THE OTHER TUNICA
At the Bar-B-Q Festival this weekend, a draft beer in one sticky hand, an empty plastic cup that once contained a neon-pink jello shot in the other, I was suddenly struck by an overwhelming urge. Voices began to run together. The faint sounds of "Play That Funky Music, White Boy" whirred in my head. I couldn't eat another thing. I had it bad.
I had been bitten by the gambling bug.
Not, however, for that glamorous mecca called Tunica. The Preakness Stakes were the next day; so, after too many long goodbyes and mumbled explanations, I practically sprinted to the car and was on my way across that majestic river to the sleepy little forgotten town of West Memphis.
If you haven't been to Southland Greyhound Park, you are truly missing out on a local treasure. Southland's your best bet, and if dogs aren't your thing, you can watch the ponies simulcast from tracks all over the country.
Armed with my sports section and a pencil, I burst through those double doors into the comforting glow of the florescent lighting and tore off to buy a racing form. (You can get these for a dollar but if you're lucky and a little late, most people will give you theirs as they leave.) Once inside I was faced with a delightful dilemma. Where to make myself comfortable, take a seat, and most of all, where did I feel lucky?
You've got several options and I suggest you experience all of them. If you're looking for a cheap night, you can stay on the lower level amid the betting tickets and the stale popcorn-littered floors. There's a lot of action going on down there. It's noisy and crowded and it smells funny, but its free and in my opinion pretty exciting.
From this level you can go out to the tracks and watch the races or you can cheer your dog along from behind a huge plate glass window. If you're a first-timer, this is the place to learn the lingo. You'll sound like you actually know what you're doing after only a short time or at least you'll know what to yell.
If you're feeling fancy, you have to go upstairs. It only costs a dollar, but if you've got a student ID, it's free. If you're a high roller, go to the Kennel Club. (Actually, you don't have to be a high roller but it's fun to pretend). In this little haven, the cocktails are served in glasses and there's not an aluminum ashtray in sight. There are fresh flowers, and the food is better. You can sit at your own little table complete with a monitor so that you can weigh your odds and watch the races without
leaving your seat.
It's very cushy. They even have valet parking and a sort of Hollywood track lighting. The best thing is that they recently opened The Kennel Club to the public so now any old body can enjoy the high life.
All those bells and whistles, however, are not for me. I prefer a place that's somewhere in the middle. The Paddock Club is where you must go if you are a serious gambler. No, you don't have all of the amenities of the Kennel Club, and your beer is going to come out of a plastic tub of ice but it's still nice enough and you can always find a seat at the bar.
You're surrounded by big screen TVs, so if you're
betting on horses too, you can keep an eye on both races. The most important thing to do here is pay attention. The guy sitting next to you has most likely been to the track everyday that week. If you don't know a trifecta from a quinella, just sit back. These guys know everything from the dog's sire to what he did last week and in what race. You'll be a pro in no time.
I finished placing my bets. I lost on the dogs, but convinced that my horse would redeem me the next day, I kicked at an empty nacho container and went on my way with my pockets empty except for the little betting tickets that hopefully held my fortune. If you go to Southland once, you'll go again. There' s just something irresistIble about it. Besides, aren't slot machines so impersonal?
Southland Park is open everyday except for Sunday with matinees on Monday, Wednesdays, and Saturday beginning at 1:00. Nightly races begin at 7:30. Good Luck.