Six Short Thoughts on Shooting the Derby
Written by Mekanism at 11:00 am • awesomeness, content

Andre Ricciardi, Creative Director here at Mek SF, went to the Kentucky Derby to shoot last week. He bribed police officers and almost got kicked out of an airport. This is his running diary of the week.

Wednesday 4/29 7:15 pm

Within hours of arriving in Louisville Kentucky, I set out from our rental house and walked down to the corner store on Bardstown Road in the surprisingly liberal and artistic Highlands. I thought it would be educational to sample the local cuisine, so I stopped into an authentic-looking spot called “Hometown Liquors.” There I bought a bottle of Kentucky whiskey and as I was paying, the clerk looked me in the eye and, apropos of nothing, announced “My brother went home to take a shower.”  My blood froze. This was my first actual Kentucky interaction, but I had no clue what he meant: clearly, this was coded language, but for what?  Sodomy?  Drugs?  Or maybe something sinister… I held his gaze as long as I could, then replied “Nice.” He smiled and offered me my receipt, which I declined as I prefer to not leave a paper trail. As I stepped onto the sidewalk and had my first sip of real Kentucky cooking, I mulled his admission: it was intensely private, yet somehow familiar. It was useless, but interesting. What he said, how he said it, and the level of personal information he revealed all felt perfectly natural. And then, after just a few more sips, it dawned on me. He was Twittering. With his mouth. How brilliantly lo-fi. This could be huge. These people are geniuses.

View from the roof of Churchill Downs. Note the mud on the track and the cake-eaters on the terrace.

View from the roof of Churchill Downs. Note the mud on the track and the cake-eaters on the terrace.

Friday 4/21 9:08 am

It’s a week earlier, and a few of us are location-scouting at Churchill Downs, the world famous track that has held the Kentucky Derby for 135 years. We need two things: First, about twenty square feet in the infield of the track, where on Derby day, tens of thousands of unbelievably fucked up people will go crazy, unmolested by the local police. And, second, we need a vantage point high above, something with a view of the entire track. We’re with the General Manager of the Downs, who is arguably the busiest man in all of Kentucky at this moment.  Literally.  But he’s patient and forthcoming and friendly.  We express an interest in the roof.  He disappears, and returns a few minutes later and hands us the master key.  The ONLY master key.  To the entire track.  Mere days before 150,000 people fill the place and the whole world turns it’s gaze to the muddy track for the hundred-and-twenty-two second race. He doesn’t even accompany us to the roof, he just tells us how to get there. No one has ever trusted me with a key that important. (And, to be fair, neither did he—he gave it to someone else.)  But still, the significance isn’t lost.  He trusts us.  Even though he doesn’t know us.  The roof is perfect.

And, amazingly, we don’t run off and copy the key and sell it on eBay. (Again, to be fair, I suggested it. But he didn’t give the key to me.)  Everything is coming together.  This is going to be the Best Derby Ever, I think to myself.

Saturday 5/2 7:12 am

It’s Derby day. It’s raining pretty hard.  Everything is soaked.  And freezing.  We’re in a van heading to the track.  We’re all a little nervous about the rain.  If it doesn’t stop we’re really, truly fucked.  To distract myself from the unfolding doom, I ask the driver who I should bet on.  He says “Don’t listen to all the bullshit about horses.  Horses don’t mean shit.  Always bet the jockey.  And right now the hottest shit jockey is Calvin Borel.  Put everything on him.”  It seems like such simple, brilliant logic.  I decide to take his advice and do exactly that.  The only stumbling block is my profound mental retardation.  By the time he has finished his sentence, I have already forgotten Calvin Borel’s name. Pity too: motherfucker paid 50 to 1.  The rain lets up. The infield is muddy, just as we’d hoped. It’s crazy and perfect. The shoot couldn’t go better.

Monday 5/4 10:18 am

I’m tucking into a Hot Brown. Vieve has a Mint Julep. The waitress has just asked if Vieve is interested in a particular horse trainer “in a sexual way.” This unbelievable level of familiarity is simultaneously unnerving, hilarious and by now quite expected and comfortable. I watch the incredibly young, local production assistant who’s joined us for breakfast as he methodically pulls a biscuit apart and shreds it into a large pile in the middle of his plate. I’ve never seen anything like it. I ask what he’s doing, and he says he only likes the outside part. Then he goes back to eating his eggs, pushing the food onto his fork with his fingers. The funny thing is, he did a remarkable job on the shoot, coaxing talent releases out of the biggest, scariest, drunkest methheads* in the state, yet now he looks so vulnerable and so unused to eating with utensils. I order a gin and soda and ask the waitress if perhaps she is interested in horse trainers sexually. She says she is. Jesus Christ. It’s only ten in the morning. Where the hell am I?

*are there two h’s in methhead? Why don’t I know this already?

Friday May 1, 10:13 pm.

We were invited to a Black Tie party at the behest of one of the fancy, local families.  I swear I own a suit, in case I need to appear before a judge unexpectedly, or get buried, but it’s 2000 miles away, in a box, in a cellar in San Francisco.  So I decline.  No party for me, which is good, knowing that the Derby is the next day, and it’s in my best interest to try to sleep.  As the group gathers to leave, one of our photographers is finally coaxed into joining.  He runs upstairs in the house we’re renting and searches for a suitable jacket.  In the bedroom of the 13 year old son, he finds an unspeakably loud, plaid blazer.  There is nothing Black Tie about it. He’s a grown man, in a boy’s novelty jacket.  But by this point, we’ve all had a few cocktails, and eaten an unspeakably delicious barbeque prepared by a local chef.  And as horrendously creepy as it was, the jacket just seemed like a good idea at the time.  Now Louisville has a population of nearly 800,000 people.  It’s almost exactly the same size as San Francisco.  And yet it seems so much smaller.  Streets became familiar quickly, after a week I began recognizing people on the sidewalk and got to know our neighbors, etc.  But, the reality is, it’s the 16th largest city in the country.  It’s a big, old metropolis.  So, really, what are the odds of Tony running into the parents of the boy who’s blazer he’s stolen?  Right?  I mean, I’m no Stephen Hawking, but it’s gotta be like 1 in 800,000…

Imagine what they thought, seeing a grown man arrive at a formal Southern cocktail party wearing a jacket that belongs to their only son, their baby, their peripubescent child.  Here comes a man who’s been sleeping in this kid’s bedroom.  Now he’s wearing this kid’s clothes.  Suffice to say, it was a little tense.

Monday May 3, 2:38 am.

I had a little problem at the airport trying to leave the day after the Derby. Apparently, I got a little rage-y and said some things I now regret.  (Who knew middle-aged airline employees would take such offensive to being called fucking liars?)  I chalk it up to a repressed desire to stay on in Kentucky.  A fear of returning to my life on the coast.  Sunday morning the entire city was hung over. Even the children.  So, I stayed one more day, at a hotel just up the road from the Louisville Slugger baseball bat factory.  And at 2:38 in the morning, the fire alarm went off.  It screamed down at me, with the loudest, ugliest, most unpleasant noise ever.  Lights were flashing.  My head was pounding.  But, as I lay there, I decided that I’d much rather die in a fire than trudge down nine flights of stairs with dozens of strangers in their bathrobes.  And as I lay there reflecting on all that I’d seen and heard and learned in Kentucky, I realized that there is nothing in the world that will keep me from the Derby next year.  (Except, perhaps, dying in a fire.)   And next time, I’m gonna be the one who loses his pants in the infield, and winds up winning the mud-eating contest and bathing myself in glorious manure.  And when that happens, I’ll walk pantless through Louisville on Derby night, unmolested by the local police, straight to Hometown Liquors on Bardstown Road, and I’ll ask if the shower is open, or if his brother is still using it.

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One Response to “Six Short Thoughts on Shooting the Derby”

  1. gary braker-Johnston Says:

    serendipidsville ’14! Hey Andre! I used to work with you at the Strand book store (20 kilometres of books!) Remember a blonde English cat on the run from London cops for rioting?
    Awful habit of dropping acid at work?
    tripped over your blog by mistake-quel hoot!

    Here’s to Nancy Bass!


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