|"Fancy Fillies" by art deco artist Jeff Williams.|
On Kentucky Derby day, the crowd I see picnicking in Georgetown, Washington's rich, historic neighborhood, with their elaborate hats and seersucker, covers the decadent part. Now for depraved.
In my favorite pizza joint where I get a slice and a pint for $5, I wouldn't exactly call the young woman wearing a millinery mess two feet in diameter, depraved. More like obnoxious as it clogs up the aisle. However, another Derby Girl, overly dressed and stumbling drunk at 4 in the afternoon, bangs up against the wall on the way back to her barstool. That's more like it.
I wonder if the woman who chose to swathe her head in yards of turquoise netting has a bet in the Derby. Does she know what OTB stands for? Has she ever been to a horse race? Or does she just like hats. Hard to tell. Now I'm being judgmental. I feel I have the right. A strange, inappropriate thing to feel. But when I hear "They're at post!" I'm a little girl again, back at the races, where instead of chiffon dresses and sprigs of herbs, there's old man wool and flat beer. Can't a girl wax nostalgic? Without all the young posers?
|My Grandma Katie, Grandpa Steve and Uncle Caiden at The Track.|
I loved the race track. I'd spend all day kicking asides cigarette butts to collect the worthless losing tickets that carpeted the floor. Everyone held them with such white-knuckled grips, whapping them against their thighs yelling for that "Goddamned horse to get the fucking lead out!" that they just had to be special.
And sometimes they were.
I was about three years old, when I handed my father a treasured scavenged ticket telling him it was special. The ticket showed a losing 3, 4 perfecta. Gamblers are a superstitious lot. So, of course he bet it. And hit for $500. The 3, 4 perfecta remained his bet, boxed usually, for decades to come. Not the luckiest of gamblers, he studied old racing forms as if trying to crack code. He knew things like which horses to bet on if the track was muddy. And to bet more if your horse just peed because it'd be lighter. Stuff you just can't learn from the horse betting books that lined his shelves.
|My mother yelling for he horse coming down the stretch.|
|Dougie after winning some money for my mom.|
Visiting my parents as an adult, we would still go. But it wasn't the same. Over time, even my parents stopped going. It's now called Mountaineer Park. Gambling machines draw the crowds, not the horses. Sad.
|Hunter S. Thompson|
Before you suck your teeth at that one, do know that in addition to the horse track, another common family outing was the shooting range at the Paris Sportsman Club. That's Paris, Pennsylvania. Not France. So, I'm betting that Gun Enthusiast Hunter wouldn't mind the suicide crack.
I understand why some may want to pretend that horse racing is gentile and highbrow. But I prefer Mr. Thompson's lurid version. It's closer to home.