101 in 1001: Hot Springs - Laying out in February and Water in Bleach Jugs

To say this post is overdue would be similar to telling you it's sprinkling today.  Please laugh at my joke?  I headed down to Hot Springs to visit my Dad in February.  But here we are, telling this story a few months later.  Better late than never! I flew from Louisville to Little Rock, where I was picked up and whisked to lunch for a little people watching in the 'big city.' Next up, we hit the road for the hour(ish) drive to Hot Springs.  If you haven't been around this blog long, the important piece you'll be missing is that my Dad trains thoroughbred racehorses and winters in Arkansas with his stable.  He drives back and forth, back and forth from stable to family to stable all winter long.  And if you've made it through my 101 in 1001 list, #92 was to finally visit his winter track, so check that off the list!

Anywho, we made it to Hot Springs, stopped by his little cabin on the river for a quick nap, then headed to the track.  We watched a few races and headed to McClard's for a BBQ dinner.  I believe I visited for 5 days, all of which were filled with lots of reading, relaxing and eating - my kinda trip!  The highlights were laying out by the water in 70+ degree weather, eating all sorts of fish and yummy food and running around Hot Springs.

We chatted lots, I slept on a fold-out couch and we started each morning with donuts from the strange donut place.  Dad's barn crew was happy to see me and glad to crack jokes together.  We went to a horrible singing show and laughed about it on the 10 hour drive home.  We watched people get water in bleach bottles from the spring stations.  We also saw some of the strangest folks in the whole land.  We got rained on a lot and I heard Dad say, "This is the sunniest place in the winter, except for right now," about 100 times.  We even visited the most beautiful chapel I've seen, Anthony Chapel.  You folks getting married in Hot Springs are lucky.  Anyone who wants to fund the building of that structure in this town can call me, I would be glad to oversee the process and promptly be married inside upon its completion.  Brilliant, right?

My old man won a race and got a second in the most strange of ways.  We listened to his weird friends (I kid, I kid!) tell stories and chatted it up on the rail.  We had the best pancakes ever and rehashed the horrible construction of Oaklawn's underground paddock on the hourly.  Oh, and how could I forget the 100's of phone calls I had to listen to, because for the love of Jiminy Cricket, we could not get his cell phone to stop coming through the speakers of his new car.  For those of you who know my Dad, it's the running joke that we're twins - let me tell you, that doesn't apply to the phone.  I hate it.  He hasn't ever disconnected it from his ear to see what life is like without it.  In the end, he made up for it by taking me for biscuits at the Loveless Cafe on the way home.  And though I was nearly asleep, it was the best food I've had in quite some time.  It also balanced out all of the calories I burned by running the Arkansas hills.  Oh well.

All the stillness and lack of obligation to my work left me thinking and retreating to my observant ways.  I've always known I was lucky to have been raised in the racing industry, despite what the small town church may have to say about that.  I've met so many different types of people and learned to love whoever comes along.  I can talk to and joke with a telephone pole or someone with personality akin to cardboard.  I can wrap a horses' leg faster than you can catch a raindrop in a thunderstorm and body clip better than your stylist can cut hair.

In the end, I realize my ability to work hard and drive long hours all over the place stems from the house that built me.  By day three I was dragging at the 5 am wake-up call (and I actually LOVE to see the sunrise on the daily) and growing weary at the hours we spent at the racetrack.  I will admit to failing on the drive home.  Once it got dark and started to rain, I was out of commission when it came to getting us home.  All jokes aside, spending a few days with my Dad made me proud of my family, mostly.

From my little plumber Grandpa who fostered the racing love inside my Dad, to my stylish Mom who moved from Chicago to the bluegrass, through all the long hours my Dad has spent away and working, they've made quite the amazing life for our family.  It is incredible to me that despite his little murmurs and mumbles, that he still loves his job.  I hope my love and passion continues to grow and evolve like his has.  Yes, some days 4 am sucks a lot and rainy nights driving home alone to find your family has already gone to sleep must really stink, but I'm thankful Mom and Dad worked incredibly hard and made the memories of my childhood fond.  Even if they do include calling the house from 50 yards away, 10 feet up in a tree because the horses were going to 'eat me' and hearing "Toughen up, shut your mouth or we're taking your pony away - the pie's ready, hurry up walking across that field and get inside."

The point is - I had a great time, I love my family and I love these horses.  It's nearly Derby time, and we're all about to have an amazing couple of weeks.  My challenge for you is to remember all of the amazing and diverse people involved in making horse racing what it is.  From the 70-year-old man cooling horses out after they work to Olivia's Dad who works long hours as an outrider to the lady selling hot dogs when you visit the chow wagon for dinner.  In the end, whether you love or loathe racing, it is an amazing sport for the lives of so many people.  Spend an extra minute chatting with that cardboard personality selling you that diet coke, being kind to the ER doctor who treats all of Louisville on hot derby days and challenging the small-minded mentality that racing only equates to gambling.  It fed, clothed and sent that little girl in the tree to college.  You know, that little girl who photographs your family and loves your kids like they're hers.