I just got back from a great weekend in Louisville, Kentucky. This past weekend was the 133rd running of the Kentucky Derby and my first time to the bluegrass state. Each year, a crew of my college friends gets together for a weekend trip to reconnect. This year’s trip to Churchill Downs was our 2007 get together. Thursday night was a typical night out on the town with other rowdy crowds in for the weekend festivities. Our hotel was great in that it offered complimentary mint juleps upon arrival. I’ve seen free cookies or fruit, but booze when checking in was amazing. Friday started with the typical country-style breakfast at the Cracker Barrel. I’m sure those from the south see the C-B as something akin to Denny’s or other simple restaurant chains. Since we were from Philly, New York, Los Angeles and Seattle, the southern breakfast was a real treat. From sweet-tea to cheese-eggs and grits, it surely filled us up for the remainder of the day. We spent the next few hours finding auto repair shops to try and fix Adam’s Saab. One of the vacuum hoses that controlled idling was broken and held on by duct tape. When it would detach, the car would idle at 3,000 RPMs rather than the normal 1,100 RPMs. Not good. We found a few temporary solutions that would enable Adam to drive back to Philly on Sunday. Apparently, Louisville doesn’t have many Saabs on the road, so parts were very hard to come by. We spent the evening in the hotel chillin and playing jenga. We had to take it easy since we wanted to get up early for Derby day.
We arrived at the Univ of Louisville parking lot at 8:30am to begin tailgating. You’d think that with the Derby race at 6pm, we would be the only ones there that early. You’d be wrong. There were RV’s, horseshoe games, tents setup and thousands of folks sharing in our pre-derby celebrations. The morning flew by and we made a bunch of friends, some of who we ran into later on in the throngs of people in the infield. We got to the track at midday and made our first bets on race #3. Surprisingly, a few of us won… not big, but enough to buy a drink or two. The rest of the races were losers, but it still was a grand ol’ time. The queen was supposed to arrive at Churchill downs, but I guess she wasn’t partying in the infield, so we missed her. The race itself was fast, but the whole day was full of debauchery that reminded me of football tailgating with people taking every available square of grass to park their picnic blankets.
Louisville did leave a lasting impression on us. The city knew thousands of people would come and therefore took advantage of the weekend visitors. Prices went through the roof. I understand that hotels can charge rack rate, and race vendors charge $4 for a soda, but regulated rates, such as taxi-cabs, were doubled or tripled during race weekend. A cab to the hotel on Thurs was $24, but returning to the airport on Sunday was $50. We even went into a bar that had a sign that said “$2 shot special ALLDAY EVERYDAY”. After ordering a round of shots, my friend got the bill and because it was Derby weekend, the price was $10 per shot. Without taking down the $2 sign OR putting up a $10 sign, the bar seemed to just make it’s own weekend prices. I think it made the whole city seem greedy and I’d think twice about going back. If the city is trying to make a positive impression on thousands of folks who may be visiting Louisville for the first time, it surely isn’t doing a great job. Don’t get me wrong, I had a superb weekend… but Louisville has a lot to learn when it comes to treating its visitors fairly.