On the first Saturday in May of 1971, my buddy, Tim Holder, and I tossed a few "personal" items in the back of his robins egg blue VW bug and headed out for the four hour haul to Louisville. To the Derby we would go, and because my father, George, loved the track (Saratoga, Aqueduct, Belmont, Roosevelt...every time I smell a cigar it reminds me of the race track, and him) there was no question that I would bet on a horse called My Dad George.
We stopped at every convenience store (they called them "carry outs" in Columbus) on the way down picking up various brands of beer that I had never heard of and/or couldn't get in New York State. Weidemanns, Burger, Strohs, Blatz, Heilemans...all gone now, but well remembered. I would present them to my father as a souvenier when I would return at the end of the semester. He owned a local tavern in Upstate New York.
Anyway, when we arrived, I was struck at how rural it was around Churchill Downs...I really felt that I was in another, more southern state. The day came up as you would hope: about 90 degrees, packed with young people, lots of excitement. Of course, I noticed the Special Mint Julep displays and must admit, I had a drink or six.
The place was so packed, even the infield, that we didn't even get to see the actual track. Just the races on the TV. Every race I bet on I lost. Funds were dwindling. When the Derby was next I opened a secret flap in my velcro wallet to find a last lonely twenty dollar bill. And a double sawbuck was a lot of money back then, a lot of money. I put it on My Dad George to win. He, of course, finished second.
As I turned the inside of my pockets on to themselves and saw only lint, Tim and I made our way toward the exits and to the VW for the long, lonely trip back to Columbus. We wouldn't be making any stops for beer. Between us we had six bucks and still needed to buy gas.
As we walked to the car on the moist red clay, I unbuttoned my short sleeve shirt, and without stopping, removed it, and tossed it over some hedges that formed a perimeter of the track's quarter mile turn..."There," I said as it disappeared into a vast Kentucky sunset, "there, take it all."
And that was the way it was back then.