This is my good friend Caitlin (whose name isn’t really Caitlin). That is a hit of acid on her tongue. She did acid once, four years ago, and she’s doing it again now, just before we head out to the Kentucky Derby, because the only way to attend the most famous horse race in the world—an event that features thousands of drunken gamblers, straight-up drunks, and a roiling, seersuckered mess of Southern gentry—is to trip your head off for the whole thing.
An hour later, we arrived at Churchill Downs, which was pretty miserable in the rain. As with every major public gathering in America, tons of cops and security guards were on hand at the entrance to direct foot traffic and remind us all that we live in a post-9/11 security state. I knew the acid was starting to kick in when she compared this routine checkpoint to being a Jew in Hitler’s Germany: “I swear we are in a concentration camp. Look at how they are herding everyone.” Is this how Alex Jones fans are made?
Our tickets were for the infield, the area surrounded by the racetrack that turns into a big muddy party for the duration—sort of like a music festival without music but worse, if you can picture that. This area is designated for those who don’t want to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for a ticket, belligerent drunks, and 40-something divorcees trying to get freaky. It's cheap because you can't really tell what's going on, horse-racing-wise.
But in order to reach the infield, we first had to fight our way through a tunnel that smelled like a rotting asshole—the air was filled with cigar and cigarette smoke, vomit, and bourbon. Caitlin asked me if we were in hell.
Naturally, people started chanting “USA! USA! USA!” in this tunnel, which really pissed her off. “I hate this weird communism [Ed. note: ?] stuff. Why are they doing this? Do they want to feel powerful by hearing their own voices? Are they doing this by default? What does USA! USA! have to do with anything?” She told me all of this while holding an imaginary microphone.
The first wave of acid really hit her during one of the afternoon races leading up to the Derby. As you can see, we didn’t have a great view of the track where we were, and we could barely catch a glimpse of the horses as they pounded past on the wet earth. She had this terrifyingly blank look on her face, and later I asked her what she thought had happened. “The ground was shaking underneath me,” she replied, “so this little courtyard here suddenly became the ocean, and I was floating in it.”
The rain got heavier and Caitlin told me she needed shelter immediately. We took cover in a tent surrounding an ATM and Caitlin really liked the walls—she stood against them while rocking backward and forward. She told me the walls were breathing and expressed a concern that the strong winds might knock her over. (There wasn’t any wind.)
One of these classy, shit-faced, ex-frat-looking dudes sparked up a conversation with her about his girlfriend having a dry vagina and his masturbation patterns. He then asked her if she was into anal. That's when she walked away without saying anything. When I caught up to her, she told me, “His face just got really, really ugly.”
We then relocated to the bathroom to take cover. Everyone took turns using the mirrors—all the extravagent Derby hats and outfits were getting soggy and gross, and the would-be belles looked like sodden chihuahuas. Caitlin said it made her really sad to see all of these girls trying to look nice and getting rained on. Then I lost her for a minute and momentarily felt what it must be like to lose track of your child. Shit.
I found her in a corner staring at a wall, pretending to use her phone. “I had this feeling that if I stood here long enough, someone would come help me.” She said the walls were shifting, and brought up the concentration-camp thing again. “I mean, look at the walls. We’re in a fucking concentration camp.”
We went into a bathroom stall because Caitlin wanted to take a half a hit more, and found that someone had left her weave on the toilet seat. She got this really childlike glow on her face, and was really excited to talk to people about it after leaving the stall. Later, she told me that this was the only “real moment of reality” for her because she was able to distinguish that the weave being on the toilet wasn’t a normal occurrence.
It was really dark and ugly outside. The trash cans were overflowing with cans of Bud Light. Caitlin pointed out this tree and said it was the first beautiful thing she had seen at the Derby. She desperately sprinted toward it.
I asked her what was up with the tree because she kept glancing at it and then jerking away from it, as if it were too hot or bright for her. “I can’t look at it. All the little fibers are moving. It’s all shaking and vibrating.” She later told me that she couldn’t look at it for too long because it was too pretty for her.
After spending a couple hours wandering around the infield in the rain, a break from the madness was necessary before the big race started. We had to go through the tunnel again, which had collected a lot more garbage and was full of people hiding out from the rain. She stared at these bits of trash for a long time, made some oooo and ahhhh sounds, laughed, said “The meat is alive,” and took a picture.
We walked to a gas station to get ourselves something to drink. I made her smell the featured specialty, which was a cinnamon-roll cappuccino. At first, smelling the cappuccino made her laugh and then her eyes got a little red and she began crying because it “smelled so delightful.”
I drove her to a McDonald's, and we sat in the parking lot for 15 minutes before heading back to the track. This photo was during her mental breakdown after a guy in the car next to us asked her for a lighter and a phone charger. She told him, “I can’t handle you right now,” and rolled up her window.
This is Caitlin holding the cinnamon-roll cappuccino that made her cry on the back of a golf-cart shuttle that took us to the entrance of Churchill Downs. She had a lot of fun on the golf cart, especially when we hit potholes; it felt “a little dangerous” to her.
Getting back to the racetrack was really depressing for Caitlin. She kept staring at the trash on the ground and saying, “Churchill Downs isn’t supposed to look like this.” But she found comfort in this guy. “This is the prettiest thing I have seen since I’ve been here,” she said. I asked her what made him beautiful, and she said it was his white socks contrasted with his red shoes and the way he was chewing ferociously.
This photo of Caitlin is from seconds before the race started. Throughout her trip she kept repeating, “The funny thing is, everyone keeps frantically moving, but they aren’t going anywhere… everyone’s trying to get somewhere, but there is nowhere to go. I don’t get it.” Although she looks lost, this was a moment of some kind of clarity for her among the sea of what I guess you'd describe as humanity. “Ahhh, it’s finalllllly happening!" she said. "This is it!!!” We didn’t end up really seeing the race, but I think she had a pretty good time anyway.