My fiancé, Matt, and I went to the Alaska Airlines Center for Sam Hunt’s July concert, the first concert to take place at the venue in three years. Matt and I got dressed up in our country best (jeans and flannel), and drove over to the venue.
The Alaska Airlines Center had a somewhat slow start recovering from the pandemic; Anchorage Performing Arts Center successfully hosted a full concert season in 2021/2022. I personally slept through David Sedaris’ essay reading there in May.
I’m not saying David Sedaris wasn’t entertaining (he was).
I’m saying he has a soothing sonorous voice that lulled me into a deep dreamless slumber for 45 minutes.
And I’d say much the same thing, if this was an official review of David Sedaris’ performance, as opposed to Sam Hunt’s.
The Alaska Airlines Center, on the other hand, has hosted no events, save the Donald Trump rally in June. This event was pulled off by hook or by crook; the University of Alaska Anchorage Student Union eagerly attempted to cancel it. They failed, licked their wounds, and redoubled their efforts to cancel Sam Hunt, which also failed.
For its post-COVID grand concert debut, the Alaska Airlines Center pulled out all the stops. Early arrivals were ushered into the basketball gym, where they could purchase beer, popcorn, and pulled pork sandwiches.
Surveying the crowd, Matt began ticking off the number of people he knew. Matt has lived in Anchorage for more than a decade longer than I have, and grew up in a large church community; he invariably recognizes people when we go out to community events.
I too surveyed the crowd, recognized no one, and instead began ticking off the number of people wearing Matt’s shirt.
“There’s a guy over there wearing the same shirt as you,” I nodded. “Oh, and there’s another who just walked in… wait, no, there’s a woman over there. Also wearing your shirt!”
Something about this seemingly nondescript red and grey Duluth Trading Company print was very popular.
Two more men surfaced in the same shirt when the doors to the stadium opened, and we walked inside.
Passing through the impressively orderly ticket check, Matt busily explained how he knew an entire family sitting against the wall.
Finding our seats, we sat down as the opening band started up.
The crowd, thirsty and eager for live entertainment, went wild.
“You know, I’m so honored to open for Sam Hunt,” the lead singer introduced himself. “But…”
“…I also get so mad. Sam Hunt is so handsome. And I’m not as handsome.”
It was a bold choice for the unknown singer to begin his entire set by talking himself down.
Matt elbowed me as he pointed out seven more people he knew.
Finally, I spotted someone I knew.
“There, I know someone.”
I pointed out a man across the way. We’d gone out on one date six years ago, and he would text me periodically for years afterwards asking me what color my panties were. He only stopped when I found myself seated next to him at a bar and loudly told my friend the story.
“This guy, check out this guy next to me!” I bellowed over the music.
I hadn’t thought he’d heard me at the time, but I could be wrong.
“So, that story itself warrants me knowing twenty people,” I concluded with finality.
Matt’s expression darkened.
“That’s true. None of my stories are that good.”
Matt is a very competitive person. He is no longer allowed to play games with his immediate family because someone inevitably starts to cry. Now, they only play cooperative boardgames where they work together to build imaginary farms, or fight imaginary dragons.
I could see I had infuriated him by having a juicier story about a random person in the crowd than he had.
He frantically searched the audience.
“There! I’ve got one!”
Matt pointed to one of the forward rows, where a slender, pretty brunette was leading her nine year old son by the hand to their seats.
“Her! I have one! We went out on a date nine years ago. Eharmony. She asked me if I wanted kids. I said, ‘I don’t know, I’m only twenty-three!’”
“What happened after that?”
“Never heard from her again.”
“Well, it looks like she found someone very soon after that,” I nodded to the woman’s son.
Sam Hunt jumped on the stage and proceeded to give a very energetic performance for the next hour and twenty minutes.
Normally, his performance would warrant at least a 9 out of 10. Sadly, I have to dock him two points.
He was not wearing Matt’s shirt.
Sarah Brown is a music critic. Send her requests for reviews on Twitter @BrownsClose1, or by email at email@example.com. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.
My friend and I took advantage of the federal Juneteenth holiday for an overnight trip to Girdwood. I had never been to the Sitzmark Bar and Grill before, and thus that featured high on a list of potential activities.
Saturday night, we entered.
A small woman with short gray hair in her late sixties was sitting at a table at the top of the stairs in an oddly official capacity for a ski bar.
“$25 each please!” she trilled.
I forked over the cash, thinking this seemed like a hefty cover charge.
Sensing my skepticism –
“We have so many activities this evening!” she gushed. “A drum circle, an aerial dancer, and live music!” Apparently, a lot was on offer for the night.
Passing beyond the table, we were greeted by another woman, wearing a long flowing blue mumu. She carried a very tiny bag on her back, and a very large floral wreath on her head.
“Welcome!” she greeted us warmly and passed us each a streamer. “Welcome!”
I looked around at my fellow Sitzmark patrons. Most were dressed in hiking clothes as we were, although many wore onesies with space themed patterns (stars, super nova’s, the galaxy, etc.). One man was clad in a onesie, covered in Sesame Street characters, though the top half was rolled down to his waist. Children ran around clad in their best tutus and tie dye.
We wandered over to watch the band currently playing. They were all dressed in neon. One woman was wearing cat ears. Another was wearing a large velvet navy blue bathrobe. Most of the instruments in the band seemed to be fiddles and washboards.
I rocked side to side to the somewhat tuneless music for a song or two. Then the band finished and took a deep bow.
The lead singer breathed in deeply.
“Thank you,” she sighed. “Happy Solstice everyone!”
A light bulb went on. I turned to my friend, feeling like an idiot.
“It’s the solstice,” I shouted.
That explained everything.
But the lead singer was not yet finished with her speech.
“We will now go out and watch this beautiful woman perform her dance.”
She gestured to the woman clad in the super nova onesie.
The “beautiful woman,” a petite blonde with a bouncy ponytail, waved cheerily and departed through a side door.
Obediently, the assembling crowd followed her outside.
In the back near the ski lift were a number of poles, constructed such that a long piece of fabric looped and draped down to the ground. The bouncy blonde grabbed the fabric, and shimmied up. She must be the aerial dancer.
I don’t know that one could call her performance “dancing,” per se. She twisted to and fro to tinkly music in the background, oftentimes doing splits midair. The act certainly required an impressive amount of flexibility and core strength.
Behind me, two men were muttering to each other.
“Yeah, she was a performer with Cirque de sole!”
The speaker paused, then continued.
“Well, at least, an alternate.”
Flipping herself around, and still suspended, the aerial dancer gestured broadly to the audience.
“Thank you,” she sighed.
She gestured magnanimously. “We will now listen to this beautiful drum circle!”
The neon clad band shuffled out onto the grass.
Cat ears woman could be heard complaining that the program wasn’t moving fast enough.
“I’m a very busy woman!” she bellowed. “I do all the things!”
The neon band began banging drums held between each member’s respective legs. The woman wearing the bathrobe played the washboard with a vacant, ecstatic smile emblazoned across on her face.
The drum circle swayed placidly for a few minutes, before the aerial dancer, feeling perhaps that she didn’t want to be left out, shimmied unexpectedly back up the fabric, and began twisting around once more.
Far from appearing irritated that she’d stolen their limelight, the drum circle swiveled gamely around to watch her as well, continually banging on their washboards.
This went on for some time before the grand finale; the aerial dancer descended to the ground, wrapped herself up in the fabric to which she had just been clinging, and began thrashing around wildly on the ground. The thrashing and the banging reached a crescendo, before ending promptly at 8:45 PM.
Dancer and musicians all took deep bows, and the crowd broke out into polite, albeit quiet, clapping.
Best Solstice Ever.
Sarah “Sun Goddess” Brown is a devotee of Mother Earth. Whisper to her softly on Twitter @BrownsClose1, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.
For the last several years, I’ve volunteered with a financial literacy organization in a variety of capacities, including as a fifth-grade teacher. This month, I reentered the classroom for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic to teach sixth grade. All the volunteer teachers for that day met in the morning for coffee and pastries. We were then escorted to our respective classrooms by a lucky student from each class.
The representative summoned me to the front of the room, where I met my student.
“Hi, I’m Sarah. What’s your name?”
The tall, thin student glared at me.
“Amara,” she spat, then turned and sped off down the hallway.
I jogged after her, and into the classroom, where I was greeted by a harassed looking teacher.
I shook her hand, and –
“So, this is a rowdy bunch,” she babbled. “So, like, don’t take it personally.”
The staff had already prepped us for possible behavior issues post-pandemic. We were cleared to pause, or even stop, lessons anytime we wanted. The teachers also could choose to wrap the day early if they wished.
“Oh, that’s okay, we will see how it goes, and whether we need to take a break,” I answered brightly, and sashayed importantly to the front of the room.
“Good morning, everyone,” I called. “My name is Sarah.”
The kids at the front two tables greeted me warmly. Everyone else continued coloring or playing cards.
The first lesson was about identifying the students’ skill sets and seeing what type of jobs they could do with those talents. I passed around the worksheet, hung up a poster of jobs, and asked the students to brainstorm a list of things they were good at.
The front two tables all agreed they were good at drawing and hairstyling and were not good at math.
I walked beyond the first two tables and approached a boy in the back who was still coloring.
“Hey, do you want to fill out your worksheet?”
His head gave a tremendous shake.
Recognizing a lost cause, I approached another boy who was playing cards.
“Hey, so what are you good at?”
I pointed to his entirely blank worksheet.
“Oh, I know what I’m going to be,” he announced confidently, as he mashed his cards together in a pile. “I’m going to join the Air Force and be a pilot.”
“Nice. What skills will you need to be a pilot?” I gestured again at the paper.
“Listening, communication, probably a degree.” He finished mashing his face down cards. “Point to one.”
“What kind of card is it? Like what number?”
“Ace?” I guessed.
He picked it up and flipped it over.
It was the Ace of Hearts.
I was completely enthralled.
“Wait, how did you do that?”
He smiled slyly and shrugged.
I went back to my teaching guide and surveyed the instructions. I was supposed to pass out Post-it notes to the students, who were to initial them, and place the notes on the poster next to their desired career.
I began passing out the Post-it notes.
“Okay class,” I raised my voice to be heard over the low-level rumble. “Now it’s time to initial these Post-it notes and place them on the job you’re interested in pursuing.”
The five students who were interested in what I had to say all asked for two or three post-it notes. The fifteen who were not interested all asked individually what they were supposed to do with the Post-it notes.
When all the Post-its had finally been initialed and placed on the poster (roughly 87% of students wanted to be graphic designers), I turned to the next activity. Students had to write down the job they wanted, the skills they needed to obtain that job, how they would get those skills, and where they could go for more information.
I passed out the materials and instructions to create the flyers.
Five students began reviewing the materials, and the rest chattered happily.
“Hey, how do we do this?”
One of the five handed me his flyer.
I looked at the instructions.
There was a complex mix of dotted lines, straight black lines, and scissors cutting along bold black lines.
“You cut along the dotted lines,” one girl announced, and began cutting.
I squinted at the drawing.
“I think you’re supposed to cut along the line in the middle here.”
“Oh yeah,” the original boy agreed.
“Here, let me get you a new paper,” I offered to the girl who was now holding a cut up unusable mess.
It soon transpired that the flyers were significantly less absorbing than the Post-it notes. The noise volume in the classroom grew steadily louder, and Cheerios and fruit cups began to fly across the room. One girl took a banana to the eye, and a boy was pulled under a table by two other students in retaliation. I watched, fascinated as the two students began to try to pull him apart under the table.
I walked over to the teacher.
“So, do they, like, get recess or anything?”
“No, we usually work right through to 11:45.”
I looked at the clock.
“Let’s have recess today. Like, right now. Run them around the building or something.”
“Okay,” she nodded vigorously, and shouted for a few moments to make herself heard over the din.
“Class, we are going outside. Please line up.”
“So, how long have you been their teacher?” I asked, watching the students slowly line up, pushing each other out of the way.
“Oh, since Monday. Their original teacher broke his neck in January. They’ve had rotating subs ever since.”
“Oh.” I was quiet at this grim news. It explained a lot.
After 20 minutes outside, the class came back.
“Now, remember what we talked about,” the teacher called from the back of the room. “You are supposed to be polite and listen to Miss Sarah.”
The class listened respectfully to the assignment for about seven minutes, then the hubbub began to rise again.
“Do we have to?” one student whined and put his head in his arms as I passed out the new worksheet. “This is so much paper!”
“You’re not dying, you’ll be fine.”
It’s never too early to try to instill a sense of perspective.
We were guessing the differences between credit cards and debit cards. The team who guessed right most often won the game, but I neglected to bring prizes. What an oversight.
With no stakes, the class devolved, feeling like they’d been had.
I looked at the clock. It was 11:20. I pulled out the materials for the final game (insurance bingo) and examined them. If we could just get through this last lesson, we could call it a successful day (provided no more food products were suddenly turned into weapons of mass destruction).
Insurance bingo required many pieces of paper. There were the bingo boards, cards with different types of insurance, and pop out dollar bills.
I frowned at all the pieces.
We weren’t finishing before lunch.
“Okay class, we are going to take a break. After lunch, we are going to play a game.”
“Ooh, what kind of game,” a back table student raised his head for the first time. “Monopoly?”
“Well, sort of like Monopoly. Except less good,” I answered honestly.
I met with the other volunteers for lunch. Cries of delight were exchanged, as they all talked about how sweet their kids were, and how attentive, and how the younger students just wanted to give them hugs.
I sank into my elementary student sized chair, and ate my sandwich with my knees in my chin.
“How is your class going?” the banker teaching fourth grade turned to me.
“Pandemonium. Pandemonium,” I muttered, shaking my head.
After lunch, I resolved to finish the game as soon as possible.
“What do we win?” one student called as I passed out the bingo boards and sundry materials.
“Bragging rights!” I shouted back.
Apparently I underestimated the power of bragging rights for sixth graders. The whole class was instantly motivated to participate. Elbows flying, and brows furrowed, the students studied their bingo boards, and prevented their fellow students from crossing off squares unfairly.
“Bingo!” grinned one girl wickedly, and I went over to check her board.
Her whole table instantly turned on her.
“She’s cheating, she swapped squares!”
“Honesty in Insurance Bingo is paramount,” I lectured, and continued.
When Bingo was finally declared after a few more false starts, I helped the teacher clean up all the worksheets that had been summarily dumped on the floor.
“You did such a good job holding their attention,” she grinned. “I’m impressed!”
I bowed my head humbly and scuttled from the classroom.
Sarah Brown is a real charmer. Be dazzled by her on Twitter @BrownsClose1, or by emailing her at email@example.com. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac. All names have been changed to protect the guilty.
It’s January, which means the dark, yet unseasonably warm, weather has us dreaming of summertime. In our nostalgia, let’s consider a fond memory from summer 2021.
Some friends and I went to Hidden Lake Campground along Skilak Lake Road. Per Alaska.org, Skilak Lake and the surrounding areas are known as “the premier wildlife-viewing areas on the Kenai Peninsula.” The website promotes many references to bird watching, bird sightings, and sockeye salmon. Tucked away at the bottom, the website also advertises bear watching tours, mainly with the express purpose of watching the bears feed on sockeye salmon.
At the campground, there is a paved road down to Hidden Lake, and hiking and biking trails around the lake to a large amphitheater. Saturday at midday, three of us took one mellow bulldog for a walk through the woods towards the amphitheater. This bulldog, Riley, is a gentle animal. I’ve never heard her bark, seen her run, or express more than a passing interest in the world around her. Instead, she greeted the squirrel in the tree at our campsite, which was chattering at us angrily, by shuffling over to the tree and looking up for a while.
Riley hobbles along wherever she goes at a meandering pace. If you call her, she will come, but not with any urgency.
And it was in this manner that Riley and I led the Saturday afternoon pack, me alternating between walking her, and dragging her by her leash.
James, the owner of the bulldog, called out.
“Wait, Sarah, hold on, stop for a second.”
He was staring at the ground, transfixed.
I walked back to him.
I stared at the ground intently.
All I saw was the pavement.
“What are you looking at?”
He frowned and shook his head.
“Sorry, I have a thing about this trail. I always think I’m going to see a bear. I don’t hang around, I don’t stop, I’m ALWAYS watching, I just keep moving.”
The two of us looked back at our third walking companion. This friend, Amanda, was wearing a sunhat, sunglasses, and carrying a mimosa. She was poking at the ground, looking for kindling for firewood, and admiring the scenery.
“The sunlight is so pretty,” she sighed. “It looks like a fairy forest!”
James, the bulldog, and I continued, making it perhaps ten steps. Then James stopped us again and began looking at the ground.
Whatever he was looking at must have been impressive, so I looked down too.
“Hold up, Sarah these look – ”
He stopped talking and lifted his gaze. I followed, looking up at the trail ahead.
An 800-pound brown bear was running along the trail, straight at us, and, perhaps most horribly, was making eye contact.
In shock, it took me a moment to register what was happening. The bear was so massive, his extra muscles and extra fat and extra skin rose and fell up over his head with each stride like a large mane. It was like watching a lion run at us, but much taller.
We were at a loss for options. No gun, no bear spray, just a mild-mannered bulldog who didn’t bark.
“Run!” James whispered.
We turned around and bolted, and that naggingly rational part of my brain reminded me that running from a brown bear was the worst thing you could do. You were supposed to stand your ground and look bigger. Or were you supposed to keel over and look smaller? Either, way, what we were doing was wrong.
But really, what kind of a psycho would honestly stop and wait for this monster to run up and grab him?
I ran as fast as I could, full out. I also realized too late that I was wearing flip flops, and this was perhaps the most awful choice for footwear. I kept running.
We rounded the bend in the trail and into Amanda, our flower child companion. She saw the wild looks on our faces, and I could hear James calling, “Run, just run!”
Amanda turned around, and began running wildly, her arms, currently holding a giant stick, her mimosa, and her sunglasses, flailing about. Her sunhat flopped around her face. She stuck her arm out in front of her blindly, attempting to not spill her drink.
That rational part of my brain surfaced again; don’t look back, it will slow you down.
I kept running, my head down, waiting for claws and teeth to sink into my back in three, two, one…
I was still running.
I started counting to myself. Every extra second was another second the bear hadn’t gotten me.
I put on a jolt of speed and leveled with Amanda.
She was looking back.
“There’s nothing behind us! I don’t see anything!”
She looked back again.
“Still nothing. I don’t see it.”
“Don’t look back, you don’t want to see this bear,” James grunted.
But a glimmer of hope flashed through my chest.
Wait a minute, we have a chance.
Brown bears can run thirty miles an hour.
If it hadn’t caught us by now… maybe it wasn’t going to.
The entrance to the forest and the trail were up ahead. Through the trees were roads and cars and maybe more people.
I put on another burst of speed and ran flat out towards the light.
“Sarah! It’s okay! You can slow down!” James called from somewhere behind me. He and Amanda must have determined with finality that the bear was not following us.
But bears don’t stop for pavement. Bursting out of the woods like a bat out of hell, I ran to the middle of the road. I stopped, doubled over, and started coughing and wheezing.
I realized I’d completely forgotten about the bulldog. Looking down wildly, there she was, coughing and wheezing beside me.
I looked around crazily for people.
There were two young dads walking their toddlers down the road.
“Bear!” I started to wave my arms and scream wheezily. “Bear! Bear! THERE’S A BEAR!!!!!!!”
James and Amanda had exited the forest by now, and they were watching me open mouthed as I danced around and flipped my lid in real time.
The dads both looked at me warily. One gave his child’s hand to the other and proceeded towards me with caution.
“Okay, okay,” he raised his arms tentatively, like he was trying to calm a raging beast. “What’s happening?”
I coughed and sputtered and flapped around some more and danced towards him.
He took a few steps back.
“There’s…a bear!” I gasped and doubled over coughing.
“A, a bear? Where?”
One of the toddlers behind him started to cry.
“It’s okay,” the other dad patted the terrified child’s head.
“There’s a bear… running… on the trail.”
“Okay, okay,” the first dad raised his hands again. “Do me a favor, okay? Just tell the camp host.”
James and Amanda caught up to me.
“Are you okay?” James asked patting my shoulder.
I laughed hysterically, which caused me to start wheezing again.
“You know, it’s funny what you think about,” he mused, as we ambled back to the campsite, all desire for a walk gone. “The whole, time, all I could think about was how glad I was I wasn’t wearing my crocs.”
Sarah Brown is a champion sprinter. Try to catch her on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac. All names have been changed to protect the guilty.
In some respects 2021 was a great improvement over 2020. People were rarely locked at home. Travel resumed. Vaccines and toilet paper were plentiful. In other ways, however, 2021 was disappointingly similar to 2020. Fights broke out in public places over sundry items. The Rockettes again cancelled their Christmas spectacular. One man was sentenced to 10 years in prison in Iowa for beating up and coughing on someone who asked him to pull up his mask.
In celebration of New Year’s Eve, let us review some of Brown’s Close’s highlights from 2021:
January: While there was an obvious riot in the Capitol, there were a few other, much neglected, events. Kim Kardashian and Kanye West broke up; Bernie Sanders wore mittens; and Anne Hathaway demanded everyone start calling her Annie.
February: The Kansas City Chiefs failed to score even one touchdown in the Super Bowl, devastating my coworkers in Kansas City. Also on Super Bowl Sunday, I participated in Alaska Ski for Women dressed as an apple.
March: While murder hornets plagued the world in 2020, a swarm of locusts pestered the citizens of Kenya in 2021. In other, chillier places, I finished near the bottom (but not last!) in the Tour of Anchorage ski race.
April: A blockage in the Suez Canal halted international commerce for six days. This made me wonder, when was the last time the Suez Canal was in the news — 1956?
May: In the normal course of my shopping, a retail store worker informed me Donald Trump was still the president. Her proof was a cell phone video of him walking out to “Hail to the Chief.” The video was presumably filmed in 2018.
June: Twitter was banned by the entire nation of Nigeria.
July: Simone Biles backed out of the Olympics due to a case of the “twisties.”
August: I took my dad to see “The Guess Who” at the Alaska State Fair. The entire week leading up to this event, I kept telling people we were going to see “The No Doubt,” and/or “The Good News.” At the concert, a pair of 60-year-old women seated in the wet section stormed the stage and sat on the edge of it for the remainder of the concert. The lead singer gamely came over and sat with them for a few songs.
September: The QAnon Shaman plead guilty to entering a restricted building. Not only known as the “QAnon Shaman,” I discovered he sometimes goes by “The Yellowstone Wolf.” He’s also the accomplished author of two self-published books.
October: Scared straight by news stories that Christmas would be cancelled by the supply chain crisis, I began my Christmas shopping.
November: I concluded my Christmas shopping, just in time for all gifts already purchased to go on sale for Black Friday.
December: One of my friends is from Minerva, Ohio. In lieu of a traditional Christmas movie, we sat down to watch famed Bigfoot documentary, “Minerva Monster.” The film, with an audience score of 40% on Rotten Tomatoes, does not have a critics rating.
Minerva, Ohio, is, apparently, one of the most prominent sites for spotting Bigfoot. In 1978, Bigfoot terrorized the home of the Claytons over the period of several months. The Claytons claimed they mistook Bigfoot for a large hairy man who weighed over five hundred pounds.
It’s unclear whether they know an actual person who fits this description. Nevertheless, the residents of Minerva were somewhat unconcerned with ensuring they proved Bigfoot’s existence. For example, one of the Claytons did claim he had photos of Bigfoot bites on his brother’s neck. He did not think to produce these for the documentary. Also, while the residents went through the trouble of collecting a sample of Bigfoot’s fur and sending it to Malone College for analysis, when the sample went mysteriously missing they took no steps to retrieve it.
Just as the Claytons quietly accepted their Bigfoot DNA analysis was going awry, I am dutifully plodding into the new year expecting the chaos of the last two years to continue. However, let us be optimistic. From this mighty army of one at Brown’s Close, Happy New Year, and may we all have a more peaceful 2022.
Sarah Brown had an action-packed year. Before she gets too busy in 2022, tweet her @BrownsClose1 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. “Close” is a British term for an alley or cul-de-sac.
No family gathering is complete without at least three political discussions so passionate they clear the room. To aid you at your forthcoming Thanksgiving feast, here is a proposed list of timely dinner topics, sure to make your evening a night to remember.
Inflation? Yay or nay?
Does Joe Biden sniff women? Or do women sniff Joe Biden?
Jeff Bezos, or Elon Musk?
Bernie Sanders, or Elon Musk?
What’s Mike Pence up to these days?
Can cryptocurrency be most likened to the Holland tulip bulb mania of the 1630s?
Was Aaron Rodgers immunized?
Airline seats – to recline, or not to recline?
Meghan Markle versus Piers Morgan.
Janet Jackson versus Justin Timberlake.
Britney Spears versus Justin Timberlake.
Britney Spears versus Christina Aguilera.
Britney Spears versus all of the other Spears.
Is Benedict Cumberbatch hot?
Wired headphones? Or wireless headphones? What’s cool now?
Did Epstein kill himself?
The ecclesiastical calendar, subdivided by the difference between All Saints Day and All Souls Day.
The pros and cons of Kamala Harris’ laugh.
Is Jennifer Lawrence hot?
Is Justin Bieber a good singer?
Turkey and gravy soda – a genius invention, or a monstrosity inflicted upon man?
The First Amendment.
The Second Amendment.
The Third Amendment.
Nicolas Cage’s acting career – please submit responses in the form of a dissertation.
Why is everything so expensive?
I, for one, look forward to discussing the elusive sex appeal of Pete Davidson, whether or not Joe Biden’s neurologic exam was honest and above board, and to finally resolve, once and for all, whether aliens are invading Hawaii.
Sarah Brown is, what her grandmother would call, an instigator. Tweet her @BrownsClose1 or email her at email@example.com. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.
In honor of Halloween, this column will be dedicated to my dad, and his most favorite hobby of all time – standing in graveyards looking at headstones.
Like many Americans, my dad is interested in genealogy. His storied family ancestry dates back to Oliver Cromwell, the Mayflower, and the Revolutionary War. Dad has dutifully led his family though many historic sites, tracing the gallant, brave acts by Browns long since lost. I’ve personally stood in graveyards across multiple state lines with my dad, looking for the graves of dearly departed family members. The older the grave, the more difficult this is, as years of graveyard wear and tear rub away the names.
Most recently, my dad discovered he was a descendent of John Pemberton, the leader of the famed “Overmountain Men.” This ragtag group from 1700’s era East Tennessee heard tell that the British had threatened to burn all of their farms to the ground. The Overmountain Men understandably objected to this, and charged out of the hills of Tennessee and down into North Carolina. The British soldiers, confronted by a hundred crazed and imposing backwoodsmen, freaked out and met with a shameful defeat at the Battle of King’s Mountain.
In order to pay homage to the group’s bravery, my dad wanted to trace the journey of the Overmountain Men by car. While it would take us a matter of hours, we would follow the route that the men marched along for two painful weeks, from John Pemberton’s farm through the Great Smokey Mountains, and down into North Carolina.
John Pemberton, a wealthy farmer, mustered his brawny troops under the Pemberton Oak near his house. This was the first stop on our local tour. Down narrow dirt roads near Bristol, Tennessee, my dad and I drove hither and yon, looking for an oak. The challenging part was that the oak tree had fallen over in 2002, so we were reduced to looking for a sign, which was much less impressive.
We missed the sign for the other trees, and in frustration moved on to our next site, John Pemberton’s grave.
The grave was in a small cemetery on private property near a tool store. Dad thought it best we scout out the place in advance of trespassing, and make sure we could distinguish which dirt road to which farm behind which tool store.
And my dad has always believed if something is worth doing, then it is worth doing well. In every store, in every gas station, in every restaurant, he asked the employees, “Have you heard of John Pemberton? Have you heard of the Overmountain Men?”
Most of these employees were somewhat sullen teenagers begrudgingly working summer jobs. To say they were wholly unconcerned with John Pemberton and the Overmountain Men would be an understatement.
“Who? No, never heard of him.”
“What? Who’s that?”
“Huh? Like Pemberton Road? That’s right there.”
“Nope. Well, that’s something right there.”
There was, however, one elderly man who owned a gift shop that sold only religious iconography and soapstone animals.
“Ah yeah. That’s behind that tool store. Park, walk up the hill, through the fence, past the farm house, and it’s on your right. Nobody ever goes there.”
We thanked him for the clear instructions, and my dad bristled at Bristol’s lack of reverence for our Revolutionary family members.
We found the tool store in a manner of minutes, and parked in the gravel lot. The building was inauspicious, and the store closed.
We walked around the store through a grassy field, and up a hill. We found a fence, clearly marked “Private Property, Do Not Enter,” and entered.
Up around a farm house, where we were greeted aggressively by a handful of chained dogs, through a second fence, and into a small graveyard.
It was quiet and shaded, with a myriad of faded headstones. Dad and I then began the slow work of looking at each headstone, and attempting to locate the name of the deceased. Most graves were too old, and any inscription had long since worn away. Some, however, were fresh and legible from as recently as the 1960s.
I was just pondering what Dad and I would have to do to qualify to be buried at such a historic site, when I heard the delighted cry of, “Found it!”
I picked my way through some overgrowth to a small stone marking John Pemberton’s remains, next to those of Mrs. Pemberton. We stared reverently for a few moments, and then bolted the fence, said goodbye to the dogs, walked back to the rental car, and began the lengthy drive to North Carolina.
Sarah Brown can be found squatting near graves. If you’re too chicken to join her, Tweet her on Twitter @BrownsClose1, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.
The pain in my ankle was sharp. The only sounds I could make were a shriek, and a pitiful, “Oh no.”
This was it. My worst fear. I’d have to be taken off the trail by helicopter like the poor woman we were previously warned about. My name would go down in trail history as an inexperienced nuisance.
My friend, who had been consistently moving at a quick pace and was far ahead, heard me fall and doubled back with the lightning speed of a jaguar.
Reaching my side –
“Drop the pack,” she ordered.
I struggled out of the large backpack, clutching my ankle.
I rolled around on the ground, taking the kind of deep breaths women are always practicing when they give birth on television.
“I heard a crack,” I mumbled.
My friend didn’t say anything, and instead turned grey.
I rolled around some more, and then tentatively rolled my ankle. Then, with the horrific image of having to lie on the ground for hours waiting for a helicopter to find me and take me home, I rolled onto my knees, and stood up.
Confirming I could walk, I told myself that my ankle wasn’t broken.
My friend helped me on with my pack, and she bounded on, with me trudging behind her.
With her periodically running ahead and then doubling back, she glowingly confirmed we were not as far from Eagle River as she’d initially expected. My heart leapt for joy; Eagle River was the overnight camping site. We would cross the river first thing in the morning.
Eagle River, like many of Alaska’s natural elements, is mighty. The current is quick, the water high, and hikers get caught and drown.
Until my ankle injury, which was now my chief concern, fjording the river had been the part of the trip about which I had been quietly fretting.
Reaching the riverbank, I plopped down, took off my left boot, and examined my ankle. It was significantly swollen; all prior definition was gone, and the vascularity had disappeared from my foot. The ankle was unstable.
My friend was marching up and down the river, examining the conditions. There was a couple across the way on the other side, happily changing clothes in full view. They had clearly just crossed through the glacial melt, and were putting on dry clothes as advised to prevent hypothermia.
“Uh, Sarah?” she spoke softly, as if approaching someone on her deathbed. “I think we should cross.”
“Wait, what now?” I squawked, alarmed.
I was supposed to have eight hours to prepare myself for this feat.
“Well, yeah. There are people around. I’d rather do it then.”
My safety track record on this trip so far was not great; tripping and drowning were definitely possible. If I did that when people were watching, at least they could report where to look for my body.
“Well, let me change my shoes and see how my ankle feels.”
We’d each brought separate water shoes solely for the purpose of crossing Eagle River. I pulled the sandals gingerly over my ankle. It was so swollen the straps almost didn’t make it around the blobby grapefruit that, an hour ago, had been a working joint. I didn’t have any way of treating the injury other than making it worse by walking on it for another fourteen miles. Oddly enough, submerging it in icy water might be the best thing at the moment.
“Let’s do it.”
Prior to the trip, I watched a safety video on crossing Eagle River. According to the video, we were supposed to line up with everyone in our group, holding the hips of the hiker in front of us, and move sideways in a line facing the current. The theory was each person would help stabilize the hiker in front of him.
I hobbled over to the water’s edge, and my friend graciously agreed to be the leader, taking the brunt of the current.
My friend leaned into her poles, and I leaned into her. The water, which came up to mid-thigh, was icy and, as advertised, fast. The rocks under foot were smooth and slippery, and would have been difficult to negotiate with two good ankles.
My friend took a shuffling side step to the left, and I followed. We took another, and I felt myself lurch forward.
“Wait, stop you’re going too fast, you’re going too fast!” I shrieked hysterically, all in one breath.
“You okay you okay you okay?”
“I’m okay I’m okay I’m okay,” I answered in our new call and response. We took another step to the left.
I was torn between skipping as quickly as we could to the shore, and with keeping my ankle from getting stuck between one of the rolling, slippery rocks.
We lurched to the left again, and I compulsively squeezed her hips in a death grip.
“You’re going too fast, you’re going too fast!”
Then, realizing we really were quite close to the shore by then —
“I’m okay I’m okay I’m okay,” I shrieked before she could ascertain if I was ready to move forward.
In a weird sideways charge, we galloped the last 10 feet, and onto the rocky beach.
I collapsed, tears streaming down my face from pain, and total relief.
“I’m so glad that’s over,” I kept muttering.
“You know Sarah? Every time you told me I was going too fast? I was just, like, moving.”
I laid down on my back, lifting my ankle into the air, moaning, muttering, and periodically asking my friend if she needed help erecting the tent. She assured me she did not, and then came to sit next to me on the rocky beach.
“I’m so glad that’s over and we don’t have to do that tomorrow,” I muttered one last time with finality.
In advance of this trip, I had excitedly, and optimistically, purchased a “backpacking sleeping bag” on Amazon, rated down to 47 degrees Fahrenheit. All day trudging through the snow covered mountains, I’d worried about whether the bag would be warm enough.
While I did not freeze to death, I did roll around all night shivering, and wondering what shape my ankle would be in by morning.
At six, I crawled out of my friend’s tent shivering, and examined my ankle. It still resembled a grapefruit, but did not hurt as much as I had feared. Chalking it up to adrenaline, I hoped this protective panic would last until I could collapse at home later that night.
My friend scuttled out of the tent soon after me, and we made breakfast. Of my remaining freeze dried meals, I determined chili mac was the most breakfast-like, and I stirred the contents around in the boiling water, marveling at the sheer volumes of sodium inherent therein. We then packed up, and hit the trail.
Everything hurt. My ankle, my shoulders, my back, my feet, my new blisters. The residual pain of Day 1 exacerbated the pain of Day 2.
I spent the better part of the first two hours hobbling along, holding my breath. We were wading through creepy tall grass again, and a bear could stick his face out in front of me without warning. Eventually we made our way into woods which, while still eerie, offered more visibility.
Bursting over a bridge and crossing Eagle River from a different vantage point, two young men came bounding towards us, hailing us down.
My friend grabbed her bear spray.
I, on the other hand, was glad to see them. Maybe they’d give my old bones a lift home after they murdered me.
They announced they were taking surveys for the Alaska Department of Natural Resources.
I leaned heavily on my poles, relieved that we had stopped walking.
“How did you hear about this trail?”
I gestured mutely to my friend.
“How is the difficulty level?”
“Easy!” she rattled off.
I, on the edge of collapse –
“Really hard,” I muttered, in a voice barely louder than a whisper.
“A lot of beginners like it for the variety. You’re exposed to so many different types of terrain. Snow patches, river crossings, eh?”
“I fell down the hill in the snow yesterday,” I answered flatly. “Do one of you have an ace bandage?”
One of the surveyors obligingly looked through his pack, and then confirmed not only did he not have an ace bandage, they had stopped carrying first aid kits.
“Last question,” the other resolutely continued. “What did you do with human waste?”
My friend and I glanced at each other for a moment.
“Uh, I haven’t had that problem.”
“Me neither,” she answered coyly.
“Are you familiar with the concept of, ‘Leave No Trace?’” he stubbornly continued with his intrusive line of questioning.
My friend, experienced backpacker that she was, assured him she knew how to bury her poop in the woods, sans tutorial, thank you.
While this little vignette broke up the monotony of the hike, we were just postponing the inevitable pain to come.
We shuffled forward.
“The fun part about the last day is you can plan where you are going to eat a celebratory dinner!” my friend sang out. “I always like to think about where I am going to go for dinner in Eagle River when we finish…”
She glanced at her watch as she trailed off. Then –
“Though we would really need to pick up the pace if we are going to have time to go to a restaurant before driving back to Girdwood.”
I grunted in response and continued to shuffle.
“Let’s play a trail game!” my friend called in desperation.
“Oh gosh, yes please.”
Anything to distract me from my total abject misery.
The game was simple. She decided on a category (“Items I will serve in the new restaurant I am opening”). We then traded naming items in that category, in alphabetical order, while reciting all previously named items. If one player failed to name a new item, or failed to remember an old item, that player lost.
The restaurant to be opened by my friend quickly turned into a boozy bakery, serving solely sugary cocktails and decadent desserts. Menu items included Dutch Apple Pie, Eclairs, Fudge, Mango Margaritas, Sorbet, and Wine.
Exhausting the alphabet, we switched to Items We Can’t Forget for Our Vacation (“Jungle Safari Hats,” “X-ray Goggles,” and “Yellow Rubber Ducky Raincoats”).
We were happily listing all of the qualities of Our Dream Guys (“Bulging Biceps,” “Cute Calves,” “Helps Me When Needed,” and, above all, “Quiet”) when I threw out my arm and grabbed her shoulder.
“Hang on, there’s something moving up there.”
Our current trail was meandering along the side of a steep cliff that descended into the river. Forrest covered our right side.
We squinted through the forest. The trail bent to the right, and I couldn’t tell if the movement was coming from a fellow hiker, or something more sinister.
Then its profile emerged from behind a tree one hundred feet in front of us.
The most horrible profile imaginable.
“Bear! Bear! Bear!” I whispered hysterically.
We each seized our bear spray, and retreated down the hill as far as we could before we hit the cliff.
The bear sensed he had company, and crashed up the hill ahead of us.
We watched the trees up the hill, frozen.
The bear sashayed up over our heads, and then emerged from the trees, looking at us curiously.
He started walking towards us.
Hoisting our weapons high, we sidestepped to the left, as the bear continued his approach. Then, distracted for a moment, he looked off to his left, and we scrambled on through the trees, breaking into a run at the first opportunity.
“Is he following us, is he following us, is he following us?”
“No,” she said, putting the safety clip back on the cannister, and holstering her spray. “I think we are safe.”
Knees and ankle wobbling, I put my weapon away, and the two of us abandoned the remaining qualities of our dream guys, and began shouting frantically.
We were now within the Eagle River Nature Center, and all of my attention was single mindedly focused on getting out of here. Ankle sore and rickety, I began using my walking poles as crutches.
More and more people were on the trail, and my friend cheerily reminded me that the more children we saw, the closer to the end we were; small people can’t hike too far.
By the time I saw toddlers, I escalated my walking pole crutch speed to as close to a run I could manage.
A group of young mothers and babies were up ahead, and spotted our backpacks.
“Where did you camp?” one mother asked curiously.
My friend stopped to chat.
I blew past them.
No time for moms.
I was rocketing forwards by now, drawing heart from the sight of power lines in the distance.
My friend, breathless, hurried to catch me.
“Lesson learned, Sarah does not brake for moms! Admittedly, they were very chatty.”
We burst out of the forest and into the parking lot. I began to cry quietly with relief, as my pace slowed to a shuffle, and I hobbled pitifully back to her car.
It was four in the afternoon, and too late for dinner in a restaurant before driving back to Girdwood to get my car. Instead, we went to Arby’s and wolfed down large sandwiches, curly fries, and chocolate milkshakes. We then trekked back to Girdwood, back to Anchorage and back to home. Upon arrival, I got into bed, and did not get out for two days.
Sarah Brown periodically whimpers. Whisper soothingly to her on Twitter @BrownsClose1, or email her at email@example.com. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.
My friend took me on my first overnight backpacking trip last month. Via the Crow Pass trail, we were due to leave Girdwood early in the morning on Saturday and arrive at the Eagle River Nature Center parking lot late Sunday afternoon.
I looked forward to this trip for months. I created a curated playlist of songs about walking. I perused Fred Meyer’s selection of freeze-dried instant foods, all set to expire in 2067. I bought a bladder.
On the morning of the trip, she left her car in Eagle River, and I drove us to Girdwood. We snapped a fresh face “beginning of the trail selfie” (a tradition according to my friend) and began tottering along with our walking poles.
Upon reflection, this would become the “before” shot, to be compared later with the “after” shot, of what shape my body would be in after finishing the trip.
The trail began with a 3,500-foot elevation gain. My friend sprang along the trail like a jackrabbit, and I soon lost sight of her. The backpack, taller than my entire torso, made it difficult to balance, and I hobbled along waiting to twist my ankle. The shoulder and chest straps were so tight my breathing was restricted.
I’d brought a small portable speaker, currently and fittingly tuned to “Dead Man Walking.” The music broadcasted my presence to my intended audience (bears), and all other collateral damage (any living being).
I rounded a corner and found a small group of fellow hikers looking at me bemusedly.
“We heard you coming!” they called. “We wondered who was bringing the party!”
In the far distance, I saw my friend waiting patiently at the summit.
I trudged slowly towards her. After an eternity of crawling uphill –
“My backpack….” I sputtered between gasps. “It really…hurts…. Is it supposed…to hurt…like this?”
“Well, that’s backpacking!” she sang delightedly.
For the first time, I considered the possibility that my friend might be a lunatic. She voluntarily put herself through this pain, multiple times per summer… for fun?
She suggested we sit down and have lunch, and I ate three large pieces of cold pizza in quick succession. They were the last pieces of food I could eat that would have had to know the insides of a refrigerator.
My friend announced she hates cold pizza.
Confirmed, she was a lunatic.
I struggled back into my pack, requiring her help because I couldn’t get one arm through the strap; instead, I was hopping around like a chicken.
Seeing me struggle, she stared at me quizzically. Then, without warning, she grabbed the shoulder straps, pulled two cords, and they loosened.
Relief shot through my chest and shoulders. I took my first real breaths of the day.
And then we were off again. I felt lighter than air for about seven minutes before the pack began pulling into my shoulders again as the weight of gravity took hold. I would spend the next day and a half periodically loosening and tightening straps, depending which part of my back was seizing up in that particular moment.
Crow Pass covers dramatically different terrain throughout its full twenty-one miles. Starting with the stark elevation gain, hikers pass through snow, down shale coated mountains, through grass so tall and thick you can’t see bears coming, over boulders, through forests, and, of course, crossing Eagle River.
Trudging through snow, I started to worry that my newly acquired “backpacking sleeping bag,” rated down to 47 degrees Fahrenheit, was going to be warm enough.
Contemplating this chilly prospect, my foot slipped, and with an “Ummm…” by way of announcement to my friend, I tipped over and rolled down the hill.
What with the weight of the backpack, I began to roll faster and faster. Ever gaining speed, I hurtled towards the bottom of the mountain, and the large rock wall waiting for me there.
Growing up in Fairbanks, I knew the best way to slow down after bailing out on sledding hills was to increase your surface area as much as possible. I spread out my arms and legs and hoped I would slow down.
As I passively pondered what life would be like with a spinal injury, I felt my momentum stall, and I stopped sliding about 15 feet from the wall.
I sat up, took off the backpack, and looked at my friend, far up the top of the mountain. I’d lost a walking pole and my hat somewhere along my slide.
At a loss for anything else to say, I called up to her, “Um, can you get my hat? And I think I lost one of your poles.”
She shook her head.
“No, let’s keep going. You don’t need them.”
This was a moment of ratification on my status as a material girl. I hate losing things.
Loath to leave any belonging behind, I stood up, and started climbing back up the hill, justifying my actions to my friend.
“I need the pole for balance!”
By now, it was mid-afternoon, and my friend was definitely fidgeting because we still had not made it to Eagle River. She wanted to camp at the river that night, and cross first thing Sunday morning when the water was at its lowest.
Pole collected, hat on head, and backpack grudgingly placed on, I continued down the mountain, away from the snow.
I was thrilled the temperature was warming, and we were seemingly once more in summertime.
That’s when my friend cheerily reminded me to crank up the tunes again; we were back in bear country.
We entered some tall grass, positively obliterating any potential bears from view.
Knowing we were trying to make it to the river, I did my best to pick up the pace, though the ground was covered with giant boulders. If you took your eyes off of your feet for even a second to study the bear infested tall grass, for example, you’d trip and hit your head.
Feet burning with new blisters, and my pack once again feeling like the weight of the entire universe on my shoulders, I pouted silently, wondering how I was ever going to make it back to my car by this time tomorrow.
Amongst these gloomy thoughts, there was a rustling in the tall grass ahead of us, and we both stopped and seized our bear spray.
Two young men emerged, looking mildly amused as they took in the site of us brandishing our weapons.
As we lowered our arms, they happily announced that a woman on this side of Eagle River had just been removed from the trail by ambulance helicopter; she’d broken her ankle.
Realizing it would take more time to finish the journey with a broken ankle, I decided to just go ahead and continue at my poky pace. My friend must have decided the same thing, because both of us began walking at a noticeably more leisurely rate thereafter.
We sat down in the forest to have dinner around five. My friend had a nifty propane heater and a pot, in which we boiled water. We dumped the water into our freeze-dried food bags, and stirred the contents. My dinner was, ostensibly, spaghetti and meatballs; her’s beef stroganoff.
I eyed both gloopy messes suspiciously. When she told me about the food, I ventured that I would just bring some protein bars, or something. Having largely lived off of Lean Cuisine in college, I’d long since sworn off instant food of any kind. I’d eaten my entire lifetime’s worth over a four-year period, and my allotment was completely used up.
My friend, however, insisted I would want hot food and that I really should buy these unique items, guaranteed fresh for 46 years!
I stirred my spaghetti with a grimace and took a salty bite.
The spaghetti tasted exactly like Lean Cuisine.
It did, however, put some pep back into my very tired steps.
We cleaned up from our meal, leaving no trace as good backpackers should. Naturally, and just my luck, I was beginning to regret bringing the cold pizza, as the leavings in the bag were beginning to stink.
We hopped along, revived from the sodium ladened slop, avoiding tree roots precariously popping up throughout the forest. My friend confirmed we were almost to Eagle River, so we hurried along, trying to finish the day’s journey.
With a crack, my left ankle twisted out, and I went down with a yelp.
Stay tuned for Part 2.
Sarah Brown suffers in silence. Feel free to pester her on Twitter @BrownsClose1, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org; she rarely fights back. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.
In honor of the upcoming Independence Day holiday, and as part of America’s newfound freedom from COVID-19, I went to Louisville, Kentucky, and met up with a longtime friend who lives on the East Coast. We spent a day at the racetrack at Churchill Downs on one of the last days of the season.
If there is a sport with more specific forms of jargon than horse racing, I do not know what that sport is. Horses are measured in hands, tracks are measured in furloughs, and jockeys are measured in times in or out of the money. Guests are in turn judged by whether they know what it means to dress in “track casual,” and by whether they can distinguish between a Woodford Spire and an Oaks Lily.
Upon arrival, spectators are welcomed to the stadium by a statue of Barbaro, a beloved Kentucky Derby winner. Unlike elite Triple Crown champions, however, Barbaro holds the distinction of being shot after he failed to win the Preakness Stakes. His demise solidified his legendary status to the point of inspiring an entire society, “The Friends of Barbaro.”
Next, guests are presented with programs containing the daily facts and figures about the lengths of the various races, the jockeys, the horses, and the horses’ colors. Charts are detailed and include how much money the horse has won cumulatively over its career, when it last raced, how it races in dry conditions versus wet conditions, and its projected odds of winning.
Given we were at the racetrack, we reasoned it was only logical that we start betting. Unfortunately, it is a moral failing of mine that I never carry cash. My friend, however, thoughtfully brought $23 to the track, and we amiably agreed to spend $10 of her money.
We walked up confidently to the ticket machine and inserted the bill. After that, there was nothing for us to do but stare at the complex mix of buttons and blinking lights displayed on the screen. There were options for a horse to “Win,” “Place,” or “Show.” We could bet the “Daily Double,” “Exacta,” “Trifecta,” or “Superfecta.” And that does not even include the “Pick 3,” or “Pick 4.”
We argued a bit, debating what each bet would mean.
“Daily Double means we can bet on two things at once,” I pronounced, based on no evidence.
“Pick 3 is that you can pick three horses in the same race,” she countered, sounding equally confident.
In between assertions, we stared open mouthed at the screen. We spent so much time gawking that our session expired, and we received a ticket printout, but no $10.
“Wait,” she asked. “But what did we bet on?”
Nothing. We bet on nothing.
We pulled the ticket out and gaped at that for a while. It most closely resembled the test print sheet when setting up a new printer.
We looked around, wondering what to do with a $10 slip of paper tied to no discernable value.
Behind us, there was a long line of desks where people could place bets, but there were signs reading, “$50 minimum.”
We walked up to the nearest desk, where an old, stooped man looked at us curiously.
“Hi,” my friend spoke loudly, and to the point. “We have this ticket here –”
“Oh, did you win?” he twanged.
“Well, no,” she laughed. “Our session expired.”
He took the ticket and examined it.
“It’s for $10,” she explained. “Can we exchange it for a bet on something else?”
“Sure, sure,” he agreed.
“But it says it’s $50 minimum. Can you help us?”
“Ma’am, I can do anything I want.”
“How would you bet?” she asked. Then, doubting her straightforwardness, “Or, are you not allowed to tell us?”
He looked at her wryly.
Yeah, yeah, we know, you can do anything you want.
We opened the program, and together, the three of us poured over the nine or so races to take place. As we only had $10, we decided to bet on the next race only. Among others, we could choose from contestants known as Good Penny, Cuzzywuzzy, and Parking Ticket.
“So, it’s $5 per bet, and you can bet on horses to win, come in second, or third, or you can bet on a horse to come in either first, or second, or third.”
I wasn’t sure what the difference was, and apparently, neither was my friend.
We looked back at the booklet.
“Who do you want to bet on?” I asked. It was her $10, so it seemed only fair she should choose the horse.
“Oh, I don’t care, whoever looks good to you.”
I peered over the complicated rankings in tiny print with my nose pressed close to the page. Good Penny won the most money, was not the crowd favorite, and had the luckiest name. All of these seemed like good omens.
“Can we put $5 on Good Penny to finish first?”
The ticket agent’s expression told me what I needed to know. I could do anything I wanted.
“You mean Number 11? You want to put $5 on Number 11?”
“Uh, yeah that’s right.”
He entered the information into his computer.
“Alright, how about second?”
She and I frowned.
Appearing to be talking to the deeply dense, he spoke slower.
“You can also bet on him to come in second. Do you want to do that?”
Yeah, that sounded good.
“Alright,” he nodded, “what’s the next bet?”
Cuzzywuzzy had the same ranking as Good Penny.
“$5 on Cuzzywuzzy to win?”
He looked at me pityingly.
“You mean $5 on Number 5?”
“Uh, yeah, that’s what I mean.”
He pulled our new tickets out of his machine.
They were indistinguishable from the first ticket test printer page.
“That will be $5.”
My friend, who had been somewhat disinterested in the horse picking process, snapped back to attention.
“We had $10 in credit.”
He was really looking at us like we were hopeless now.
“I know, that will be $5.”
She and I squinched our faces.
“I don’t understand,” she challenged. “If we paid you $10 for two $5 bets, then how do we owe you $5?”
“When you bet on the same horse twice, that’s $10,” he rattled back impatiently.
Feeling like those instructions had been less than clear at the beginning, we forked over another of her $5.
Racing math ultimately proved to be its own entire field. In addition to the vagaries of paying $15 for a $10 bet, we eventually discovered that one can win $7 for a $30 bet. By the end of the afternoon, I was holding my head and muttering that I was never going to retire at this rate; gambling, by gosh, is just not a good investment.
Still holding my head, I bought us each a round of mint juleps, and we went back to our seats to watch the respective fortunes of Bodacious Baby, Buy Me Candy, and Slim Slow Slider.
Passing through the rows of fastidiously arranged green folding chairs –
“What is that?” a scandalized voiced bellowed from our left.
Another man, similar in advanced age to the ticket teller, pointed accusatorially at our drinks.
While I am prone to ignore comments made about my food and beverage selections, my friend has never met a stranger.
“Mint juleps!” she replied enthusiastically.
He shook his head.
“You two aren’t from around here, are you?”
Well, this was obvious because my friend and I also didn’t know what it meant to be dressed in “track casual.”
“I could tell because you’re drinking those,” he continued, nodding to our drinks. The mint was so voluminous, it looked like we were carrying around tiny gardens in commemorative Kentucky Derby glasses.
“You don’t like them?” My friend sounded genuinely surprised.
“Yeah, no locals like them,” he scoffed.
“Well, what do the locals drink?” I asked.
He held up a can of Budweiser.
Honestly, though, the joke was on them. My friend won $74 on Good Penny, and I got three servings of my daily vegetable intake.
Sarah Brown is straight edge. Feel free to invite her to things that are risky, hedonistic, or otherwise a good time, but honestly, she’ll just kill your buzz. Instead, find her on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.