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Lake Tahoe

by Fred Vogel

Fred's words have seen the light of day in Literally Stories, Flash Fiction Magazine, Literary Orphans, Crack the Spine, and elsewhere. He resides in Oregon.  

The year was 1962. My dad, Big Frank, ran the Race Book at Harrah's Club in Lake Tahoe. I loved hanging around there even though I was only twelve. No one ever questioned my presence there because I was Big Frank's kid and Big Frank carried a ton of clout.

All betting information was hand-printed in white chalk on oversized blackboards suspended above the counters. Results and scores were transmitted via tickertape. I would watch as Nick Petrovich, the white-haired artist with the thick black-rimmed glasses, performed his exacting work on the blackboards, recreating line scores, odds and race results, with deft precision, all while balanced on a rolling ladder. I had dreams of one day following in the footsteps of this cigar-smoking virtuoso.

In the summertime, me and my best buddy, Billy Bigtoes, would head to a nearby meadow to see how many snakes we could catch. We would release them and watch as they slithered into a creek or disappeared into the brush. Venturing further into the overgrowth late one afternoon, we discovered a rundown shack. Inside, the walls were papered in a rodeo motif; there was a weathered wooden red picnic table, two dark green plastic chairs, an ashtray filled with non-filter cigarette butts and a well-worn Zane Grey paperback. I slipped the book inside my jacket and we took off. The faster we ran the more I felt someone or something gaining on us.

Just as we had done the past two summers, me and Billy spent Saturdays helping out at the Go-kart track, hopping on the back of the karts during their final lap and guiding them safely into the pit area. We were paid handsomely for the work – a burger and a shake from Hamburger Heaven.

I had two girlfriends in junior high, both named Sandy. Sandy #1 had short brown hair and round brown eyes. Her parents owned The Oasis Motel, a few blocks from my family's A-frame. Sandy #2 had dirty blonde hair and pale blue eyes. I never knew what her parents did.

On Saturday nights, parents would drop-off their kids at the movie theater, before heading to the casinos. The same double feature would play for weeks at a time, so it wasn't unusual to sit through Darby O'Gill and the Little People or Journey to the Center of the Earth for multiple showings.

One time while watching Rio Bravo, I was enjoying a double dose of Sandys. With my right arm around Sandy #1 and my left around Sandy #2, I was in big shot heaven – that is until the usherette pointed her flashlight in my face and asked me what I thought I was doing. The two Sandys, unaware that they were being two-timed, stormed out to the lobby, leaving me in a pool of embarrassment. No matter how far I slunk into the well-worn lumpy theater seat, I was unable to avoid the chuckles from those seated nearby. My buddy, Billy, seated two rows in front, turned and gave me a big thumbs up when he realized what had happened. The one saving grace I took away from the evening was the realization that I liked Sandy #1 the best.

The following day I went to the drug store and bought a small box of chocolates. I walked over to The Oasis Motel and placed the chocolates near the front door. I rang the buzzer and ran like heck across the road, hiding behind a giant Sugar pine. Sandy #1 came out, picked up the chocolates, and looked around.

            "Thanks for the chocolates, Joey. Wherever you are," she yelled out before closing the door behind her.

I remained frozen behind that pine tree a good ten minutes before running back home with the same urgency I had when me and Billy had run away from that dilapidated shack in the meadow. 

When my dad's blood pressure got the better of him, we moved to Pasadena, where he took a job in the PR department at Santa Anita Race Track.

It would be thirty years before I returned to Lake Tahoe. I was there for an electronics convention and was staying at Harrah's Club. I went into the Race Book and was saddened at how everything had changed: Electronic boards had replaced the artistic blackboards; it was overcrowded; the vibe was not at all what I remembered it to be.

I took a walk and found myself standing in front of The Oasis Motel. I went inside and was informed that the motel had been sold to an investment firm and that the whereabouts of Sandy #1 and her family were unknown. I went back outside and looked around at the majesty scenery. And for one brief moment, I thought of running across the road and hiding behind that same Sugar pine, with hopes that Sandy #1 would come out and call my name. Only this time I would be ready to show myself, without fear of discovery.

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