Preakness profits

Edward Ortega, 8, blows a vuvuzela while his brother Alexander, 13, holds a parking sign on Northern Parkway prior to the Preakness. (Jerry Jackson / Baltimore Sun / May 17, 2014)

As crowds poured into Pimlico on Saturday afternoon, a dedicated crew of entrepreneurs set up outside the track, hoping to lure customers with deals on parking or tickets. Peanuts, barbecue and even jewelry were on sale, along with the "ice cold" bottled water offered for a dollar by enterprising vendors at every major event in Baltimore.

Carlton Graham, 39, waved a large cardboard sign at passing cars advertising $25 parking just a block from the track.

Graham, who said he's been a Park Heights resident his whole life, has worked with neighbors selling race-day parking spaces in yards and driveways. As one couple parked and paid the fee, he asked if they had extra tickets. No such luck.

"Last year I got a free ticket and went in," he said. "Drink a few beers, have a good time."

Vendors ranged from parking hawkers like Graham to ticket scalpers or food sellers, such as Doug Wyatt.

The 58-year-old stood on a nearby corner in front of a grill laden with sausages, hot dogs, hamburgers, meatballs and cheese steaks. To claim one of the prime spots on Northern Parkway, Wyatt set up shop early Friday morning.

The street-side vending does have its risks. Marty Tripp had to dive out of the way about 10:30 p.m. Friday when a driver plowed into another car, sending it rolling into his family's stand. His brother, Darnell, didn't get out of the way quickly enough and was taken to Sinai Hospital for treatment.

"We were just setting up," Tripp said.

Freak car crashes aside, the East Baltimore man said he'd rather stay outside the track than deal with the throngs inside. "It's more laid-back."

Nearby, Debbra Jones, 33, had set up a stand on the lawn of a large Northern Parkway house, selling the jerk chicken she usually serves at her restaurant, Delicious Caribbean Express. It was quiet in midafternoon, but she knew that once the racing was over customers would roll in.

"They swamp me like a dog," Jones said. "They're liquored up."

And after facing higher food prices inside Pimlico, her customers are glad to get a hot dog for $4, she added.

Now that there are strict bans on taking alcohol into Pimlico, the area around the track has become a place to have a few drinks. A group with that idea had connected with Jones — a half dozen men who made the trip from Elmira, N.Y. They had ridden in a Ford van equipped for the drive with a couch and armchair arranged around a large cooler of beer in the cargo compartment.

"We're out here with our good friends," said Scott M. Cook, 44, referring to Jones and her husband. "The racing's overrated," he added, holding a half-empty bottle of Bud Light.

A little way down the street, every square foot of grass was covered with parked cars, each one representing dollars in someone's pocket.

Cousins from Harford County and Dayton, Ohio, sat in lawn chairs near their car, drinking beer.

One of them, Tom Edwards, 61, explained the deal they had been offered: basic parking is $30, the VIP section costs double. The difference? In the VIP section, the hosts guarantee that a car won't get blocked in.

Edwards and his cousins decided to chance it with the basic rate, figuring they had enough beer to wait for traffic jams to clear.

That would come later, though. They said they planned to head into the track around 3 o'clock — until they realized it was already 3.

"One more beer," Edwards said.

iduncan@baltsun.com

cmcampbell@baltsun.com