Mud Bug OTB

My office held its annual holiday party last night.

The party’s
start time was a relatively early 6 p.m., which left my friends and I at
a loss for things to do in between the time our office closed and the
party started.  Staying at the office wasn’t an option. Our solution? 
Go off-campus and bet on the ponies.
 

Shortly after the office closed, we jumped on the red line and hoofed it
from the Clybourn stop to Mud Bug OTB on Weed Street.  Strangely
enough, I think it was my idea to go to the OTB, even though I’d never
before set foot in an OTB facility.  Beyond that, I’ve never been much
of a gambler, period.  My horse racing history includes less than five
trips to Arlington and one trip to Maywood (which was to hang out with
the Jesus Lizard). 

Walking in to the OTB, I expected the air to
be thick with smoke and sweaty desperation.  I also assumed that bar
would be lined by guys who looked like Ernest Borgnine on a gin bender. 
To my surprise, the facility was much cleaner and more orderly than
what I’d expected.  The customers looked non-threatening and were at
least a few bad experiences away from desperate.  I wouldn’t say Mud Bug
was comfortable, but it wasn’t sleazy, either.

I immediately
preferred the OTB environment to the vibe of a casino.   I don’t like
the dark, time-stands-still, outside-world-doesn’t-exist, aspect of
places like Harrah’s.  When I last set foot in a casino, I quickly felt
isolated and disoriented.  Once I perched myself in front of a slot
machine, zipping through credits in a hypnotic state, I was completely
cut off from everything else.  There’s nothing truly *fun* about the
casino experience for me, which makes the inevitable losses I incur feel
all the more damaging.

If nothing else, the OTB felt more
connected to the outside world than a casino, and it was definitely a
more social experience.   My friends and I dropped anchor at a table
near the windows and ate, drank, and made stupid conversation for a
solid two hours.  During that time, we’d occasionally race to the
electronic betting kiosks to recklessly place $2 bets on longshot horses
to place or show.  We never put ourselves at risk of traumatizing
financial loss; the gambling was done at a very conservative level, and
was really just a backdrop to our hanging out. 

Apparently, there are always races going on somewhere
I’m pretty sure I bet on a horse race in Costa Rica, and mostly sure I
bet on a few more in California.  Closed-circuit monitors line the walls
of Mud Bug, piping in horse races from tracks around the world.  
Rather than succumb to sensory overload, we picked a few tracks to zero
in on, and the process became more manageable and fun. 

It was
fascinating to watch the hardcore gamblers in the room.  They were
easily spotted, based on their beverage of choice:  Water.  My friends
and I assumed the hardcore group drank water to both avoid
alcohol-fueled bad bets and to keep expenses down while gambling.  The
hardcores had their daily sheets splayed across their tables, allowing
them to scrutinize every last detail of every race.  There’s a science
to mastering the minutia of details like track type, historical
performance, and jockey stats.  As far as I’m concerned, I’m perfectly
happy picking a horse because its name is “Lunar Fleet.”

In
total, I lost around $30.  It’s not like I had $30 to burn, but I’d
budgeted that money for “entertainment expenses,” so the loss was
okay-ish.  We had a great time, and more importantly, we didn’t sit
around the office, waiting for the party to start. 

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