Six years ago, Larry Shearer of Lexington, Ky., gave up painting people to paint horses, and he was out early this morning working both sides of the street along Hayward Avenue, outside the main gate to Pimilco Race Course, hawking prints of Genuine Risk for $5 apiece.
"With luck, I could clear as much as $5,000 today," said Shearer, who last night rented a choice front-yard parking space for $10 from a homeowner across the street from the track.
From a battered station wagon loaded with charcoal drawings of the filly that won the Kentucky Derby, Shearer set up his operation that by midmorning, would involve a half-dozen kids helping him to peddle the prints.
A free-lance artist who says he grosses about $500 in a normal week of painting horses, Shearer, 35, spends his time working the racetrack circuit peddling his paintings and drawings.
"This is a very friendly town," said Shearer, "I asked someone last night where City Hall was because I had to fnd out if I needed a license. He said, 'Follow me, I'll show you.'"
Shearer, who painted people on the boardwalk at Atlantic City before he got into horses, was one of a small army of offical and unoffical merchants, peddlers and vendors to converge on this working-class, northwest Baltimore neighborhood this Preakness Day.
The Preakness, of course is more than an afternoon horse race. It is an event that lasts all day, beginning hours before the gates to the infield open at 9 a.m. as some fans gather at dawn to sip an early morning beer outside.
It is both an annual rite of spring and a chance for a quick buck, a time when fans lug kegs of beer in wheelbarrows into the infield early in the morning and a time when impromptu salesmen peddle a wide variety of goods ranging from Preakness pillows and T-shirts to fruit salad.
Gordon Brooks, of Baltimore, for example, stayed up half the night with his wife, Lillian, his mother Lydia and his brother Barry, fixing cakes, pies, corn on the cob and fruit salad.
"I'm praying for a good day," said Brooks, seeting out his goods on a card table about a block from the track. "Ihope it'll be worth it. I only had a couple of hours sleep last night, and my wife only got one hour."
Across the street, Kathryn Austin of Baltimore a Preakness regular, selling black and yellow hand-knit Preakness pillows for $20 apiece.
'I have nine of them, and each took three hours to make," said Austin. "If I sell them all, it's going to be a good day. I just love the Preakness."
for neighborhood residents, Preakness Day means front-yard food stands and back-yard parking lots.
Three blocks fromthe track, Marlene Baker and her four children were serving crab cakes at $1.50 apiece and cups of lemonade at 30 cents and 60 cents.
They'e good crabcakes," she said. "Go ahead and try one."
Next door, Otis Muhammad was frying up hot dogs, hamburgers and half-smokes on a makeshift, front-yard yard grill.
"Last year, it rained like an animal. It wiped us out." recalled Muhammad. "This year looks better."
Outside the track front-yard and sidewalk sales were brisk, but thousands carried their own food and drink inside. For those who didn't, there was plenty to buy inside.
Shortly after the gates opened, Jeff Heidelberg set forth with a tray of 24 Black Eyed Susans -- a Preakness Day special of vodka, dark rum, grapefruit juice and ice -- to cover the infield.
Selling at $3 a drink, Heidelberg stood to clear $8 for every full tray he sold.
"If I hustle I figure I can make a hundred bucks," said Heidelberg, a part-time employe of Harry M. Stevens, the concessionaire, and a full-time student at Johns Hopkins University here.
Even as Heidelberg was making his rounds, the infield was filling up, and the choice spots went quickly.
Mickey Zemanick, a kitchen-equipment installer from Laurel, solved that problem by rounding up a group of friends and hauling in several hundred pounds of brick-mason's scaffolding. From his specially constructed vantage point, he has a clear view of the track.
"We've been coming here for five years, and we've brought this scaffolding for the last two years," said Zemanick.
"I went to the Derby this year, but the Preakness is much better. The infield in the Derby is armpit to armpit. At the Preakness, it's only shoulder to shoulder. The Derby is full of Indianapolis 500 fans, but here you have people who are interested in horses. This is a much better party."
For many fans, however, the party is still primary and the horse race secondary.
Dick Yokum of Poolesville, a manager for a soft drink company, has been coming to the Preakness for 10 years, but he has yet to see the race.
With six friends, Yokum arrived today around 8:30 a.m. loaded a keg of beer, a tarpaulin and an ice chest onto a freight dolly and wheeled it all in.
With the tarpaulin mounted on poles and stretched over their heads like a tent, Yokum and his friends tapped the keg, took sandwiches out of the ice chest and settled back.
"Even though I've never seen a race. I'd never miss this," said Yokum. "It's too crowded to get near the track, but the Preakness is something you can really get hooked on. There's Christmas, there's Easter, there's Thanksgiving and there's the Preakness. When I changed jobs, part of the deal on the new job had to be that I got Preakness weekend off."
Inscribed on the tarpaulin were the names of the 10 Preakness winners in the decade since Yokum has been coming. One of his Preakness friends, Harry Finks, did manage to see a race, in 1973 when Secretariat won.
"They charge $5 to get in here, but I'd be here if they charged $20," said Yokum. "I'd come here if I was poor. I'd find the money somehow."
"We're always the last ones out of here, and they have to throw us out, usually around 9 at night," said Yokum. "On the way out, we always buy up a bunch of Preakness T-Shirts. They sell them for $6 before the race, but afterward you can get them for a dollar. I bought 50 last year and gave one to everybody on my block." CAPTION: Picture 1, T-shirt vendors await signs of better business as post time approaches.; Picture 2, Crocheted pillows take three hours to make, cost $20 for comfort seeking souvenir collectors.; Picture 3, Youths attempt to sell parking spaces in neighborhood backyards which once a year become revenue-producers. Photos by Richard Darcey -- The Washington Post