In It to Win It

Unreal talks ponies with a true racing expert, learns some things about mowing (severed toes are bad) and receives a particularly biting Commontary.

When it comes to lawns, Unreal's not much for the green, green grass of home. In fact, we spend so much time pounding the pavement that the arrival of mowing season would have escaped us altogether were it not for a perky press release from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS). We were aghast to learn that some 239,000 people nationwide sought medical attention for lawn mowing-related injuries in 2005 alone.

We called Ryan James, sales manager at Affton Lawn Equipment, for a cutting-edge report.

Unreal: Would you be so kind as to give us your Lawn-Mowing for Dummies tutorial?

Mike Gorman

Ryan James: When it's springtime and the grass is new and nice and green, it's smart to mulch. During summer when it's hot, dry, and there's a drought, your best bet is to bag.

Bag? What bag?

You're just messing with me, aren't you?

No! We have no idea what bagging is.

The mowers now are three-in-one: mulch it, bag it or side-discharge it. Around here bagging is best. Though it depends what kind of mood you're in.

Hmm. Would you say certain mowers attract certain kinds of people?

Yes indeed.

How about men versus women?

A woman's best bet — if you don't want to do an electric start — we have a Lawn-Boy. [Pause] It's the name of a mower.

Sounds like our kind of mower!

Yeah, it has a Honda engine on it. We only sell quality stuff, unlike Home Depot or Lowe's, where you bought a guaranteed piece of junk. We're full-service. We even have a pickup service in the winter where we come to you.


I know — it's enticing.

Is there a happy ending?

Of course. Always.

The AAOS says "thousands of Americans suffer deep cuts and lacerations, sprains and strains, fractures, and even loss of fingers and toes due to the improper use of a lawn mower each year." It sounds like they're giving your business a very bad name.

[Laughs] Well, people are gonna mow their lawn no matter what.

So, what kinds of injuries have you seen?

I haven't seen any. Even our mechanics here — no one's seen any. But I'm sure it happens.

Maybe we should have called the hospital, although it was fun talking to you.

Yeah, it was a blast.

You sound sarcastic.

Nah. We're not that busy today. I don't mind.

Bet on It

Most of the swag that comes our way at this dump is utterly useless. So when a flack from the Chicago Review Press asked whether we'd be interested in a copy of Horseplayers: Life at the Track, newly released in paperback, Unreal champed at the bit (as it were). After reading the book — which we highly recommend — we got author Ted McClelland on the blower and asked the Chicagoan who he likes in this Saturday's Kentucky Derby.

Unreal: How much did you lose while researching the book?

Ted McClelland: Gosh, I didn't even keep track. Could have been about $4,000 or $5,000 over the course of the year.

What's the most you've ever bet on a single race?

It was a Pick Six bet on the Breeders' Cup. I spent $2,000 and I was out after the first race. But that wasn't a single race. Most I ever bet on a single race was about $250 — but I won. I basically bought out the trifecta, bought all the likely combinations. And it came in for $1,400.

Why do horseplayers have lousy hygiene?

I didn't know that many who had bad hygiene. They had bad wardrobes, though. I think of a horseplayer as someone who'll bet $200 on a race but won't spend $20 on a pair of pants.

You kinda take a swipe at our home track, Fairmount Park—

Oh, no! I love that old-fashioned atmosphere. It's a place where people are coming for the horse racing, you know — they don't have to be lured in by slot machines or petting zoos or giveaways. Everybody's there to gamble: No distractions. Do they still have the bars over the betting windows? That was one of my favorite touches. Did you think I came down hard?

Well, you write: "Evidently, Collinsville nightlife was so threadbare that Fairmount qualified as a wholesome date."

Is that true or not?

We've never thought "wholesome" and "Fairmount Park" belong in the same sentence. Do you still play the horses?

Oh yeah. But I don't play them as intently as I used to. You either have to go all-out at this or you probably shouldn't be betting much money at all. I figured out that it's possible to win, but I also figured out that it's not worth the money that the effort is gonna get you.

We have a horse. You've probably heard of him. His name is River Front Times....

No, I haven't heard of him. Where's he run?

At Fairmount!

Oh, that's why I haven't heard of him. I don't know how they get away with this, but the Chicago tracks don't [regularly] simulcast Fairmount Park.

Triple Crown or Breeders' Cup?

Triple Crown.

Cubs or White Sox?

Detroit Tigers.

If you had $100 of our money to bet on the Kentucky Derby, how would you play it?

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