Friday, November 25, 2016
A New Orleans tradition that is little known outside of the city is the annual Thanksgiving celebration at the Fairgrounds racetrack. Used to be, the track's opening day was on Thanksgiving, although in recent years it was been pushed back to conform with the autumn openings of other racetracks in the country.
But in New Orleans, traditions don't die, so Thanksgiving Day at the track is an important milestone. People come on out dressed in their finest, including - importantly - fancy hats.
My friend Bertie and I decided we were going to go to the track, and although admission is free on this day for anyone to go down to the lower grandstands, she has friends who have access to the upper level clubhouse. So we arrived at the beautiful home of her friends Phil and Chris on live oak lined Esplanade Avenue, had a Bloody Mary and then walked to the track in our finery. Bertie was wearing sleek black pants, a fur vest, and a royal blue wide-brimmed hat; I was wearing a flowered dress, a red fascinator, and black fishnet stockings and my bad-ass John Fluevog boots.
We rode the escalator up to the clubhouse level, where our friends' table was already set up with a bucket of champagne and race programs. We had access to the buffet feast, and we could look out the big glass windows to see the track and the horses.
It was an awesome experience. But before each race, we went downstairs to the paddock where the horses were displayed to viewers, and from there I wandered out into the general admission area. Here, the costuming was far more fantastic than up in the hoity-toity clubhouse. So there was a tension for me between the attractions of the free buffet, the waiter service, the individual video monitors, and the crazy-ass wild tattooed and feathered denizens of the freebie area.
Crazy, but fun.
I came with $25 dollars and bet it all. I didn't win a goddam thing, but I sure as hell had a good time.
Thanks again to Phil and Chris for their warm hospitality!