The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘horses’

HISTORY, HANSOM CABS AND HIZ HONOR

During the Holidays my parents and I would frequently take long walks through Central Park.  Sometimes, if the weather were conducive, those would take us past Wollman ice skating rink and down to the park’s southern end.  I always enjoyed those long walks – particularly because it gave me the opportunity to go up to and pet the horses that drew the hansom cabs.  My favorite was a roan named Buttercup.

My parents strongly believed that children should be raised with non-human companions and so there was always a dog in our home.  They believed that sharing childhood with other creatures was essential in teaching kids respect for life in all its forms.  There was nothing that upset them or me more than stories of animal abuse.  This was my introduction to respecting life and celebrating diversity – long before the latter became technically chic and we restricted the definition to other humans.

One night , two weeks before Christmas, dad came home from work and made an announcement at dinner.  The following evening he was going to take us to Central Park and we were going to take a carriage ride in the hansoms.  I remember my sense of excitement at this news.  I had always wanted to ride in the back of one of these vintage carriages but I knew the rides were expensive.  I hoped that we could ride in the carriage that Buttercup drew.

As it turned out, Buttercup was off duty that evening so our ride was pulled by a horse named Alfie.  It occurred to me that in the hour the carriage moved along that this was an incredibly slow way to travel.  It gave me a new appreciation for the pioneers who made their way west in Conestoga wagons.  And I must admit that the ride wasn’t all that comfortable.  Still, it was a fun thing to do and turned into what is most likely to be a once in a lifetime experience.

One of the first pronouncements of New York’s recently elected mayor, Bill de Blasio is that the hansom cab rides will be terminated because they represent an expression of animal cruelty.  Frankly, if I believed that I would be one of the first in line to support their retirement.  But the facts tell a different story.

The horses and their drivers are, like almost everything else in New York, highly regulated by the city.  They are required to get a complete veterinarian exam twice a year; the rules regulating the business requires  that they have at least an eight week annual vacation and are not permitted to work in rainy or extreme weather; and their diet must meet high standards set by the city.

While I haven’t lived in my birth city for a long while, I have a sneaky suspicion that the well-being of the hansom cab horses is not the most pressing one that New Yorkers face.  If it were, they should rename the city, Utopia.  And perhaps as the mayor matures into his responsibilities he will find, as he did several weeks after his announcement regarding the hansom cabs, that New Yorkers are more concerned about the clearance of snow from their streets – particularly in the streets in neighborhoods which did not vote for him.

It always amazes me that the liberal left in their pursuit of securing peace on earth and equity for all so often disregard the bodies they are willing to throw under the bus in the interest of achieving their goals.  In the case of the hansom cabs, those bodies are the two hundred drivers who earn their living guiding their steeds through the park.  Some of them have been at their jobs for over thirty years.

Now in fairness to the mayor, he has a plan to replace the hansom cabs with pseudo-vintage electric cars.  Thus he can both placate animal rights groups and the various environmental groups which helped fund his election campaign.  Oh, and this idea co-incidentally came from a campaign contributor, a chap by the name of Steve Nislick.

Actually, Mr. Nislick is more than just a contributor to the mayor’s successful election campaign.  Mr. Nislick happens to be the CEO of a company named Edison Properties which operates parking lots and storage units.  Interestingly, the bulk of Edison’s business interests happen to be in the vicinity of the five stables which house New York’s hansom cab horses.  Naturally, if the horses are retired those stables would most likely be sold and converted to other uses – such as parking lots or storage units.

Perhaps the casual reader will think that de Blasio’s motivation is nothing more than the typical iconoclastic destruction of anything that represents tradition.  The hansom cabs certainly fit that mold as they have been active since Central Park was opened in 1857.  But that theory comes into question if you realize that the day he was sworn in, he and his family moved into Gracie Mansion, the official residence of NY’s mayors, built in 1799 which had been eschewed by his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg.  Incidentally, the former mayor had, at his own expense, completely refurbished the residence as a gift to the people of the city.

Of course suggesting that personal self-interest might be the guiding force in the mayor’s reversal of his position on the hansom cabs from the days he was a member of the City Council will undoubtedly bring the left to its feet, shouting cries of “racism.”  After all, the mayor’s wife is a black woman.  That is if they have time left over from calling black conservatives “Uncle Toms” and making fun of Justice Clarence Thomas for having married a spouse who happens to be white.

MY TOMATO PLANT (UPDATE)

Sometimes I put up a post that I think is one of the best things that I have written only to find the response from you, my audience, is about as deafening as the silence of a tomb.  Other times I put up a post that I like but don’t think will get much response, only to find it is exceptionally popular.

The latter is the case for the post, “My Tomato Plant.”  As it garnered a lot of interest I thought I would give you an update to let you know how things are going.  Of course, if you have been following along for any period of time, getting directly to the point is not my style.  But bear with me – we will make it there.

One of dad’s avocations was handicapping thoroughbred racing.  He enjoyed the excitement of watching these magnificent animals challenge each other and introduced me to the sport when I was around ten years old.  But beyond the thrill of watching them race I learned that he utilized this as a way to supplement his income.  Dad had developed a system – and that system generally worked.

When he was not out of town on business and the horses were racing either at Aqueduct or Belmont Park, on many a Saturday he would take me to enjoy a day at the races.  There was a ritual involved with the day.

First stop – White Castle to pick up a few sliders each.  (Of course, we never told mom about that as she considered it junk food).  And then when we got to the track we would each have a bowl of Chicken Gumbo Soup served with a large roll and a couple pats of butter (fifty cents) or if dad had a few winners we might upgrade to the Manhattan Style Clam Chowder (sixty cents).

Dad was very disciplined in his wagering.  He would only risk a small percentage of the bankroll he had accumulated on the races he had decided to bet.  And he adhered strictly to his mathematical formula – not feeling compelled to bet every race but only those in which he felt he had a mathematical advantage.

The net result was that a typical day might involve an outlay of around one hundred dollars and a net profit (even after White Castle, soup and the gas he had burned getting us to and back from the track) of around thirty dollars.  Dad kept rigorous account of his expenses and deducted them as a “cost of doing business” when he analyzed the results of his system.

Now this might not sound like a lot of money to you but let me put thirty dollars into the perspective of the time.  Thirty dollars would buy three hundred comic books or six hundred candy bars.  Thirty dollars would pay for dad’s carfare on the subway to and back from work for twenty weeks.  A high quality premium lipstick cost one dollar.  And thirty dollars would pay nearly one quarter of our month’s rent on the apartment.

I remember going with him one Saturday and everything that could go wrong did go wrong.  Two of the horses on which dad had wagered had won their races and then been disqualified by the Stewards for jostling other horses.  We hadn’t had a winner all day and I could tell that dad was questioning his handicapping abilities and feeling frustrated.  We weren’t going to bet the eighth race and that left us only the ninth to try to recover from what had been a very disappointing day financially.

The eighth race had finished and dad turned to me.  He folded  up his racing form and put it in his pocket and said, “Things aren’t working out today.  There are days like that.  So why don’t you pick our horse for the ninth race?”

I wasn’t sure I wanted that responsibility.  In fact, I was sure that I didn’t.  But I thought if dad had enough confidence in me to try to pick a winner I was going to do that.  (Of course, my “system” was picking the prettiest horse in the race who wore the nicest colors).

Ten minutes before the race the horses came out on the track for the post parade.  The number four horse was a beautiful grey.  He was wearing colors of emerald green and white and held his head high as he pranced in front of us.  “Number four, Daddy,” I said.

“OK.  Number four it is.”

Dad went off to place our bet and it was at that point that I looked up at the tote board.  The horse I had selected was the longest shot in the race – ultimately going off at 32-1.  My heart sank as I realized that I had sealed our fate of having a losing day.

The race began and our horse got off to a good start but was being challenged by  the favorite which was a beautiful chestnut mare.  The two horses dominated the race and it was obvious that, barring anything unusual, one of these two would be the winner.  The announcer, Fred Capacella did his usual superb job of calling the race and heightening the excitement of the audience.

It came down to the stretch, the two horses battling each other, gaining and losing advantage, and then they crossed the finish line – a photo finish.

“Ladies and gentlemen, hold all tickets,” Mr. Capacella said over the loud speaker system.  My heart was pounding.  I thought the other horse had won – but I couldn’t tell from where we were sitting, a little before the finish line.

When the Stewards finished their review, they put up the four horse as the winner.  We had won – and despite a terrible day took home a net profit of $3.25 after deducting all expenses.

Getting back to my tomato plant, there are still fifteen fruit on it and she is doing her best given the weather we’ve had.  These tomatoes are smaller than the first crop which I attribute to the 110 degree plus weather we endured for a week which coincided with the formation of the fruit.  One is beginning to ripen and is only twice the size of a cherry tomato.  Others on the vine are still green and appear to be growing and are much larger.  So I am sticking to my discipline of giving her filtered water morning and evening and offering her a few kind words at each feeding.  We’re both trying to do our part.

By the way, the reason that I devoted most of this post to our day at the races was that it taught me an important lesson both about life and tomato growing.

The name of the horse I selected in the ninth race was, “Keep Pitching.”

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