Saturday, May 7, 2011

Visiting Churchill Downs

There he was, by God—a puffy, drink-ravaged, diseased-ridden caricature…like an awful cartoon version of an old snapshot in some once-proud mother’s family photo album. It was the face we’d been looking for—and it was, of course, my own. Horrible, horrible...
-Hunter S. Thompson
“The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved”

A few years back, I happened to be in Louisville, attending an academic conference with a good friend and native Kentuckian. After reading our papers, I insisted, being the inveterate gambler that I am, that we visit the sacred dirt of Churchill Downs. In the spirit of things, we had a couple slugs of Basil Hayden before departing…only good bourbon for this adventure. Why not, after all? When in Kentucky…

It was the off-season and there were no races. There were, however, still plenty of gamblers milling about and betting on races around the country via simulcast. Immediately, in the spirit of things, we ordered up a couple of mint juleps. They arrived in commemorative Derby glasses. Delicious!

Outside, there wasn’t a soul around. We were able to stroll down to the Winner’s Circle and run our fingers through the earth that had been trod by such legends as War Admiral and Secretariat. I vaguely considered running the final 20 yards to share the energy of the victorious beasts that trod before me, but under the elegant shadow of history, I filed that in the “maybe later” category.

We headed back inside and indulged in a few of the generously tall $2 beers. When I found the $2 pulled pork slider tray, I thought I’d walked into heaven. After studying a racing form, we picked a winner our first try and won another of our bets to cover our alcohol and cab fare.

Feeling great, we left the ponies to the serious gamblers and headed back to the hotel. The heavy consumption of bourbon somehow managed to become a theme of the evening and the strict attention to memory became rather Swiss cheesy. So here is all that I can recall:

There was a lesson in bourbon by a bartender who could have had a Master’s Degree in the subject…did we actually walk under some giant, neon guitar, or did I just imagine that?...some random girl, neither of us had set eyes on before, felt the need to come and tell me that my buddy was “an asshole”…just a couple of fingers and a few cubes for me, thanks…convinced a teacher from Mississippi State was trying to philosophically trap me, every time he started to speak, I cut him off with a smile and “oh no, not this time Mississippi State”…goddamn elevator keeps trying to tell me what to do…my comrade in booze ended up meeting the woman of his dreams, an ex-ballerina, and by the fates, she was living in the same city as us, over 500 miles away…hello, cowgirl in the sand. hello, ruby in the dust.

The friendly custodian of libations at the hotel bar gave us free samples of their finest bourbon: some beautiful brown elixir from the Van Winkle line. Only in Kentucky would a hotel bar even have such a valuable and esoteric product. I was at Borgata, the nicest casino in Atlantic City, and the best bourbon they had at the bar was Knob Creek. Not bad, but with the rivers of money flowing through that place, the manager should have been hoisted up by his genitals next to all that ultra-swanky Chihuly glass sculpture. God bless the magical Bluegrass State!

The Legend of Boobarella

Charles Town has joined the growing trend of adding casino facilities to racetracks, and created Hollywood Casino. It is a much larger and more stylish facility than one would expect from the mountains of West Virginia. Watching the hundreds of players lining up for the slots and crowding the table games is like witnessing the slow death of Atlantic City. Many cities, all across the country, are desperate for a piece of the gambling industry and states no longer seem content to let Nevada and a few others monopolize this lucrative market uncontested.

A little while back, I was playing some $1-2 NL Hold’em at Charles Town when there was a sighting of a legendary creature, known, in most circles, only as Boobarella. Boobarella is the poker equivalent of Sasquatch and Santa Claus, all rolled up into one. She is an extremely rare, almost mythical beast, but when she appears, there are presents for everyone. She is from the same family of poker degenerates as “Drunkie Red Nose,” who haunts the swamps of Tunica, and “Twitchy McSniffles,” who likes the low limits in Downtown Vegas.

This particular Friday night, Boobarella wandered down from the mountains of Appalachia and took a seat at my table. She looked to be about 57, but might have been aged a few decades by years of “hard livin’.” Boobarella had selected a low cut pink top that would be inappropriate in most social situations, including being a 57 year-old-woman, of her generous proportions, in any situation. The eyes that sat above her exposed cleavage had the glint of someone who has traded sex for money, drugs, or perhaps both, at one time or another in her life, and maybe recently. Her tone of speech and topics of conversation suggested the same.

Although her teeth were not her own, Boobarella was in a wonderful mood. She regaled us with tales of her broken marriage and the man she chose over a glamorous career in Hollywood. On her lap, she clutched a large purse, from which she regularly produced bottles of pills and bags of candy, before gobbling up the contents. A nomadic individual by nature, it is the custom of Boobarella to play a few hands before mysteriously disappearing for long periods of time. Where she goes, we can only speculate.

Unfortunately, luck was not on Boobarella’s side this evening. She got run over like a baby ocelot at a fur trapper convention. After bleeding off several hundred dollars, she began to playfully accuse people of picking on her. It was about one in the morning when Boobarella desperately shoved in the last of her money with King-2 suited. It was not a winner.

If she didn’t met the guidelines of mentally disabled, there are certainly some psychological acuity tests that Boobarella would not perform very well on. As he riffled the remnants of her stack, a friend of mine reflected that he almost felt bad taking her chips. Not me. Other people’s money is easy to spend. Some nights, the hopelessly fishlike creatures, like Boobarella, bite back. And when they do, they don’t contemplate how bad it feels to win.