24 May 2006

Cleveland may rock, but Pimlico rolls

Saturday, while standing in line at the windows at Pimlico, the gentleman ahead of me turned and bellowed: "This place is a dump! A dump!"

I understood what he meant. Pimlico feels like a working class track, at least on the ground floor where I spent the day. Though Pimlico is one of our nation’s oldest tracks, opening in 1870, the facility itself offers little in the way of old-fashioned charm. No statues of legendary runners. And the paddock is indoors – which is never as appealing as an outdoor paddock dotted with trees. Instead, it was high on comfort, as exemplified by allowing racegoers to bring in their own beer and wine.

All of this is ok with me; I’m used to Mountaineer, where I usually sit on a picnic table and leave my gloves at home. Still, it seems that some fans, like the bellowing fellow in line with me, expect a little more pomp and circumstance with their Triple Crown Races.

There's one area, however, where Pimlico really stands out. Accessibility. Librarians, more than most, take this accessibility stuff pretty seriously. It is, after all, the law that our libraries be accessible to people with disabilities.

photo of Dwight Daughton, his wife, and C Maria Stokes on Preakness Day 2006So, I was rather impressed with how easily wheelchair users navigated through Pimlico. Throughout the day, I noticed a number of wheelchair users placing bets, purchasing souvenirs, and enjoying the races – easily and independently. There was plenty of accessible parking, seating and restrooms - due in part to the efforts of Baltimore's Dwight Daughton and C. Maria Stokes of the Mayor's Commission on Disabilities.

I met these two early in the day, and like most of the Baltimore residents I encountered, they were charming and helpful. When I remarked upon the many wheelchairs I’d noticed, Daughton was quick to describe some of the accommodations that Pimlico had implemented to make Preakness Day an event that wheelchair users could participate in. Transportation issues were especially important to the Commission, and Pimlico management had ensured that there were enough handicapped parking spaces near the entrance so that wheelchair users would not have risk life and limb traversing the parking lot. Likewise, accessible seating areas were made available throughout the complex. Stokes pointed out that the Commission on Disabilities aims to make Baltimore City the most accessible city in the world, and ensuring that people with disabilities can visit the track is just one step in achieving that goal.

According to Daughton, Magna has been very responsive to requests from the Commission on Disabilities -- and, in turn, wheelchair users are visiting the track. It seems like a pretty sensible move on Magna’s part, since the Department of Labor reports that people with disabilities have $175 billion in discretionary spending, almost two times the spending power of teenagers, that highly touted demographic.

Mr. Daughton, (pictured above with his wife, Florence, and Ms. Stokes), is a wheelchair user himself, and he certainly appeared to enjoy the race day experience. And I noticed that he had no trouble placing his bets -- nor in cashing his many, many winning tickets.