Winner Winner Chicken Soup

Years ago I told an associate who talked too much about everything, something that just came off the top of my head.

After a punishing 20 minutes of useless and diversive babble, I had had enough.  My patience was at its end.  Without thinking I spouted the words with a distinct tone of frustration,

“Larry, I came here for dinner and all I got was soup.”  I rose up from my seat and left the room.  Everyone attending the meeting felt the same rush as I did from my infamous office epiphany.

Weeks later in another meeting, Larry began his extensive and boring explanation of a design software.  All eyes in the room began to roll out of their sockets and subtle moans could be heard above his scratchy smoke-ridden voice.  Again I grabbed for the ‘Bullshit Flag’ and was just about to toss it on the field when a well-respected and somewhat powerful manager blurted it out without any emotion or offensive tone, “Larry, no soup today.”  Larry shut up and the meeting continued.

My day of significance had arrived.  The phrase, “I don’t want any soup, I came for dinner”, was born by me at a mid-morning meeting because of the arrogant and over-talkative Larry.  Those few impatient words have been swept up into common place and used in company meetings, group gatherings, friendly discussions and in my home hundreds of times even to the disdain of my wife who as most women do, talk a little more than needed.

This is why I preface this story you’re about to read or listen to with that story about Larry.  This is just to warn you that this is why the word ‘Soup’ is included in the title.  You may find several cheap adjective laden side dishes in this story as I felt it would be too hard to leave them out and still be able to deliver this dinner with a wallop.  Just sip it slowly and try to get through to the last course of this account.  The story is about not only a once-in-a-lifetime trip with my son but is also one where I learned a true life’s lesson about my worst and lacking attribute, patience.

Patience was one virtue which I had been known to have very little of and can be somewhat derailing at times when building memories.  My two-fer was because along with the patience I learned, I also found the understanding that none of us are ever perfect.  I promise, the soup for which I’ve dreaded for so long in my life is plentiful in this story yet somewhat tasty.  How ironic it is for me to ask of you for your patience as I work through this five-course meal of mine.

– Time Travel Time –

Early in the morning I checked my phone for what time it was in California.  I had been thinking about going to The Kentucky Derby all week and didn’t want to call my son too early.  I was going to ask him to tag along if he wanted to join me.  At that time in his life, anything concerning horse racing or the track I knew he would be in for the fun.  He too had drunk the Kool Aid and was on the line like a treble-hooked catfish.  My apple was sitting pretty tight right next to my trunk.

The phone started ringing and after six long tiring rings and a frustrated huff from me, he finally picked up.

“Hey,” I said after his hello, “You want to go see Big Brown plow over the field?”

“When?” he answered quickly.

I paused, “On Christmas Day, goofball,” I sarcastically fired back.

“Why is he running on Christmas day?”  His answer caused me to shake my head.  I could tell his childhood innocence had sprung a leak again.  He still believed whatever I said even at the age of twenty-eight.

“He’s running in the Derby.”  I dragged out the answer.  “You know, the Kentucky one?”

“Then why is he running on Christmas day.”

A gargantuan spiral of dusty confusion was sweeping up our conversation so I just got to the point.  “I was just joking around.  Do you want to go to the Derby this year to watch Big Brown start off the Triple Crown?  Won’t be another one like it.  It’s on May third and the Oaks is on the second.”  I started to clarify even further when he interrupted me.

“I’ll get us some seats and a room.”

“Good, just a chair is fine with me.  Some place to sit when we’re tired of doing our walkabouts.  I doubt if we find any rooms close.  We’ll have to stay quite aways away from the track and I have two comped flights and a car.”

Dan broke in, “I’ll call you back this afternoon after I get the rooms.  The tickets may take longer.  I have to make a call.”

“Perfect,” I answered.  “We still have two months so it’s not a big deal right now.  Talk to you later.  Love ya.”

We both hung up and I went on to work for the day.  Little did I know that everyone else in the free world was also saying, thinking or following up on the same idea.

I called for my flights around noon and first tried Phoenix to Louisville.  I could hear the muffled laugh of obviousness from the lady on the phone selling the flights.  “Sorry Sir, all flights into Louisville or Lexington are booked for those days.”

“What about another airport close by Churchill?”

“I don’t believe there is any flight anywhere, but I will check.”  I could hear her typing.  “Blue grass, no.” she whispered then paused.  “Cincinnati, no,” she paused and continued down the list.  “Indy, no.  Nashville, no.”  She continued and rattled off even Evansville, Port Columus and Ownensboro, and they all were a big no.  “Sir, you can try back tonight to see if there are any cancellations.  Call after nine.  We post them at that time.”

“Thanks anyway, bye,” I said, then dejectedly hung up the phone.

Thoughts of how else could we get there started to run amok.  Visualizing driving there from Arizona fleetingly passed through my mind and was quickly struck down as just plain stupid.  I feared our strategy was proving to be inoperable.

I forgot to call that night and the next night I fell asleep on the couch and staggered into bed.  Two nights later I called and spoke to another person on the desk, “I’m trying to see if there has been any cancellations for two on April thirtieth or May first, departing from Phoenix into Louisville, returning on May fourth.  Two adults and anytime if fine.”

“Round trip?” the person asked.

I blinked several times confounded by the obvious answer to the question.  Somehow I knew at that exact moment this adventure was destined to have more twists and turns than a water park slide.

“Yes,” I said, struggling to get it out without the haughty tone her response deserved.

“Okay, let me check.”

“Thank you.”

Two minutes later the person returned from the silence of the ‘Please hold’ abyss.

“Hello Sir, are you still there?”

“Yes.”

“You wanted to depart from Louisville into Phoenix?  We do have several seats available for those dates.  Which date would you prefer?”

My forehead’s capillaries instantly formed a reddish rash swelling spelling out the initials, OMG.

“No, I need a flight from Phoenix to Louisville,” I emphasized.

“Hold on please.”

‘Breathe, just breathe’  I thought as the quiet darkness of the abyss returned.

Minutes later, “Sir?”

“Yes, I’m here.”

“This must be your lucky day.  I checked the airports in Louisville and the surrounding ones and all of them are booked.  There is a standby seat into Cincinnati you can try for but it’s stopping at Denver for 4 hours and if it don’t come to play you’ll be there overnight.”  I rolled my eyes.  “And,” she started to continue.

An ‘and‘ or a ‘but‘ can be frightening from a person like this woman and especially when they start the sentence of with a big deep breath.  “There is also a flight with one seat available if you would. . .”

I stopped her in mid-stride, “No thank you.  Thanks anyway for checking.  Ma’am, I thought you said it was my lucky day?”

“Sir, you have to let me finish.”  The dreaded effeminate feeling and condescending tone had shown its Medusan face.  “I have a cancellation that was just posted for a nonstop into Indianapolis and a nonstop return to Phoenix for two.”

“Where does it originate from?” I quickly asked.

“San Diego to Phoenix then direct into Indy.”

“I’ll take that.  Thank you.”

My prayers to the Track Gods were answered although I felt she gave me unprovoked and long-winded version.  It was like she invited me over for meatloaf and all she served me was a huge bowl of tasteless gravy.

“You’ll have to do that online to get the discount.”

“I have flyer miles.”

“Sorry but you’ll still have to do it online.”

Without an argument to the logic I said thank you and hung up.  Five minutes later I was booked for two on the first and a car to get us down the 124 miles to Louisville.  The Journey had started.

The plane from San Diego landed and I boarded.  When I walked into the plane Dan was already seated against the window and was saving a center seat for me.  A typical flight for me is that I fall asleep on the tarmac and wake up when the attendant tells everyone they could turn on the electronics.

Dan told the attendant he wanted a Jack and Coke and I changed up my order by adding in the word, “Diet.”  He turned to me slyly and said, “Dad, you want to see the tickets?”

I never thought of asking about them as all I was told on the phone before a month before we left that he had gotten us two seats.

“Sure,” I answered.

Dan reached down under the seat and zipped open his carry-on.  In one smooth motion he brought out the tickets like a fan in front of my face.  I was speechless.

Tickets

My brain was boiling over like a bowl of pea soup left in the microwave on high for ten minutes.

Brain talk, replace the words as you see fit,  ‘Holy shit, son of a bitch, mother, what the, well I’ll be a.’  I said to myself.

I looked at the tickets, I looked at Dan then back at the tickets and back at Dan.  With a big breath and in a big smile I profoundly asked.  “How did you swing this one?”

He shrugged like it was no big deal.

“Do you know how much these cost?  Are they real?” I asked through slanted eyes.  “You’re pulling my leg.”

“Nope, I called my peeps,” he answered.  “And these are special because they’re all-inclusive and we get to sit with a couple of very important people.”

I leaned in, “Like who?” I whispered hoping for the infamous name-drop.

“You’ll see.”

With that answer I leaned back into my coach seat, closed my eyes and let the visions begin.

Think Gone With the Wind meets The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.  Fathom Dallas and The Kardashians having you over for a party.  Packages with seats like these range near if not in the double-digit thousands.  I imagined overlooking the grandstand on the finish line, far removed from the hedonistic infield gatherings and safely nestled from the craziness of Derby weekend.  We were now part of the exclusive circle of horsemen and celebrities on the world-famous fourth floor to experience the historic race day and festivities of The Kentucky Derby.  Puffy clouds of galloping horses and floating Derby hats filled the plane.  I fell asleep again.  Dan must have stolen my Jack and Diet.

Uncomfortable and stiff, plus being woken up several times made it seem as if the flight was longer than expected.  We finally landed.  Indy airport is especially nice inside and out.  We spent little time getting our bags and found the car rental booth without really searching.   “Hi, I have a reservation for a car,” I rocked my head foolishly, giddy from the experience as I handed the confirmation number to her.  She turned to her screen and acted like she was typing even though now I know she already knew what she was going to say.

“Sir, due to the magnitude of the event in Louisville, we have unfortunately utilized all of our vehicles.  That is unless you’d like to upgrade.”

“How much is it to upgrade and upgrade to what?”

“Well it appears we do have some high-end SUV’s available but that would raise your rate well above three hundred a day.”

“What!” I said.  My voice squeaked as I raised up on tip toes.  “I have a confirmation for forty nine bucks a day and you gave it to someone?  Now you’re telling me I have to pay three hundred a day.  That’s bullshit.”

She began her faultless explanation of why these things happen and why only so many cars are functional and why she can’t wave the cost and so on.  I felt like she was pouring a bowl of insipid cream soup all over my head.  “Stop,” I said showing her my palm.  “You have to have a better alternative.  We sure the hell can’t walk to Louisville and I have a confirmation.  You’re a big company.  How does this happen in a big company?”

“Sir, we have also partnered with another rental agency and if you like I can call and see if there is something in your price range available.”

“Please do.”

She talked on the phone as I spun in circles in the rope line.  Dan leaned on a support column out of line and away from the danger.

“Sir, they do have a large car available for you at sixty-five a day.  Would you like me to tell them to hold it for you?

“Yes please.”

She spoke on the phone for awhile talking to the other outfit.  I leaned back a little toward the elderly lady standing in line behind me and gave her some encouragement, “Ma’am, you might be in a bind.”  She looked up at me as if her hearing aid was off and didn’t hear a word I said.

“Sir, here is the address of the agency.  It’s off site and does not have a shuttle.  The cab pickup is over there behind the blue doors and outside to the lower level.  Here is a voucher for five dollars for the cab fare.”

I looked at the paper she handed me and held the voucher in my other hand as I walked over to Dan and my bags.  “You ever hear of J and T Rentals?”

“No can’t say I have.  What do they rent?”

“Cars.  That’s where we’re headed to get our car.”  Dan’s so easy-going he just nodded and followed me to the blue doors and out.

When we got to the rental agency the cab driver said over his shoulder, “Twenty-seven dollars please.”

“I have a voucher.  You mean they don’t pick up the fare?  Really?”

“That’s with the voucher, buddy.  I don’t make the rates, I just drive.  Total comes to thirty-two.”

The rental agency rented everything you could think of from chain saws to backhoes.  Actually the car we got wasn’t bad at all.  The large-size sedan was roomy and comfortable.  We set the Magellan Roadmate for Churchill, stuck it on the windshield, got out the DVD player for Dan to watch a movie and pulled out of the yard.  We were Derby bound.

Traffic was moving fairly good when we got on US85 and had no inclination to what rush hour would be like.  Ten minutes or so passed and Dan was trying to figure out the DVD player when I looked up at the rear view mirror because of a chirp of a siren behind us.  All lights were on the Indy State Police car and was only feet off our bumper.  I could see the officer motioning for me to pull over to the center of the highway but in the heat of the moment I ignored his request and changed lanes to the right and to the right again finally getting to the shoulder and slowing to a stop.

“Shut the movie player off,” I told Dan as the patrolman moved to his side.  I rolled the window down as he leaned over to look inside at us.

“Why didn’t you pull over like I asked?”

“I did.”

“I saw you look at me motioning to pull to the left.”

“You wanted me to pull over into the median?”

“That’s what pointing this way means,” he said as he reenacted his finger-pointing.

“I’m sorry but in Arizona it’s illegal to do that so I just reacted as I’m used to.”

“I’m sure in Arizona, everyone does what an officer of the law tells them to.  You crossed over five lanes.  You realize how dangerous that is?”

So now I’m in the midst of the belittle efforts of the law in front of my son.  I’m starting to get a little irritated when he said, “Do you know how fast you were going?”

“Officer, I don’t mean to act dumb but we just got this car and we just got on the freeway and we’ve never been here before and we were trying to get our bearings.  I don’t know how fast I was going.”

“In Arizona, how fast can you go on a state route?” he questioned.

“Seventy Five,” I answered.  “Was I going over seventy-five?”

“Yes you were.  I have you at seventy-eight.  And what matters most is Indianapolis freeway speed limits in this area is fifty-five.  Now do you know why I stopped you?”  I nodded.  “And you don’t have a license plate.  Did you know that?”  I shook my head.  “And when you passed me, this man here who is obviously your son, looked at me like, ‘Hey look at us’, and he never even flinched.”

I looked at Dan in wonderment, “Did you see him?”

Dan only answered with a smirking facial expression of denial.  “I was right in front of the semi you passed going almost eighty miles and hour.  You didn’t realize how fast the cars were being passed?  I find that hard to believe.  License and registration.”

I handed him my license and the rental agreement.  He walked back to his cruiser.  I smacked Dan on the shoulder, “Why didn’t you tell me he was there?”

“I don’t know, I just didn’t.”

The officer came back and leaned in again.  “Your license plate is lying on the back window shelf upside down.  Get it out at your next stop and figure out how to make it visible.  And,”  My body tensed in preparation of the ass chewing in front of my son that was about to happen.  “You realize how important being aware of your surroundings and,”  the officer began to rant on me about everything as if I was in Driver’s Ed back in high school.  He poured it on and it stuck to my skin like a scalding bowl of spicy hot tomato soup.  He was relentless, then suddenly and calmly said as he looked at Dan and handed him my license and papers, “You two have a nice time at the Derby.  Slow down.”

We pulled out and he followed us to the next exit and kept going.  All we could do is prop up the license plate in the window with a book Dan had and we moved on down the highway happy not to get a ticket the first day.  Halfway home and the traffic snarled to a dead stop.  We moved so slow for the next hour or so Dan finished his movie.  Now he was hungry and his mood was changing.  Up ahead the sign read, ‘KFC Buffet’, our favorite place to snack.

Once we moved over and was able to see the exit we moved down the shoulder slowly to the exit.  Making a left through the underpass we pulled into the chicken diner.  We both were so hungry we actually were excited about the fried gravy covered drumsticks ahead of us.  We were all about the buffet.

“Buffet is closed,” the young girl behind the counter said the worst three words imaginable.  “We’re almost out of chicken and going to close a little early.  Everyone’s been coming in to stock up I guess from the highway accident ahead.”

I let out a death rattle.  “What can we get?”

“We got two thighs and a breast but they’re from this afternoon.  I can put them with a gravy and some cole slaw and a couple of biscuits.”

Dan and I ate in the car after we got back in line on the roadway.  Darkness came before we rolled into Louisville and the lights of the city as we passed over the bridge across the Ohio river reignited our excitement.

“Turn left here,” Dan directed me.  “The Hilton is right here.”

Dan had booked us a comped room through his work and about a week before he changed jobs.  He no longer had ties with the group where he was given the tickets.  Walking in the hotel we could tell the room was going to be nice.

We find the desk and Dan hands the confirmation to the lady behind it.  “Welcome,” she says and takes the form from him.  She types a few words in and walks away through a door behind her.  A couple of minutes later a man comes out with her and introduces himself to Dan.

“I checked a couple of days ago as is a practice we do before big events as this weekend’s.  You are no longer affiliated with the organization so I cancelled your reservation.  It has been booked and there a no rooms available.”  He was blunt and to the point.

Dan looked at me and I knew he knew I was about to come unglued but I held it back and calmly said to the man, “Do you know anywhere we can get a room?”

“No sir I don’t.  You will have to go at least fifty miles out-of-town to find one for sure and even then the rates are going to be astronomical.  I tried to get ahold of your son but his company number was no longer good.

A big bead of sweat trickled down Dan’s forehead. Vengeance was awaiting the room planner.  He knew it would be swift yet he knew the pain would be long and lasting.  I took a deep and long breath, packing as much air into my lungs for what was about to come out.

“Well,” I paused a moment, “Dan,” another pause, “We have a car.  We’ll be okay if we can’t get a room.  We can sleep in our car.”  I turned away from the manager and the desk and walked snobbish toward the doorway to the outside.  As the doors swished open, I said loud enough for the man to hear, “They can’t cancel our car.”

When we got into the car together I did harp a little bit about not paying attention to the details and some other Fatherly advice.  Dan told me to just sit tight and he was going to make some calls.  I just sat staring out into the darkness focusing on the drops of rain water hanging onto the window glass.

I wondered how comfortable this was going to be since Dan is 6’7″ and I’m over 6′.  I had now acknowledged and accept my fate and was thinking if the hotel would loan us a blanket or two when Dan hung up his cell and said, “Let’s go, I got us a room.”

When we arrived at the hotel the place looked like an old Green Gable style of hotel with high-peaked tile covered rooftops and a gold flake decor yet inviting lobby.  “Let’s check it out before we unload,” I said.

“Dad, this is where we’re staying.  I got it for the whole time for a hundred bucks even.  You can stay in the car but I’m sleeping here.  You in?”

“I’m in.”

Everything went smoother than cheese soup.  The credit card information for a room key exchange happened so quickly I wanted to give them a tip.  We unpacked the car, put the bags in the room and went to get something to eat at the convenience store across the street.  A couple of sodas, a sandwich and we were off the bench and back in the game.

Although the room was great, we could tell it was old and several items had been replaced or in need of replacement.  Tomorrow was the Oaks and we had already hung up all our clothes and went to bed early.  Dan slept great, I never did or at least I felt I didn’t get much.

Our door must have been replaced as the gap under the door was so big you could have passed room service under it.  Being so big the light from the hallway lit up our room as if we were in the hallway.  Everyone walking down the hall could be heard as if they were in the room.  I thought I would just fall asleep and forget it but I didn’t and I was too tired to get up and shove a towel under it.

The Oaks day was great.  Rain started around the fourth race and it came in as a torrent.  Everyone knows what the Oaks day is about.  The day of the girls.  Not only all the races are girls but the local girls show up in a vengeance.  The party is on for those who live nearby this infamous ground.  The infield is one huge celebration, as some dress for the occasion most dress down.  Mix the rain and all them wonderful t-shirts and what do you get?  The best wet t-shirt party I have ever attended.  Dan and I could stand under the roof hangover of the infield ticket booth, beer in hand, wearing our three dollar clear rain slicker and just watch them walk by.  We missed six races.

We slogged back to our room late and got ready for our downtown experience at 4th Street Live.  Dinner at the Maker’s Mark Bourbon House and Lounge and a Goo Goo Dolls concert were next in line for our night.  When we got to the restaurant the first thing we notice was the 57 ft. long wood topped bar outlined in glass and under lit with soft white lighting.  The place was a hit except for one thing.  We had no reservations and the normal capacity of two hundred people was that and more.  Wait time was estimated some time after closing time.fourth-street-live

We ended up get a sandwich at The Philly Station in the food court.  The ambiance was cafeteria.   When we were done we went to the outdoor concert and while leaving Dan pointed to a stairwell leading outside of the court so we went up to see where it went.  Pressing down on the bar latch of the metal double doors they opened out to a landing with a railing with no one there.  We walked to the railing, the Goo Goo Dolls were readying their performance on the stage directly below us.  We without knowing had stumbled onto the best seat in the house.

Later on a few people spotted us above the stage and made their way through the crowd and figured out we got to where we were and joined us.  The seven of us, drinking beer and cocktails, eating food from the illustrious court, enjoyed the music and crowd from our own private balcony for the rest of the night.  It’s hard to explain the atmosphere of the moment, colored spotlights flashing from both sides of the stage in the middle of the street, bouncing back and forth on the street side walls of the surrounding buildings.

The music was so crazy good I didn’t realize the pounding my eardrums were enduring.  I looked over at Dan standing a couple of people away with a bottle beer in his hand.  He was talking to another guy and girl.  How is it the young can hear or talk to someone when it’s so loud.  I remember then thinking the trip was finally coming together.

I woke up groggy the next morning and the first thought was about the race today.  Dan was snoring and hard asleep.  He laid there with his blanket half off and one leg out.  I reached for my glasses and put them on.  I then could focus and noticed his boxers were dotted with running horses everywhere.  That made me smile as then I knew for sure, he was into this day.

We ate breakfast at the hotel, pressed our jackets and I shined my new shoes.  We left early because we weren’t sure as to what to expect.  We hadn’t picked out the area to park the car yet because we got different stories as to what was the best.  Halfway to the car, Dan suddenly turned around and started back to the hotel entrance.  I asked him what he was doing.

He turned his head and said one word, “Tickets.”

He thought I was going to give him hell for forgetting the most important thing that day but I didn’t say a word.  Fifteen minutes later we were parked at the Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium and following a crowd up Central Avenue to the track.  As soon as we got up the slope guarding the parking lot and onto the sidewalk leading to the track, you could see the white stark clubhouse in the distance looming over us.  The Taj Mahal of racing larger than life itself.  A masterpiece of architect brilliance stamped into my memory just a clear today as it was when we first saw it.

It was difficult to take your eyes off of it while walking.  Street vendors lined the grass areas and business parking lots all the way to the tunnel entrance.  Flashing our special passes we passed through the gates and walked down the ramp into the tunnel.  The track was directly above us and the packed crowd moved through as one.  This is where I noticed something peculiar.

CIMG0042

My right foot was already starting to hurt and hurt bad.  The new shoes were not fitting as I thought they had during the try-on.  I could tell there was a blister forming and the pain was getting worse every second.  I let the back of the shoe come off so as not to rub anymore and limped out of the tunnel, across the infield, through another tunnel and directly to the First Aid Station.  There was already a line through the door.  I asked a nurse if she had a bandage and she handed me a couple of plastic Band-Aids.

“Sit here,” she said pointing at a chair near another doorway.  I pulled off my sock and the skin from the blister from hell came off with it.  “Wow,” she said, “You just started the day.  We don’t see ones like this until later in the races and they are mostly because of four-inch heels.”  I cringed as she put some salve on it and covered with both Band-Aids.  “I’m not sure this is going to help at all.  You might need to go shoeless.”

Shoeless?  Right.  The top medical staff at Churchill just told me to go shoeless, jacket and slacks and all, to the most prestigious floor at the biggest event in horse racing in front of some of the most influential people on this earth.

I asked for a couple of spares and walked out of the door into the bowels of the Downs.  I knew Dan had felt bad for a time, as he was constantly asking me if I needed anything.  I found if I crunched my toes like I was trying to grab the inside front of the shoe and flapped down the back of it under my heel I could walk somewhat although I instantly developed a lunging limp.  The shoe would fly off suddenly and slide in front of us and came of in the escalator leading up to the fourth floor.  Try bending down to get your shoe on the next step behind you on a moving escalator with each step filled with another person.  It isn’t near impossible, it is impossible.  The lady behind me kicked it to me as we got off.  I’ve never bought loafers again since that day.

I carried my shoe in my hand to the next set of doors.  Above the doors was a sign of only letters spelling out, ‘Millionaires Row’, in gold leaf.  We stopped and looked at each other, Dan had forgotten my pain.  I stood in awe, brown loafer dangling from my right hand, The Kentucky Derby magazine folded in two with The WiseGuy Picks sheet tucked neatly under my left arm along with two, ready at the drop of a hat, nurse provided Band-Aids pinched tightly between my finger and thumb of my left hand.  We were about to cross into the eighth wonder of the Horsemen’s world.  I could smell the greatness beyond the doors.

With a deep breath, Dan pushed the doors open.  They swung open majestically and a man standing on the other side in a red jacket spoke in a deep regal tone, “Good morning gentlemen, I will need to verify your credentials.”  I raised my shoe to him and he took out the golden pass I had put there as convenience.  I had yet to take a breath.  With a nod and a smile, he acknowledged our permission of entry as he placed the badge back in my shoe and said.  “Blisters.”  I could only nod back affirmatively. “I’ve seen many in my days but not this soon.”

M Row5

He passed us onto a young lady dressed in a classy black suit dress.  She asked us to follow her.  The huge room was filled with large cloth-covered tables with eight high-backed chairs.  Opposite the track side were several men dressed in embroidered chef jackets guarding large pieces of prime meat kept warm by the orange light of brushed silver heat lamps.

High definition televisions were every five feet lining the inside walls of the recessed ceilings above the tables.  The track side of the expanse was a showcase of glass fit for nothing less than a Benedictine Monastery.

Outside the glass was the staircase landings, each one lower than the next with newly painted green railings to stand near as you rooted on the winner.  The veteran tellers were lined up on the wall with precision and faced the luxurious crowd of inhabitants.  Too many celebrities to count.  A dictionary of Webstertarian name drops.  The great Michael Jordan and his entourage passed our table as they made their way outside to their private of private domain.

The dress code is immaculate. Magnificent sundresses have been sewn from every pattern and colored fabric imaginable. The outlandish Derby hats somehow work—they’re like nothing you’ve seen on television; they radiate. Four-inch heels are the norm and a large handbag is preferred, an obvious choice and is large enough to sneak in a pair of flats for the painful strut back to the limo.

The men are confident. Pink shirts, bright bow ties and seersucker suits are everywhere.  It’s like going to a frat party only everyone is polite, the food is outstanding and frosty Mint Juleps have replaced the cheap beer. There’s an unspoken camaraderie on Millionaire’s Row, which often results in a casual head nod and nothing more.  I slipped on only the toe of my shoe and slowly made my way to the table.

“Good morning,” said the beautiful lady seated at the opposite side of the table.  Her Kathleen Turner voice persuaded my eyes to hers.  She was dressed in a black Bolero jacket and hat obviously made of an exotic leather I had never heard of.

“Good morning,” I said with a nod.  I almost said, ‘Ma’am but held it back instead.  I offered my name and shook her hand gentlemanly.

“Mary Anne, she answered.

“A beautiful name is Mary Anne.”

She smiled.

“And this is my son, Dan,”  Dan reached and too shook her hand.

“This is my husband, J.D.”

“Sir,” I acknowledged him.

J.D. was comfortable leaning back in his chair with the Racing Form wide open between both hands.  He folded the form and released his right hand to shake.  “Nice to meet you.  Jim Squires,” he said in a stately Kentucky accent.  We shook hands and then my son and I took our seats.

Jim Squires of Versailles, Ky., owns Two Bucks Farm and manages Two Bucks Stable is on the Kentucky plateau.  A distinguished man and known not only for his reporting and executive position at the Chicago Tribune along with his many books he’s written but for most, he’s know for being the breeder of Monarchos.  The magnificent horse who won the 2001 Kentucky Derby in 1:59 and 4/5ths.

This supreme race horse ran the second-fastest time ever for a Derby champion.  Although

Secretariat can rest easy as his record today is still secure even though is barely secure in 2001.  The speedster Monarchos was t

rained by John Ward and ridden by Jorge Chavez.

The roan magical colt came from far off the pace to win by 4 3/4 lengths in an outstanding and blistering time of 1:59 4/5 for the 1 1/4 miles on sacred ground at a fast Churchill Downs track.  The regal

Secretariat, who covered the distance in 1:59 2/5, is the only other Derby horse to cross the wire in under two minutes.  Uh, do the math.

His latest book that I am aware of is the Headless Horsemen.  The book in summary is about chemicals and drugs used in the past in racing.  J.D. is a true horseman in every sense, including the common one, of the word.  We might as well been seated with the Colonel himself, that is without the beard as I remember.

Okay, so the kid and I are seated with royalty and quickly learn how to mix in.  Dan has made friends with the NBC president’s son or son-in-law seated next to him and was talking to a lady at the turn of the table who was some rich breeder too when J.D. said,  “Who ya with?”

“I’m with him,” I answered as I thumbed at Dan.

“No I mean what company are you with?”

“No, seriously.  I’m not with anyone.  I’m just with him to watch the Kentucky Derby and to do some handicapping.”  I scooted the sheet from my program to the side away from the event magazine.  I think I did that so he would notice the sheet and then that would give me the opportunity to explain my software accomplishment.

“What that?” he asked.

The trap was sprung and I went into the long version how the Mayor had asked me to come up with a way to use a computer program to compare horses.  “Oh, it’s base on ROD.  You know, rate of deceleration.  Simple formulas based on the timers.”  My confidence was glowing.

J.D. leaned over to Mary Anne who too was focused on my spiel.  “These guys are Wise Guys.  They keep us in business.”  He chuckled slightly and went back to reading the form.   The name of the WiseGuy program and blog were born at that exact second.

The races had started and Mary Anne and I had began conversing.  She asked where I was from and I told her Oak Park near Chicago.

She told me she was from those parts and what was the family’s name.  When I told her she took back a breath and told me she knew my Grandmother as she either had owned or operated a restaurant near my Grandmothers.

One race later the waiter comes up to Dan and I and says, “And how will you be handling the service costs today?”

I looked at Dan and could tell this was unexpected.  Dan had just polished of his fourth heaping of prime rib and was stuffing a ten-dollar eclair in his mouth.  “Uh,” he said.  With his answer I knew the plastic card in my wallet was going to pay for the bill.  I was sure Dan said earlier in the planning that the cost was covered.  My patience was being tested.

“Right here,” I answered as I handed the card to the waiter.

Very awkward minutes passed when Dan said, “Let me go check on this.”

“Sure,” I confidentially said, as I computed a very large bill for the food intake he had during the first four races.  I myself had only indulged in soup.

To my surprise Dan came back and said, “Here’s your card, the President of NBC sports is picking up the whole table.”

During the next few races Dan and I hit a couple of small exactas and a tri.  J.D. and I were talking about nothing when Dan came up and asked what he should bet for the next race.  I said, “One, eight, nine, is what the sheet says.  Do it four times and box them as a tri.”

It was great having Dan there to do all the running as he’d go up to the window, place his bet and then schmooze his way across the room of food and outside by the rail.  J.D. announced to me that he could not understand what I saw in the nine.  “There is no sensible reason for picking the nine,”  He pulled the form closer to him.  “You know he’s thirty to one, right.”

“J.D., I can’t really tell you anything other than that is what the sheet shows.  One, eight, nine, in no particular order.”  Dan was nowhere to be seen and the race goes off.  I’m sitting there facing J.D. talking when on the monitor above his head I see the nine horse cross the screen.  First, second or last, I had no idea.  Then comes the one horse and there was a slight delay until the next horse crosses.  The eight horse passes the wire on the screen followed by a pack of horses.

Winning Ticket

My eyes went to the odds.  One horse, 12 to 1.  Eight horse, 8 to 1.  Nine horse, 36 to 1.  But who was first was my first thought?  Was the nine second?

It’s official.  9/1/8.   Trifecta pays $2518.00.  I listened for the screams but heard nothing.  I did a quick calculation and came up with 10 grand in the pocket.   My heart actually raced and J.D. didn’t say a word as he leaned forward toward the screen facing him to see the numbers.  I remained quiet about the bet until ten minutes later Dan came up to the table and slammed down a stack of hundreds on the table and made his first comment of racing stature.

“That’s what I’m talking about!” he announced to the table as the bills spread in front of me.

“You did it four times right?”

“Uh, no.  I chickened out at the last-minute and only bought one.”

I looked at J.D. and said, “He left the ‘Wise’ part out of the ‘Guy’ part I guess.”

J.D. was still holding the form open and leaning back in his chair when he said, “Who cares.”  He folded the form together and put it on the table.  “Screw this, what’s your sheet say for the next race?”

Although there was some disappointment Dan had not played the bet amount we decided on, we still had a win.  The next few races we pocketed small exactas only and lost every tri but we still made some money.  The Derby was next and we poured a substantial amount on the favorite, Big Brown to win and made a small exacta bet with the girl, Eight Belles to come in second.

During my conversation with J.D. and Mary Anne, he told me two things of life importance that still today sticks in my head.  We were talking about why we love this sport so much and J.D., said when Mary Anne was away from the table.  Now the numbers might not be right but this is what I remember, “I’ve been very successful in my careers and done things no other man could imagine.  I have ( 4) beautiful children and the most beautiful and loving woman as my wife for a very long time.  These are very important moments in my life.  I could not be any prouder of a man for that.  But, when Monarcos crossed the finish line, well, I never felt a feeling like that.  Don’t think I ever will even if I win again.

His second message he casually mentioned was about one thing and one thing only.  He told me about the value of ‘Ground’.  He was speaking about his farm and how much he loved it.  “You got nothing if you ain’t got ground.”  I came back from that moment loving my land in Arizona and my wife and I have adopted the saying.  We sit out back in our campground and talk about how important our ground is to us all the time.

The Derby was about to go off.  The tensions were huge and emotions ran pretty deep for me.  Being at the biggest event I will ever see in my life and seeing with my son was almost too much for me to handle when the bell went off.  Dan and I are out on the landings with the crowd.  I couldn’t help screaming as the bay monster took control at the head of the stretch.  The colt crossed the finish line with ease and we celebrated with a over-the-top hand slap.

Then Eight Belles broke down as I filmed the horse doing their cool down.  I was shocked and Dan was upset.

I told Dan not to look anymore and we walked back inside to the table.  The room was empty.  Every horseman left immediately and our table was clean of dishes.  J.D. left so fast he forgot his credit card on the table and I gave it to the waiter.

We really didn’t know what to do but sit and talk about the next race.  We won 40 bucks on the exacta and left the top floors, out into the infield and under the tunnel to the car.  Several groups of people were still celebrating in the parking lot as the tail gating continued.  A guy asked if we had won anything and we told him, “A little bit.”  The mood was disastrous.

“Let’s goes find Luke,” I said to Dan as we pulled out.  Luke Kruytbosch was the track announcer that day at Churchill and he hailed from Turf Paradise.  I knew him casually and told him we would be in town so he gave me his number and said he’ be at the VFW across the street with other Turf trackers after the races.  He was known worldwide as one of the three top announcers in horse racing, along with Trevor Denman and Tom Durkin.

M Row4

We met up with him at the post and I bought him a couple of drinks.  The party was getting pretty loud and I could see trouble coming from somewhere in the crowd.  Luke and a couple of people from Arizona were partying pretty hard.  I said goodbye to Luke, not knowing that in only two months and a few days, Luke would not be with us anymore.  Dan called me on a hot morning in July and said something I knew would happen but didn’t want to hear.  “Dad, did you hear the news about Luke?”

Lucas Martin “Luke” Kruytbosch, pronounced KRITE-boss, died July 14, 2008, on a stifling hot night in the midwest all alone.  After calling the day’s races at Ellis Park on the 13th, Luke told co-workers that he was not feeling well.  The following day he was found dead in his apartment in Evansville, Indiana after failing to show up for the race card at the Ellis Park event.  Everything medically indicates Luke died of natural causes, possibly heart-related.

About 400 guests attended a funeral service for Kruytbosch at Churchill Downs on the 21st. Kruytbosch’s remains were cremated, and his ashes were spread in the Churchill Downs winner’s circle after the service.  If you’re ever lucky enough to go there and stand near the circle, say hi for me and Dan.

Dan and I rounded the street outside the track and got on the freeway back to the hotel with the shortened door.  “Hey, I’m kind of hungry,” Dan said and I could see the restaurant sign ahead and above the overpass coming up.  I pulled over and we went inside.

The hostess seated us immediately and I asked for a diet, I think Dan ordered an iced tea.  “You ready to order?” she asked holding her order slips in her hand.

“I’ll have a BLT and could I have a side salad with ranch on the side?” Dan quickly asked.  “With fries too.  Thanks.”

“And for you Sir?”

“You know, I just had the best day of my life with him,” I said as I pointed at my son who was already checking the dessert menu.  “I’ll just have chicken soup.”

“Got it,” she said as she turned away.

“And Miss, take your time, we’ve got all the time in the world.”

The End

“The best part of life starts at the top of the stretch.”
The WiseGuy

Click here to read more stories in The WiseGuy Diaries

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2 thoughts on “Winner Winner Chicken Soup”

  1. ahhh…fun read WiseGuy. I enjoyed your experience at the Derby through your eyes. Doesn’t get much better than spending time with our kids. Charlyn

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