At 8:30 Bob Petersen, a driver for Joe Parkway, came into the diner. Sam and Sol went outside, where they picked up four baskets Parkway was returning from the previous week's race, and then they helped Petersen load the baskets with birds. Petersen arranged the baskets lengthwise on shelves in such a way that he would be able to liberate the birds by opening the louvered doors on each side of the van. When Petersen had finished, Sam asked him to phone collect Saturday morning after he had liberated the birds in Charlottesville. Petersen said he would. He had already picked up birds from the club in Carmel, N.Y., and now he was bound for the city to pick up more pigeons for Charlottesville. He was going to liberate all the birds, club by club, from the parking lot of the University of Virginia football stadium, provided the weather was clear. In addition to phoning Sam the time of liberation, Petersen would tell him weather conditions and wind direction. Sam and Sol shook hands with him, Petersen hopped into the cab of the van, and all drove off into the night.
On Saturday morning Sam received a collect call from Petersen in Charlottesville. The Mid Hudson Valley birds had been liberated at 6:55 a.m., the sky was clear and the wind from the northwest. Sam phoned the rest of the fliers so they could get ready. The consensus was that the birds would start arriving about 2 that afternoon, but Sam disagreed. They had a wind to buck, and he didn't figure on arrival until between 3 and 4. At about 3:15 Sam had an eerie feeling—"a feelin' I can't describe"—that the birds were about to come in. He went outside by the lofts and waited. He waited for 20 minutes, and then he saw them, a flock of a dozen or more flying over the trees that sloped down toward the Hudson. Sam waited, tense with excitement, for his birds to peel off from the flock and head for his loft. But the whole flock headed straight toward him, and then he realized that all the birds, every single one of them, were his. As the birds landed, Sam grabbed the first one, took off the countermark and dropped it in the clock He did this with a second bird that happened to be Phil's. Then he stopped.
That evening the rest of the fliers came back to the clubhouse on the farm with their clocks. They broke their seals, and right away Sam knew he had the winner. He had clocked the first bird at 3:41 p.m., Phil's at 3:42. Sam's winning bird had averaged 1,157 yards per minute, or 39 miles per hour, about average speed for a pigeon. If Sam had been allowed to clock all the birds that arrived in the first flock, he and Phil would have won the first 15 places. John Kleis was third with a bird that arrived half an hour later than Sam's. Kleis won $3 in prize money. Sam turned his winnings, $15, back into the club treasury. He has rarely taken prize money in recent years, and betting on the birds, a big thing in New York City where a man can win $6,000 on a race, is a practice he avoids.
Now Sam's birds are in their lofts. They won't race until next spring. Meanwhile, Sam can think about his birds all winter. He often thinks about them when he is out on the job laying brick. He likes to think about the way they come in on a loft, the way they suddenly come swoop-in' in over the treetops, the way they don't leave nuthin' for nobody.