Lawlor / I stood alone in steerage
If you started in 1979 — roughly 39 something years ago — you’ll find that there have only been two Triple Crown winners — horses that have won the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont Stakes. In that time period I have only seen, in person, two races, both of them the Belmont Stakes and both featuring the Triple Crown winners. The first one happened in 2015, the other happened last week with the champion Justify. My oldest daughter Caroline didn’t go to the earlier American Pharaoh win in 2015, but her younger sister Julia was there to see history being made.
Caroline got the tickets the night before, and she decided to invite her friend Chris from college. They both cleaned up real well. Caroline had a fancy derby she got from her mother-in-law for the lesser-known Charleston Cup. The derby along with the summer dress and Tiffany earrings made her look like she was attending the Duchess of Sussex’ wedding — and so off we all went to Belmont in Long Island.
I happily paid $40 to park in the gravel parking lot, and since we got our tickets the night before we got no seats, just “standing room,” steerage really. I told my daughter that if steerage was good enough for our relatives coming over from the old country, it would be fine for a few hours of a horse race. In 2015 we also got general admission and were able to get a spot at the rail of the Final Turn. I attempted to get the same spot this year, but was told that a private party had rented that space out. That was now “steerage plus.” Damn! We waded back into the unwashed masses.
We made our way to the front of steerage and got a spot in the front, when a woman approached my daughter and Chris and said “you are the most darling-looking couple! If you are alone we have two extra seats to the VIP area. Our friends couldn’t make it. Would you like to join us?”
Time stood still. For a split second my daughter looked back at her father, the father that drove her there. The father who gave her life, held her when she was sick, drove to Staples at night when her project was due in the morning and she had earlier forgotten that she had run out of ink. She said “Yes, yes, we are alone!” and with that she received her laminated badge to the good life, on a lanyard. She and Chris joined the other young good looking people in the VIP section. She briefly came back to talk to me so I wouldn’t have hard feelings, then she left me for her new life. I stood alone in steerage.
As the lower deck was getting more crowded, I decided I would go to the bathroom and get a $6 warmish bottle of water or a $12 warmish beer. I decided on the water and headed to the bathroom .By this time, it was late in the day, Belmont normally has about 5,000 people, today it held about 100,000. It looked like they all used this bathroom. These 100,000 had been drinking all day. I walked in trying not to think of what the fluid on the floor was, paper towels were balled up everywhere, the trash cans had long overflowed. Standing in the filth was a young bathroom attendant oblivious to the impossible job of keeping the restroom clean. Instead he had a tip basket and was handing out paper towels, almost like we were not in steerage. Patrons would take the towels, as we were pretty sure all the towel dispensers were empty and them ball them up and since the trash cans were overflowing, throw them on the floor in the general direction of the trash can.
I went back to my viewing area. I was watching my daughter in the distance with her newly-minted elegant friends and family right before the race, when a few of my intoxicated fellow third class passengers started chanting over and over “Let’s go Mets. Let’s go Mets. Let’s go Mets.”
Post Justify’s victory, Caroline and Chris mingled in their new social circle. I just wanted to get to the car to slather my body with the Purell we keep in the glove compartment. Eventually Caroline made it to the car and said. “I think I want to go to the Kentucky Derby next year.” I’m not driving.
Thomas Lawlor lives in Southport with his wife and two daughters. His column appears every other Friday. He can be reached by email at Tlawlor@mcommunications.com.