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"We're thrilled just to be here."
"Where you from?"
And then we would hit him with it. I was from Massachusetts and Larry from New Jersey, and we had hitchhiked—hitchhiked, understand—1,000 miles through the cold and lonely night just to be here. In this hotel, on this Derby Eve, and to see the race tomorrow. That was how much the Derby meant to us.
"Well, I'll be damned. Hey, Charlie, you hear what these boys just told me? They hitchhiked down here from Mass-achoo-setts just to see this race. Hey, how about a drink, boys? Let me buy you a drink."
We outlasted them all. It was 8 p.m. when we started, and we stayed until the bar closed at 2 o'clock in the morning. We did not buy one drink. I had $21 when I left Worcester, $18 when I left the Brown Hotel. Larry had $12. We told the same story 11 times to 11 different people, and each time it was good for a drink. About midnight we switched from beer to mint juleps. And through the brown mahogany haze came the same three names again and again: Candy Spots, No Robbery, Never Bend.
There was no place to sleep, so we walked to the track. It was four miles from the hotel. We saw the twin spires in the darkness and a high wire fence all around. There were a dozen cars in a parking lot, full of dozing people sipping beer from cans, men in T shirts, puffy-faced women in curlers. They would pay $3 apiece in the morning. By being there first they would get to lay their blankets closest to the infield fence.
We walked the perimeter twice, looking for breaks in the fence. Then we went to a policeman by the main grandstand gate.
"If you had hitchhiked a thousand miles from Massachusetts to see this race and now you were broke and had to sneak into the track, how would you go about it?"
"I live exactly 400 yards from here, my friend, and tomorrow when this big Derby is going on I am going to be inside my house with the shades down, fast asleep."
"Yes, but we're not. We're going to be inside the track. And all we'd like you to do is tell us the quickest way to get there."