Monday, August 24, 2009

Day 38: A Bee in Our Blue Bonnets

Yesterday I wrote about my writing assignment in Pownal. Today I would like to tell about the time Gaming Business sent me to Blue Bonnets in Montreal in the early 1980s.

I was in Rutland and had asked my Dad and brother, Bob, to accompany me on the 3+hour drive to the race track. I was scheduled to interview the president of the track at about 5pm, and I told them that after I was done with the interview, we would have dinner and watch a few races before driving back.

This was the first official Road Trip with just the three men of the family. Afterwards, my mother decreed it was the last.

We arrived at the track and were greeted by one of the greats of the Canadian harness racing industry, a wonderful gentleman named Raymond Benoit. That's him in the picture. I introduced my Dad and Bob to Raymond and asked him if he would get us a table in the dining room where they could wait while I went about my business.

Mais non, said Raymond. He had much better plans. It seems the track was having some sort of a press function in a few moments. Like all racetrack press functions, this meant free drinks and food. Your father and brother must come to our reception, he said. Not necessary, I said. But Raymond wouldn't hear of it.

So off I went to the president's office to conduct the interview while my family went off to the press function. Key words: free drinks. If this were a movie, you'd hear the ominous music about now.

After the interview, the president invited me to have dinner at his table in the dining room. Thanks, I said, but I asked my father and brother to drive up with me, and I'm going to dine with them.

Mais oui, he said. Raymond told me. Of course, I want them to join us, as well. Cue the music again.

Anyhow, I will skip most of the dinner. Let's just say the waiters had been trained to never let your wine glass go down to the halfway point. Raymond picked winners for us and there were beautiful women ready to carry our bets so we would never have to leave our drinks for even a moment and risk evaporation.

I do recall Raymond telling us that he had pioneered bi-lingual race calling in French and English. And I vaguely remember Bob asking Raymond if he had anything to do with benoit balls, only to be told, "Mais non. Those are spelled different."

At some point - and here details are obviously vague - we left to begin the long drive home. As we approached the border, we discussed whether to declare the case of Canadian beer Bob had bought and put in the trunk. The three of us agreed to say we had nothing to declare.

Yes, I know, but this was a quarter of a century ago, and back then the lonely border guards on the Canadian-Vermont border weren't really looking for bad guys and evil things.

We pulled up at the gate and the guard leaned in the driver's window.

"Do you have anything to declare?" he asked.

Simultaneously, the three of us said "No", "No" and "Yes".

He calmly asked which it was, and my brother - the yes man - said that he had bought beer and it was in the trunk. Actually, he said something like, "I baa beer an issin trunk"

"I see," the guard said quietly. He asked my father, the driver, where he was from. That one was easy. "Rutland," Dad said.

"And are you all from Rutland?" the guard asked.

"Yes", "Yes", "No" simultaneously.

He shone the flashlight on me in the back seat - the No Guy. "I live in Philadelphia," I said, although I think I added a few syllables to Philadelphia.

So here we had this border guard at a lonely outpost on the world's most peaceful border. He had asked two questions and got two mixed up answers. He had a case of beer he could collect duty on in the trunk. And he had three guys who could barely say their names. (But then again, "Kennedy" is always tough to say if you've had a few drinks.)

Times were very different back then. The guard stood up, obviously relished the fresh air rather than whatever fumes he was getting from leaning into the car, and waved us on. "Drive carefully," he said. And somehow my father did just that.

As it turned out the only trouble we got into was the next morning when Mom reviewed our actions. But fortunately for us kids, it was Dad who got the blame. But we all knew the real culprit was Raymond Benoit.

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