I’m sure followers of my column know I’m a horse racing fan, so I’m looking forward to Wednesday, when Santa Anita gets under way.

There was a story in The L.A. Times touching on the drop-off in attendance at Santa Anita over the past decade, and the track is quite concerned.

In the old days, daily crowds used to average 20,000 to 25,000 fans but now the attendance is between 3,000 and 5,000.

Needless to say, that’s  a pretty big drop-off.

The reason? I’m sure there are a number of reasons.

It might start with what the track used to say: “Racing is popular with the $2 bettors.” I used to be a $2 bettor, but it’s tough to bet $2 when the cost of everything associated with racing has soared to such high prices.

In the old days, the race program used to cost 35 cents. Today it is $2.25.

Parking was a $1. Today it’s 4 bucks.

Admission was $1.25. Today, $5.

Racing forms were sold for 50 cents. Now it’s $3.50.

So, when you add it all up, it’s tough to be just $2.

I would assume that $2 bettors just don’t make it out to the tracks in the large numbers they used to in the olden days.

Yeah, I still get out to the track, but not as frequently as before. Oh yeah, the cheapest bet I make these days is $10.

Speaking of money, I would guess that most Japanese Americans have accounts at “Japanese” banks.

That would be Union Bank, which used to be called Bank of Tokyo, and California Bank and Trust, which used to be called Sumitomo Bank.

I was a Bank of Tokyo customer and stayed with them when they switched to California First Bank and now Union Bank.

Heck, I’ve been a Union Bank customer since before some of tellers working the windows were even born. But I’m treated like “just another customer” rather than a long-time customer.

An example?

My son used to work for a Japanese company that folded its U.S. operation and returned to Japan, so he does odd jobs here and there and gets paid with a check.

Since he doesn’t have a bank account, he asks me to cash it for him, which I try to do at Union Bank. Well, the bank won’t cash it even though he endorses it in my name.

They told me, “He has to open his own account.”

When I complained that I have three accounts at Union Bank, they told me it doesn’t mean anything.

In this case, they said, the check is from Bank of America, so I should take it there and see if they will cash it.

I drove three blocks to Bank of America. The cashier there said, “I will cash it if you pay a $5 fee.” I did and they cashed it.

Needless to say, I wasn’t too pleased with this incident, so I thought to myself, maybe I should transfer my account to BofA.

That might make Union Bank happy. They won’t have to deal with me.

If I hit the California lottery and became a millionaire, Union Bank might jump up and greet me at the door.

In the meanwhile, I guess I’m just a broken-down newspaper columnist.

Time to print a letter from a reader. That would be Grace Sakioka, who wrote:

“In the Dec. 18 issue of The Rafu Shimpo, there was a small photo of a Rev. Mel Kawakami, senior pastor of a Methodist congregation in Newtown, Conn.

“When I saw that, I thought he looked familiar. Then I remembered he is the son of the late Dr. Wright Kawakami, the very long-time optometrist who practiced on Jackson Street in San Jose’s Japantown. Small world.

“He sure looks like his father. He is a distant relative by marriage and I have never met him, only heard about him.

“My only remaining sibling, an older brother, 84, passed away on the 17th and I am flying to New Jersey for his services with my son and daughter-in-law accompanying me. Just pray the weather back east will permit us to fly in decent weather.

“For many years I sent The Rafu to him since he enjoyed your column to keep that feeling of still being in contact with the Nisei generation, which is disappearing pretty quickly. He had a Ph.D. in food sciences. My older brother was a surgeon.”

Thanks for your letter, Grace. My sympathy over the loss of your brother.

By the way, I knew Dr. Kawakami since I was a pre-war resident of Mountain View, which was not far from San Jose. Hearing his name rekindled some great memories of living in Northern California.

I was taken by surprise when you noted that Rev. Kawakami is a pastor in Newtown, Conn., with all the media coverage of the shooting incident there.

It sure is a small world, isn’t it?

With the late Sen. Dan Inouye being Japanese American and having played a key role in the relationship between the U.S. and Japan, I would have thought that his passing would be a major news story in Japanese newspapers.

Of course, I would expect more in an English publication such as The Japan Times, which is read by those who have a keen knowledge of the English language, so I was disappointed to see very little about the late senator.

The Japan Times staff is made up of the following: Jack Gallagher, Ed Odeven, Jason Coskrey, Andrew McKirdy, Mark Buckton, Sam Smith, Dave Wiggins, Christopher Davis and Wayne Graczyk.

So they can’t use the alibi that they don’t have enough people on the staff to do complete coverage of the passing of Senator Dan.

Since I can’t read Japanese, I don’t know what kind of coverage the all-Japanese publications throughout Japan gave him.

Kind of sad, don’t you think?

Well, Christmas 2012 is now history.

However, since I messed up and forgot to use it last week, I’ll run a belated piece on Christmas today.

It’s a bit lengthy but since I was busy running around, I thought it would help me to fill my usual one page in The Rafu.

I’m sure most of you will get a charge out of it because the main character is named George. Here it is:

The old man sat in his gas station on a cold Christmas Eve. He hadn’t been anywhere in years since his wife passed away. It was just another day to him. He didn’t hate Christmas, just couldn’t find a reason to celebrate. He was sitting there looking at the snow that had been falling for the last hour when the door opened and a homeless man stepped through.

Instead of throwing him out, Old George, as he was known to his customers, told the man to come in and sit by the heater and warm up. “Thank you, but I don’t mean to intrude,” said the stranger. “I see you’re busy, so I’ll just go.”

“Not without something hot in your belly,” George said.

He turned and opened a wide-mouth thermos and handed it to the stranger. “It ain’t much, but it’s hot and a tasty stew. Made it myself. When you’re done, there’s coffee and it’s fresh.”

Just at that moment he heard the “ding” of the driveway bell. “Excuse me, I’ll be right back,” George said.

There in the driveway was an old ’53 Chevy. Steam was rolling out of the front. The driver was panicked. “Mister, can you help me?” said the driver with a deep Spanish accent. “My wife is with child and my car is broken.”

George opened the hood. It was bad. The block looked cracked from the cold. The car was dead.

“You ain’t going in this thing,” George said as he turned away. The door of the office closed behind George as he went inside.

He went to the office wall, got the keys to his old truck and went back outside. He walked around the building, opened the garage, started the truck and drove it around to where the couple was waiting.

“Here, take my truck,” he said. “She ain’t the best thing you ever looked at, but she runs real good.”

George helped put the woman in the truck and watched as it sped off in the night. He turned and walked back inside the office.

“Glad I gave ’em the truck. Their tires were shot, too. The ol’ truck has brand new tires.” George thought he was talking to the stranger, but the man was gone.

The thermos was on the deck, empty with a used coffee cup besides it. “Well, at least he got something in his belly,” George thought.

George went back outside to see if the old Chevy would start. It cranked slowly, but it started. He pulled it into the garage where the truck had been. He thought he would tinker with it for something to do. Christmas Eve meant no customers.

He discovered the block hadn’t cracked, it was just the bottom hose on the radiator. “Well, shoot, I can fix this,” he said to himself so he put a new one on.

“Those tires ain’t gonna get ’em through the winter either.” He took the snow treads off his wife’s old Lincoln. They were like new and he wasn’t going to drive the car anyway.

As he was working, he heard shots being fired. He ran outside and beside a police car, an officer lay on the ground. Bleeding from the left shoulder, the officer moaned, “Please help me.”

George helped the officer inside as he remembered the training he received in the Army as a medic. He knew the wound needed attention. “Pressure stops the bleeding,” he thought. The uniform company had been there that morning and left clean towels behind. He used those and duct tape to bind the wound.

“Something for pain,” George thought. All he had was the pills he used for his back. “These ought to work.” He put some water in a cup and gave the policeman the pills. “You hang in there, I’m going to get you an ambulance.”

He went back in to find the policeman sitting up. “Thanks,” said the officer. “You could have left me there. The guy that shot me is still in the area.”

George sat down beside him, “I would never leave an injured man in the Army and I ain’t gonna leave you.” George pulled back the bandage to check for bleeding. “Looks worse than what it is. Bullet passed right through ya.”

The front door of the office flew open. In burst a young man with a gun. “Give me all your cash! Do it now!” the young man yelled. His hand was shaking and George could tell that he had never done anything like this before.

“That’s the guy that shot me!” exclaimed the officer.

“Son, why are you doing this?” asked George. “You need to put the cannon away. Somebody else might get hurt.”

The young man was confused. “Shut up, old man, or I’ll shoot you, too. Now give me the cash!”

The cop was reaching for his gun. “Put that thing away,” George said. “We got one too many in here now.”

He turned his attention to the young man. “Son, it’s Christmas Eve. If you need money, here. It ain’t much, but it’s all I got.”

George pulled $150 out of his pocket and handed it to the young man, reaching for the barrel of the gun at the same time. The young man released his grip on the gun, fell to his knees and began to cry. “I’m not very good at this, am I? All I wanted was to buy something for my wife and son,” he went on. “I’ve lost my job, my rent is due, my car got repossessed …”

George handed the gun to the cop. “Son, we all get in a bit of squeeze now and then. The road gets hard sometimes, but we make it through the best we can.”

He got the young man to his feet, and sat him down on a chair across from the cop. “Sometimes we do stupid things.” George handed the young man a cup of coffee. “Bein’ stupid is one of the things that makes us human. Comin’ in here with a gun ain’t the answer.”

The young man had stopped crying. He looked over to the cop. “Sorry I shot you. It just went off. I’m sorry, officer.”

George could hear the sounds of sirens outside. A police car and an ambulance skidded to a halt. Two cops came through the door, guns drawn. “Chuck! You OK?” one of the cops asked the wounded officer. “Who did this?”

Chuck answered, “I don’t know. The guy ran off into the dark. Just dropped his gun and ran.”

“That guy work here?” one of the cops asked, pointing to the young man. “Yep,” George said, “just hired him this morning.”

The paramedics came in and loaded Chuck onto the stretcher. The young man leaned over the wounded cop and whispered, “Why?”

Chuck just said, “Merry Christmas boy, … and you too, George. Thanks for everything.”

George went into the back room and came out with a box. “Here you go, something for the little woman,” he told the young man. “I don’t think Martha would mind.”

The young man looked inside to see a diamond ring. “I can’t take this,” he said. “It means something to you.”

“And now it means something to you,” replied George. “I got my memories. That’s all I need.”

George reached into the box again and gave the young man some toys for his son. The young man began to cry again as he handed back the $150 that the old man had handed him earlier.

“And what are you supposed to buy Christmas dinner with? You keep that too,” George said, “Now git home to your family.”

George turned around to find that the stranger had returned. “Where’d you come from? I thought you left.”

“I have been here. I have always been here,” said the stranger. “You say you don’t celebrate Christmas. Why?”

“Well, after my wife passed away, I just couldn’t see what all the bother was. Puttin’ up a tree and all seemed a waste of a good pine tree. Bakin’ cookies like I used to with Martha just wasn’t the same by myself.”

The stranger put his hand on George’s shoulder. “But you do celebrate the holiday, George. You gave me food and drink and warmed me when I was cold and hungry. The woman with child will bear a son and he will become a great doctor. The policeman you helped will go on to save 19 people. The young man who tried to rob you will make you a rich man and not take any for himself. That is the spirit of the season and you keep it as good as any man.”

George was taken aback. “And how do you know all this?” he asked.

“Trust me, George. I have the inside track on this sort of thing. And when your days are done, you will be with Martha again.”

The stranger moved toward the door. “If you will excuse me, George, I have to go now. I have to go home where there is a big celebration planned.”

George watched as the old leather jacket and the torn pants that the stranger was wearing turned into a white robe. A golden light began to fill the room.

“You see, George … it’s my birthday. Merry Christmas.”

This story is better than any greeting card.

George Yoshinaga writes from Gardena and may be reached via e-mail at Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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