My Derby Weekend at the Mint Jubilee and Playboy party: A tale of tassels and tattles.
I never made it to the actual Debry, I mean Derby... It was a long night, if you're a local, you understand.
Let's see, the day started off at work while my wife was covering The Oaks for her job — I guess you could say we were both technically working. I wore a white suit to the office and the only compliment I received was "How many people did you welcome to 'Fantasy Island' today? Which in the writing-world is considered foreshadowing for things to come? Then my wife, who represents several brands and events and needed to do marketing for a major local company, well her phone (which is her primary marketing tool) decided to commit eSuicide. Foreshadowing part deux.
So I finish up my work early and was ready for one of my wife's events, The Mint Jubilee sponsored by Chambord. I changed clothes faster than Cher and took a well-needed nap to prepare for the evening of events. For the black tie/red carpet event, I wore a black suit that my wife bought for my birthday to sharpen my rough edges. Although I knew I was headed to The Mint Jubilee (did I mention it was sponsored by Chambord?), I was also invited to the parties hosted by Grey Goose and Playboy at Prime Lounge and then the Maxim Party at The Mellwood Arts Center (I'm really not complaining — I love my life.) While this was happening, my best friend was going to attend the Love Jones concert with a mutual friend who works with my wife, then he was to be my date for the Playboy party as I assumed my wife would be exhausted from the track. Foreshadowing: part trés.
My wife came home to her well-quaffed husband in his shiny new black suit ready to go, and after she trimmed the remaining tags and the inspection was complete, she did a "quick" change of outfits and hairdos which in translation meant that we were going to run late.
"What the hey?" I thought. I couldn't imagine the celebrities being on time for my benefit so they could wait for us too, so even though my wife was working for the sponsor of the event, we felt important enough to take our time. We indeed were late and I not only got a VIP pass because of my gal, but a media pass for 'work'. I joked with people that VIP actually stood for "Very Important Press," and some of them actually believed me.
At almost every entrance to the Palace Theater, the crack squad of lower level TSA agents would see the press badge around my neck and explain to me that I was not allowed any further than the red carpet — then I'd flash the VIP bracelet and they'd let me pass faster than poop from a goose. I was six-gunning with virtual impunity. Meanwhile, my pal Ricky was at the Love Jones concert with our other friend and, since Hope's phone was down, I became a human cell tower transferring information and coordinating later events.
While I was snapping shots of previous American Idol winners and 'Real Housewives' my wife was busy hob-nobbing with the brass at the event while trying to track down our pals who were at the concert, which of course started late. We were fashionably late (not to extreme) to the Mint Jubilee which ALSO started late so it worked perfectly. My wife is a consummate professional so there was not a set time for us to arrive, but I tend to be early for everything but article deadlines. Dinner was also running late because of the social butterflying of socialites, and with my friend's concert beginning late it was pretty clear that I would be late for the Playboy party.
We were sitting at our table (near fashonista Betsy Johnson) when I decided I needed my picture taken with Bob Costas. Mistake. (And I've lost count of foreshadowing numbers.) Apparently security was already on to me as Bob wasn't taking any photos unless they were from across the table (I took several just to spite them). I got back to our table just as a wonderful and very expensive dinner was being served under platter and realized I was already five minutes late to pick up my press credentials for the Playboy party (par for the night). I excused myself without taking a bite, and upon being told from the geographically challenged hostess that the Prime Lounge was three blocks away, I decided that it wasn't worth a cab ride in the drunken congested Gotham we call home. "Three blocks" my butt. Then there was security again.
As I tried to cruise (I don't gallop and never saunter) down 4th Street through "4th Street Live" a policeman stopped me to advise that I couldn't pass without paying a cover. I was now officially five blocks from where I started and not knowing downtown very well, I explained that I was just trying to get to Main Street. He was serious about his job, looked nice in his LMPD uniform but admitted it was borrowed and that he wasn't from the area (also borrowed apparently) and couldn't help me find my destination. I made a poor decision trying to argue with the displaced officer when I felt a tap on my shoulder — it was a member of the band "Bare Naked Ladies," who I have met a few times via tours during a misspent youth.
Apparently BNL was headlining "4th Street Live" and he actually recalled my name. I love BNL, and love that I was remembered, and now have a man-crush on the band (as well as enjoy their music) for remembering who I was. Deputy Serious turned into Deputy Furious as I was escorted past the check point (I flashed no press credentials although it would have been easier to get to my destination just to return to my now chilling filet mignon and scallop dinner (and of course, my beautiful wife). Ed was so nice as he asked me what my favorite song was, I blankly gave him the first that came to mind, "This Old Apartment," which they played first as soon as Ed hit the stage. I felt so proud to be in that moment, so happy to hear one of my favorite bands, so ready to beat the lady in the lobby of the Palace Theater, and the pseudo-cop for the goose chase for the Grey Goose Party, so hungry, and so late to get back to my beautiful wife and gala, I had to leave the concert to figure out where Prime Lounge was (106 West Main — now I know).
Jogging, which is something I do not do unless chased, I finally found Prime Lounge in a place that was actually familiar to me (if someone would have just said "Whisky Row" or "Doc Crows" I would have known exactly where to not have to jog to). I met Barry, the head of the PR Agency, who was dressed as a secret service complete with ear piece outside, who then pawned me off on a guy who explained that my guest/photographer would not be allowed inside. Fresh off winning my last battle with "security" officials I decided to haggle with him, have him call his boss, and eventually we agreed that as long as no pictures were taken inside of the event my guest could enter with me. He gave me my one of two bracelets and told me the other would be available when we both returned.
Now knowing the exact distance between The Palace Theater and Prime Lounge I decided to cab it back to the gala. One of many mistakes made that night. Downtown was chaos, drunk people everywhere — rickshaws and temporary street signs placed at all the most inconvenient places between me and my destination.
Apparently, I found the only taxi driver who didn't know who to navigate the city, much less get out from behind a horse-drawn carriage. Just my luck to run into another "helpful" non-local going each way to the theater. Very sweaty and exhausted in a very nice suit, he agreed to let me out of the cab without payment and I began to jog — again. I was envisioning my wife stamping her foot in the lobby wondering where I had been for the last half-hour. I began weighing two possibilities in my oxygen-deprived brain and trying to decide which would be worse: My wife's wrath, or more security.
As I reached The Palace Theater for the second time, I gave the lobby lady a look that I hope meant "Keep your day job and don't apply to Mapquest." As I rushed past I didn't bother with my press credentials for security as I jogged up the stairs, and they no longer seemed to care.
Almost the end of my life p.m.
Ever so gracefully, in my mania I tripped on the last stair and fell into a large African-American man with long dreads and a white hat, almost knocking him into a beautiful woman he was with. BOY, I sure can pick 'em! I managed to bounce off the backside of former heavyweight champion boxer Lennox Lewis and almost (a big almost) knock him to the floor. (A level of terror/difficulty that put both my wife and the authorities on the back burner.) Unbelievably nice, gentle and polite, the Champ helped me to my feet — probably sensing my fear and sense of urgency, and I once again joined my table.
The staff explained that I had five minutes to finish (not enjoy) my cold $750 plate of food before the big show. Still sweaty, and only having eaten only half a delicious steak, I folded my napkins, grabbed a drink, and headed into the beautiful theater. (Note, my wife was not all mad, nor worried about my delayed re-entrance — I get lost a lot and she is the most compassionate woman I know. The look on my face must have already told a story that she knew she'd no doubt hear later.)
The Palace Theater is a feast for the eyes, beautifully restored, and the entertainers (Kris Allen, Jordin Sparks to mention a couple) were amazing. Bob Costas was the emcee, and from the balcony I took some really nice pictures realizing this was about as close to him as I was ever going to get on this night. Other notable mentions were Jennifer Tilly, Julie Benz and Matt Battaglia, who were all more cool to a nobody like me than necessary (and without security).
The music was as scintillating as the atmosphere. The show began with Bob Costas introducing Jordin Sparks (who sang the National Anthem at Churchill Downs) followed by some country singer who I thought was Faith Hill (the name is lost on me and so was her performance) and the finale was another American Idol star named Kris Allen who I had little expectations for, but who put on a fantastic show, which explained why he was the finale. I've never seen American Idol, but I gained a lot of respect for the artists on the show.
The Mint Jubilee over, my wife and I abandoned the theater behind a couple stealing Chambord throw pillows and we set back off on my second trek to Main Street for the Playboy party at Prime (I like a lot of alliteration). I finally was allowed to walk at my normal pace (slow) holding my wife's hand and shoes back through 4th Street Live and through the crowd caught the last few notes of Bare Naked Ladies' last number. My wife had to change shoes for walking purposes, so, heels in hand, I warned her that I might have to wrestle the other arm band for the Playboy party from either the PR Company or the clipboard chick. To my astonishment when I walked up, "clippie chickie" recognized me and happily handed over bracelet two of two. Mission accomplished.
The wife and I headed to Impellizzeri's Pizza next door and enjoyed a relaxing moment next to open windows from their porch. The air was crisp and very spring-like, only blurred by the smell and shock of what I could only assume tonight were Playboy Playmates. Any other night I would assume these women were working the same corner in similar outfits for different reasons.
As the line outside grew I began to hatch a plan to auction my buddy's bracelet to one of the mounds of silicone orbiting the red carpet outside when our friends finally arrived from the Love Jones show. We all enjoyed a couple cocktails and toasted The Derby to the sounds of a local band playing from the back of the restaurant. Silicone and Derby chaos aside, I plan on returning to Impellizzeri's as I really liked the ambiance, food and service, and as I'm already a fan of Doc Crows, knowing that folks are trying to demolish the city's plans to demolish a portion of "Whiskey Row," I may just become a regular.
The Playboy party was not my cup of tea. Don't get me wrong, I have a subscription (for the articles, of course), but some things are simply better seen in print than in person. It's a longstanding theory of mine that the worst seat in the ballet is the front few rows; from a distance the ballet is beautiful if not stunning and magical. But in the front row you see red scratch marks from catching anorexic dancers, hear the thumping of feet as they hit the stage, and for my taste find myself way too close to whatever the male dancers stuff in the front of their pants.
The Playboy/Grey Goose party was no exception for me and constantly reminding me of my analogy. Although I was indeed excited to be there and honored to be asked, I guess in my world some things are best left to the imagination. My buddy and I entered with our press credentials and headed to the bar where we forked over forty dollars for two tumblers of watered-down bourbon and Coke's. We were "informed" that being a Grey Goose sponsored event, any other brand was...more expensive.
I will say this, Playboy and Grey Goose throw a hell of a party. Well organized, very sexy, by-the-book, and seemingly always on the verge of out of control - what you'd expect from "The Heff". But like him, I guess I prefer to look from afar in a robe and not be in the middle of the dance floor, after all - it's easier to be found innocent as a witness than a participant.
I noticed a small yet very well-guarded balcony and told my buddy that we should try and go there to get out of the way of people who actually were there just to be seen. He thought I was crazy, and said "good luck" as he headed off for the bathroom. I approached the security guard (which I hoped would be the last of my night) and noticing all of the accumulated arm bands and credentials dangling from my person he assumed I HAD to be "somebody" and allowed me up the stairs to the VIP Lounge where a free buffet of drinks and a few couches were completely unoccupied.
I helped myself to a drink and a comfy seat from the best view in the house. The DJ was terrific, the view fantastic, and selfishly I did begin to feel as if I were one of the "Somebodys." But heat rises, and you could almost taste the heat and hormones from the dance floor beneath me. In a much earlier and more hormonal life, I would have felt like a frat-guy on a fantasy cruise to a pyramid where I was crowned king with lightning and sunlight shining behind only me, all of the women would bask in my glory, pray to be mine, and Hefner would be my personal butler (in a Kubrick movie).
Sadly however, I felt old and out of my element. I wasn't there to be seen or to "pick up," only to report what I could see. I spotted my buddy on his nervous scavenger hunt for me zigzagging between the pelvic thrusts of both men and women and motioned him up to my safety zone.
For a few brief moments we took in the air of the "Future (ex)Wives of Whatever County," enjoyed another cocktail and then were asked to leave. Apparently the security guard who was so nice to me earlier saw us as how I felt and a couple of "old guys" were not really balcony material, (for "The Muppet Show" maybe, but for the Playboy party, decidedly not).
The security guard took pity on our egos as we descended the stairs and left us with "Sorry guys, the dude who rented the balcony meant for it to be women only." Being the only people on said balcony, I heard what he had said and the implied message was received.
We thanked him for being so nice and we escorted ourselves through the throngs of thongs, past escorts, and back to a city which was falling fast asleep. (Note: my buddy and I aren't really as old as I make us out to be, sometimes you just reach a point where everyone appears to look younger and for all my fantasies of a Playboy-palooza, I can say I saw, went, and came to the realization that if the price of two drinks cost more than my age, I've wandered out of my element.) I can only thank the EJ Media Group LLC for letting me see behind the curtain, a very fun one, but not my cup arguments, jogs, or of $40 tea.
We ran into my wife and her pal on the street shortly thereafter and they clearly had a better time at places either unknown or those they'll never admit to. I'm fine with that. I told her nothing about the Playboy party other than we went, and I'm going to let her imagination torture her until she reads this.
3:15 a.m. - 8:45 a.m.
The ride home was messy, but safe. We left our cars downtown to obey (most) laws and as I woke up humming Katrina & The Wave's "Walking on Sunshine," my beautiful, wonderful, fantastic wife was more than likely hearing "Shout at the Devil" sung by the Devil himself. I had to work on Derby Saturday, and having no car in the driveway proved problematic. Luckily work didn't begin until noon which gave me time to care for my gal (or get her day started) and through the greatness of friendship my best-buddy and co-conspirator from the previous night drove all the way from his home to pick me up so I arrived to work on time.
Simply put, I love the Kentucky Derby, and love Louisville for being host to such an event. I love Chambord for sponsoring such a wonderful gala as The Mint Jubilee. And regardless of my somewhat cynical experience, I'm keeping my subscription to Playboy because I still love the "articles." I love my friends for always having my back and being there when it really counts. I love the guys from BNL for remembering my name and making me feel important. I love my wife for being such a great sport and all-around terrific gal and I plan to spend every day for the rest of my life happily with her.
I've been asked several times if I was headed to Churchill for the 137th "Run for the Roses" today and my response has been the same. Although without even going to the track I am truly "Lucky in Kentucky" and "Blessed in the Bluegrass," but one day of "The Derby Experience" per year however without medication or an oxygen tank is enough for me. Today I feel rich without ever placing a bet so "talk Derby to me" next year — which is surely some scary foreshadowing that I'm looking forward to.
Regards, Kit (on Derby Day: 1:58 a.m.)
Photo: (Kit & Hope Helton - The Mint Jubilee)