Monday, May 30, 2011

Kentucky Times Day 3

After two long and fun filled days in Kentucky, we were both pretty beat. We did manage to do some touristy stuff before hitting the dusty trail, though.

We returned to the scene of the crime and visited the Kentucky Derby Museum. Jim had a friend or two he still wanted to buy souvenirs for, so that was something we hoped to take care of at the museum. Usually tours of Churchill Downs are offered but today the tour was understandably unavailable while the facilities we had just helped trash the day before were being cleaned.

Statue of the ill-fated Barbaro out front. What continues to amaze me is how young these animals are. Horses that race the Kentucky Derby are only three years old.

It was interesting how the museum treated the whole event. It all seemed to be much more about the culture of the Derby and the events that lead up to it than the race itself.

At times the museum became much more technical than I was interested in. This is about how different kinds of dirt affect a race. Yawn.

Jimbo having the time of his life on the horse simulator. What I learned from this game is that even if you beat your horse continuously you will still get last place.

The museum was worth the peek. The Derby really is a unique event.

Next we checked out the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory. The first thing a visitor sees is this multistory baseball bat propped up against the museum's building.

This place was pretty cool. They had a ton on the process of contracts the players sign which I thought was interesting. They can't get their signature on a bat until they sign a contract to exclusively use Louisville Slugger bats.

One thing that was different was the Hold a Piece of History area. After putting on a pair of white cotton gloves, you could get your picture taken while holding a famous player's bat. I chose Mickey Mantle.

The company made rifle stocks during wartime.

Then came the factory tour. The whole process was interesting. They showed the way they spin the bats through this cutting machine. The machine that made the bats for professional players was even fancier. They burned the logo into the bats by hand, which seemed like it would take a really long time. Pretty cool.

So that's that. My three days in Kentucky were a ton of fun. Maybe I'll go again next year.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Kentucky Times Day 2

After tossing and turning on the gravely sand all night I crawled out of my tent on "the beach" and greeted my first Kentucky morning. We wanted to get to the track as soon as possible, as it was 10 am or so and the races were already in progress. I didn't know it beforehand, but there are actually 13 races on derby day, and the Kentucky Derby is #11.

The campsite guys had said there would be a shuttle that would take us to the race and wherever else we wanted to go. The "shuttle" meeting spot was really just a line of random people with random vehicles who were willing to drive us wherever we wanted to go for tips. The two of us rode to the derby in random older dude Paul's pickup truck. As usual I tried to make small talk with the driver on the way to Churchill Downs. I made the terrible mistake of asking Pickup Paul if he worked at the campsite all year round, or just during derby season. This opened the floodgates to the worst story ever. He was unemployed. He had a family but he didn't get any government assistance. He pointed at his throat and said he had to pawn his necklace for the money to fix the truck we were currently riding in. At this point I noticed he only had nine fingers. He then went into how there was no set price to the ride but we should pay him whatever we thought it was worth, and so on. After dropping us off he gave us a card with his number on it for the return trip. We quickly agreed that we weren't going to be calling him on the way back. I realize I am a terrible person, but that was too much to deal with twice.

The scene in the few blocks around Churchill Downs was a unique one. It was crowded, sure. But the people present seemed to all be from three equal sized groups: the super well dressed, the grungy people with coolers and lawn chairs, and the police and military.

Getting into the gate took some time. We were entering with the people with lawn chairs and even some tent bags. Security moved at a snail's pace. Not only were they checking bags, but they would just ask you if you had a phone or a camera, and then they would ask you to turn it on to make sure it wasn't a bomb or something. Kinda weak.

It was 40 dollars to get in, by the way.

At least there was some entertainment. At first it was just one awkward looking kid with a bible, gibbering about accepting the lord and whatnot. Everyone pretty much just ignored him. The group secretly blossomed into 6ish. They were serious. To loosely quote them, "drinking, gambling, fornicating, and dressing provocatively will end you up in hell. Catholics are all going to hell." One quote that I liked a lot and continued to ask Jim throughout the day was simply "why do you love sin?" He still hasn't given me a good answer. The guy with the megaphone had a great southern accent which made it even better. The signs they were carrying were also a great time. There were such gems as "hell hotline inquire here", "ask me why Michael Jackson deserved hell", "ladies, if its not for sale, why are you advertising?", and the crowd favorite "Women should be 1. Quiet 2. Keepers at home (doing dishes, laundry, ironing etc.) 3. Submissive to husbands 4. Silent in church 5. Care-takers of the church 6. Modestly dressed".

I wish I had more video. I only took 30 seconds. You get the idea anyway.

Once past the gate we took a long tunnel that ran under the track, and we were in!. I recently read Hunter S. Thompson's The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved(here), and he described the scene this way.

To get there we had to pass through many gates, each one a step down in status, then through a tunnel under the track. Emerging from the tunnel was such a culture shock that it took us a while to adjust. "God almighty!" Steadman muttered. "This is a...Jesus!" He plunged ahead with his tiny camera, stepping over bodies, and I followed, trying to take notes.

Total chaos, no way to see the race, not even the track...nobody cares. Big lines at the outdoor betting windows, then stand back to watch winning numbers flash on the big board, like a giant bingo game.


"Hell, this clubhouse scene right below us will be almost as bad as the infield. Thousands of raving, stumbling drunks, getting angrier and angrier as they lose more and more money. By midafternoon they'll be guzzling mint juleps with both hands and vomitting on each other between races. The whole place will be jammed with bodies, shoulder to shoulder. It's hard to move around. The aisles will be slick with vomit; people falling down and grabbing at your legs to keep from being stomped. Drunks pissing on themselves in the betting lines. Dropping handfuls of money and fighting to stoop over and pick it up."

With a picture like that in your head, anything looks good in comparison! It was kinda like being in a county fair with no rides and lots of alcohol. There were tents for different foods, drinks, and souvenirs. The Goodyear Blimp and little planes with fluttering banner ads buzzed overhead. We had arrived decently early in the day, and so had beaten most of the crowds. People's clothes were awesome. Even though we were in the po' folk seats, quite a few of the ladies were dressed fancy and had giant hats on. Another common sight were stylish galoshes, anticipating a giant mud pit if the rains came. There was also the odd horse costume, or horse hat. Many took the opportunity to be funny, and instead of dressing up, they wore the hillbilliest clothes they could find. Tight, self-cut jean shorts, referred to by me as "dem jorts", were also a pretty funny addition.

The lines to the betting windows ranged from short to nonexistent, and we could actually see a couple of the races through the fence. We got there just in time for me to lose on my bum of a bartender's lazy horse. I bet similarly on the next couple races, and just picked horses based on how cool their name sounded.

We got to see the horses burst out of the gate for this race. Another little fact I didn't know was some of the races were on the dirt track and others were on the grass.

By the 4th or 5th race, the lines at the window had ballooned. I was tired of waiting in lines every half an hour, so I simply bet on number 7 for six races all at once. I didn't do half bad with that approach.

By this point we had to watch the races on one of several giant screens. Its a bit hard to see, but the guy in the red and white shirt has shaved his head except for a "137". It's the 137th Kentucky Derby. Bro is classy.

My "bet on 7 everytime" rule was still in effect. Number 7 in the derby was named Pants on Fire. That horse broke my damn heart. I bet across the board again, and he was fluttering around in 2nd and 3rd place before turning into a pumpkin at the last turn. It was the most exciting 2 minute letdown in sports.

I saw a fight or two, and one or two people puke, but all in all it wasn't too bad. There were police and military people everywhere so trouble makers didn't last long. I think drinks were expensive enough to limit people's consumption. I of course wanted to drink the classic mint juleps, but they were ten bucks a piece. Even one of those an hour for the 6 hours we were there would have been economically painful.

The juleps came in cool souvenir glasses. They had the names of all the winning horses on the back since 1875.

If I was to do it all over again I would have brought a lawn chair, and if I had a large enough group to deal with it, a tent of some sort. There was not one public place to sit down, so we pretty much trail of tears wandered around in circles the whole time, and occasionally sat in the grass.

There were two races after the actual derby, but no one cared. The masses decided to leave at the same time, and the bottle neck was the tunnel. The sound of smashed beer cans being kicked echoed all around. Several chants of U-S-A erupted while in the darkness of the tunnel, an aftershock of Bin Laden taking his medicine a few days prior. Several people were wearing Osama related t-shirts.

Once out we decided we would walk back to camp, because it wasn't really that far. My smart phone was dead, and Jim apparently bought his phone at an Amish outlet mall, so we got super lost. The neighborhoods surrounding Churchill Downs are a bit economically depressed, and everyone seemed to be selling things. Laws were either lax or just different in the area, because people were selling beer straight out of their coolers. I saw one group offer a random woman 30 dollars to ride home in her truck, and she surprisingly accepted. We randomly met another group from our same campsite, and together we rode in yet another random guy's truck bed for 20 bucks. It was a fun tour of the city.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Kentucky Times Day 1

My buddy Jim and I drove over to Kentucky on Friday, May 6. The main reason for our trip was to witness the grandeur of the Kentucky Derby, but the other days we were in Louisville were eventful as well. We agreed the night before that we needed to leave early (which to us meant 10 am) but for reasons I won't get into we didn't leave until noon. From St. Louis, Louisville is about 4 hours away.

When we got close to Expo Five, the camp site where we had made a reservation, it became apparent that the neighborhood was very... colorful. Liquor stores, strip clubs, and adult entertainment shops vied for control of the main drag. Apparently Kentucky is one of those states where grocery stores can't sell hard alcohol, so there were way more liquor stores than are usual. Most of them had drive-thru's as well.

Many of the little places had funny names. The sky was a bit overcast, but luckily this strip club is "open rain or shine". This place sparked a short conversation between the two of us over the correct spelling of "thoroughbred". I'm a nerd, I know.

Because we arrived a bit tardy, we couldn't get a tent spot on the grass, and instead got a spot on "the beach". I could tell by the way the campsite greeters were referring to it that it wasn't such a great place. It could as well be called "the quick sand pit" or "tent stakes won't help you".

Jim enjoying life on "the beach". Our Walmart tents were both so gross after the rain that we threw them away.

Expo Five is like part campsite, part bar and venue, part flea market.

The stuff they were selling was pretty random. Like wedding cake toppers and cowboy boots in the same stall random.

Here was the little venue bar. They called it the Expo Dome, but it reminded me of one of those military surplus buildings.

Once we were settled we headed to downtown Louisville, hoping for a change of scenery.

The dome topped AEGON Center is the most distinctive building in the Louisville skyline.

Busy putting the Louis in Louisville.

While driving around looking for parking, we just happened to pass by the Brown Hotel and popped in. The streets of downtown Louisville were heavily populated with the well dressed, and the hotel seemed a bit on the fancy side. Jim and I were in t-shirts and were both half expecting ourselves to be stopped by the top-hatted doormen. Luckily the hotel was kind enough to overlook our clothing long enough to take our money. The hotel is famous for a local specialty, the Hot Brown. So, of course, I had one.

The menu describes the dish as: "Roasted Turkey Breast on Toast Points, Sauce Mornay, Parmesan Cheese, Tomatoes and Bacon, Baked to Perfection!" It was really good. It reminded me of a upscale version of a horseshoe.

We apparently made a good impression on our bartender, who gave us a couple free drinks on the house. Being in Kentucky we naturally asked for the most expensive bourbons they had. I also had my first Kentucky-made mint julep at the hotel.

For dessert it was Derby Pie. It's like a chocolate version of pecan pie.

I was just trying to be funny and make a little small talk, so I asked our bartender if he had any hot horse tips for me. He got really serious and lowered his voice as he spoke. He told us something like "bet on the 2nd horse in the 3rd race, and bet 5 across the board". He even added some of that classic "it's a sure thing" sort of crap you always hear in the movies. Now I've never bet on a horse before, so I hadn't the slightest idea what "across the board" even meant. Now that I have had my expensive education on the subject, it means that you bet on a particular horse 3 times: one on it making 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place. Plus if the horse wins, you get the winnings from all three. And the five was five dollars on each. Long story short, that horse didn't even make it to 3rd place, and my beloved 15 dollars now belongs to someone else. But hey, that's a low price for a memorable story.

After a bit of strolling we arrived at Fourth Street Live!, a little outdoor entertainment complex. They had a ton of bars and restaurants and what have you. This isn't really my type of place. It all looked pretty cool, but I like off the beaten path, and I like local culture when I travel. Hard Rock Cafe and T.G.I. Friday's are neither of those things. We lingered a bit to listen to a free Bare Naked Ladies concert that was in progress, but then returned to the camp site. We were hitting the race track in the morning, and surviving the Kentucky Derby requires a good night's sleep.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Bob Saget

Bob Saget came to SIUE campus for a stand up comedy show on April 21. Saget is of course from Full House and America's Funniest Home Videos fame. Tickets for students were only 10 bucks, and I saw Dave Coulier do stand up about a year ago, so I figured I should complete the Full House set. The two have starkly different ideas on comedy. Coulier is still super clean. He did all kinds voice impressions and cutesy stuff like that. Saget on the other hand, has embraced the dark side. I'd say a good 20 percent of his show consisted of accusing various audience members of bestiality.

My iPhone takes pretty terrible pictures in the dark, but I feel obligated to include one.

Saget's segment of the movie The Aristocrats gives one a good understanding of what to expect. The movie's tagline is "No nudity, no violence, unspeakable obscenity". I'd say that sums up Bob Saget's stand up quite nicely.