Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Kentucky Cool

Historic facades along Whiskey Row in down town Louisville

As I approach the little table where author David Sedaris is signing copies of his book, Lets Explore Diabetes with Owls, I see for myself that putting duct tape over his mouth for the signing "express lane" was no empty threat. He peers up at my aunt and me through kind eyes and a mouth strapped with pink floral duct tape and says "mmm mmm mmm mmm" which I think means "Hi, how are you." I look with surprise as he proceeds to write MY name in the book. We had come for my aunt. "It's for me? Aw, thank you so much, Ellen!" I say, and David says "mmm mmm!" (how sweet) and adds "mmm mmm mmm mmm mmm mmmm" (here's a kitty cat for you) and draws a cartoon cat under his signature. I happen to love cats. Could this day possibly improve?

This kind of cultural richness, a block party in honor of a vocally liberal and openly gay author, hosted by a tiny independent bookstore and a dusty old antique shop might not be the kind of experience you would expect in Kentucky... but that's Louisville for you! A little air pocket of liberal, walkable, charm in a sea of red, which still knows how to hold onto traditions like horse racing and bourbon.

KY bourbon at the Silver Dollar, served neat and on the rocks :)
In Louisville, you can laugh your butt off at a literary reading of one of your favorite authors, walk to a wine shop where an expert will sell you the perfect cheese to go with your tuscan wine, then go eat your fill of locally sourced vegetarian food (Roots - EAT HERE!). When evening falls, you can head to any of the unique little bars around town (the Silver Dollar!) and choose from an almost overwhelmingly large selection of bourbons at equally alarmingly affordable prices. 

If you're not too hung over, you can spend the next day at the adorable walking bridge that goes (almost) all the way to Indiana. When I was there, the bridge wasn't completed to actually let you walk off of it into Indiana, but it still makes for a charming stroll and a great way to test out your new KEENS and see if they are worthy of your upcoming European excursion. Okay, that last part might just apply to me. 

My KEEN CNX's on their first real trial run across the pedestrian bridge. Besides some new-shoe blister action on my heel, I'd say they passed the test!

If you want to get REALLY traditional, Churchill Downs, the famous track that hosts the Kentucky Derby every year, is not far away. Park for free in one of the neighborhoods and head in to catch a few races. It only costs 3 dollars to get in, and you can bet on a horse for a minimum of 3 dollars. Make sure you have your money out and your bet in your head BEFORE you approach the window. Apparently it's a total rookie move to stand at the counter hemming and hawing. Nope, you gotta march right up there, slap your three singles on the table and say something like "Three dollars on Stinky Sailor Smile to win!" That's how you come off as a local. Some advice: basing your bets on the weirdest horse name is not a successful strategy in my experience.

If you're just a tourist in gambling-land like me, your real expense will come from the pricy drinks. You can't go to the races and NOT have a mint julep, that's just not American. So shell out the $10+ dollars and enjoy the novelty glass that you get to keep. If you're lucky, you'll get a gigantic stalk of mint growing out of your beverage to tickle your nose with fragrance while you drink and yell obscenities at the track (depending on if this is your first or third julep). 

All in all, Louisville is a town that knows how to balance classics with contemporaries. You can walk anywhere you please, and you never know when you might run into one of your favorite authors! Comedian Jim Gaffigan is scheduled for later this month, so you might want to get to Louisville sooner rather than later. 

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