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The Birds
CHRIS BALLARD
January 28, 2008
And they're off, hundreds of pigeons, in a race across the desert, back to captivity. With pride and big money riding on the result, it's a tale of beer and homing in Las Vegas
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January 28, 2008

The Birds

And they're off, hundreds of pigeons, in a race across the desert, back to captivity. With pride and big money riding on the result, it's a tale of beer and homing in Las Vegas

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The high is undeniable, I'm told. It is addictive.

On the taxi ride to the hotel I tell my driver, a guy in his 20s with dreadlocks, why I am in town.

"They race pigeons? For real?"

"For real."

"Man, everybody knows pigeons are just rats with wings. Who wants to race them?"

"Same people who will pay 200 grand for a top breeding bird."

"Two hundred grand? Damn." The cabbie pauses, thinks for a moment. "Why not just jack one off the side of the street and sell it then?"

If only it were that simple.

SATURDAY

Staging the Classic is like simultaneously operating a petting zoo, a sports book and an international convention. I check in mid-morning with Ed Sittner, the race's impresario. "Should be a good wind but not a blowhome," he says of the forecast. I have no idea what this means, but I deduce that we're gonna have a race and it's gonna be a good one. Sittner is a friendly 61-year-old who made his money in construction. Picture Ed McMahon, but give him a camo ball cap and an inexhaustible supply of anecdotes that start off about a variety of things (real estate, being neighborly, killing mountain lions) but always end up being about the same thing (Sittner's general invincibility). Sittner founded the Classic seven years ago and has been racing pigeons for 30. He lodges as many as a thousand birds on his five acres in the dusty nowhereland of South Vegas. Being at Sittner's compound, surrounded by thick concrete walls beyond which lie vast tracts of undeveloped land, is like walking into some postapocalyptic future in which he who hoards the most birds holds the most power.

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