I’ve let bits and pieces of this story slip out here and there, but seeing as it is Preakness weekend, I thought it was probably time to let it unfold completely. Also, remember the Preakness is selling all you can drink beer mugs this year for $20, so doing some quick math this may be the last year alcohol is permitted in the infield. In other words if you ever you want to get to a Preakness, you might want to get in the car now, because with 20 dollars all you can drink things are going to get very, very weird. Luckily, I’ve already been there.
To preface this story, I had no idea what the “race infield” entailed. I had never been, had never thought about it, and let’s be honest they don’t spend much time in the infield when they televise this stuff. When someone asked if I wanted to go to the Preakness, I knew I wasn’t going to have a cozy seat in the grandstand, but I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Locally, these are massive events. It’s something people do every year. They have their groups, their plans of attack, it’s serious business. I had nothing.
So, it was a friend of mine who went to college in Baltimore who invited us down. It’s the kind of trip that, when you are 21, you just agree to, and hop in the car. I think I had a change of clothes. That’s about it. We drove the night before because it was going to be an early morning call to get Preakness preparations underway. The actual race is at ~ 6 pm, but everyone drags ass over there at about 9 in the morning. If I had to get up and go drinking at 9 am these days, I’d be in bed by 8 the night before, but back then we obviously went out drinking. That’s where the first amazing thing happened.
We all met at this standard college apartment before proceeding to a bar. Now we’re in line at the bar, and the guy is checking ID’s. I realize that my I.D. for a reason I don’t remember is in my car back at the apartment complex. We had all had just enough to drink at this point that we weren’t terribly concerned. We got up to the bouncer, I told him I left my I.D., and then my friend “vouched” for me. He said something like, “He’s 21. I promise.” And, the guy let me in. It was amazing! I had never tried to get into a bar without an ID or with a fake, and the one time I forget my ID, we find the bouncer who takes your word for it. Phenomenal.
That’s it for that part of the story, if anything happened at the bar, I don’t really remember. I do remember getting back to the apartment complex, there was a cab ride I believe, and there were still a lot of people there. I don’t know what I was expecting, but there was a large group of people going to the race the next day, and they were all staying at this one place. There was some general post-bar milling around, and then out of the blue people decided they were going to sleep. A friend I was with joked that everyone just spontaneously hit the floor, and that is kind of what it was like. Everyone had their spots to sleep, and we were standing there like idiots. I think there was a brief discussion about the floor of a closet, but this mass of humanity had turned the apartment into a sauna. Wildly uncomfortable.
At this point, I make the executive decision that I’m going to sleep in my car. It was the first and only time I slept in a car. I hit up the driver’s seat, and honestly I don’t know how I did it. I think you’d have to knock me unconscious to get me to sleep in my driver’s seat at this point, but there I was. Windows open for the refreshing breeze, I can’t imagine how shady we looked. Needless to say, when we woke up, I wasn’t exactly refreshed.
To reiterate a point from earlier, we were not prepared in any way, so when I woke up I just started driving around looking for food or services of any kind. Luckily we came across a Dunkin Donuts. Hit that up for breakfast, splashed some water on the face, homeless at a rest stop style, and went on our way. By the time we got back to the apartment building, the hundreds of people inside were ready to go. We piled into a couple of cars, and loaded our supplies, which was a trashcan, and several 30 packs of beer. Water? Nope. Any food? Not so much. I’m not even sure we had ice to be honest with you.
When we got to the track, or when we parked “near” the track, I saw another amazing sight. Just a sea of humanity moving toward the gates carrying all sorts of things we didn’t have. Chairs, things of that nature. Before arriving we were told these idyllic stories about how everyone just staked out (often literally) a little patch of the infield, and that was your patch of green grass heaven for the rest of the day. That’s kind of how it works from like 10-10:15 in the morning, at which point it becomes a complete free for all. We entered with good intentions though.
For the first several hours it was quite the good time. Sitting/standing around drinking, it wasn’t that overcrowded yet, there was a level of excitement, good people watching. Even when the crowds started to swell things were interesting. There was the constant threat of a fight, maybe a girl would take her shirt off, who knows. After a good five or six hours, though, the elements started to take their toll. We were still hours away from the big race, and under an ever intensifying sun, things were getting dicey. I was straddling the wasted/hungover line. It’s the worst possible place to be. You should always, at all costs fight getting a hangover at the actual event, but I couldn’t do it. I buckled. Straight LeBron style. I’m sorry to say, on that Preakness Saturday I was standing in the infield, an hour or two to post, with a miserable hangover.
That’s not my biggest regret of the day, though. Somehow I didn’t bet the race. Are you serious? I mean, in the 12 hours you were milling around you couldn’t figure out how to bet the race? It was a horse race, you know? That was the actual point of the thing, and even if you couldn’t really see any horses at all, they were certainly there. I did nothing. Hands in pockets. And, I’m pretty sure in my mind I had the trifecta. I should have boxed that nonsense, but no, I was too busy wading through a sea of empty beer cans. So the race went off, I “heard” who won, and that was about it. Off we went, just absolute exhausted shells of ourselves, and I had nothing to show for it except a sleeping in the car story. So, what’s the moral? Well, if you ever go to a horse race, remember to hydrate and never, ever get shut out at the window. And, there it is.