ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD
A serial memoir by Jean Fogelberg
The Kentucky Derby
We had one stop to make before flying off on our European vacation: the 127th running of the Kentucky Derby on May 5th, 2001. It had been 20 years since Dan performed the song he’d written for the Derby, “Run for the Roses,” on the ABC special, Friday Night Live from the Kentucky Derby. Now he’d been invited to return to Churchill Downs, and there was no way we were going to miss it.
Run for the Roses
Born in the valley and raised in the trees
Of Western Kentucky on wobbly knees
With mama beside you to help you along
You'll soon be a-growing up strong
All the long, lazy mornings in pastures of green
The sun on your withers, the wind in your mane
Could never prepare you for what lies ahead
The run for the roses so red
And it's run for the roses as fast as you can
Your fate is delivered, your moment's at hand
It's the chance of a lifetime in a lifetime of chance
And it's high time you joined in the dance
It's high time you joined in the dance
From sire to sire, it's born in the blood
The fire of a mare and the strength of a stud
It's breeding and it's training and it's something unknown
That drives you and carries you home
Our invitations included tickets to the famous Barnstable Brown Kentucky Derby Eve Gala, the ultimate pre-Derby party, counted among the ten best parties in the world. Since 1988, the gala has been organized and hosted by former “Doublemint Twins” Patricia Barnstable-Brown and Priscilla Barnstable. Tickets are exclusive and expensive, and have raised millions of dollars for diabetes research at the University of Kentucky.
I’d never been to the Derby, but I’d watched the race on television. So I knew that, beyond the race itself, it was all about the hats. I found an eBay seller who specialized in Kentucky Derby hats, and bought a wide brimmed white hat with a black side bow. It was fairly conservative, but I figured I’d be able to wear it in Europe.
We arrived in Louisville on May 4th and went immediately to the hotel. As soon as we walked into the suite my heart sank: the huge sitting room window looked out on rush hour traffic on a busy freeway. Dan made some calls and learned that the hotel was completely booked up (as was every hotel for miles around,) so it looked like it was going to be a bathroom floor night.
Paris was only two days away; nothing could dampen our spirits, and at least there was no performance scheduled the following day.
The only thing we knew about the gala was that it was a very dressy affair, so we showered and got all gussied up. (I grew up assuming our family had coined the term gussied up, referring to my grandmother’s fashion-conscious sister, Augusta “Gussie” Kiesel. Also, Good Gussie! was my mother’s go-to swear phrase, stronger than dammit, but just shy of s**t.)
Great-Aunt Gussie, with my grandmother and great-grandmother (both in traditional white) at my grandfather's grave on Oahu in 1939.
We didn’t realize that Bo Derek was a regular guest at the Barnstable Brown gala and the Derby, but we found out soon enough. From the moment we entered the mansion grounds, people started coming up to me and saying, “Hi Bo,” and “Miss Derek, I’m a big fan.” I smiled and said, “I’m not Bo.” At their look of confusion and disappointment I’d say, “BUT…this is my boyfriend, Dan Fogelberg.” Once this sank in, their faces would light up and they’d talk to Dan about his music and ask to take pictures with him.
Poor Dan, we were here because of his accomplishment; now it looked like he was going to spend the night being a consolation prize. It quickly became tedious, and got to the point where someone would approach me with intent and, before they could speak, I’d smile politely and say, “I’m not Bo, she’s over there.”
A couple of people asked if I’d met Bo. When I said I hadn’t, they said, “You should go introduce yourself.” The thing is, I knew she had heard of me while I was still living and performing in the same California town that she and John Derek lived in, and it was probably more tedious for her than it was for me.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve been told I look “just like” someone’s cousin or family friend, and each time I feel a little smudged. The many distinctive facets that make a person unique get a little blurred when we focus on a feature or two and then declare them identical to one another.
Naturally, I considered the comparison to a world-famous beauty a great compliment. I usually pointed out that, since I was a year and one day older than Bo, she actually looked like me, but other than long blonde hair and high round cheekbones, I didn’t see it. She had cobalt blue eyes; mine were brown. My nose was wider. I was five inches taller and five inches…um…smaller. Next to her, I would look like a big post, so I kept my distance.
Dinner was about to be served, so guests were asked to find their seats in the big tent. Fairy lights and beautiful table settings made it feel like a grand ballroom, as did the men and women dressed in their elegant clothes. We were seated halfway back in the tent from the big stage, at a large round table with a diverse group of interesting people. The limelight tables up front near the stage had celebrities like Bo, and Kid Rock with his then-girlfriend Pamela Anderson, as well as other actors and musicians who would perform together throughout the night.
Twenty years earlier, Dan was the hot rock star who would have been seated at the A-list tables and asked to perform. I knew it was the natural order of things, but it still rankled me a bit. Dan was familiar with the Hollywood shuffle, though, and took it all in stride. Sometimes he actually seemed relieved to be relegated to the back tables, and I soon learned why.
Dessert had just been served when Kid Rock stood up on his chair, wearing jeans and a black tank top with FUCK YOU printed on the back, and shouted to the musicians playing on the stage. Then Pamela Anderson stood up and bit him on the butt. All eyes were on their table now, and I was so glad we weren’t there, caught up in the spotlight with them.
For two hermits direct from a mountaintop in Colorado, it was fascinating but overwhelming. When we reached maximum sensory overload, we quietly exited the gorgeous mansion grounds and headed back to the hotel.
As we walked into our room, Dan quoted a skit from his favorite American comedy troupe, Firesign Theater: “And now…’back on the freeway, which is already in progress.’” We each took an Ambien, and it was good for a few hours, but then he got up and created his bathroom sleep cave. Neither of us got much sleep, though. We’d been at the ranch all winter and the sounds of the city were just too foreign to our country mouse ears.
Waking groggy the next day, we ordered in-room coffee and breakfast before dressing for an afternoon at Churchill Downs. I wore a two-piece black and white knit suit and my new hat, and hoped my outfit was “right” for the Derby. A limo picked us up at the hotel and we were off to “the most exciting two minutes in sports.”
As the car turned on to Kentucky Derby Drive we could see throngs of people lining the left side of the road. Standing behind barrier tape, they were waiting to catch a glimpse of the celebrities as they were driven to the VIP Gate.
We knew that once inside the gate, Dan was supposed to walk the red carpet to the press tent where he would be photographed and interviewed. Then we would move on to the large open area near the paddocks, to mingle and look at the beautiful horses and their jockeys. Afterward, we would make our way to the famous Turf Club.
That’s what we thought would happen, anyway.
Our windows were lowered as we approached the crowd and I was glad Dan was on the side closest to them. Then we heard the first cries of “Bo Derek!” Dan looked at me with pity and I said, “Ach! You’ve got to be kidding me.”
At the VIP gate, the greeter came and introduced herself to Dan. The three of us walked through the gate and, as she and Dan turned left toward the press tent, I walked straight ahead, to wait for Dan near the entrance to the paddocks. When I stopped and looked back, the reporters were all looking at me expectantly and the greeter was trying to get their attention to introduce Dan. After the interview, he joined me and we entered the paddock area.
We’d barely seen one shiny horse before we were engulfed in people. Security quickly assessed the situation and surrounded me. As I was whisked off to the Turf Club, people were taking my picture and asking for my (Bo’s) autograph. I kept smiling apologetically, shaking my head and shouting, “I’m not Bo!” but no one could hear me. I looked around for Dan and I have a clear memory of him, strolling casually in my wake with his hands in his pockets and a big smile on his face, alone and completely ignored.
I stood inside the cool, quiet entry and waited for Dan. When he stepped through the doors, we shook our heads and laughed. He put his arm around me and said, “Come on, Bo, you look like you could use a Mint Julep.” We made our way to the bar and blended into the crowd. The drink was very strong, so I sipped it slowly, hoping the ice would melt and dilute it. No way was I going to say I didn’t like Mint Juleps while standing in the Kentucky Derby Turf Club.
The women were all dressed up, their hair and makeup perfect; their hats fabulous and fun. The men were handsome in their sports jackets and creased pants. Now and then a famous actor or musician walked by, and Dan and I murmured names to each other when we knew who they were. Suddenly we nudged each other and hissed simultaneously, “Peyton Manning!!” And there he was, looking handsome in a suit, but completely out of his element: the 25-year-old quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts. It was like he’d stepped right out of our TV and expanded to 6’5” and we couldn’t help but stare, starstruck.
We made our way to the rows of outdoor tables overlooking the racetrack and were led through the crowded top tier to our assigned table. Each rectangular table had six chairs, three on each side. As the crowd parted, we saw our two empty chairs waiting for us. Stepping behind them, we looked across the table, at Kid Rock. Two of his friends were there with him, and the empty seat next to him was reserved for Pamela Anderson, who was running late.
All we knew about Kid Rock was what we’d witnessed the night before, and what we’d seen on the cover of the supermarket tabloids; enough to know that wherever he and Pamela Anderson went, pandemonium followed. Very soon, this table was going to be a zoo.
Dan and I had partied hard in our younger days, and both of us had hazy recollections of our own cringe-worthy high jinks, but now we were in our forties. We were OLD, cranky from too little sleep, and we were flying to Europe the following day. The idea of sitting at the center of that maelstrom all afternoon was too much.
We’d already asked to change our room; I really didn’t want to go to the Barnstable twins and ask if they would juggle other guests to seat us at a different table. I was sure plenty of people would jump at the chance to sit with big celebrities like Kid Rock and Pamela Anderson, so I got up and casually started going from table to table, offering up our seats.
I was nervous about leaving Dan there on his own: he was incapable of faking a smile and making small talk, especially when he was tired. It was possible I could come back and find him deep in conversation with Kid Rock about Mozart or B.B. King; World War II or the Italian Renaissance. Most likely though, I figured I’d come back to a stony, awkward silence, the overture of the brash young pup having been slapped down by the battle-weary lion.
I tried the whole first tier: no one would switch seats with us. Back at our table there was a quiet tension. I sat down and whispered the news to Dan: we would just have to fasten our seat belts for a bumpy ride. Thankfully, though, the twins heard we were trying to jump ship and moved us a few tiers down, to a table with their mother, Wilma. She graciously greeted us as if she’d been expecting us all morning, and we spent a lovely afternoon with her while waiting for the start of the race.
Monarchos was the fourth choice, with odds of 10-to-1. After being bumped at the start, he swept wide around the final turn, passing the other horses with ease and winning by almost five lengths in the second fastest time in Derby history, after 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat. It was very exciting, and over in just under two minutes.
As crazy as some of it was, I’m so glad I got to experience The Kentucky Derby. It was the chance of a lifetime, and we came away with some grand memories. The next day, we boarded an Air France flight, bound for Paris.
Posted September 26th. 2020 Copyright ©Jean Fogelberg 2020