Before I start in on the Derby party I went to last Saturday, let me get this right out in the public eye: The whole time we lived in Lexington, Kentucky, self-proclaimed Horse Capital of the World, I never went to the Kentucky Derby, even though it was a mere hour’s drive and I had a driver’s license, access to a vehicle, and two perfectly good legs.
Not only that, I never was invited to a Derby party until I moved away and came to Florida. Last Saturday’s Derby extravaganza was the first Derby party I ever went to.
We thought about going to the Derby when we lived in Kentucky. Our friends Nicola and Jonathan were coming to visit from New Jersey. They’re originally from England and are still enraptured by the U.S. enough to want to go places and see things, so they suggested they time their visit around the Kentucky Derby and we all pile over there to see it.
I agreed, but only because the visit was a good six months away and it still had that fuzzy, glamor-shot aura about it. I could picture us all comfortably fitting into our SUV and driving to the Derby wearing big flowery hats and sun dresses, the guys in pastel seer sucker suits; we’re drinking mint juleps out of travel cups with lids; and despite the fact that they’re teenagers, the kids are laughing and holding normal conversations like they were in the family from Eight is Enough. We would get to the Derby and gracefully walk across a grassy lawn in our heels, my lip gloss glistening and no pit stains. The soft-touch shot of this future event was stunning.
Then my husband went to work and mentioned it and people started to stare and lose respect for him.
“You can’t take your family to the Derby,” one kind employee said. “First of all, unless you become famous between now and then, you’ll be in the infield. Have you seen pictures of the infield during Derby?”
So we looked at pictures and, yeah, we weren’t going to be going to the Derby. The non-celebrity infield of the Kentucky Derby is like an Animal House toga party at Mardi Gras where the Girls Gone Wild crew shows up and Woodstock is restaged. People wear hats, but most of them have tubes that bring Jack Daniels directly into your mouth. If it rains, there are makeshift slip-n-slides. For muddy naked people.
So we put together a new itinerary of things to do with Jonathan and Nicola and their son. We toured a stud farm, where an Irish guy gave a vivid description of how the girl horses are raped for many thousands of dollars. We took them to the Underground Railroad Museum, where we learned about the mad dash across the Ohio River to Cincinnati from Kentucky, where slave trackers would open fire with muskets on runaway slaves. And we watched how bourbon is made. Don’t let anyone tell you that a run for some stupid roses is all that Kentucky has to offer.
The Derby party I went to last Saturday was very fancy, with waiters and white tablecloths and a ginormous tent outside on the lawn. It was almost nothing like the real Derby infield. I was able to wear a fancy hat and I got my picture taken without having to lift up my top. There was only one infield moment: I spilled my mint julep on a guy in a beige suit, but only because my heels kept getting stuck in the grass and I was losing my balance.
It was no Kentucky, but it’ll have to do.
Labels: Kentucky, Kentucky Derby, mint julep, Underground Railroad Museum