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.” —Hunter S. Thompson in “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved,” an essay from the book “The Great Shark Hunt: Strange Tales from a Strange Time” (1979).
From Aristides to Barbaro, 132 years of shimmering, muscular horseflesh has drawn the world to Louisville and held crowds in various states of awe. But the intensity of the celebration, including the sweat, danger and money, extends beyond the realm of thoroughbreds.
Last month’s “Thunder Over Louisville” opened a dizzying two-week crescendo of events and what ER staff and paramedics call “The Trauma Season.” The racing and festivities make this season our own Mardi Gras, Times Square New Year’s Eve and Spring Break rolled into one. It’s astounding how anyone makes it to the actual Derby race — but we seem to clean up real nice for the running.
Through it all, it’s easy to ignore our health and wealth and participate in over-consumption of sun and booze, which extends to people who have more dollars than sense.
So consider the following advice as words to the wise — and more so to the not-so-wise — as LEO offers a dose of practical humor for locals and aliens alike.
The sun does shine bright on our Kentucky home. Derby fans in the infield and the stands risk getting burned — and not just on a bum trifecta tip, WAVE-TV meteorologist John Belski warns.
“If it is a sunny day, try not pass out in the infield where you may end up ‘well done’,” he says.
Instead of playing tag with melanoma, use sunscreen, even if it’s cloudy. Those pesky UV rays will have their way with your epidermis on the grayest of days.
And regarding sexual heat
Yes, during this festive time people often associate fast and beautiful horses with women (but, to be fair, that can extend to men), and that potent atmosphere can breed sexual promiscuity. (See Tim Krekel’s “Here Ever After,” a ditty about a couple who met in jail on Derby Eve.) Whether it’s the pretty flowers in the paddock or the first kiss of humidity or the bourbon, beware of hasty decisions if you opt to shed beyond your skivvies. You could conceive a child before The C-J prints its dandy day-after edition with all the pretty pictures. Also, remember Cupid’s itch translates into Venus’ curse. That is, STDs ain’t no fun.
The power of the mint compels you
Not everyone is a fan of Louisville’s answer to Electric Kool-Aid, but Derby fame has spread Mint Julep repute ’round the world. Last year Louisville comedian (and quite the handicapper) Mark Klein took our famous drink on the road.
“I went on the Bob and Tom show in Indianapolis during Derby Week and brought a homemade Mint Julep mix of lethal power,” he says. “We began tasting at 7 a.m., and by the time I got off the air at 10, I had to postpone the two-hour drive back to Louisville until the ministrations of the cooks at Waffle House rendered me fit to operate a car again.”
A designated driver would’ve helped — but waffles can suffice, provided you sit long enough to eat, say, a couple dozen. Don’t drink and drive. Always.
Once upon a time, little purple pill meant acid ingestion, not indigestion. Given that, the history of drugging at the Derby is rich but subtly brushed under the rug. While Baby Boomers may have graduated from chardonnay and LSD to sparkling water and a Skye Terrace brunch, today’s youngsters are known to mix prescription and over-the-counter medication. Passing a friendly smoke is one thing. Harder assortments can take a dreadful toll.
Any way you swallow any of this stuff, you may lose much more than your lunch. Remember, there’s enough hijinks going on around you to provide a good trip without the additives. But if you insist, use common sense.
Mouth of the South
Food poisoning and chest-squeezing indigestion are the primary culprits for people visiting medical facilities, local paramedics say. Derbytime exposes city folk from afar to grits, Derby Pie, Hot Browns, sweet tea, burgoo, Mint Juleps and biscuits and gravy, to name just a few scions of local cuisine. Pace yourself so your cholesterol isn’t the gauge measuring how much fun you’re having here.
For those dining with the infield crowd, consider the source. What’s it made of? Where did it come from? How long can it go without refrigeration? Just where are you hiding it? There’s only one sort of package that belongs in your undergarments, and it’s not edible, so to speak.
With the Yum! flag flying high over the festivities, remember the food matches the track most days — fast and expensive. Once again, pace your wallet.
Weighing in on heads
and shouldersThose boasting a built Derby hat, as opposed to those simply designed, may experience neck and shoulder pain. Suggestion: Use feathers to decorate. Not the whole bird.
Infielders may be at higher risk for the cranial and cervical aches that arise from balancing scantily clad men and women on their shoulders. (Just because she’s full of Bud Light doesn’t mean her 110-pound frame won’t trash your trapezius.)
“Injuries to the head, neck, and shoulders can result in mal-position to the cervical and thoracic spine,” says Dr. Leah Wright of Louisville Family Chiropractic. “When this happens, the spinal cord itself and the exiting spinal nerves are in jeopardy.”
Wright recommends: (1) paying attention to tingling or numbness in arms or hands, prolonged muscle spasms, neck stiffness or shooting pain; and (2) hydrating yourself, and icing injured areas in the first 72 hours after partying.
Being in the midst of 99 percent more celebrities than normal can shower stardust in you eyes and make you rubberneck while driving, especially on Spring Drive just below the rolling lawn of the Barnstable-Brown party. There watchers can ogle two groups, the B-list and the wanna-be list. But it’s not worth hurting yourself when you can watch later — safely in front of the television.
While visiting the Back Door recently, I received festival savvy advice from sometimes-scribe and music-lover Legs LaRue: “Have a sack of White Castles, a bottle of sunscreen and a roll of toilet paper, and you’ll be everybody’s new best friend.” Go ahead and laugh, but when nature calls, one must be ready. “Yeah, I’ve always got a square to spare,” she adds.
It hurts when I do this …
With the classic cry, “Hey, ya’ll, watch this!” still ringing, many a Derby-party victim will wind up needing immediate medical attention.
Anna Smith, University Hospital’s director of ER and trauma services, relates Derby to New Year’s Eve.
How to stay out of the ER?
“Moderation is always a good idea,” she says. “Bring sunscreen. Have designated drivers. Wear seatbelts and helmets. Be careful at bars, not just what you’re drinking but who you’re drinking with. Be aware of your environment.”
Her last word: “Enjoy other sites and events than just Derby … and try to leave the city the way you found it.”