Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Preakness, have you no shame?

A new mascot for the Preakness Stakes has been unveiled.  The mascot's name, "Kegasus," is in honor of the hard partying infield crowd of Pimlico.  This mascot was introduced in hopes of bringing back record crowds to the second leg of horse racing's Triple Crown.  Attendance has been down the last couple of years due to the recently implemented alcohol policy that banned fans from bringing in their own beer into the infield.  Pimlico officials are trying to recapture the legendary spirit of the event by charging $20 for a refillable cup that entitles fans to unlimited beer refills with purchase.
In honor of the Pimlico's policy change, I will recount my experience at the 2008 Preakness Stakes. 

May 17, 2008 was a gorgeous sunny mid 70 degree in Baltimore, MD where my brother Pills, friend Chris, and I ventured out of Pills' downtown Baltimore apartment to watch the second leg of horse racing's Triple Crown.  The horse races started at 10:30 am and the post time for the Preakness Stakes was 6:09 pm.  We had purchased infield tickets after hearing tales of the drunken debauchery and entertainment that took place inside the track.  Pimlico had a policy that anyone could bring beer into the infield without purchase as long as you did not posses any glass bottles or weapons:  our first order of business, buy beer and take the subway to Pimlico. 

We decided on a 30 pack of Natural Light, a Maryland favorite, and a bag of ice.  In order to get to the Metro station at Lexington Market we had to walk a few blocks to a historically African American area known as Camden.  While walking the streets with a case of premium pilsner beer we heard comments from some of the locals like "man they gonna have a good time today."  Being the only three white people in a lower class neighborhood in a crime-ridden city was a bit unnerving at first, but what the heck, we were on our way to watch one of the biggest sporting events in the country and all was good.  We boarded the Metro for the 5 1/2 mile trip, beer and ice in hand and we were off into the abyss of the Baltimore ghetto.   During our thirty-three minute trip we noticed that our bag of ice was melting and a puddle was forming on the train floor; the water then started running up and down the train car floor.  Embarrassingly we hurried off the Metro at our stop and boarded a transit bus to get us to the track.

On the bus a clueless elderly English couple was sitting near us taking in all of the scenery of the area often seen in the HBO hit series "The Wire."  The short bus trip ended and it was time to walk through the neighborhood.  I had been to the mean streets of Baltimore once before and Pills worked as a school teacher at the infamous inner-city Frederick Douglass High School so we knew what to expect, but Chris' jaw-dropped at the dilapidated conditions of the neighborhood.  Men and little kids were pushing shopping carts up and down the street asking everyone who had beer or picnic baskets if they could load up their cart and push everything to the gate for a small fee, many obliged.  Residents were barbecuing on their front porches and selling it to race fans, they were also selling out their bathrooms; $5.00 to use.  Teenage girls were even swinging from their porch railings like pole dancers.  People were passed out on the ground near the parking lot before they even entered; the local kids had some fun with the drunks by poking them with sticks to see if they were still alive. The community members really got into the spirit and you could tell this was a big day for them, I felt good for them too.  For all of the talk about the items you couldn't bring into the venue, it seemed as if you could bring just about anything.  Security was very lax, just a few locals at the gate asking if you had any bottles or weapons, not even a pat down or a check of bags. 

As we entered the infield the first things we saw were inebriated males and females being carted out by paramedics and bloodied faces of brawling college-aged kids (not sure if they were actually in college due the lack of intelligence and trashiness I observed), we were in disbelief.  Then came the "Toilet Run" where some moron would try to run across the tops of a line of Porta Johns while being pelted by spectators with beer cans.  They would usually slip off and violently fall to the ground.  We staked out a spot on the muddied grass and soaked everything in.  A crowd of 112,222 people made for the perfect scene for the people watcher:  countless brawls, throwing up, public urination, and stumbling glassy-eyed drunks.  Pills, Chris, and I made fast friends with a group after convincing them that we knew them and that was the reason why we were taking beer out of their cooler.  Drunks would come by scavenging through garbage looking for alcohol using all of their primal instincts.  A woman even picked up a couple beers stuck in mud and asked if she could take them home for her husband to drink; "I'll just wash 'em off and he'll never know the difference."  We even had an encounter with a forty-something year-old gentlemen resembling Det. Stan 'Wojo' Wojciehowicz from the 70's TV series "Barney Miller."  'Wojo' was dressed in a plain ball cap, white shirt and tie and taking Polaroid pictures of the chaos to prove to his family that the Preakness was crazier than the Kentucky Derby.  The logic for the Polaroid he claimed, was because a digital picture could be manipulated.  He then tried hitting on some really good looking girls, but stumbled and fell over.

There was horse racing going on during the day, you wouldn't have known it had you been in the infield, but I made several bets during the course of the day.  I was excited for the Preakness Stakes; Big Brown was the heavy favorite after a dominating performance in the Kentucky Derby two weeks earlier.  I decided to place a $2 wager on trifecta box on the main event; Big Brown, Macho Again, and Icabad Crane and wouldn't ya know, they placed in 1-2-3 and I took home $150. 

After collecting my winnings it was time to head back to Pills' spacious apartment.  On our way out we observed a shirtless redneck playing basketball with some black kids.  It was nice to witness true inter-racial harmony.  Chris decided to buy a "Polish hot dog" from one of the residential entrepreneurs’ and we had a nice little chat with them while Chris ate.  Before boarding the Metro we saw three teenagers handcuffed on the platform the last memorable image we had of the day.  It was a long day, and being out in the infield all day walking through god-knows-what, it was time to get back, take a shower and relax before our trip home to Pittsburgh.  We were glad to have been a part of the 133rd running of the Preakness Stakes, it was a unique experience.  Maybe Pimlico can recapture some of the past glory by loosening the alcohol rules again, sadly Chris, Pills, and I won't know.

Pimlico in all its glory
'Wojo' and his Polaroid camera


  1. rob, so are we going this year? even meg wants to go after reading your poetic retelling of this marvelous day. and she also thinks the name of the blog should be changed back to Korn's Korner. She thinks it's much catchier and likes the irony that the quietest person she knows has so much to say. this blog should be named in honor of you. here's how our conversation goes every time i mention this blog:

    Meg: "What's it called?"
    Steve: "The Blast Furnace."
    Meg: "I don't get it, what does it mean?"
    Steve: "Reference to pittsburgh's steel history."
    Meg: "What's it called again, I forget."

  2. I am open to going. I like trips to Baltimore, they are always fun. Need to convince some others to go.

    I wanted a neutral name for the blog so everyone felt a part of it

  3. I now remember that guy with the white shirt, tie, and plain ball cap taking picture with a polaroid. His logic being that you can't edit polaroid pictures and he needed to prove that the infield was as crazy as it really was to his family. He then stumbled and fell over while trying to hit on a really hot girl.

  4. Maybe I'll edit the post and add the part about that strange guy

  5. This was a really good post. I have only heard bits and pieces of the story. I am fine with Blast furnace, but I like Korn's Korner even more.