Willy Vlautin shows us how to lose money.
  • Willy Vlautin shows us how to lose money.

Portland Meadows can be an intimidating place for a gambling novice like myself, so thankfully the one and only Willy Vlautin was kind enough to show me the ropes. His latest novel, Lean on Pete, focuses on the forgotten swath of NE Portland real estate that extends from the trailer park community near the Jubitz Truck Stop to the horse track itself, and like his two previous works, it's absolutely fantastic and soul-crushingly sad.

Following his packed Powell's reading last night, Valutin stopped by the track on his way to a reading in Seattle tonight. His status as a regular at the track was made abundantly clear when he got an autograph request from a fellow gambler, plus he extolled the quality of the Portland Meadows cuisine (he recommended "The Diplomat," a global sandwich with Canadian bacon, American cheese, and a kaiser roll) plus he even knew the cook's name (Chef Dale). More importantly, Vlautin explained the quirky history of the somewhat downtrodden track, told us about "The People's Horse" (a selected competitor that wins money for charity and gets everyone drunk while doing so—"When that horse runs, you get a cheap margarita") plus he discussed the secret life of jockeys and how few wanted to help him research Lean on Pete. Evidently there is a Jockey's Code. Good to know.

An admitted lousy gambler, Vlautin cost the Mercury $17 (I get reimbursed for this, right?) by assisting me in selecting a terrible trifecta combination in the first race. [Just a personal note to the horse named Pepe Le Feu—I look forward to the day that your body is ground into low grade dog food and your hoofs become gluesticks.] The second race was closer, but our pick (Low Cal) faded in the stretch and we lost once again. As for why some horses get 99-to-1 odds, I found out that those are given for a reason because the awesomely named Trip to Wire finished in 6th place, about a quarter mile behind all the other horses.

Please read his books and listen to him in Richmond Fontaine, but never taking gambling advice from Willy Vlautin.