This past weekend, Gresham’s Multnomah Greyhound Park (MGP)underwent a transformation that would have baffled even the world’sgreatest minds. Gone were the aging gamblers betting away the lastyears of their lives on $2 trifectas and 12-1 long shots. Gone wasthe smell of spilled, watered down beer and the blowingpeanut-shell tornadoes. In place of the gamblers stood yuppiefamilies with kids in tow, Britney wannabes baring their midriffsand newly sprayed-on tans and many more 20- and 30-somethingstrying to find their way around without looking uncool. In place ofthe familiar track ambience was a sparkling paved concoursepatrolled by costumed mascots and filled with smell of fresh BBQand the dulcet tones of Bananarama’s “Cruel Summer” and the BeachBoys catalog.
What could have caused such drastic changes, you ask? Awormhole, another dimension? No. The cause was much simpler -wieners.
Wiener dogs, that is. And not just any wiener dogs, but themotley crew of wieners assembled for the 2004 Wiener Dog SummerNationals.
Entering the crowd area from the ridiculously full parking lotand watching people stream in, my friend Paul looked at me with the”We’re not in Kansas anymore” look I had just struggled to holdback. Difficulty parking and streaming crowds were two thingsneither of us had ever witnessed upon the hallowed MGP grounds. Itwas just the beginning…
Inside, vendors hawked everything from wiener dog shirts toballoons to cheap Mexican food, while unattended rugrats put ontheir own races between the white vending tents. We arrived rightas the first wiener race went off and, unlike a traditional nightat the track, due to the mass of people we actually had to askpeople to move to navigate amid the crowd. As if things weren’tbizarre enough already, most of the people responded with friendly”excuse me”s and “there ya’ go”s.
In the confusion spawned by bizzaro-MGP, normally innocent acts- such as eating a hot dog – seemed totally incongruous. As asmiling little girl skipped by with hot dog in hand, instead ofassuming she was hungry, I found myself wondering if she was tryingto mock the dogs racing merely yards away. Perhaps she wasnot-so-subtly suggesting, “You better run fast or you’ll end up inmy belly like this poor schmuck!”
I unsuccessfully tried to put such concerns aside as the eightcompetitors in the second of 18 qualifying races to be held overthe weekend were introduced. Our official program listed the dogs’weights, colors and favorite toys and we dissected each bit ofinformation with the intensity of high schoolers given the SAT keythe day before the test.
We both settled on Rommel from the six post. How could anyone goagainst the miniaturized reincarnation of the Desert Fox?Especially considering the track was made of sand. Any doubt wasremoved by the program’s claim that his “Information [was] notavailable at press time” – he was already toying with the minds ofhis foes! It was a sure thing.
Fifteen seconds of scurrying legs and kicked-up sand laterRommel was tasting the sour bite of defeat his Panzers had so oftendelivered in the deserts of North Africa, and Paul and I weredigging deep for answers.
Three hours and $36 later we’d had enough. Rommel’s fate hadbeen a harbinger of our terrible betting luck.
The track had been running greyhound races between the wienerraces in an attempt to hook novices and satisfy the addicted.Fitting somewhere in between the two categories, Paul and I hadtaken every opportunity they gave us to lose money.
Summing up both our feelings, Paul dejectedly told me, “Ishould’ve just given them $20 and let them kick me in thenuts.”
Long after the last of the wieners had cleared out, we decidedto call it a night.
The concourse was littered with crumpled and torn betting stubsdoused in beer and covered in peanut shells. The kids had gone homeand the vendors were packing up. While the greyhounds continuedtheir futile pursuit of Rusty the electric bone, old men withdrooping jowls and worn overalls spread out over the green parkbenches and intently scrutinized their programs in hopes of findingthe long shot winner before their rivals did.
I smiled and headed home.