Sunday, April 17, 2011
Things You Should Definitely Do: The Preakness
Kevin, despite already being easily the most well-traveled of the three contributors to this blog, is always looking for the next trip, the next experience, the next event to cross off the list. So when we were discussing potential trips for the 2011 baseball and college football seasons, it came as little surprise to me that he also threw in the word "Preakness." After reading that text, my eyes were more lit up than Lindsay Lohan on 4/20.
A back story, if I may. Back in college, one of our fraternity brothers would organize a trip down to the Preakness Stakes every year. (For the lesser-informed, the Preakness is the second leg of the famous Triple Crown of horse racing, sandwiched every May between the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes.) Simply put, purchasing a general admission infield ticket to the Preakness is an entry into the biggest college party of the year. There are several schools within fairly easy distance of Pimlico Raceway (just outside Baltimore) - Towson , University of Maryland, Johns Hopkins, James Madison, and University of Delaware are some examples off the top of my head. The timing is perfect. The race is held around the third week of May or so, right near the time when most colleges are finishing up for the year, which leads many groups of college kids and early 20's hangers-on to treat the Preakness as their last big bang before everyone parts ways for the summer or for the treachery of post-graduate life. Couple that with the fact that it doesn't become consistently warm in the Northeast anymore until around May 15, and you've got nearly 100,000 people in a rough age range of 19-30 chomping at the bit for some good old fashioned outdoor daytime drinking. Oh, and another thing - under the old BYOB rules (which have since been abolished, and then brought back in modified form), you could bring as much booze, food, and whatever else that you could manage to wheel into the place. And believe me, they're not carding 100,000 people, either.
There is a rare dynamic to The Preakness. It is a combination of landmark moments in one's sports fandom as well as his partying career. I say that because, when you have infield tickets, you obviously get to walk across the racetrack as you enter and exit. Just think, for a mere general admission ticket, you are allowed to transverse the very surface on which one of the biggest sporting events of the year takes place. To me, that's the horse racing equivalent of the days when spectators were allowed to exit the old Yankee Stadium to the subways after games by walking across the field.
Once you get to the infield, what you enter upon is a collision of Bourbon Street, Hamsterdam, spring break in Cancun, an SEC tailgate, and the last 20 minutes of the Atlantic City Beer Festival all in one. And there's also a bunch of horses running around you periodically. If you want visuals, here's a link to the Google image search for "Preakness infield." The first beers were cracked circa 6:45am as we met up with the charter bus to head down to Pimlico. There were 30s for the way down, bushels of 30s for the day, and 30s for the way home. Once we found a spot on the infield near the 1/8 mile marker and next to a group of old people with no idea of what was in store, the melée began. The beers didn't stop, the food was there when we needed it, and the infield betting counters (a fantastic way to get drunks to part with their money) weren't too far away for the ill-advised amateur handicappers in the group. Eventually, someone whips out a bottle of something, and then things get hazy. People begin to pass out on the ground (mid-day naps, they'll call it), and inevitably those in their group will see how many objects (empty cans, coolers, lawn chairs, etc.) they can stack on top of their slumbering friend before he wakes up and notices anything. Girls will start making out with each other. You're certain to see a near-fight break out before 3:00 in the afternoon. Someone is bound to lose their phone. One of this blog's loyal readers puked before 11am and wound up passing out in the back of a U-Haul (if he wishes to identify himself in the comments section, then he certainly may). After the last race, it took us nearly two and a half hours just to get out of the parking lot and head home, and it didn't seem to bother anybody.
If you go, a charter bus (WITH A BATHROOM) is a must if you're making a trip of an hour or more. Bring twice as much food (of the PBJ/lunchmeat type) and water as you think you're going to need. Also, hand trucks are a huge plus. It's one of the longest walks of your life from the parking lot to the infield on the way in, and it's THE longest walk of your life from the infield to the parking lot on the way out, so you want to ease the carrying load as much as possible. And finally, sunscreen. You'll take one look at the obligatory sun-crisped friend at 4:00 and thank me, unless you end up being that sun-crisped friend.
Which year did I go, you ask? Well, I was an infield spectator at the 2006 running of The Preakness, more famously known as the day that Barbaro, the winner of the Derby just two weeks prior, broke his leg on the initial straightaway and became a worldwide story for the next 8 months during his ill-fated recovery. Why did I not mention it earlier in this post? Because, even though I was probably standing less than a 7-iron away from Barbaro when it happened, I did not become fully aware of the situation until 1AM after we got back home. That's the Preakness for you.