Harnessing the Sky

by Trebor (Trey) Nosrac

“Good morning Chicago passengers and welcome aboard Southwest Flight 1032. I’m your lead flight attendant, Shelia, coming to you directly from clubbing. It’s time for the seat belt spiel, but if you can’t fasten a seat belt you probably shouldn’t be out in the big bad world without a supervisor so let’s all just take a nap.”(hic)

A middle-aged, ruddy faced man, like an Indian chieftain who decided to put on a Blues Brothers suit, sat in the middle seat between a Keith Richards clone snoring with his cheek on the window and me. After middle seat clicked his seatbelt, which he managed all by himself, he pointed to my open laptop.

“What’s that?”

“Harness racing; you ever heard of it?”

He slowly shook his head no. That was all the encouragement I needed.

“When Americans used horses and buggies as the best way to get around, they always wanted to race. Racing is just human nature. Anyway, horses and carts are connected with a contraption called a harness. Ergo, the name of the sport, harness horse racing. Once upon a time it was the most popular sport in America.”

He gave me a tepid head tilt of interest and asked, “Ergo?”

“Perhaps I should have said voilà or presto or shahzam.”

He chuckled, “Or you could just speak English. So you bet on them?”

“Sometimes. Right now I own a horse that I race. She’s a mare, which means she is a female.”

“Most she’s are female. You make money?”

“Not personally, but there are rumors it can be done.”

The intercom squawked to life, “This is your captain speaking, our estimated time of flight will be one hour and four minutes, unless we run into a flock of birds or a meteorite or some other wacky stuff up there.”

Middle seat man smiled, “So what does it cost, you know, to buy a harness horse?”

“Buying them is the easy part. After that, it’s basically like boarding a gigantic French poodle.”

He nodded again and asked, “Are they exploited?”

“Not as much as us owners. My mare’s living standard is a major upgrade from my seven years at the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity house. At this moment, Trotting Terrific, her laughably unrepresentative name, lives in a single room on a pristine bed of straw, has a cable TV, munchies, does not need to wear clothes and will never have any student loans. She gets all this for pretending to race one mile every three weeks.”

Middle seat man was loosening up, “Not a bad gig, maybe I should be a horse. I wouldn’t have to get up at three in the morning to fly to Chicago and sell plumbing supplies.”

I was about to explain the world of harness horse handicapping when the dreaded announcement came.

“This is your captain speaking — we have a mechanical issue that will delay our departure. Please remain seated and await additional instructions. Oh, and should you have a roll of duct tape in your briefcase, please turn on your assistance light.”

The middle seat man sighed and asked, “So why do you do it, own hoofing horses, if you lose money?”

“Harness horses. Well, it’s fun, sort of addictive, and it’s a challenge. Owning harness race horses can be entertaining. The people involved are really nice and it’s like playing the lottery, except people who gamble on horses get some action and have a better chance of winning.”

“So where do I go to watch these harness race near Durham?”

I thought for a moment, “I don’t think they have harness racing in North Carolina.”

“Why not?”

“Some states don’t allow gambling on horses. I think North Carolina is one of them.”

“Well, that’s stupid. How is a state going to stop people from gambling, build one of them Trump walls? Heck my wife plays the NC Lottery every Friday and my cousin Rex from Asheville took such a beating betting on the NCAA basketball tournament that some goons collected by taking the title to his truck. “I shrugged, “Yeah, it’s a crazy world. But let me say that Rex and your wife would probably find horse racing an improvement over scratching wax off cardboard and dodging thugs. Even if you can’t get to a racetrack you can log onto some sites. Give me your cell phone number and I’ll forward some sites so Rex and the wife can take a peek.”

As I was entering his number the PA crackled again, “Ladies and gentlemen, this is your Captain. As you may have noticed, we are still on the tarmac. That’s why the trip has been so smooth.” (sound of giggling in cockpit). He continued, “I have an announcement to make, but before I go on – lets all close our eyes, breathe slowly and assume bubbling brook yoga position.”

A chorus of groans mixed with occasional profanity spread through our vessel.

I clicked onto some race sites on my laptop, turned to middle seat man and said, “We got time. Let me show you a few things about harness racing.”