I moved to Louisville in late September of last year, and while I’ve been to the Derby before, I’ve never done it as a citizen of Louisville, so when two close friends of mine wanted to participate in it I was excited to give it another go. Luke had recently read Hunter S. Thompson’s write-up about the Derby, “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved,” and essentially wanted to relive Thompson’s day as much as possible. From my previous experience I knew that it wouldn’t live up to the madness that it had achieved almost fifty years ago, but we tried our best anyway. It was also very important that we have powdered eggs at Wagner’s for some reason, which we did, but I don’t think he ever told me why.
The day was largely spent circumnavigating Churchill Downs, hitting up Wagner’s, the Beer Depot, and a local VFW. At one point, picking litter up from the ground to deposit in a nearby trashcan, I found an almost full pack of cigarettes. I decided it was a stroke of luck, despite the fact that I don’t smoke myself. We stopped in a KFC parking lot while a few of our party (we had met up with some friends at Wagner’s) were told they needed to purchase something to use the restroom.
Luke had decided to commemorate the event by toting with him a book which he had signed by anyone and everyone who was willing. He had chosen “Breaking Cardinal Rules,” an exposé about the Louisville Cardinals’ basketball program providing its players with access to a prostitute, no doubt in the hopes of offending Louisville citizens loyal to their home team. It was in the KFC parking lot that he acquired the signature of a local vagrant and his long-clawed dog (he stamped his muddy paw print on the page).
The Derby itself was for the most part the least eventful part of our day. Having been drinking at a strong pace, I may just be forgetting the fun parts. Though it drizzled on occasion, it only really rained once and only for about five or ten minutes. My desire to place a bet for the tradition of it was not able to overcome the length of the lines, and I had failed to set up any online betting apps beforehand, and didn’t care to look up my routing number etc. at the event. The mint juleps were very good, though.
At one point my picture was taken by a photographer who I believe was focusing on my shirt, which bore my bobcat logo. This prompted me to offer them one of my business cards, and I proceeded to give a few more out throughout the day. If anyone is reading this now, there’s a good chance it’s because you decided to find out what was the deal with the guy handing out those business cards.
We stood under an awning to stay out of the brief bit of rain that did occur, where a security guard asked us to not stand in front of the door. The area which was in front of the door more or less matched exactly the area protected from the rain, and not wanting to be so inconvenienced one of our party told the guard that he didn’t want to move. Surprisingly, the conversation ended there. I wonder what poor motivation he had to ask us to move, when the counterargument of “I don’t feel like it” was enough to sway him to our perspective.
After the actual Derby race was run, we pretty much immediately began the process of leaving, as did most of the other hundred-some-odd-thousand attendees. Two of them in particular were especially keen on exiting and demonstrated this with a juggernaut-esque plowing motion which most affected people seemed to find a little on the rude side. Luke chased after them (in a much less offensive ninja-like weaving fashion), no doubt to politely catch them up on social courtesies, but was unable to catch the pair. We ambled the streets to our street-parked car.
Finally at the car we unloaded our Derby glasses and reacquired our jackets, since the cold was finally back and starting to get to us. We tried to summon an Uber or Lyft or both, but the apps either connected us with drivers who couldn’t get to us or told us to travel by foot to a pickup location, which seemed to strip the convenience and purpose from the app entirely. Passersby and local residents made sure multiple times each that we did not intend to drive ourselves anywhere. One of them, who claimed to be the guy from Godsmack, even offered to drive us himself. He showed me his driver’s license, as to confirm his identity, which was a bold move. Since I didn’t know the names of the members of Godsmack, it neither confirmed nor denied anything about his membership, but seemed to lend him authority anyway as it was an official document. I later looked up the names of the members on my phone, but having immediately forgotten his name, this didn’t provide any information either. I don’t think he was the guy from Godsmack. I don’t know, though.
We mingled a bit more from our positions draped across the car or supine on the nearby sidewalk and eventually gave up on getting a ride (being too polite to accept a ride from the guy who may have been from Godsmack), and slept in the car for five or so hours. Upon awakening we were no better equipped to drive than before, but were now able to summon a ride and found our way back to my apartment.
All in all I had a lot of fun, though I don’t think I’m going to make it an annual thing. If you’d like to read more about experiences at the Kentucky Derby, check out this article my cousin wrote, which is significantly more polished than mine.