Saturday, May 03, 2014

Derby Angst

Today is Kentucky derby day. For almost 2 weeks there has been a more or less continual party in Louisville, Lexington, Cincinnati, and I don’t know how far west. The celebration has included steamboat race, balloon race, foot race (Marathon), air show, fireworks and lots and lots of parties. People are here from all over the world.

On the other hand, lots of Louisvillians have gone elsewhere. I first realized this many years ago when I attended a weeklong training session in Arizona. The Friday that it ended, I drove north to visit an Internet friend who lived beside the Grand Canyon.

The next day, Saturday, was Derby Day. My friend took me to the Grand Canyon National Park and guided me around. She taught me a lot about the Grand Canyon, including that the clouds/smoke I saw in the west was neither clouds nor a fire, but the smog hanging over the city of Los Angeles.

At one point I noticed an automobile with Jefferson CountyLouisville—license plates on it. A man in his family and just gotten out of the vehicle; I went to them introduced myself as another native of Louisville. I told them I was in Arizona because I had to be and I wondered why they were here on Derby Day.

The man smiled and replied something like this:

I’m a family man with a wife and three children. Fifty weeks out of the year Louisville is a wonderful place to live. However, during the Derby celebration, Louisville is filled with thousands of gamblers, drunks, druggies, con artists, thieves, and whores. Several years ago I decided to take my vacation during these weeks and take my family safely out of town.

Up until I met this man, I had never thought about this influx of humanity. Perhaps I had never paid any attention; but after I talked to this man on the edge of the Grand Canyon, I began to take notice of all that goes on during the Derby celebration and realized it is much more than a horse race. 

Back in 2005 one of the first Nicks Bytes blog posts that I wrote and published was entitled The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved, a quote by another man born in Louisville, Gonzo author, Hunter S Thompson. The quotation is the title of a 1970 essay written by Thompson and published in the book The Great Shark Attack. As I wrote in that blog post:

The misadventures of Thompson and (his buddy) Steadman begin when they arrive without hotel or automobile reservations—or even press passes for Churchill Downs. They continue through less-than-blissful meetings with Hunter’s Louisville relatives, conning Derby officials to get press passes, and a lot of alcohol consumption. The result was some real belly laughs for me…

Yes, I agree with Hunter’s assessment that the Derby of 1970 was decadent and depraved—and today is perhaps even more so.

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  1. Thanks, Pat. Hunter Thompson is one of my favorite authors, perhaps because he was born in Louisville and perhaps because he looked very much like my grandfather and my dad when he was young. And perhaps because I love his style and crazy weirdness. I'm still trying to work my way through all of his books..

  2. I have never attended your Derby. I do enjoy reading Mr.Thompson very much. Thank you for showing so many of his works.

  3. For some reason or other, celebrations such as that bring out the worst in people. The uninhibited nature of some of the goings on make it nothing so much as an excuse for a giant orgy. Such is what the planet has sunk to. Such a damn shame.