Charlie Brown a clown, but memorable at Churchill Downs

Jun 27, 2017 3:00 AM

There were some memorable characters who kept us writers on our toes at Churchill Downs on the Strip. Not all were big bettors or even close to being considered wiseguys.

Like Bing Weinstein who parked himself next to a writer’s station waiting for an odds change. When a change happened he would tell the writer, as his head shook, that he was just ready to bet that number before it changed so could he have the old number. Bing was harmless, a $50 bettor; if he ever benefited from his scheme it didn’t matter since his score went right back through the betting windows.

Also Charlie Brown, a little old guy with a constant scowl on his face. His scam was irritating if nothing else. He would change a bill at the sports counter and head for the racebook and change it back, hoping for the clerk to make a mistake. Then visa versa.

Another was Vincent F., who as a teenager at the time was already the most corrupt person imaginable. His break-in scam, his earliest I know of, consisted of going to the bar two doors down from Churchill. There he would get comp quarters for the juke box, play a song and head for Churchill when he had enough to change them for a dollar bill. They were painted blue on one side so we knew Vinny was around.

His dad, Vince Sr., had a construction business with two employees, Vinny and his older brother. Vinny sold his dad’s truck and all the equipment. Nice.

Once he rented a furnished apartment and advertised a furniture sale in the paper. It sold out. He was so mean and conniving his dad, in the hospital with cancer, asked for him to visit. Vincent Sr. said he just wanted to get one good shot at him. Of course it never happened.

Next to me behind the counter was an older writer, Ralph DiDinato, who always had a young girl hanging around. Ralph was a mystery man who could go next-door to the Aladdin on his lunch break, blow a year’s salary on the craps table and come up fresh next day.

Well, one baseball afternoon in 1977 my boss and good friend Ray Lenzi and I were working when we both thought it was really quiet for a Churchill afternoon. None of the counter pests were in the room. Vinny, Bing, Charlie were nowhere in sight. Everything was eerily quiet. In fact, nobody was in sight in either the sports or horse rooms.

Ray and I were the only living humans in the building. Reason being, a bomb scare was called in and they evacuated everyone but Ray and me. Finally someone opened the front door and hollered for us to get out. We did and later the threat was declared a hoax.

Maybe someone went broke after too many bad beats or who knows how this caller went over the edge. This was in pre-terrorist days. Now it’s a daily occurrence.

Take care.