Monday, August 24, 2009

Saratoga Summer

Where do lifelong New Yorkers go to get a break from the noise and fast pace of the city? Well, a few that I know who have lived on Staten Island all their lives go to Saratoga Springs, the upstate New York resort town that offers a first-class horseracing track, casino gambling in the evening, and some solid steak and potatoes chow all day long. I spoke recently with a 60-year-old Staten Island native about his plans for a vacation and he explained that he would be going away for about 4 days with 7 male friends he has known for well over 40 years. They have been taking this same trip every year since they all graduated from Middle School, or something like that, and it struck me that this sort of thing may be part of the recreational routine for a lot of late middle-aged White males residing in the outer boroughs.

The trip apparently always begins with rounding up the best New York deli food the group can find and then heading for Saratoga with a good 2-day supply of hearty New York cuisine in tow. Of course, there are still those steak and potatoes joints that need to be patronized, but the deli stuff sort of tides you over in the meantime. The first and most noteworthy stop after settling in at the local Hampton Inn is the Track, a world renowned site for horse races, people watching, and wholesome gambling.

Most days, the track opens at 11 a.m. and the races begin at 1. So you can imagine the boys gathering around the oval close to Noon, looking over their tout sheets, and figuring out which horses they are going to favor, even as they somewhat uneasily digest their pastrami sandwiches. To my surprise, incidentally, the racetrack does not actually open for business until July 29th and then only accepts paying customers until September 7th. However, when you take into account how much is squeezed into those 41 days, then you begin to realize that maybe 41 days is as much as any town can handle. Before you know it, for instance, July 31st brings Hats Off to Saratoga Festival day in which all things Saratoga are feted. Please note that a hat is required attire. If you’re not wearing a hat, you really can’t participate fully, so don’t show up without the obligatory headgear. Then there’s Mid-Summer St. Patrick’s Day on August 5, for the folks who regret not being able to bet on horses while gulping their beer on March 17th. You have to wait over 3 weeks for the next big event, but on August 28th “The Battle of the Brews” celebration takes place. This day is marked by some of the leading beer distributors in the country creating an event in which you feel almost unpatriotic if you don’t drink a lot of beer. Which leads us seamlessly to the final celebration to be noted here. It is none other than “Proud to be an American Day” on September 2nd in which some of the great achievements of Saratoga’s most noteworthy residents – past and present – are recognized, Among those being honored this year are Paul Kim, one of the top 24 finishers in the 2009 American Idol competition.

After taking full advantage of the Saratoga racetrack, you return to your room at the Hampton Inn for a quick nap and freshening up before heading out for a full night of casino gambling. You lose money each night, but never a lot, and then you go home, with fewer coins jangling in your pocket, but thanks to the steak and potatoes, with another pound or two comfortably added to your already ample frame. The days and nights were full and satisfying, punctuated by a chance to catch up with good friends. What more could one ask for from a summer vacation?

1 comment:

  1. There is great comfort in ritual. The problem is that ritual may prevent innovation and new experience. What more would I ask of a summer vacation? To, at least, mix the comfort of the familiar with a new and challenging experience.