I live in Louisville Ky, home to the Kentucky Derby. This week the fastest two minutes in sports will bring thousands of spectators to town. I can feel the buzz.
The track is open and the locals are already headed that way. Some will spend all week there betting the horses, drinking mint juleps, and eating derby pie. In fact, those of us who live here have named the Thursday before Derby-Thurby.
Many of us are busy finishing up our Derby prep. We’re buying the earrings to go with our hat, putting the cute jockey wreaths on our front doors, and completing the final touches for the party we’re hosting. We’re all dying to know if it’s going to rain and planning out how to pair a jacket or boots with that short, strappy dress we bought.
The energy starts early in March and feels more like a holiday season than just two minutes. There are lots of events leading up to the Derby including the nations largest firework show, foot races, hot air balloons, parades, galas, and more. The store fronts are filled with mint, derby pies, bourbon, and fascinators and the streets are sparkling clean and perfectly landscaped.
Then there’s the mint julep. The famous Derby cocktail made from bourbon, sugar, and mint. Everything revolves around this drink. Everything.
Luckily (for my body) I never got into bourbon. But, I have never had a problem getting drunk at the racetrack.
I assumed that drinking and betting go hand in hand. Every 20 minutes there is a new race which means placing a bet and ordering another. Either the weather is so beautiful that a 20 oz “ice cold beer” (as the vendors yell) is just what you need or it’s so cold and miserable that the only way to get through the day is by drinking too much to notice.
I’ve done both.
Day drinking makes for a different kind of drunk. The excitement and the crowd take over and before you know it it’s 6p and time to go. The only problem is you feel like you just got there. So the drinking usually continues way into the night leaving behind very little memory and a lot of regret (wait, maybe that’s just me).
And for some of us this goes on for three straight days. It’s Thurby, The Kentucky Oaks, and then Derby. By Sunday morning it feels more like I had open heart surgery than a fun, spring, weekend with friends.
In the past, I have had feet covered in blisters from standing all day in heels I just bought. I have had bruises on my legs from falling down the stairs. I still have a scar on my elbow from running and jumping on someone’s back who wasn’t prepared to hold me. And that’s just the physical stuff.
I won’t even go into the hangxiety that lasts for over a week and the embarrassment that occurs every time I see someone who was there with me. And to be honest, all of that is mild in comparison to some of the people who end up either arrested, in bed with strangers, or passed out face down in a mud filled field.
This year we will be renting our house (it’s a thing) and headed out of town. But I do plan to make it to the track this season to take in some of the horse racing culture. Instead of spending most of the day in line for drinks or the bathroom I can admire the beautiful horses, actually watch the races, and eat some of the yummy food that can only be found at Churchill Downs. And this year, thanks to The Mocktail Project, I can ask the bartender to make me a “Clubhouse Turn” to sip on while I’m there.
Derby (and the track in general) was one of those things that I assumed I could never do sober. I thought if you weren’t drinking you must be feeling miserable and deprived. I assumed it was the equivalent of taking a kid into a candy store and then only allowing them broccoli. How sad.
As usual, I was wrong. Instead, it’s just another EPIC example that fun things are still fun. Drinking doesn’t make them more fun. That was my mindset talking. My mindset told me that going to the races was a day of binging and that “everyone was doing it.” Turns out that my mindset was just as crazy as the girl with the crooked hat, scraped knee, and wrinkled dress. Who would trust her?
Being around the energy of the people, taking in the excitement of the races, wearing my favorite spring dress, and hanging out with best friends on a weekday makes for an amazing experience. And, the best part of all?…..No Hangover.
I am here to tell a different story. A story of how awesome life can be (especially this time of year) regardless of beverages. I’m gonna tell a story of fun events minus the booze because I can’t recall hearing a lot of those (or maybe I ignored them). It’s about fun, memory making, integrity, and sound decisions. It’s about waking up and saying “Man, that was fun!” and wanting to do it again and again.
So, whether it’s Derby, a big game, that huge concert, the wedding, or whatever fun thing it is that prompts you do to overdo it-I challenge you to get your story straight. Yours might still include drinking but make sure it’s because that’s what you want and not just what you’ve “always done.”
The best thing about your story is that you get to choose whatever version you want.
Happy Derby Y’all!