David Ranzini '20
The bus sweeps out of the roadside hedges of kudzu and into wine country. On either side the vinyl post-and-rail fences of Albemarle County—the estates of people with in-ground pool money, but not enough for Thoroughbreds to crop the grass. Good Charlotteville people; a Lexus in the carriage house, or at least a Subaru. Seniors yoga. I’m With Her. A glass or two of wine in the evening while the grandkids play with Daddy’s Bean Boots. Were you in town for the… demonstrations? Awful. To think that we’ve become this… political... as a society. Oh yes, I know. There was just so much... rage. And to think. How many of those kids even remember what the Civil War was all about? Personally, I just wish he wouldn’t tweet so much.
Inside the bus, more than half the seats are empty. It makes the passengers uncertain; in the air is the nervous bravado of boys trying to make new friends at sleepaway camp. Nah, dude, if I’m day drinking I’ll just get some tequila and then get beer to tide me over. I still have the nudes she sent but her personality was a little too much for me… you know? Dude I once did like ten shots of vodka and… With the women the boys search, slightly desperately, for common ground. It smells exactly like a bowling alley in here—you know, right? The sun is hot in the windows. It’s going to be a long day.
There is Foxfield, out the left side—a ring-fenced grassy parking lot, sparsely dotted with family wagons wearing craft beer bumper stickers and Audis with bike racks. Here and there, good Charlottesville people walk to and from their cars, hand in hand with their fair-haired toddlers.We are the last of the UVa group to arrive, and as the buses pull away, it’s not at all clear where we’re going. Toward the bouncy castle? The ranks of cornhole boards? The announcer, in his best Derby-day twang, is calling a race in progress, but as Purple pulls ahead of Green in the third turn, we can see that it’s Montessori kids astride pool noodles with brown felt manes. The only horses in evidence are a team of stolid chestnuts pulling the hayride wagon round the infield.
Finally the UVa tailgate comes into view beyond the Vineyard Vines pavilion, with a cluster of porta-potties, a jumbo dumpster, and a decent interval of open ground interposed as a tasteful hedge between us and the pony petting.
When we reach the law school tents, the precautions seem ludicrous. Perhaps it’s the midday heat and perhaps everyone is waiting in solemn anticipation of the evening’s community moment of Dave Matthews healing, the Concert for Charlottesville, but for an event billed as UVa Law’s wild answer to Hunter Thompson’s decadent and depraved Kentucky Derby, there’s nothing more outré going on here than a knot of 1Ls wearing their church clothes and self-consciously sucking on half-lit, punky gas station cigars. From time to time a desultory circle of shotgunners form, but what’s being drunk the fastest in the shimmering heat is bottled water. A rumpled cop on a quadbike is there to show the flag, but you can tell, even through his mirrored ‘tactical shades’ that he’s got nothing much to look at and he knows it. On the other side of the fence, a rank of racing horse trailers wait in the shade, but by noon we haven’t seen so much as a trace of their occupants. One of our number has visited the children’s side of the paddock and returned with a Peppa Pig birthday balloon looped around his wrist.
1:30. The beer is beginning to run thin. Does anyone have any liquor left? Someone disappointedly rummages through the wreckage of the food tables for an unemptied handle. The ground is strewn with Solo cups and crushed cans of Keystone. It’s a house party pregame that’s gone on too long, and the first buses don’t leave until half past two. The only riders in sight are the marshals, dressed in huntsmen’s red coats, but checking their cell phones in the saddle as they lazily pace back and forth. We’re too far from the PA to hear the announcer. A recorded hunting horn announces… what? Somewhere over yonder where the craft tent blocks the view, the faint sound of whickering and hooves. All but the last eighth of the last quesadilla has been eaten.
Then—a rumble of distant excitement from behind the craft tent—there they go! Real racing horses with color-coded jockeys bouncing in their numbered saddles! On the horizon they round a bend behind the car park at an easy gallop and disappear from view behind a low rise. People look up, waiting a long moment for them to come around our uphill corner.
Have they rounded the bend yet? From behind the hill, the sound of hoofbeats grows, a rhythmic bass note that competes with the cell speaker party anthems. And there they are! A tight pack of racers, their jockeys crouched low over their necks. They’re gawky-looking youngsters being ridden steady, but as they cut close into the third turn fence, they’re still something to see.
Yeah ponies! someone yells. Go ponies!
Around the bend and into home straight the horses go, disappearing once again behind the craft tent. There is a long pause as everyone wonders what comes next. Does anyone actually know how horse racing works? Is there like, a lap 2? A shortish man in blue and white casually steps under the fence and begins to walk across the track.
—I can’t hear you!
Watch out, dude!
The man pulls his jockey’s helmet off and shakes out a full head of dreadlocks. Watch out?
They’re coming back!
—No they aren’t! That’s it!
… Who won?
Not the horse with the rider in blue silks, apparently.
The shadows lengthen and the crowds thin as the first of the buses arrive and the last of the last of the thirty-racks grow warm and flat. The horses, slick with sweat but tossing their heads and prancing in excitement, are led back to their trailers. The straggling students, bowties askew, toss bags of trash into the dumpster. The good Charlottesville people lead their tow-headed youngsters back to their cars. And that’s all.