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$15 on No. 4 in the Fifth--and Just a Trim, Please

L.A. STORIES. A slice of life in Southern California.

July 13, 1993|NANCY WRIDE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

By the time he relaxes in the chair, Carl Davis has put down $15 on a beauty named Pedernales in the fifth race at Hollywood Park.

"See this," he says, fishing out a marked-up race program. "I'm betting the No. 4 horse. Hope it comes in. Five dollars to win, $10 to show. I like the jockey, so I back up my bets. That's the key. Back up your bets."

The afternoon heat melts the ice in Davis' gin and tonic as rider Corey Nakatani guides Pedernales, a 7-2 bettors' pick, to a second-place finish behind Silver Ray. Davis will collect $12 for his show bet and nothing from the win ticket for a $3 loss on the race. In the parlance of some gamblers, he just got a trim.

From the chair he has been sitting in, though, he also could have gotten a shave. Or a manicure.

For nearly two years now, track regulars like Davis have streamed through the Club House Beauty Salon, the one-stool parlor where Sylvia Bodden works in a corner of the Inglewood park's clubhouse.

It is believed to be the only track beauty parlor in America.

As the horses tear across the 9-inch screen of her closed-circuit television, Bodden cuts, buffs and polishes elegant stockbrokers and hard-working track hands alike, and shares their wins and losses. The prices are reasonable--a trim starts at $10, the same for a basic manicure--and there's no charge for the sympathy. Sometimes, her tips are generous.

Most of her customers are men seeking haircuts or manicures, but she also gets some female visitors. On Kentucky Derby Day, a woman sat in the salon--10 feet from the busy Mint Julep bar--for two hours with her head locked inside a plastic bag, her hair wrapped in noxious-smelling chemicals and rollers.

Why here? Why now?

"I finally won enough today to pay for it," the woman said, "in the second race."

*

When R. D. Hubbard and a group of others took control of Hollywood Park in 1991, he had the salon built. A salon chain initially operated the parlor until Bodden took over in April, 1992. Neither she nor Hubbard regrets the move.

"I go up there quite a little myself for manicures and things," said Hubbard, "and I've talked to a lot of people who use it. They look at it as a way for them to . . . not have to stay away from the track."

With its one black swivel chair, one black sink and one prop-up dryer, the cozy salon looks like a miniature version of any other. But here, you can get a haircut only Wednesday through Sunday--race days during Hollywood Park's season, which ends July 26.

Until taking over the salon, Bodden says, she had never been to a race track. And except when a customer buys her a ticket, she rarely gambles. Still, as she buffs the nails of a customer, she cheers his pick: "Go No. 5!"

Bodden says that working at the salon is completely different from working at others: "People are betting all the time, and sometimes they're happy because they're winning, and sometimes they're sad because they lost. And that can change back and forth while they sit here."

She much prefers when they win, she says, because they tip better when they're flush. Her best tip so far has been $40; on this particular Saturday she nets about $50 in tips for the afternoon.

As Davis leaves the chair, he asks "How much, baby?" then hands Bodden $10, plus a matching tip. The 63-year-old attorney and real estate salesman from Inglewood says he never tips less than $5, even if he's losing.

"If I hit a horse, I give her $10. One day I hit an exacta for $89 and I gave her a $20 tip." He laughs. "Boy, was she surprised. . . . When I get a big exacta, I get the whole works, manicure, everything!"

Bodden greets another customer, who chats but won't need a haircut for a week. He marks the beginning of the afternoon's pattern: men in pinky rings so large they catch and throw light onto walls.

The bejeweled man, who won't give his name, raves about Bodden's haircuts and freely shares his secrets about life, offering a Byzantine betting system and his approach to his other favorite gamble: romance.

"I cannot afford to be married anymore," says the man, 54, adjusting the white belt of his slacks. "I like now to date women who are married to someone else. It's cheaper. I won $700,000 at the track once, and lost more than that with my second divorce. I think it's safer to bet on horses, no?"

Bodden throws her head back and laughs easily. A veteran of more orthodox hair salons, she reads her gambling customers like a mood ring.

Born in Nicaragua, she moved with her family to New Orleans when she was 20. She learned English there, and attended beauty college in Hollywood. Now 33, she and her boyfriend, an unemployed airline mechanic, have a daughter, 5. Bodden says she made better money at a traditional salon, where she could be working on three clients simultaneously, but at the track she keeps everything she earns.

And she likes the characters found only at a race track.

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