It was an illusion. With more tents than in previous years, there was more room for the detritus of 121,300 fans to hide, turning the annual clean-up into a kind of warped treasure hunt.
Laurel Park racetrack year-round. "It was much harder."
Even so, the clean-up work was done fast — as always. By 10 a.m. Sunday, the clean up at Pimlico was essentially finished, thanks to the combined efforts of a small full-time staff and about 160 temporary workers brought in to help.
Many started at 6 a.m. Some got in 12 hours earlier, as the big race was about to begin, and worked all night before pulling a second shift.
"We filled like a million bags," said Troy Harrison, 45, who was part of the morning crew. He's got a job at a hospital, but he likes signing up for Preakness duty to earn extra cash. This was his third time.
You never know what you'll find, Harrison said. Cash. Trinkets. Unopened alcohol.
"I've got two beers right here," he said with a grin, patting his jeans pockets.
Tawanda Pagan, 49, came across shorts and a T-shirt. Angela Johnson, 54, found a brightly colored lei and put it on, a souvenir of sorts. Jarell Ball, 21, discovered a pair of flip-flops too nice to trash but not exactly his style — whoever forgot them was a woman.
Workers tossed chicken bones, cans, bottles, snack bags, cups and just about everything else you might find after a massive outdoor party — plus, in this case, lots of torn-up betting tickets.
"If you lose, you throw your ticket on the ground," said Alexandria Reznikoff, a project manager with Pritchard.
A few tickets were left here and there mid-morning Sunday, along with the occasional bottle and cigarette butt. But the evidence of Saturday's bacchanal had been erased. Exhausted temps sat in the stands, waiting for their pay and shaking their heads over the mess they'd just cleaned up.
It was Tyrone Powers' first time temping after the Preakness. But he's worked as a trash collector before, so the sight struck him as familiar: It was just like a landfill. "Trash everywhere," said Powers, 56.
"It was kind of fun, actually," said Kane Foster, 49, who said he was glad the work was done before the day got hot.
Powers didn't find any treasure — just trash — but he'd like to do the job again next year. He wanted to work all three days that temps were brought in for the Preakness, but he came looking on Friday — and by the time he got to the front of the line, all the Friday and Saturday jobs had been snapped up. Times are tough, after all. Next time, he vowed, he'd show up earlier.
"I got two days," Foster told him.
"I wish I got two days," Powers said.
Eddie Miller, 50, is looking for work and not having much luck. He knows the recession is officially over, has been for a while now, but he said it didn't feel like it. So he jumped at the chance to work all three days. He said he didn't know how much he would be paid — just that it wouldn't be very much — but he couldn't afford to turn down work.
"We all need this," Miller said. "If you didn't need it, you wouldn't be here."
For Wade, the fill-in supervisor, it had been a very long weekend. She left around 10:30 p.m. Saturday, headed home, took a shower, got a bit of sleep and arrived back at 5:30 a.m. Sunday to start all over again. At five minutes to 11, closing in on lunchtime, she still hadn't eaten breakfast.
She wasn't complaining. This is her fourth Preakness and she's used to it. Her next task: Go searching for litter that had eluded her crew.
"We're still finding abandoned trash," she said.