Over the last few days, I've done some completely unscientific surveys of Louisvillians. I've heard about people's favorite festivals, their opinions on Oaks versus Derby, and the craziest things they've seen on the infield. Before I share the love, I'm giving the other side a little equal opportunity time. Let's hear what the Derby Haters have to say and why.
"I prefer to be out of town the last two weeks of April," said Ben, who works at Role of the Die on Bardstown Road. "I've lived in Buffallo, I've lived in Toronto, I've lived in some really cosmopolitan places. Louisville feels like a painted whore during the first two weeks in May because they're trying to make this whole statement of 'Look at us, we're a big burgeoning city!' No we're not. It's a fake. I love the vibe that Louisville has, but it turns into a tourist trap for two weeks out of the year. They say it boosts the economy, but we don't see any of it. The state gambling commission takes a great chunk of it. The money goes to Frankfort, not here."
David, who works as a restaurant server, agreed. "Between Thunder and Derby, my business is slow. Everyone's saving up money for Derby, plus they're waiting for the big bender. Thunder was a big day for us. After the fireworks all kinds of people come in. But in the next week after Thunder, no one came in at all. We won't see people until Oaks. Then Derby night, it'll be dead again because everyone's at a private party."
Angel Collins has lived her entire life in Louisville without ever going to either Oaks or Derby.
"It's too many people, it's too uncontrolled, and quite honestly, it's too dangerous. Every year something really bad happens. You get a bunch of drunk people together and you're going to get someone raped or killed."
Angel wasn't alone in worrying about safety. Amanda, a single mother who enjoys the bustle and energy on Bardstown Road said you wouldn't catch her dead at Derby. "I loved Thunder when it first started, but now, I'm not going down there. I like this," she gestured at the people on the street, "but Derby? No. Thunder? No. It's just so many people, it's ridiculous. I can't take my kids without worrying if they're going to get kidnapped. Then you have the dudes with the snakes around their necks and the half drunk teenagers. No. Just no."
In addition to avoiding Churchill downs, Angel wasn't fond of the three weeks of festivals before Derby itself.
"The buildup to Derby sucks. They close off major streets for the mini-marathon and then you have problems getting anywhere. I ate breakfast at Cafe Beignet during the marathon, and I was there for an hour and a half. The whole time, I didn't see a single runner go by, but they still had it roped off just in case of stragglers."
Derby season traffic and reroutings were on everyone's mind. Ben said, "If you live in Portland or the west end, you might not even know Derby was happening. That's the area of Louisville that time forgot. If you live Downtown, you see a lot of improvements. The buildings put on their pretty colors, that sort of thing. If you live near the track, it's terrible. There are changes in traffic patterns, strangers park on your lawn, just living day to day is a disaster."
According to Angel, "I don't think Derby Season is as great as people say. It seems to be more of a hassle for the people who actually live in Louisville. If you live here, you're just expected to put up with it for three weeks because it's supposed to be this big boost to our economy, but it isn't. You don't see tourists on Bardstown Road. You don't see them in local shops. For the most part, it's just the big tourist traps that get the money - and none of those are owned locally."
Even people who liked the festivals had problems with them. Ralph Severson complained, "The officials should have more control over what happens. Like Thunder Over Louisville, people down there are taking yellow caution tape and zoning off an area like a soccer field so their kids can play and no one else is allowed to go in. It's not their private property. It's the taxpayers paying for the festival, for the fireworks, for the park. It's ridiculous."
When striking up conversations with strangers, I couldn't help but notice the haters were all over 35. Tomorrow, I'll let the younger crowd tell you what they love about Derby season and why.
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