I walked through the front door of the pub and slid into a seat across from the bar. A few regulars had gathered in front of one of the big screen TVs. Bob Costas was interviewing Calvin Borel, the jockey slated to ride Rachel Alexandra in this year’s Preakness. If she wins, Rachel Alexandra would be the first filly to do so in 85 years.
I sat for a while in the darkness in one of the small booths by the brick wall. It had not been a pleasant morning at work. Shortly after I arrived at the office I was informed of the accidental death of a mother who brought her daughters to our practice. The girls are 10 and 14 years old. Only last month I had seen the older daughter in the office with her mother. I wondered how the father would manage things now that his wife was gone.
The waitress brought me a menu. She apologized for not coming by sooner. “I didn’t see you come in,” she said. “What’s yours?”
“Ten Penny,” I said.
She brought me the draft. “You know what you want?” she asked.
“Bring me the deluxe burger for here, and one to go.”
“How would you like them?”
“Medium rare for here, well done to go.”
She collected the menu and disappeared into the kitchen. A few more patrons drifted in and took their seats at the bar. One of the men was reading the racing news. On the TV the horses were being paraded across the turf. A female commentator said that she liked Rachel Alexandra because “she ran like a girl.”
By the time the waitress brought me the burger, it had started to rain in Baltimore. Bob Costas continued his commentary while standing under a purple umbrella. The horses, now mounted with their jockeys, were being led from the paddocks. It was nice to see their muscles working beneath their chestnut brown flanks as they walked. Big Drama bucked his rider in the starting gate and had to be led out momentarily to calm down. The bell finally sounded at 6:19 PM.
I took a long pull at my beer and settled in to watch the race. Rachel Alexandra broke immediately from the outside post to take the lead. Mine That Bird, this year’s Kentucky Derby winner, was running last going into the first turn. Absolute silence reined through the entire pub as the eyes of every patron fastened on the big screen.
Although Mine That Bird had advanced steadily into the final stretch, Rachel Alexandra finished first by a length. “She’s the greatest horse I’ve ever been on in my life,” Borel said of the filly afterwards.
The waitress brought the check and the burger to go. I waited for the receipt, popped my cap on my head and walked out. A light rain was falling. I felt warm and happy in the street.
For two minutes I had been totally absorbed in the intricacies of the Preakness Stakes. For two minutes I hadn’t thought about the mother who had died that morning, the victim of an automobile accident. For two minutes I hadn’t thought about the driver of the vehicle that killed her—her 70-year-old mother.
I didn’t know how this grandmother would fare. I didn’t know how she would be able to face her granddaughters or her son-in-law again. I only knew that at some point the girls’ names would appear on my schedule. I imagined it would be an extended office visit.
I wondered what I would say to them. “Rachel Alexandra won the Preakness the day your mother died.” That would be inappropriate, of course. Yet in my mind that is how the events of this day would be linked forever.