There are some people who think Spring begins on the Saturday the annual Kentucky Derby is held in early May. This elegant event, showcasing the classiest horses in the world running all out for the finish line, is the biggest race of all. In “The Sport of Kings” the winner is instantly immortalized in horse racing legend.
While I didn’t necessarily buy into that version of the beginning of Spring, to me, baseball meant Spring, I did however, plan on catching the big race with a couple of other people who enjoyed watching the horses run, even though we didn’t call it “our” sport because we weren’t exactly “Kings”. If we actually went to a horse race it would probably be at Cal Expo during the California State Fair or at The Dixon County Fair in Dixon. So we wouldn’t be making the trip to Kentucky, no, it was your basic TV time for us.
As for “Kings”, there weren’t any hanging out in the apartment complex where I lived, in fact, the only “Kings” I was remotely familiar with, were the guys who played basketball for The Sacramento Kings, and trust me, none of them were residing in the complex.
But some of we common folk did enjoy the whole spectacle, the excitement, the color, the pageantry of the Derby. It was our brief glimpse of modern royalty, as close as we’d get to it!
You see, our home, Capitol City Apartments, would never be mistaken for a luxurious, swinging, apartment complex populated by movers and shakers with money, or those living the fast, easy California sun and fun life. No, a large percentage of the complex was an eclectic mix of people on Social Assistance either from the County or State, Social Security recipients, parolees with temporary housing vouchers, welfare families, immigrants from Europe, Asia, and Mexico, and sometimes, Red Cross assisted families. And although they didn’t officially qualify as full time tenants, there always seemed to be somebody temporarily living in the complex to report on what was going on there to the various social service agencies that had given their clients rent subsidies to live there.
The remainder of the tenants were retired on fixed incomes, recently divorced, or separated, men and women, waiting to find new housing, a few college students, and a bunch of working poor.
Equally eclectic was the mental makeup of the tenants. There were marginal mental cases, the bizarre ones, the overly medicated, zombie types, the anti-social folks, and some, that on the surface appeared perfectly normal.
The working group which included me, mostly worked at low paying jobs they put up with to just get by. The kind with crummy hours, few, if any benefits, and a bleak future. We were the tow truck drivers, mechanics, food service workers, cocktail waitresses, bartenders, janitors, cab drivers, convenience store workers, laborers, warehouse workers, seasonal workers, and the most glamorous, and best paid of all of us, the hookers.
The cops were a regular presence, extinguishing whatever happened to be the problem of the day or night. It might be a domestic disturbance, a break-in, an argument at the managers office, a mental implosion, or even a disagreement over a parking space. Since the police station was just a couple of blocks away I’m sure a visit to Capitol City Apartments was written on their duty list for every shift.
It’s easy to see why no real “King” would reside there, but despite of all the eccentricities of the complex, and the fact the apartments were very old, it was a good place for a lot of us to live. Rent was affordable, and it was centrally located in the heart of West Sacramento. It was close to everything, the stores, banks, medical offices, and the Yolo County Social Services offices where the assistance vouchers came from.
Parking was an adventure, even though it was free with the monthly rent. Not everyone that lived there had a car, but a lot did, and spaces hadn’t ever been designated, nor were there plans to do so. The manager said the population was so transitory that it was a waste of time to assign spaces. They’d be changing all the time.
So, you had to grab a available space, first come, first serve, and hope the others would let you keep it. Length of residency had it’s advantage there, since the new tenants usually didn’t try to take an established residents spot. That was considered bad form, but now and then it happened, and all hell would break loose for awhile. When you don’t have much, a parking space becomes a treasured item!
Some people didn’t care about that at all. With no cars, they relied on the bus system, cabs, and ride sharing programs. But since I had a car I watched over my prime space religiously, and I‘d managed to keep the same one, right in front of my building, for sometime without any problems.
But I did have a one small problem, and that was that my car was electrically impaired. It was an ugly orange colored Opel Isuzu that ran okay, which was cool since I didn’t have far to go to work, and seldom left town, but the electrical system was as flaky as a lot of the residents in the complex.
The parking lot was sloped slightly down to the street that cut though the middle of the complex so you had to park your car with the emergency brake on, or in gear, if it was a stick shift like mine, to keep it from rolling into the street. However, the Opel’s electrical system had developed a demented mind of it’s own, and no matter if I set the brake, or left it in gear, at odd times the brake lights would come on by themselves, and unless someone came and told me, the battery would run down, and I‘d have to jump start it. So until I could afford a mechanic who could fix the problem, I’d been parking it out of gear in neutral, and blocking one of the back tires with a good sized chunk of wood which I jokingly referred to as my “bake”. When I’d get ready to drive, I’d just toss the wood in the trunk and take off. But I didn’t drive any more than necessary, not wanting to loose my prized parking space!
But my Opel and parking space were the last things on my mind that May Saturday when my friends and I popped our
beers and got ready to watch the Kentucky Derby right along with all the high rollers who appeared to be adhering to the proper race track protocol by dressing in their finest Derby day outfits, and tossing back Mint Juleps. For a couple of hours we’d be visually rubbing elbows with the rich and famous, touring all their beautiful horse farms, hearing their success stories, and marveling at the fact that there were actually people who lived like that.
While Capitol City Apartments may have been where I was physically, mentally I was in the bluegrass of Kentucky living it up.
We were a few beers into a case as the pre race show began to wind down, closing in on the countdown to the start of the race. The horses were saddled, with the jockeys on board, and being led from the stable area out towards the famous track at Churchill Downs. The sun was shining, the crowd was swelling, it was a kaleidoscopic sight. The mixed color combinations of the jockeys outfits sparkled, brilliant and vivid, as they bobbed up and down on the backs of the magnificent animals. A moving rainbow that soon would be a colorful flash across the screen. Then I heard someone banging on my door.
It was a kid, Gary, who lived in the complex. He was about fourteen or fifteen, and a budding artist. He’d showed me his scrapbook of things he’d drawn one day when we were out at the swimming pool. For a kid they were pretty good, so I’d hired him to paint my apartment windows with water colors for Christmas, The 4th of July, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and a couple of other occasions, to help him pay for his meager art supplies. His parents were survivalists who planned on moving up into the Serria foothills and starting their own Ruby Ridge type commune. But Gary was a good kid and I felt sorry for him. Maybe his art would save him from what his parents had in store for him, so I tried to help as much as I could without pissing off his dad who was whacked, and very paranoid.
“Hey Gary, what’s up?”
“You gotta come out here, Cleveland stole your parking brake and your car is out in the street. It rolled out there, it’s blocking the street.”
His eyes were wide and he kept motioning, “come on, there’s all kinds of people out there and you gotta move your car.”
“Okay, let me grab my keys.”
Goodbye to watching the Derby, and my look at the good life, the other guys would have to tell me about it.
When I got out front there was the Opel right in the middle of the street blocking traffic. I ran and unlocked it, jumped in, and turned the ignition key. It started right up and I drove back into my parking space, much to the delight of the crowd gathering on the sidewalk. I realized that inadvertently I had been an opening act of sorts in what was apparently going to be a big show.
After shutting off the car, I had to leave it in gear with no parking brake, I saw the attention of the crowd had turned towards the last apartment on the lower floor in the first building of apartments. There were ten buildings in all, five on each side of the street, with the pool and office located near the center of the complex where most of the crowd was standing and waiting.
Gary gave me an up to the minute report, “Cleveland grabbed your brake out from behind the tire and took off to the apartment where he used to live with that woman Lucinda. He’s pissed at her for something and he said he was going to pop her one with your brake! Rose already called the cops, and so far there hasn’t been any yelling or screaming, so she told us to just stand back and stay away, She says the cops will be here any second.”
The crowd was growing, lining the sidewalk waiting for the cops to show up so the real action could begin, when Lucinda’s apartment door suddenly flew open and a race was on.
The weather had been sunny, so the track was fast, and breaking into the lead while clutching a wallet in one hand, was Lucinda, colorfully attired in bright silver hot pants, a orange halter top, and red and yellow ribbons flying from the ends of her long braids. Without breaking stride she kicked off her pink sandals one at a time, then really turned it on. Her mocha skin glistened as her long legs propelled her down the walkway and onto the street. Behind her, a close second, was a barefooted white guy, wearing a pair of blue and white boxer shorts and a torn yellow dress shirt. He was yelling at her to give his wallet back or drop it. His shirt must have been ripped during the hasty exit. Bringing up the rear, but making great progress towards catching up with Lucinda and the white guy, was Cleveland, waving my brake like a ridding crop. His multi-colored skull cap perched on his bushy black hair was in danger of falling off and being left behind, as he barreled into the straightaway down the street. He had a bright purple, flowing, waist length, robe type smock, over brilliant, florescent, running pants. His tennis shoes, the latest Nike cross trainers, were yellow and aqua. His dark skin was covered with a film of perspiration and his breathing heavy, but he was closing ground fast.
Cleveland caught up with the white guy, but apparently had nothing against him, so side by side the two pursued their common target, the streaking Lucinda.
As the group flew past the spectators near the managers office, Lucinda, still in the lead, abruptly turned right, bolted around several parked cars, and shot back across the street heading back towards her apartment. The white guy and Cleveland made the turn as well, and the pack was now on the straightaway again as the crowd cheered and yelled for Lucinda. “Go girl! “Keep it up girl! Smoke ‘em baby, go!”
It was a blaze of color and flying feet when a fleet of cars, the familiar black and white kind, skidded to stops at the both ends of the street. The runners were heading directly towards one set of the cars who’d parked sideways with red and blue lights flashing blocking the entrance to the apartment complex. Cops in bright blue uniforms began to move towards the oncoming pack. Lucinda once again forced the race, making an sharp turn back again across the street, back towards the managers office. Now she was ahead of the white guy and Cleveland, plus four cops. She was clearly the crowd favorite and her fans where jumping up and down like they were holding a derby betting ticket and their pick was winning.
But quickly closing in on the action were four more uniformed cops coming from the other end of the street. The finish line turned out to be right in front of the managers office as Lucinda fell into the arms of a police sergeant, right after dropping the wallet she had been carrying. Cleveland and the white guy were both nabbed from behind by fresh cops. The crowd went nuts, and the cops just stood there shaking their heads, looks of puzzlement on their faces. Lucinda managed to raise her hand in victory as they led her away to a squad car. As they led the white guy away, he looked like he was going to collapse from his run. Plus, he had a sheepish grin on his face realizing he only had part of his clothing on. Cleveland, now handcuffed, and minus my brake, which one cop held, along with the wallet, was panting as they roughly pushed him into the back seat of another squad car.
But it had been captivating, like a train wreck, and nobody was making a move to leave. There had been spectacles in the complex before, but none as colorful and exciting as this, and it happened in broad daylight for everyone to see. Not like the normal action, which nine times out of ten, took place behind closed doors!
However, like the Derby, the race had been run, and now it was over. No photo finish necessary. Lucinda was clearly the winner, the white guy and Cleveland tied for second.
Still, the crowd, like the one at Churchill Downs, wanted more. They wanted to see the blanket of roses placed over the winners back. To hear the acceptance speech from the jockey, the accolades given to the trainer, the gratitude and gracious compliments lavishly gushing forth from the proud owners. The announcement of the time of the race and the payoffs from the bets. The exquisite pleasure of being part of an historic event.
But instead, on that Derby Saturday, the crowd in the complex had to settle with watching the three valiant racers being questioned as to their actions, with no public address system to broadcast their replies. But the crowd did enjoy a laugh at the finger pointing, trash talking, and name calling, something that would never happen at post race interviews at Churchill Downs. Sadly, there were no photographers taking pictures of the winner, just cops snapping quick mug shots of the runners, and the winner didn’t get to walk out to the front of the adoring crowd and receive a trophy. Lucinda was robbed, all three of them were. No trophy or prize for Lucinda, just a lengthy lecture, a warning about disturbing the peace, and an escorted walk back to her apartment while Rose, the manager, scowled at her the whole way. The white guy, nothing either, except a separate escort back for the rest of his personal effects, and a citation to appear before a local magistrate on some kind of charge, and probably a lecture on who, and who not to, associate with. Cleveland did get something, a free ride, but it was a ride downtown for violating the restraining order Lucinda had against him.
Shortly thereafter, Rose and the boss cop urged us to all clear the sidewalks and go about our business. But we didn’t pay much attention, we weren’t doing anything wrong, and most of us milled around for awhile, reliving the highlights of the thrilling race, and lamenting the future of the participants. If we could have found a mint julep tent we would have toasted each and everyone of them. They’d performed splendidly for our pleasure. But alas, instead of being showered and groomed, and being rewarded for a good race by being lead out to a field of sweet grass, our colorful, and fleet of feet gang, where either going to be behind some County bars, preparing to come up with a good story about being caught with a hooker, or looking at the rental adds for a new place to call home.
But all in all, it had been a fine day for we would-be “high rollers at the races”. The overwhelming consensus of opinion was that we should all gather again on Derby Day next year, and this time wager on who would win!
Of course we’d have to come up with a new field of racers, who would be unknown until race day. But that didn’t appear to be a major problem, considering the group individuals we had to work with. Surely we’d have several parties who’d be mad at each other over something, mad enough to take it to the street. And we knew we could count on full cooperation from the cops, they always seemed to be ready for a chase, and they were always in the neighborhood. However, there were a couple of minor changes that would be necessary. For one, we’d have to outlaw the use of chunks of wood as riding crops, someone could get hurt, and although it had added to drama, to keep traffic disruption to a minimum, it was deemed unnecessary to have a car roll into the middle of the street proceeding the race. Instead, we all voted to have a pre-race parade through the complex, interviews with the winner, if the cops would let us, and with Rose’s permission, we’d erect a tent and pop a couple of kegs.
Indeed, “our” new, annual race, wouldn’t become just another race in “The Sport of Kings”, but would stand on it‘s own as the premier race in “The Sport of The Common Folk”.