I’ve never worn a Derby hat. You know the kind – the hand-crafted, feathery, lacy sort – the kind visiting celebrities and social elites trot out on a certain Saturday in May. Nope. I’ve always wanted one, but I’ve never had one.
I guess that has something to do with who I am. I’m not a debutante or a movie star or anything else that might make me worth the hundreds or thousands of dollars that those hats cost. I’m a college student and, like the vast majority of college students, those little pieces of fabric and glue are just a bit beyond my reach.
The women in hats watch the race from the stands, in their elegant dresses and on the arms of handsome, well-to-do men in pressed suits. But while they watch the race – their expensive thoroughbreds circling the track in a thunderous, kaleidoscopic blur – I watch them. And I watch those hats – those beautiful, wonderful hats. All of them are lavish and fashionable, with bits of silk all around the brims.
These women have drinks too. With one dainty hand on her hat as she tips back her head, a woman sips her mint julep. Those around her are the same, drinking cocktails, many of which are poured from bottles that cost more than my tuition.
The infield and the stands actually have that in common. But theirs come in decorative glasses and ours come from aluminum cans marked “Budweiser” and “Miller Lite.”
As the trumpet sounds, the gates open and the race begins. The horses explode out of their stalls and we lose sight of them. Gaining speed, they become one large mass, blurred together and charging around the track. At least, that’s what I imagine happens.
I can’t see the horses. The women in the hats can see them. I can feel the pounding of hooves on the ground under my feet, but I can’t see the horses
However, I can see the women in the stands.
Covered in grass and mud and reeking of someone’s spilled Budweiser, I wonder to myself if The Derby would look any different from under the brim of one of those hats.