By way of self-confession, I am an inveterate horse player _ have been for years.
Fellow devotees in our subdivision in New Port Richey share this passion with me, and we like to swap stories of glory and near-glory in our visits to Tampa Bay Downs.
Knowing that you have used your mind to choose your horse in the Sport of Kings and have succeeded gives great satisfaction. It is much more satisfying than pulling a slot machine handle or winning in the lottery. Handicapping is a game of skill, and that is probably why many people do not follow the sport of horse racing.
One of the greatest things about figuring out a race is when you can find what I call a "beacon."
A beacon is a piercing ray of light emanating from a particular horse that splits apart the darkness of your ignorance and tells you that a particular horse has a really good chance to win.
Such a beacon is especially pleasing when you think you have seen the light and others have not.
A good example of this is when I saw a horse owned by Queen Elizabeth II running at Calder. Knowing that the queen is not in the habit of buying cheap horses, I bet on her horse and won, even though the crowd did not make the horse the favorite.
In life at large, as in racing, I think we all need beacons.
We need to identify some people who can assure us that there is still hope for the generally crazy race that we call life.
Therefore, rather than concentrating on the many horrible driving mistakes I saw around me on a recent trip to a shopping center on U.S. 19, I instead was grateful for a driver who gave me a break to pull into the shopping center and another who actually stopped his van so my wife and I could cross the busy road and enter one of the stores.
These people did not know it, but they served as beacons which cut through the stupidity and rudeness we see on the roads in Pasco each day.
These courteous and thoughtful drivers reminded everyone that there are still people of decency on the road who do not turn into monsters when they get behind the wheel.
There are other beacons to give us all hope. When I think of the rudeness of some store clerks in this too-tight job market in which supervisors often overlook such behavior, I then think of people such as Fran.
Fran is a one-woman bundle of energy and courtesy who works in one of the major discount stores on State Road 54 in New Port Richey.
When they open up the store in the morning, they know who to put on one of the few registers open _ their gal Fran.
The fact that she happens to be a senior citizen makes this lady that much more remarkable.
Fran is that rare beacon who makes you feel a bit better about life in general and the sometimes arduous task of shopping in particular.
When you get a bit discouraged about the young, all one has to do is travel down the same highway to find another beacon.
This time it is a business whose main stock in trade is fruits and vegetables. There you will see the owners/employees hustling around the store, busting their derrieres to serve customers, with long hours of operation aimed at pleasing the customers rather than employees.
When someone talks about the joys of the capitalistic system, there could be no one to whom one would wish more success that to this group of young people who send out their beacon daily and show that there is plenty of willingness to succeed in this coming generation.
The young. The old. The compassionate. The hard-working.
These beacons remind us that no matter how much we may get discouraged about the human race, there are still beacons of hope everywhere.
In life, there are winners and losers. The more we concentrate on the winners who are beacons in life, the more we can feel that the human race may still have a chance to come across the finish line and be just fine.
Long live these beacons who slice through the darkness.
_ Douglas Spangler, a former university administrator, lives in New Port Richey.