But at the time Hank first met Hector Felix Miranda, in May of 1986, the racetrack was in the midst of an unusually good year. Caliente's management and labor reached a contract agreement five days before deadline, the first time in six years a contract was agreed to without a strike. "Everybody said, 'You're just a kid, you're too young to do this,'" he recounts pridefully, recalling that event. The same day, Caliente threw a big fiesta celebrating the Day of the Child, in which some 50,000 Tijuana children were bussed to the track for food, games, and gifts. Two days later, Caliente opened its exclusive Jockey Club restaurant. A few days later was the Kentucky Derby, traditionally the biggest Saturday of the year at Caliente. May 11 was the Miss Mexico pageant, broadcast worldwide. "It was the first time a beauty pageant was seen in China," Hank reports.
According to Hank, he first met Hector Felix Miranda a few days before the beauty pageant. He hadn't read much of El Gate's work, but "Some of my friends — my supposed-to-be friends — said, 'Do you know what he wrote about you?'" Hank recalled, sitting on a couch upstairs in his mansion just east of the racetrack. Through the window behind him the red-and-black flags could be seen flapping atop the Alba Roja union hall, just across Agua Caliente Boulevard. Five blocks up Hank's street, reporters and editors were working in the Zeta offices on the upcoming anniversary issue marking the second year of Gato's murder. Downstairs, a Siberian tiger cub punctuated Hank's soft-spoken tone with shrieks.
Hank explained that before he met Felix, the columnist had written a few items mocking his long hair and had retold embarrassing stories about Hank's being refused entrance into Caliente's Turf Club restaurant. Hank explains that for the first six months after he arrived in January 1985, he moved around the track incognito, just watching, listening, hanging out on the back stretch, trying to determine whether he wanted to take over the track. Most track workers didn't know who the mysterious stranger was.
"So when we were doing 'Miss Mexico,' I told one of the guys that was in charge that when Felix comes out, tell him I have his tickets. I just wanted to meet the guy and him to meet me. So he can say anything he likes after he meets me. After he knows who I am."
They met, and Hank told Gato he was available anytime the writer wanted to ask him something or check out a tip. "After I knew who he was, if there was a press conference or anything, I used to kid around with him, always; when he was sitting down there I'd say. 'Okay, Felix, what do you want?'
Just playing with him," Hank recalls, "I started inviting him to the parties." The young businessman is famous for his taste for partying. His parties in Mexico City, on the private front<#151>n at his parents' home, were legendary. Hank's father was a former governor of the state of Mexico who became mayor of Mexico City in 1976. Hank's circle consisted of the "Lomas Juniors," the sons of the men who ran Mexico and lived in the exclusive Lomas Alias neighborhood of Mexico City. The "juniors" are disparaged in Mexico as pampered rich kids who get anything they want and whose antics are protected by their influential fathers. Hank's father, Carlos Hank Gonzalez, had a particular talent for good image-making, and he became one of the most popular mayors in recent times.
Invitations to Hank's get-togethers in Tijuana became badges of status in a society underpinned by symbolism. At one soirée, a carne asada cookout on the Caliente back stretch, Hank says he took Gato Felix aside and said, "Okay, you're coming to everything, so let's get it straight. You can say whatever you like about me, that's fine, I don't care. As long as you don't get into the family. That's it. My father and myself are public people, so go on with us, whatever you like. And whenever I need privacy and you're around, I'm going to let you know, so you either keep it to yourself or leave, if that's fine with you." According to Hank, El Gato agreed, adding, "I'm a journalist. I'm very dirty in my playings because people like it, but I'm not a son of a bitch."
The two men then apparently headed off into an uneasy friendship. Gato would use his column to poke fun at Hank or manipulate Hank into helping someone, and Hank would either not read it (he says he quit reading Mexican newspapers 16 years ago, after too many lies were published about his father) or have it brought to his attention by an aide and would sometimes respond by doing what Gato asked of him in the column.
Hank was famous for helping out friends or acquaintances who were sick and couldn't afford good medical care. Hank recalls, "Once Gato wrote that there was someone sick in some hospital, and I should help him. And I saw [Gato] at the Jockey Club that week, and I said, 'Hey, come on, stop doing that. If I help this guy, you're going to write that I did, so people will start passing you letters to pass to me, asking me to help them too. And I've already got enough people who make it to the office asking for my help. And if I don't help this guy, you're going to write that I didn't, so come on. Don't do that anymore.'" Hank says he did help the man anyway, just that once, and that El Gato later printed an item saying that Hank had asked him to slop publishing personal appeals.
Hank is still besieged by people who want something from him. An old friend describes him as "lonely" even though he's surrounded by staffers who cater to his every need and suitors asking for his counsel and (usually) his money. A childhood friend of Hank's observed that his privileged status created in Hank an indelible sense of not fitting in and that this explains his passion for animals. "He had a handful of friends, but after you counted them you'd still have some fingers left over," the friend remarks. "He had this feeling of always being sought after for his money rather than his good self. His friends weren't nearly as wealthy as he was, so he was always picking up the check. He became shy of people, so he would become the good Dr. Daktari."