The day started with a present.
Well, two actually.
I was in Lexington, Kentucky Friday night for my daughter's
Sunday graduation from the University of Kentucky (but still a UM fan, her room is decorated with Michigan Daily articles about Wolverine wins) and Sunday derby at Churchill Downs.
I was watching the Tigers-Chisox game on my laptop, through the slingbox, getting more and more sleepy, one on for the Tigers in the bottom of the 9th, trailing 4-3 when I closed it up and set it down on the floor and crashed.
I woke up Saturday morning, picked up the laptop and turned it back on. In a series of jerky pictures, the Tiger batter swung and the right fielder ran toward the wall and – the picture froze.
Damn, that looked like a home run! Better check ESPN.com.
The first present: “OSU recruit decommits over sex offender” is one of the top links on the home page. Gotta click thru on that one!
Must be a follow up on Ace's Friday story about the registered sex offender, pictured with three recruits on a trip to Columbus. The guy who followed up with tweets to the recruits.
Sure enough, it is. The one of the three who had actually committed, un-committed.
You can't make it up. What parent won't feel confident sending their precious son into Urban Meyer's care now.
When I clicked over to the Tiger game result, I found out the ball was, indeed, a walk off home run.
* ** ** *
This was my second Derby; the first being 1986, back in my
drinking days. I remember starting the day caressing the commode, worshipping at the altar of the porcelain goddess, or whatever they call it these days. And feeling terminally hungover for hours.
Then trying to cure that with a mint julep, which tastes like the last five times you got sick all mixed together in a souvenir glass full of sugar.
This time would be more fun.
Both graduating daughter and her older sister (three UM degrees) had already left with their Mom. At 3:30 a.m., as, in the morning. As in, arrive at the track at 5:00 a.m.
The gates do not open until eight. But, having learned from the veteran Joe, here for his 36th consecutive Derby, that, this is what you do when you are on the infield and want to be right at the fence for the races.
Which we were.
I was in the second shift, with a couple of friends who made the trip for the first time.
My wife and daughters had done the same drill last year, so they had firmed up the plans with Joe, where to park, who was running to the third turn corner to stake out our territory, et cetera.
I drove the hour and a half into Louisville. Part of the time, my friends were reading something to me out of the paper about the race. About which, I had studied not at all.
Go through the names for me, I said.
Horse owners have to register a name, which has to be unique.
Can't have another Secretariat running around out there. Only one name on the list stuck out for me.
“I'll Have Another.”
The old tapes came up again, back at Animal House, back in the day.
So much fun.
So many adventures with T-Bird and Nanook of the North, the Yooopers. One in med school, out of high school, back when UM had that program, the other, headed for law school.
The painful battle for the med student who washed out, then out of the marriage to his high school sweetheart after two daughters and a son, and all the arrests and job losses and illnesses and injuries and disapperances interspersed among stretches of clean time.
Then the long expected word. October, 2011. Congestive heart failure, the email said. Yeah, the ex-wife said, it is easier to take as a cause of death than the truth.
The lawyer was dry for a long time, couple of decades, I think.
I knew something was up, but not exactly what. He returned to the Upper Peninsula after law school; but had not returned my occasional phone calls.
I googled his name to tell him T-Bird was gone, and found a story of him in court for stealing client money.
Then, another email from the med student's ex. The lawyer was gone too. December 1. C.O.D. also called “congestive heart failure.”
I'll have another.
So, figured I would bet $2.00 to win, for each dead friend.
We found our way to the area of the Louisville, uh, sorry, Papa
John, football stadium.
Headed toward the track, we thought.
Saw three young ladies, with the requisite hats, and asked them which way to the horses.
We're not sure, said they.
We're Northwestern students.
I pointed to the maize M on by blue baseball cap.
Well, we got to the one gate that allowed entry with chairs and
coolers, just as the second (of 13, the Derby being #11) races, concluded, which we gleaned from cell phone contact with the advance party inside.
What a throng.
All ages, all sizes, all shapes.
We could barely see the entry gate, as the line started at the
intersection some distance away.
Well, that is, one of the lines.
There appreared to be a feeder stream aimed directly at the gate,
a couple hundred feet from the intersection where we stood. We had to make a 90 degree right turn to get in.
And, another line aimed right at us, which had to make the corresponding 90 degree turn to their left to get through.
When I say line, I don't mean, line. I mean, at least 3,000 people proceeding at an undiscernable pace. The guy next to us said he had already been waiting 2 hours.
And the morning thunderstorms had given way to a blazing hot sun.
Just to make things perfect, two small groups of fanatics bracketed the feeder stream with homophobic conclusions yelled through megaphones, which were a mere sidelight from the signs, and exhortations to keep your women at home, ironing and washing dishes, and, not talking.
A continuous tirade delineating all the ways we were going to hell. The crowd reaction varied and cycled through catcalls and derisive
responses all the way to pre-riot tension.
Constables were there to preserve order.
There were, however, no race officials of any description advising of
the precise procedures required to get in to the track. Nor was anyone making any attempt to organize the lines, steer them in any direction, say, well, anything, like, cash only for infield admission, no ticket needed..
I've never seen anything like it.
Later we figured the early storms and rain forecast had caused folks
to leave later.
One elderly lady plunked down in her unfolded chair right in front of us. Her assumed husband looked 85 if he was a day. Someone produced a water bottle, and we wondered what they were doing here.
This was a half hour into our wait, and we had progressed less than 50 feet.
Every few minutes, the old lady would rise, the old man would scoot the chair forward a few inches, and the old lady would sit down again.
Of course, they were being passed left and right by others in the crowd as we were pressed in behind them.
Next thing I know, she is smoking a cigarette.
End of my sympathy.
Next time I look up, she has scooted ten feet ahead of me, the
other side of a big trash bin.
An elderly gentleman to my left tries to toss his empty beverage
container into the bin, and, overshooting his target, hits her right in the ass.
There is a God.
I made a reconnaissance trip around the back of the feeder stream that led to the gate, and someone official, who advised everyone was steered through the security checks, before they could get to the gate, whether the credit windows, or the cash gates.
Ah, I at least now know something.
Turning around, I cannot help but notice that the megaphone wielding fanatic on this side, screaming about sinners, must weigh in at a minimum of 350 pounds.
I resist the urge to inquire of him whether gluttony isn't still one of the seven deadly sins.
Making my way back to my friends, I passed next to a Buckeye going the other way. In full game regalia, hat, jersey, buckeye nut necklace.
I doubted anyone had read him the sex offender story yet, so I just said, Hi!.
Momentarily stupefied by the depth of my two letter remark, or maybe the UM hat, or, maybe the combination, he mumbled Go Bucks.
As we made the turn, now a mere first down from the destination, I executed the plan for me to cut through to buy us three tickets, while my friends checked the coolers and chairs.
As soon as I was out of sight, which was not far, all the security guards jumped up on tables or whatever and started taking pictures of everyone.
Then they all yelled: No more checking! Again and again and again. Having waited nearly two hours to be checked, it took the crowd a
while to absorb the impact of this announcement.
I continued with the strategy, pulling out $150 cash for 3 tickets, ony to be told, there are: no tickets. Each person pays $50, which is shoved into a box, and slides through the turnstile.
Interesting skimming possiblities there. How do you verify the attendance count?
However, my immediate problem was to get back from the place that had been my goal for, forever, and find my friends.
I found them, told them I would go in first, and pay for them from inside.
A female officer gently told me I could not stand next to the cash box behind the ticket taker. Uh, that is, money grabber.
I stated that sounded like a rule that made enormous sense and she took the $100 bill to pay for my friends when they finally got to the front.
Now, make the cell call to my oldest daughter to advise that we were finally in the building.
She met us at the other end of the tunnel that goes under the track from the entrance.
Now, if people watching is your thing, you have to do the Derby.
Six foot eight guys dressed in full jockey uniforms, cap, silks, riding boots.
People in all sorts of horse outfits. People is suits, puking on the grass. People exhibiting all the symptoms of a closed head injury. People with “Derby Virgin” buttons taking ten minutes to make a bet at the window. The Mayor of the infield.
And so on.
We finally arrived at our seats after the 6th race.
Hey, I was not going to bet much anyway.
Saw Joe the Derby veteran napping with his exposed belly, which I
perceived to be crying out for an ice cube from the cooler. I sated this desire as quietly as possible, so as not to wake up the rest of his body.
It must be told he was wearing his MSU hat.
He looked great, considering he is fighting the big C.
We swapped sports stories and tried to avoid the drunks, one of
whom was leering at my soon to graduate daughter. Too bad she can't show him some of the targets from her trips to the gun range.
When you go to the Derby, all your friends give you money to place their gets. My wife has developed an ingenious system for placing the various bets the races.
You get a blank envelope, write the number of the race, your bet, the amount, and the horse's number on the outside, and put the exact change for the bet inside the envelope.
Whoever runs to the window, then puts the betting slip in the appropriate envelope, and all is done quickly, and, the records are in order.
I had stuck a preview of the race, in my gear, and had read it during the tortuos wait outside.
I determined to go with Gemoligist with perfectas and trifectas and whatever.
I then had $10 left, so put $2 on the 8th, 9th and 10th races on the choices one of our group who had been picking winners.
That left $4, of my small budget, which I put on I'll Have Another, the big underdog, to win, remembering my earlier decision.
On my last trip, in 1986, from the same vantage point, you could see the horses round the turn, but it took awhile to find out the results, because the noise in the infield overwhelms the stadium announcer.
Now, they have a large video screen across the track, so you can see all of the race, including the finish.
Son of a gun, I'll Have Another pulls it off.
In memorium, T-Bird and Nanook.