A Day at the Races

I cleaned my office this last weekend and as I straightened the bookshelves, J Edward Chamberlain’s, Horse (Blue Ridge, New York, NY), fell on the floor. Horse is a narrative that laymen can read about how mankind and the horse have developed a somewhat unique, symbiotic relationship.

As I hefted the book, an image of the racetrack vaulted into my mind. Not just any racetrack, but the racetrack at Ruidoso, New Mexico where they specialize in American Quarter Horse racing with the distance being a quarter of a mile, the money pot being in the millions.

Ruidoso crouches beneath the shoulders of Sierra Blanca, a twelve-thousand-foot peak in the southern part of the state. A lot of big Texas “awl bidness” money hangs around the restaurants, boutiques and honky tonks. There is a ski area and more important to horse folk, a racetrack.

One of my father’s younger brothers, Hugh, and his wife Lona Beth, owned a house on the Rio Ruidoso in the older part of town. They had box seats at the race track, too. Betty and I, for a time, lived thirty miles south in the more modest village of Cloudcroft. But we got invited to the track and we sat and watched the races and we bet from the sheet and lost money until Aunt Lona Beth pointed out that one shouldn’t bet the horses. They should bet the trainers and the jockeys and the owners. I thought, but geez, that means you have to know them. She read my mind and smiled as she went back to her racing notes, and then to the window to get her winnings.

The rest of the day I imagined I witnessed(or maybe I really did see it) the jockeys on the favorite horses in particular races pulling back on the reins so that one of the other horse owners could win some money and pay a feed bill, pay the veterinarian, pay for his daughter’s wedding in Telluride or Steamboat Springs.

Right then, I understood what was meant years earlier in the palaver I heard in Prescott, AZ about jockeys holding the horses back. That was in1976 when I summer-long hung out at Bruno’s Buffet just across the main drag from the racetrack. Bruno’s was chock full of horse owners and trainers and jockeys, not to mention the other gambler denizens. I was more interested in the vintage pinball machines against the back wall and the homemade tamales and burritos and of course the Coors and the schnapps and the Dewars and water. But I do recall the men sitting at the bar winking and giggling about shenanigans at the track. Drugs to speed up a steed or slow him down, or her if she was a filly. They fought, too, bringing their competitive natures from the track into the bar where the liquor started doing the talking and then fists started cracking faces and the pointed toes of ostrich skin cowboy boots bomb-shelled into opponents’ soft groins. Humans are a competitive bunch and they sling their drive to win onto the shoulders of all kinds of things: their hands, their feet, their fellow man, their brains tied to poker hands of aces and queens, the back of a horse, a pinball machine.

Back in the early 1970s I used to hang out on Sunday afternoons outside of Casa Grande, Arizona at the weekly races sponsored by the Los Conquistadores, a local Hispanic caballero club. Cars would line up along a makeshift track, their trunks open and loaded with Corona and Dos Equis and Coca Cola and orange sodas from Fanta de Mexico, or Jarritos, and better yet, fresh tamales and burritos, lots of jalapeño and Serrano chile slices laced among the beans and meat. The kind of food that made your mouth burn and your nose run and your head sweat and goosed you so you felt like you might just get out there and run beside those elegant caballos whose owners let them strut and kick up puffs of dust to whet betting appetites. A lot of cash changed hands out there one race after another, the green hundred-dollar notes flapping in the breeze as one man agonized and another rejoiced. Sometimes the tempers flared and men threatened others, but then one of the gentes managing the race stepped in and refereed, negotiated.

Back then I used to work at a large agricultural concern out west of town in the flat Sonoran desert plain below Dick Nixon Mountain and Table Top. One of the owners’ sons, whom I will call Butch, loved racing horses and bought a fancy prancing young dun stud he hoped would win him money and fame. He didn’t ride it himself; he hired one of the hostlers who worked for the company instead. That man was a slight Vietnam Vet whose seamed and ruddy face told stories he would never relate. He sat a horse like he was part of the animal; they reminded me of a centaur. The dun stud and the hostler would lope across the flat, greasewood-pocked ground leaving their caliche clay signature on the wisps of the wind. That dun was a moody, cranky thing and the only man who could handle him was the hostler.

Late one Saturday evening a strange pickup truck and horse trailer pulled up outside the office and some Chicanos I had seen all my life, but did not know, unloaded a big dapple gray gelding who stood around and sniffed with suspicion the eighty-two-thousand head of Hereford, Brahma, and angus cross-bred cattle in the feed pens.

I asked a cowpoke what was up and he told me there was a match race for big money. Of a sudden, cars and pickups began to arrive and the hostler brought the dun out and it snorted and cavorted sideways as the hostler talked soft words of comfort in its ears that reminded me of radio antennae the way they checked out the hubbub building with the powdered dust of the parking lot.

All of a sudden too, big white Panama-hatted cowboys and long-haired hippies and Chicano dudes arrived in large groups, drinking Dos Equis and speaking Español; also a couple of Yaqui Indians who hung back, leaning against some sucker rod fence as they laughed at all the proceedings. And yes, the greenbacks started to flash and a lot of harsh talk, as if words of intimidation from one man to the next would make a difference in how a horse would run. One man had a .357 Magnum six-shooter sticking barrel first in his left rear pants pocket. I hoped it wouldn’t fall out, go off and hit me.

The jockeys jockeyed their horses to the line. A cotton farmer with a long-barreled .22 Magnum said something about the race, although I was more interested in the array of weapons I saw sticking out of boots, hanging on belts. I wondered when the war might start. Was this a horse race or were we going to invade Baja California? All the Chicanos and most of the hippies sided with the owner of the dappled gray. Most of the cowboys and some of the hippies sided with Butch, the hostler and the young dun stud.

A stocky man stomped back and forth between each group, swearing in English and Spanish as the horses snorted and jumped around as if infected with the sense of competition. The bets continued. I kept my wallet in my pocket.

The stocky man flexed his fists like he wanted to hit someone and I heard talk that he liked to drive sixteen-penny nails into railroad ties with those fists. I doubted he could do that and smiled, but only on the inside, as I thought how that might feel, to pound a nail with the fist. Why in the hell would someone want to do that unless to show somebody else up, I reckoned as I inched my way to the back of the cowboy crowd.

While I was watching the hammer-fisted dude slinging his vernacular of violence around, the .22 Magnum reported and as I stood on the toes of my boots I saw those two horses, the muscled dapple gray and the young dun stud, erupt like funny cars at the drag races. They were gone and each of the jockeys, especially the hostler, leaned off his ride, slapping at the other jockey with his quirt. A lot of the men in each crowd were busy hurling epithets at counterparts on the other side and missed Butch’s dun win the race by better than two lengths. An anti-climax, for sure.

I moved back and stood next to the Yaquis, anticipating the fireworks to come. My heart sped up with the thought of some fist fights, a knifing, a shooting; but while the winner’s crowd ganged around Butch, the hostler and the dun, the loser’s crowd quickly sneaked off, leaving a lot of hot-tempered talk about welching on bets and the like.

It’s amazing, I think, how a man and an animal can symbiotically interact and create an entire industry—horse racing—that so perfectly corrals some of the essential best, and worst, of human emotions. The horse usually being the one that does most of the heavy work. The humans creating the rest—the hubbub, the competition, the hate, and yes, the love.

The Fighter

This last week I watched the movie, “The Fighter,” with Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale. The movie is brash, crude (like fighters should be), and in the end, redemptive. When I began watching the movie (which I rated five stars on Netflix), I could not envision how it would end well. But, the magic of storytelling allows yarners of all stripes the opportunity to turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse, as the old maxim goes.

I believe one of the reasons the movie moved me so was because it reminded me of my youth, among other things. I grew up in a yellow house on a dirt street in a dusty southern Arizona town. We had concrete floors and if you wanted to take a bath, you stuck a galvanized tub beneath the shower head and filled the tub. We fought a lot on that street. Every kid had his domain, usually in front of his house, or out in the alley behind his back yard. To progress from one part of the neighborhood to another usually cost you something. Since none of us in that part of town—south of the tracks—ever had anything, we usually either retreated, found a way to sneak around the obstacle or proceeded to attack. That’s what I normally did. Attack. I fought Dismukes and Chet Gray, Greg and Richard Madewell, a number of the Armenta-Dominguez clan and a bunch of other kids whose names I don’t remember. I crowned a red-headed bully whose name I don’t recall with a piston out of a ’49 Plymouth. He was never right in the head after that, and even though he may have always been that way, for years I felt pangs of guilt that his shortcomings were the result of me laying his head open.

Hell, I even fought my older sister.

When we moved to a better neighborhood north of the tracks, things did not change much except the names: Bennett, Robinette, Sisson, Parris, Yancy, Echeverria, Hooper, Crouch, Riley, Keeling, Lowe, Yee, Lohr, and Reitzl, to name a few.

My father was a fighter who walked around like Humphrey Bogart (his friends called him Humph, and Booger) with a cigarette dangling out of the corner of his mouth and his fists clenched. Before he gave up hooch, he got in bar brawls that caused my mother to sull up like an old cow and threaten to load us kids in the car and head back to her family. My father’s brothers, all six of them, brawled too and they were famous in their town for beating up anyone who challenged them for supremacy of the Chandler, Arizona streets. They fought for money; bare knucks or gloves, made no difference. They fought for pride. The fought for the hell of it.

When I was in the fifth grade I pelted a guy with ethnic insults and he smacked me in the face and blacked my eye. I went home and complained to my father who promptly busted my butt and told me to keep my mouth shut. As he worked at his job delivering gasoline the next day, he must have come to the conclusion that I would never keep my mouth shut because he came home with a box of brand new boxing gloves. He pulled them out of the box and shoved them in my face and said, “Learn to defend yourself.”

I was never much of a boxer but I did learn to defend myself so well I was soon climbing the ladder of tough guys in my age group. I whupped up on big guys and small guys and in-between guys. Earlier in this stage of my life I generally tended to fight when provoked, but as I improved my fighting skills, I began to provoke others. You might say I became a bully. It’s funny how bullying works. I have been bullied plenty, especially when younger, but oftentimes the bullied becomes the bully and soon I found myself shoving a new kid around, smiling at all the little chickies with their new-found lipstick and training bras. One Friday the new kid and I leapt across the open-mouthed canal chock full of muddy water and led a throng of bloodthirsty children in their early teens into a grove of salt cedars out behind Bob Palmer’s house and began to spar. I was winning, and in my magnanimity refused to hit the new kid when he was down, pull his hair, or kick him in the gonads. He wasn’t so guarded about his behavior and before my bullying was done he’d given me a lesson in street combat; but more humiliating, a lesson in eating crow. This bully got his butt whipped.

A year later I was the recipient, again, of the bullying, this time by a kid a year older and twice my size. He was always going to pants me and throw me in the canal that ran between the main campus and the gymnasium, but I was quick and always escaped and yes, I let my big mouth harangue him about not being able to catch me as I danced around in my white Levis and white Keds and made faces that had me imagining I was the mime, Marcel Marceau.

And then he trapped me and we went at it. Me so scared my ticker pranced around inside my chest like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. I had no escape. I bit, pulled hair, pinched, stuck my index fingers in his eyes, pummeled, elbowed, kneed and slugged until finally he quit and let me go home. As I left the school grounds everybody was congratulating me, “You won, you won.”

In the bathroom at the house, my eyes were swollen and I could not see my face in the mirror. I ran my tongue around the inside of my mouth which was like fresh ground-round and I traced the lumps and cuts on my chin, my lips, my nose, my cheeks. If this is winning, I thought, I ain’t interested.

Even though I later joined the Marine Corps, I haven’t fought like that again, brawling. Oh, I split a fellow Marine’s head open and smacked another one on the head with a shovel, but that was more about survival, and I threw Mark Echeverria through the back door of Quick Draw’s Saloon, but that was liquor talking.

Bullying is, in my opinion, one of those emotional states akin to greed, desire, jealousy, and covetousness and even after all this time, I haven’t completely quit it. I’ve been bullied some in return. And I still have to curb my desire to choke someone who surprises me at the wrong moment, or who refuses to behave the way I think he/she should….even when I know I shouldn’t, I still do and as I enter that blind and red-faced world of rage, I fairly pine for the sweet moment when I can take my past, my future and all my frustration out on femurs and voice boxes. But I don’t. It’s there, the violence, crouching just inside the skin on my chest. Right between my heart and the snaps on my cowboy shirt. I know better but I don’t know better. Violence solves nothing. But still, sometimes….

As I watched Christian Bale and Mark Walhberg beat the hell out of people in “The Fighter” (metaphorically speaking, since so often film is metaphor for reality), inside my head was singing a high-pitched tune and my ticker danced around inside my chest like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. And I thought, I’m sixty-four years old and maybe I should grow up, and then I realized age has nothing to do with it, nor rationality.

E Pluribus Unum

On May 22, 1856, South Carolinian Preston Brooks, a delegate to the U S House of Representatives, caned Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner in the chamber of the United States Senate two days after Sumner gave an impassioned speech against slavery during the “Bleeding Kansas” crisis. Sumner’s caning was a lightning rod for both northern and southern sympathizers and fueled the heated rhetoric, mostly from newspapers and politicians, that helped propel the United States of America into its Civil War.

For years I shook my head and marveled that something like Sumner’s caning could happen in a country like the United States. Now, as I essay the affairs of the United States, I wonder if we aren’t headed for a similar situation.

No one has been caned in the highest chambers of our government, at least not physically, but the level of rhetorical caning, combat, demagoguery and political hackism has risen to a level I don’t remember witnessing in my lifetime.

Turn on the television and the level of political and journalistic bombast and chicanery rivals something we might expect to see in a satirical comedy. But the level of discourse we now enjoy in this country is not particularly comedic, although a lot of this nation’s favorite pundits and commentators do seem to be nothing more than actors, paid to put forth a political philosophy that helps their sponsoring newspaper, television network, or website and the related advertisers sell more products to the people who watch those particular pundits and commentators, who, I might add, seem to be saying exactly what their listeners wish them to say and not necessarily anything truthful or that assists in the furtherance of finding solutions to our problems.

Rarely do I hear any reference to the necessary conjunction of ideas in the type of compromise that is generally related to the words Democracy and Republic. In my mind, those words indicate the coming together of men and women with varying outlooks that lead to solutions that best help the most people. Now we seem to spend most of our time worrying and fighting about what is “mine.”

Instead of compromise, what I hear from the pundits, but more foreboding to me, from the general public, are attitudes that reek of “my way or the highway.” There is little room for an attempt to work out differences with the other guy. Hyperbole and bile seem to rule the day. Left wingers don’t trust the right wingers. Conservatives don’t trust the liberals. Conservatives who have worked for the government their entire lives and benefit today from that association bash the government as being big, bloated and unnecessary. I wonder why I never heard that type of talk from them while they were gainfully employed in their civil service and state jobs. Similarly, liberals who spent their entire careers working for corporations and in private enterprise, now lambast the business sector even as they reap the benefits of that long association. I wonder why I rarely heard those types of attacks while these people made nice salaries in their private sector jobs.

I am crossing my fingers that we don’t have a Brooks-Sumner type of event as I watch us drift farther and farther apart. What hammers the wedge deeper between our left and right? I am no expert, but I think fear of the unknown, fear of the future has a lot to do with motivation for our behavior. But I can’t help thinking, too, that what ails us is money, or what it can buy. Specifically our own money. Or the money we want in the future. We, as citizens of the United States, seem to believe we are entitled to “our money.” Our Money. And of course what “My Money” might be is open for argument. So what we are entitled to seems to be a matter for discussion. But instead of discussion, we get demagoguery and argument meant to please a particular public. And if one man’s sense of entitlement caroms into another man’s sense of what he is entitled to, we have conflict and no one willing to step in and politically arbitrate.

Don’t get me wrong, I want mine, too, whatever that is. We all do. But in our chase for the buck and the security we seem to believe we can gain from having money, we need to remember those words written on our dollar: E Pluribus Unum, which translates, among other things, to “Out of many, one.” We are who we are because we have for the most part managed to compromise enough to overcome the obstacles that we have encountered the past two-hundred-twenty years.

As we pursue our futures and our drive for the security we think money and goods can deliver us, I hope we don’t become a case of “out of one, many.”

Twitter: The Power of a Question

Guest blogger Galen Rodgers muses on the power of questions, whether in the normal forms of discourse or in newer forms of communication.

Recently, I had an experience on Twitter that changed my perspective of not only the power of asking one simple question through a social media platform, but also how one’s question can lead to an unexpected path of promise.

The Tale of the Tape

Approximately 2 weeks ago, I was in building mode on Twitter. We’re talking deep in the trenches of actively pursuing Tweeps seeking knowledge that I had to offer. For those who aren’t intimately involved with Twitter, generally, one must follow others in order to attract followers. Because my business is online marketing, blogging, start-up strategy, personal branding and the like, it necessitates actively seeking an audience. If I can’t garner an audience on Twitter, FaceBook and other social media platforms, what do I have to offer?

The Question

So there I was, following folks to gain an audience. On this particular day, to shake things up, I decided to try something new. Instead of playful banter between my current followers or spreading the good word of social media from the usual outlets, I started asking questions of my followers.

I specifically remember that actual event of the question. I ran an errand to Safeway and while I was sitting in the parking lot, I decided to use my iPhone to ask a random question. “How do you build your personal brand?” That was the question. Nothing poignant. Not earth shattering. Just a simple question. I’d asked questions in the past with no response so I wasn’t expecting much.

This time I received an immediate response, and only one. The follower replied, “Carefully.” Huh, that was it? Interesting…
I didn’t know the follower as by this time I’d accumulated over 1,000 Tweeps. I replied telling him indeed that was interesting and provided a link to my blog. My blog post for that week was “5 Reasons to Build your Personal Brand” and I truly wanted input.

The Result

This follower then proceeded to visit my blog, comment, and retweeted my post to his 4,000+ followers stating “up and coming blogger”… I was ecstatic! Not only did someone I didn’t know respond to my question, he visited my blog and actually became an advocate for my content. Holy %$#&!! But wait, there’s more…

Not only did he become an advocate for my content, a week later I was invited to join Triberr. Triberr is a blog reach multiplier. Meaning, if you’re invited to join a Tribe on Triberr, everything you blog is then retweeted by all tribe members thus extending your reach beyond what you normally could accomplish with your own efforts. Currently, my tribe has a reach of nearly 27,000 people. Some Tribes have a reach of over 1 million!


What does this mean? Because of one question, I’ve extended my reach to a growing community looking for information regarding my specialty and that is great for my business. What if I hadn’t asked the question? What if I played it safe and decided to continue broadcasting the same content on Twitter I had been? Would I have missed this opportunity?

What did I learn from this? Simply, one can never tell when opportunity will strike. Gird up your loins, ask the questions to gain an audience and reap the benefits.

We love to know your thoughts. Share your successes and your concerns with building your personal brand or about social media. All comments are accepted!

Galen Rodgers is a self described Internet Media Evangelist. He is a father of three, serial entrepreneur, marketing professional, avid cyclist, wine lover and film geek. He believes everyone deserves the chance to brand oneself, work hard at their passion and be successful at living the dream.