Monday, May 5, 2008

The 134th Running Of The Kentucky Derby: A Retrospective Novel

Let me just start by saying that I'm not sure if it's possible to have more fun in one weekend than I just had in Louisville. I think that Vegas is still my favorite place on Earth, but I will say that the gap has decreased significantly. There's no good (or quick) way to retell the entire rundown of shenanigans, so I'll just throw out a series of disjointed mini-paragraphs, broken down day-to-day. And prepare yourself, this post will probably be longer than my final high school comp paper about Tupac faking his death. The cast of characters:

Kyle: eldest Schneweis brother, fellow Lawrence resident, 2nd Derby.
Schne: youngest Schneweis brother, Louisville resident, Derby veteran.
JV: Schneweis' roommate, Derby veteran. Whenever we are reunited it is certain trouble. I may or may not have a large man-crush on JV.
Scott: middle Schneweis brother, making the drive down from Minneapolis. 2nd Derby.
Me: the Derby virgin of the group.
The Girls: JV's girlfriend and her friends, all Derby veterans.


A routine road trip. One funny interaction took place in southern Indiana, when Kyle and I stopped to pick up some PBR for the last 100 miles. Kyle is inside at the cash register, and me being in kind of a punchy, excited, stupid mood, decide to stick my head out the window of the car, wave, and give my stupidest grin. Well Kyle doesn't see me, but the employee does. She comes outside with a giant garbage bag in her hands and shouts at me, in her best redneck accent, "Boy, do you want me to put this here baaaaag on yo' hayyyyyyy-edddd?" Awesome. One of the themes of this trip is that most of the people we encountered all weekend in the service industry were, in fact, batshit crazy.

We arrive in the 'Ville, I'm a little bit buzzed and lot fired up, so we head almost immediately to the bar. We bar-hop a little bit and sniff some girls' hair. At one place I buy a round of beers costing $20, give the lady a hundred dollar bill, and receive five twenties back as change. I hand her a $5 tip. "You've been great, ma'am." That's why outside vendors who have no register to do their math for them are awesome. My fake name for the night is Josh Beckett. During the taxi ride home, Kyle asks the cabbie (from somewhere in the middle east) what the best thing about driving a cab is. His answer:

"Nothing. Is worst job ever."
"Well what's the worst thing then?"
The cabbie slowly turns towards Schne in the passenger seat, and gives him his most serious expression:
"Black people."
(Note: this is where I check out of the conversation. I am laughing too hard to speak for the rest of the drive home.)
"Black people? Why?"
"You know why."

And on and on it goes, Kyle and Schne egging the dude on, me with my head in my hands, dying of laughter.


I'm not too hungover, as my eagerness to get to the track overwhelms any physical effect that lots of beer and little sleep has on me. After one of the best breakfasts of my life at some shitty-looking diner, we walk back out to Schne's car, where a meter maid (is it still a maid if it's a dude? What's the PC term here?) is placing a ticket on his car. Schne shouts for him to wait, we're leaving right now. The meter dude grabs the ticket off the car, and emphatically throws it to the ground before walking away. Picture Happy Gilmore's caddy throwing the rock in the pond when Happy is losing to Shooter McGavin, and you have an accurate picture in your head. As we pile into the car, laughing our asses off, we reflect upon the fact that not only did he NOT ticket us, but he just littered as well. That's three interesting employees in 12 hours, by my count.

We get semi-gussied up (we're not wearing suits or anything, but we have on khakis and nice shirts. Well, scratch that, Scott is wearing a suit, but that's S.O.P. for him) and head to the track for the day's races. Mint juleps and race programs in hand, we're ready to start betting. We figure our karma is good since the first celebrity we see is none other than Bill Self. JV gives me a crash course in how the program reads (there are a ton of random numbers which mean little to me) and I'm set. I develop a game plan early and it pays off for me all weekend: I put roughly 5% value on who JV says to pick, 5% on who JV's Contact Who Has Inside Info says to pick, 20% on the odds and other actual statistics about the horse, and 70% on the horse's name. I'm basically picking like an 8 year old out there, but I kept winning, so screw it.

My favorite horse of the day was named Better Than Bonds. It's supposed to be a reference to finances, but we decide that his name would be cooler if it related to teammates of Barry Bonds who were better than him before he took steroids. He went off at like 19-1, and I had a great time yelling, "C'mon Bobby Bonilla!!!!" as he unexpectedly came in 2nd place. Even though it rained all day and I lost my last couple races in heartbreaking fashion, my first day was a marginal success from a gambling standpoint. More importantly, it set the tone for the next day. Friday night was spent attacking a keg at The Girls' place, going to the bar, and putting on the greatest eating display since Jesus fed the 5,000 with a few loaves of bread and some fish.


Now I'm hurting a bit. The battle between me and my hangover is so one-sided that, in comparison, Apollo Creed put up a pretty good fight against Ivan Drago. My breakfast consists of Vitamin C tablets, Tums, ibuprofen, and three bites of a McSkillet burrito. I wander around a gas station in a daze, desparately looking for anything to put in my stomach that sounds even remotely tasty. At one point I just kinda stop and stare at the hot dogs on the rotisserie, my eyes glazed over. How do I go from here? I'm at a crossroads. This is when a gas station employee, looking similar to Serena Williams (only short, fat, and semi-toothless) notices my plight, stops and grabs my arm and shakes me a little, and admonishes me:

"Hey! Let's go now! It's Derby day, boy, you gotsta be gettin' yo game face on!"

Words of wisdom, Ugly Serena. Words. Of. Wisdom. Let's get my Game Face on.

Background info: you are not allowed to bring your own booze into the infield at the Derby, and there is a pretty intense search process upon entering the grounds. Stories of sneaking in booze throughout the years are legendary: people putting fake bottoms in their coolers; sneaking in days early, burying kegs, and then digging them up later; even people getting wheeled in wheelchairs with blankets over their legs and a keg underneath the blanket. We opt for a more crude, yet just as effective method: duct taping bottles of whiskey to our junk. The 20-minute walk to Churchill Downs is a bit of an adventure at first, but after awhile I could hardly even notice that my manhood had acquired a new roommate in my pants, named Kentucky Tavern Whiskey. Plus I had taken Ugly Serena's advice and purchased beer from some dudes on the sidewalk, and I was feeling better already. Things were looking up.

We successfully sneak in (getting past the security guards who looked about 12 years old was surprisingly easy) and set up shop. The scene is wonderful. Fellow UND alumni, picture Springfest, only 20 times bigger, with gambling, horse races every 45 minutes, and girls wearing hot little dresses (since it's 75 degrees instead of like 40 degrees in North Dakota.)

I immediately catch fire with the ponies. I'm not even really pretending to know what I'm doing at this point; just picking sweet names and throwing around money. I can't even take credit for the absurdity of some of my picks, and two stories in particular exemplify this:

1) Looking over the list of horses for one of the races, I see a horse named Game Face. Remembering my encounter with Ugly Serena that morning and how inspiring that was, I conclude that I'm obligated to pick this horse to win, and that I should probably put a lot of money on it, even though the horse had terrible odds. So I do, and what happens? Game Face comes out of nowhere to win the race.

2) After a couple hours, I'm sauced up, but I've also grown confident enough in my newfound horse-racing lingo to leave the program behind when i go to the betting window....a dangerous combination. This results in me putting money across the board on horse #3 when I meant horse then #3 promptly goes out and takes second place, while #4 struggles to the finish. Sometimes it's just meant to be.

As the day goes on, the betting window lines get more and more ridiculous; by the end of the day it's a 45 minute commitment to go place a bet. I get separated from the herd and wander into line by myself, and immediately begin complaining to whoever will listen that I shouldn't have got in line without a beer. Well, the girls in front of me listen, and I am immediately presented with two mint juleps. I am appreciative: they just gave me $18 worth of booze without hesitation, and this was probably what I looked like as I said thank you:

No, the guy on the left. I wonder what Dirk Nowitzki's screen name is for Golden Tee. I bet it's something badass.

Anyways, we get to talking, and after about 20 minutes I realize the girl from Tennessee might be my soulmate (Alex, earmuffs):

Her: So, what's your name?

Me: Well....I was gonna give you me fake name, but you seem's Jim.

Her: Oh really? What was your fake name gonna be?

Me: Brad Bradshaw. (I was in a douchey mood that day)

Her: No way!!!! Brad is MY fake name!

Me: Blah blah blah (I have no idea what I said exactly, all I know is that it was form of drunken rant where I tell her that girls shouldn't be named Brad, and I'm positive I threw a Hey Dude reference in there. I am a shithead sometimes.)

Her: Well, it's because my middle name is Bradshaw, my dad was in love with Terry Bradshaw when I was born.

Me: Well how about I be Terry Bradshaw, and you can be Lynn Swann?

Her: Or I can be Lynn Swann, and you be Franco Harris!

Me: How many 1970's Pittsburgh Steelers can you name? Will you marry me? We can buy steel curtains for our house.

Fast forward another 20 minutes, and her and her friend have successfully shamed me into shotgunning the rest of the mint juleps, and we have proceeded from there to tell the other girl and guy in their little group that the story of them meeting and falling in love resembles Princess Jasmine and Aladdin, and begin singing songs from the Aladdin soundtrack. So Leigh from Tennessee, if you find this blog, I've got an engagement ring waiting for you.

One last story, and this baby is getting wrapped up. In the middle of the madness is a row of about 25 port-a-potties. Sometime during the day, people decided it would be cool to start racing across the tops of them. Of course, the inevitable reaction from the crowd is to begin gunning anything they can find at these runners. One girl decides she wants to be a hero and run across. About four steps into her journey, she gets smoked in the back with a beer bottle and FALLS OVER the side. I don't think she was seriously injured...I mean, she wasn't euthanized on the spot or anything. Goes to show that girls can get hurt when they try and compete with guys. Isn't that right, Eight Belles? (Ohhhhh. Too soon?)

My boy Big Brown won the main event, but I only pocketed a little bit of money on that race, since I had a bunch of other bets on longshots that didn't pan out so well. I finished the day up a couple hundred dollars, counting beer expenses. We navigated a Lord of the Rings-style walk back to the girls' place, they cooked us some wonderful hamburgers, and then we drank for another 5 hours. All told, I was sober for about 14 hours total. I'll see you at the Derby next year.