Friday, May 6, 2011

I'm A Little Bit Country, I'm A Little Bit Rock N Roll

I would love to meet Dolly Parton. I wouldn’t say I am a big Country music fan, but I am a big Dolly fan. She’s a  talented singer, musician, songwriter and actress. Her smile is contagious. She's got her very own amusement park. I’m in love with her generosity and the fact that her humble beginnings (being one of 12 kids living in Tennessee) didn’t stand in the way of her dreams. On top of everything else, she’s super funny and can make fun of herself. In fact, when people make reference to me being a “dumb blond” I often borrow one of Parton’s comebacks...“You’re wrong, because I’m not dumb and I’m not blond!”

I remember when cassettes where moving out of the music land and CDs were unpacking their bags. My grandfather (Elmer Looney) had just bought a car and it had a CD player in it. We picked out a couple discs at the store together. One was a George Strait CD and the other was Dolly Parton. His favorite song by her was “Coat of Many Colors.” My grandfather, or as I called him ‘Daddy Lonnie’ said it reminded him of when he grew up. He lived in the backwoods of Virginia (one of nine children) in a one room house. “Coat Of Many Colors” was written by Parton and about her own very similar childhood.

(Dolly Parton and Melissa Etheridge singing "Coat of Many Colors")

We must have listened to“Coat of Many Colors” a gazillion times as we drove to East Rutherford each night to race horses at The Meadowlands Racetrack. And it's at that track where Dolly's main competition is giving her a run for her money...excuse the pun.

Enter Jeff Gural. Jeff is my new “I would love to meet...”

Jeff is this dude who is saving the entire harness racing industry in New Jersey. At least that’s the way My Universe sees it. The story with The Meadowlands and Jeff Gural has been going on for months now, but I am going to try to put it in a Heathershell for you.

Ok, here goes....

The Meadowlands Racetrack is owned by the state of New Jersey, but the track had been losing money in recent years and the state was like, “Blah, blah, blah, we are closing the joint. It’s been real. Nice knowin’ ya'.”

So Jeff Gural is like, “What? The Meadowlands can’t close just like that! Maybe I can help a brotha out.”

(Please, keep in mind these are not actual quotes..this is just dialogue I plan on using when I make my major Hollywood production about this. I can see Gural exiting the tellers union meeting and before he leaves saying, “I’ll be back.”)

So, why do I care? I live in Delaware and if The Meadowlands goes belly-up, I’ve  still got a job. Yes, that’s true, but, to me, The Meadowlands is not just another track. In fact, it’s not just the premier track in harness racing. It’s part of my history.

My grandfather at one-time had an 80-horse stable at The Meadowlands. My mom was the first woman to win a race at that track.
Many moons ago you had to be 12 to get into the racetrack. (Why 12? I have no idea. Seems like a weird age, right?) Anyway, I was not old enough to get in. I would lie every night and tell the attendants at the entrance that I was, in fact (without hesitation)12 years old and follow my grandmother up to the grandstand for a night of cheering on our horses.
If I had a nickle for every black-and-white- extra-thick shake I’ve drank at the Carvel stand in the grandstand, I would have more money than Oprah, or at least Gayle.
I used to take my little tape recorder with Madonna’s song “Borderline” and practice dancing and singing to it in the stairwells.
I befriended the tellers and they'd let me make $2 bets at the $100 windows. That is until my grandfather found out one night. That was a long ride home.
My first job was being an intern in The Meadowlands Publicity Department. I have had the opportunity to learn my trade from some of the most-talented people in the business because of that place. And made some of my best friends at The Big M..
When I was pregnant with my first child, I drove to The Meadowlands every weekend during the summer to shoot features. It was a dream. So much fun!!!
I’ve actually lived at The Meadowlands, too! Yep, in the dorms.

Anyway, you’ve got the point. Keeping The Meadowlands open is a pretty big deal to me.

Back to Gural...He has been a long-time fan and he owns horses and he owns two racetracks in New York - Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs. He’s a very successful real estate investor in New York City, is a smart cookie and does a lot of nice things for a lot of people. When I say “nice things” I’m not just talking about giving his money, I’m also talking about giving his time (something most of us have to give, but many of us don’t, but my lecture on that subject will have to wait for an upcoming blog).

So, Gural gets some people together and talks them into investing into something that is a (let’s be honest) HUGE risk. If his plans go through AND a new grandstand is built AND he can turn this ship around then, yes, it’s got the potential to earn money.

But, wow, I just think how amazing this is. This guy, who already has plenty on his plate, steps in to this difficult situation, that happens to be extremely time-consuming, finds investors, works with the Governor’s Office, deals with union contracts and, from what I’ve read, it’s been very frustrating on several occasions. Is he really that cool of a dude, who loves racing that much? That seems to be the deal and I can’t wait to meet him!

The fact that this guy named Jeff Gural can have such an impact on so many people’s lives, including my own makes him a Rock Star in my eyes. And, I wouldn’t say I am a big Rock music fan, but I'm a big Jeff fan. 

My grandfather (far left) with his brothers & sisters in Virginia.

Dolly is simply fantastic!
Yay! Jeff Gural! My new BFF (he just doesn't know it yet.)

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