Monday, December 23, 2013

Back Story

Yesterday's final race at Hollywood Park brought up so many things in a surprising way.  OK, so an old racetrack closes.  What impact could that possibly have on millions of people?  It'll probably be forgotten in a few weeks.  That the 75 year old institution will be replaced by more apartments for the urban sprawl of Los Angeles is in itself a tragedy.  But Hollywood Park's demise clearly illustrates a dominant theme that's being repeated, without sufficient questioning, repeatedly in the early decades of this century.
Is an expanding technology always a good thing?  When we lose tradition, the sense of a past history, do we always lose something irreplaceable?  I suggest that we do.  Horse racing will survive in some way or shape.  That's not the issue here.  I'm far too biased to discuss that question here, but what I worry about is what comprises the trade off when those with decision-making power vote to demolish icons of the past.

People fight about keeping everything from inner city architecture to antique farms and ranch bunkhouses.  Old houses are the site of many a demonstration.  In some cases, and I've seen this in my neighborhood, someone feels so passionately that they buy and move, at great expense, the home to a safer place where it gets, sometimes literally, a new lease on life.
With the advancement in technology, and it's subsequent use in the horse racing industry, came the loss of the crowds that used to come by the thousands.  This is what made the original Hollywood Park so appealing.  Horse racing is only about gambling for some.  For others it's about the spectacle, the color, the back stories, and, most importantly, the HORSES.
Gone now are the swelling crowds that came to see Seabiscuit, Citation, or Native Diver.  Occasionally when a super athlete like Zenyatta comes along, so do the crowds.  But most watch on TV or computer screen.  Some now on smart phones.  The farther from the track, the actual surface, dirt or turf, the more removed we get from the entire experience.  This could apply to many other things as well.  Texting come to mind first.  I get the advantages, but it's rapidly becoming another way to communicate without facing someone.  I'm troubled.
Along with this reservation comes the knowledge and more importantly, the acknowledgement that these shifting winds, these changes, these transitions, are all inevitable.  We're not stopping any of them.  So, in the end, once, more, all we really have is our memories.
My grandfather would leave the confines of his inner city New York home and visit us in Southern California in the 50s and early 60s.   He'd often take the bus to Santa Anita or Hollywood Park.  In his 70s at the time, it was an all day affair that no doubt left him exhausted at the end of a long day.  The walk from the bus stop to our house was enough to do that anyway.  I know he loved going to the track and often enjoyed some success.  I inherited that from him to be sure.  The last time I saw him I was 14 and he left my sister and I a modest bank account with some of his winnings.  When I think of these iconic racetracks, I think of my grandfather.  Another link to the past gone.

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