiller and Ben working hard for The Special. I tell jump jockey war stories to Ron Anderson and Joel Rosario. 

I amble along the outside rail of the Oklahoma, pick up a plastic bottle that’s about to wind up on the track and think about Bill Graves and Gaile Fitzgerald, old friends who aren’t here this year, I shake my head thinking about what they would have done for just one more Saratoga. 

George and Cindy Weaver wait near the seven-eighths pole, they’re getting along well this morning – I always ask – and we talk about our kids, our horses. Eddie King, the young one, walks past and offers the quote of the meet before a race has been run when I ask him what he’s doing. He says without a hesitation, “I’m working for Cindy.” George laughs, “You got that right, you’re working for Cindy.” King walks toward the gap, “Great kid,” the Weavers say in unison.

I shake hands with John Velazquez, Steve Rushing, who I haven’t seen in months, maybe even 10 ½ months from the time we left this same playground last summer. I stroll to the clockers’ stand, chat with Adam Newman, Bryan Walls and the clockers who literally make this place tick. Through the barns, past the kitchen and toward Union Avenue, Tom stops and we discuss the status of the paper. He asks me about my column, I laugh, “Writing it.” 

Across Union Avenue, I make a big loop, check in on a horse and meet two babies, Leigh Delacour and Tiffany Webb, proud mothers and hard workers all at the same time. Heading home, I buy two oranges, get handed a free burrito and come up with an answer for Lavin. 

Yeah, I’m good. Now.