This past weekend I packed up the Jetta and headed out the Kentucky Derby-alone. In an effort to live a bit of a happier life I've been trying to get out more and do more things that make me happy. DH gets to travel all the time for work and I get insanely jealous of his fantastic trips (he's jetting off to Italy soon).
A few weeks ago I had an epiphany-I could sit at home feeling sorry for myself and complaining about all the things I was missing out on or I could pack up and go. I've always used the argument that someone needs to be the responsible one in the relationship and take care of the house and the dog, but I deserve time for myself too. With that in mind I decided about 5:00 on Friday night to make the drive into Kentucky. DH stayed home and took care of the dog while I made the drive.
The only tickets left on the night before the Derby were infield tickets but I took what I could get, threw a few things in my little suitcase and hit the road. My plan was to drive through the night, reach Kentucky in the morning, sleep in my car for a few hours and then hit the Derby. About 1:00 in the morning (8 hours into my drive) that plan went out the window and I stopped in the lovely town of Mount Vernon, Illinois to grab a few hours of sleep at their Quality Inn.
The next morning I downed a Red Bull and drove the rest of the way in to Louisville. I drove straight to Churchill Downs and realized that was not the place to be! Most of the residents were offering parking for a low low price of $25.00 to cram my car in their yard-that wasn't going to happen. I couldn't imagine trying to get out of there after the race was over so I kept going. I was able to park at the Kentucky Expo Center for only $8.00-I had all the space I wanted and only had one small incident with a group of drunk tailgaters.
It's a pretty long and hot walk from the Expo Center up to the racetrack. I stopped at a Starbucks for water and to use their bathroom before braving the crowds at the track (I wasn't about to be stuck using a Port-O-Potty!). Getting into the track was suprisingly easy-I walked right up to the gate, handed them my ticket and off I went into the belly of the beast. I saw some other people getting their bags searched, but my giant Coach purse must not have raised alarm bells since no one even gave it a second look.
Once I was inside the gate was where the real madness started-thousands of people crammed onto the infield with most of them being drunk monkeys. In addition the Vineyard Vines tent was giving away foam hats shaped like their whale logo-I spent the rest of the day getting smacked in the face. I strolled around the infield, bought a few souvenirs and an overpriced lunch and checked out the lay of the land. Apparently getting their 4 hours before the race starts is getting there late since every spot of grass was covered with bodies.
Churchill Downs installed a large TV screen on the infield so people can watch the race-it cracked me up to see the rows and rows of lawn chairs people had lined up in front of the screen. It looked like the rows at a movie theater and made me question why on earth would you go into the mess of Churchill Downs on Derby Day just to watch the race on a screen? Why wouldn't you just stay home?
I staked out my spot on the first turn between two very boisterous groups of people and promptly fell asleep on the grass using my purse as a pillow(I'm blessed with the ability to sleep anywhere). When I woke up I was the color of a lobster and bored. Being there by yourself is not ideal since you don't have anyone to save your spot when you get up to get a drink or food. I couldn't leave my spot all afternoon in fear of losing it. The people in front of me had made a circle with their chairs and blocked it off with "Police Line" tape-I spent most of the afternoon imagining elaborate crimes that could occur there and giggling to myself.
The actual race started and was over in the blink of an eye. American Pharaoh won and I saw just a few seconds of the race when they thundered through the first turn. Then it was time to leave-one exit for 70,000 people (part of it includes a dark scary tunnel that you have to walk through). Leaving was quite possibly the worst possible part of the day. Everyone is pushing and shoving, people are whacking each other with chairs and coolers and drunk people are falling down. The lovely souvenir mint julep glasses are shattered on the ground so you're dodging glass with each step.
After I got home Churchill Downs sent me a survey about my experience, one of the questions they asked was "Was it a luxury experience?" and I just laughed. Imagine a frat party times about a thousand and that was the infield atmosphere. I like a good party and I like a good cocktail, but the amount of over consumption and rude behavior was ridiculous. People were passing out on the ground, marijuana was being smoked in the bathrooms, glass was being thrown etc. etc. and no security was present.
I guess the question is was is worth it? Yes and no. It's not something I would do again unless I could really do it up right (and I'm in no financial position for that) but the experience was definitely worth it. It was fun to see and fun to experience. However, I much prefer watching the race from the comfort of my own couch-it doesn't involve 22 hours in the car and I can cuddle my puppy during tense moments! I will say that the focus of the Kentucky Derby has changed from horse racing to fashion and booze. I love fashion (as evidenced by my overflowing closet) and I like booze, but on Derby day I want it to be ALL about the horses. I'm a huge horse racing fan-seriously I can name every Derby winner, their time, their owners etc. etc. I'm just a repository for useless facts (yet I can't usually remember where I put my car keys). Why can't we focus on the horses and their athletic achievements rather than on what hat Kendra Wilkinson wore? I don't even care about the gambling portion of it-I just want to see the ponies run.
Now I just need to attend the Belmont and the Preakness to complete my own personal Triple Crown-and it's nice to check attending the Kentucky Derby off my bucket list since next year I'll be curled up on the couch watching it!