"Only a Game": a response

I told myself that, whatever my fellow Her Kentucky contributors wrote in the "I Don't Get It" series, I would keep my mouth shut.  Everybody likes different things.  Besides, the whole point of the exercise was to explore Kentucky traditions from a fresh viewpoint.  We wanted to be a little edgy, a little irreverent.  To constantly post responses that argue the contrapositive would simply be a defense of the status quo.  And, you know, Kentucky Tourism already has its own website.

Today, though, I was reading Sarah's thought-provoking piece on Kentucky basketball.   She made some fantastic points-- regardless of the Lexington-in-March mindset, college basketball is just a game.  And, I suppose, there are other things one could be doing than constantly obsessing over lineups, opponents and recruiting news.  But, there was one sentence in Sarah's essay that has stuck with me all day.  In response to the Worst Game in College Basketball, she noted, "the fact that so many Kentuckians recall that game as if a loved one had received a tragic cancer diagnosis blows. my. mind."
I grew up in a huge, tight-knit family.  We just happen to also be obsessive Kentucky basketball fans.  Because we do have such a strong tradition of cheering on our Wildcats, I find that my family's timeline often intertwines with basketball events in our collective history.  I can remember my late grandfather getting too nervous to watch the end of close games -- a habit I've unwittingly picked up in recent years.  I can remember my little brother -- six years old at the time -- taking the '92 loss to Duke so personally.  And, I can remember times when the love of the game provided levity and comfort in otherwise difficult situations.

When I was in eighth grade, my father was diagnosed with a rare blood disease.  The kind that Dr. House's patients contract.  We honestly didn't know if he was going to ever leave Central Baptist.  During those horrible days, it just so happened that Kenny Walker was visiting a patient on the same CBH floor -- I think it was his girlfriend's mother, but that's largely irrelevant.  My mama, understandably exhausted and terrified, just happened to run into Kenny in the hallway one day.  She's a tiny little blonde lady, with no more than a passing interest in sports.   Kenny, whom we all know to be a bulky 6'8, was at the height of his career with the Knicks.  I can only imagine how odd their conversation must have looked, but the SkyWalker graciously obliged her request to briefly visit my dad, a basketball coach and Wildcats fanatic.  To this day, it's the only thing we discuss about those horrible weeks of illness. And, I have to admit, I'm still a bit starstruck when I see Kenny Walker at the mall or a game.

A decade or so later, I was in graduate school at Kentucky when a beloved aunt suffered a freak heart episode. She lay in a coma at the Med Center on the night that Kentucky played Utah in the '98 National Championships.  I took in the festivities at the corner of Lynaugh's and debauchery that night, then awoke the next morning to visit the hospital before class.  My aunt recovered and my team won.  That's what I consider a successful week.

The loss in 1992 is still heartbreaking nineteen years later.  It stings every time they replay that damn shot during March Madness.  This fall, a loved one of mine did receive a cancer diagnosis.  I have to say, it hurt a whole lot more than Laettner's stomp-shot maneuver.  In true Kentucky fashion, among the cards and well-wishes and prayer chain requests were a family friend's "get well gift" of  UK tickets.   They seemed most therapeutic. 

I Don't Get It: Kentucky Basketball

We are all Kentuckians. We all love the Bluegrass State in different ways and for different reasons. However, we do not all love the same things.

For example, I do not love Kentucky basketball. I don't even LIKE Kentucky basketball. And I certainly don't understand people's (Heather's) obsession with Kentucky basketball.

Now, in full disclosure, I don't really like sports generally. I was never involved in sports as a child (apart from my brilliant turn at T-ball). My family took me to the occasional baseball game, which I remember enjoying, and I attended a handful of high school football and basketball games. I think I might have even watched a soccer game. However, I was never EVER close to what you would call a fan.

Sports always seemed so superfluous. In my opinion, there are approximately a hundred other things I'd rather spend my time and money on (the list starts with Oprah and ends with gin rummy).

Now, that is not to say I'm immune to the entire UK basketball experience. It's sort of impossible to escape. I even remember the infamous 1992 Kentucky v. Duke game. When Christian Laettner made that shot, I even felt genuine disappointment that Kentucky had lost. I'm sure it even lasted ... until I got to my car that night. However, the fact that so many Kentuckians recall that game as if a loved one had received a tragic cancer diagnosis blows. my. mind.

It's not that I wish ill on the team. Every year I hope they win the championship - mainly so I don't have to hear my stepfather complain so dang much but still!

It's just - for this Kentuckian at least - it really is only a game.

Ale 8?

I had never really heard of Ale-8 (formally ale-8-1) growing up in Central Kentucky. Maybe I heard it mentioned here and there, but I never really knew of its cult-like following.

I moved to Lexington, Kentucky to attend college and was instantly made aware of Ale-8. What was this mystery drink? Was it an alcoholic beverage? Was it some strange concoction of potions? I had no idea!

I decided one day to purchase Ale-8 at the Kroger on Euclid Avenue (that Kroger could probably have its own blog post). I learned from several people that you can't drink Ale-8 from cans, you must drink it from the old school long neck bottles.

At this point I was expecting it to taste like butterflies, rainbows, and gold all bottled up! I took my first sip and waited for the magic to happen. Meh. I remember thinking, "is this what people are so obsessed with?" Personally, I just wasn't a fan.

So what is the mystery drink that so many Kentuckians are obsessed with? Ale-8 was formulated and invented in Winchester, Kentucky by G.L. Wainscott in 1926. It is a form of gingerale, but made with more caffeine and less calories. Perhaps the caffeine aspect is why so many people love it?

Ale-8 definitely has a cult-like following in Kentucky, especially around Lexington. I can remember seeing a facebook group as a college Junior that was titled, "Ale-8 PLEASE HOOK TO MY VEINS".

Ale-8 is mixed with one of the several Kentucky Bourbons to make a signature drink, "The Kentucky Cocktail". Perhaps I could get down with that.

So tell me, have you all tried Ale-8? Did you like it?

I Don't Get It: Derby Infield

Today, we kick off a new series titled: "I Don't Get It." Each Friday, one of us will each share one traditional Kentucky element that just doesn't make sense to us. With a group of such diverse and opinionated belles, this is sure to be interesting!

Drunk people, obnoxious college students, girls flashing everyone, and mud wrestling.

No, I'm not talking about Bonnaroo or Mardi Gras, I'm talking about the infield at Churchill Downs during the Kentucky Derby.

When I think "Derby," I think of wealthy people, celebrities (although more B and C- list than A-list), mint juleps, fine bourbon, pretty dresses, and fabulous hats. The singing of "My Old Kentucky Home" is robust and full of state pride, whether you're a lifelong Kentuckian or just in town for the day. Even those who don't know the words try to fake it. For those few minutes, my Kentucky heart swells with pride.

This just doesn't match up:
image via Churchill Downs
Image via Louisville.com
Keeping it Klassy (via ambergris on Flickr)
As a state (um, Commonwealth), we already have stigmas of overalls and shoeless feet. When I see the coverage of the Derby on TV, and they cut to the bead-wearing, mud-covered, keg-standing flashers, it's like I'm watching what happens in the hours before filming a Girls Gone Wild video.

When I do Derby, count me among the ones who will get dolled up and pretend like I'm a classy southern lady with a fabulous hat and a genuine interest in the horses - not one of the flashers in the infield.

Have you ever done Derby infield? Am I being a judgmental stick-in-the-mud?

Unpopular Opinions

My mother isn't a sports fan.  

Repping the Big Blue, late 70s.
It's kind of crazy, really.  My daddy used to be a basketball coach, as was his daddy before him.  My beau and I live and breathe UK basketball and football. My brother is an obsessive fan of both of those Cincinnati pro teams.  Any time my family gets together, the conversation turns to sports, sports, and more  sports.  There's at least one person sporting a team logo at any given time, while my  poor mother fakes her way through it.

Music City Bowl, 2007
And so, we find ourselves in late October.  I'm, as you can well imagine, obsessed with the upcoming basketball season, one in which we have the potential to win it all.  I'm studying up on Coach Cal's latest Dream Team and counting the days until the season starts.  Yesterday, my mom hit me with an odd query: "The news keeps referencing a potential new stadium. That seems kind of extravagant in the current economic climate, doesn't it?"

I own a lot of Kentucky shirts.
I immediately answered her with all of the pros and cons of Lexington's great arena debate.  I presented the economic benefits that potentially exist for the University and for the city.  I tried to frame it in reference to the campaign platforms of mayoral candidates.  But, ultimately, my answer came down to recruiting.  I want my team -- my grad school alma mater-- to succeed.  That's my number one agenda item.  And if first-class facilities are the key to another title, then facilities are what I want, whether refurbished or rebuilt.  I realized that the conversation between my mother and me wasn't about an information exchange.  It was a bigger-picture debate among Kentuckians: those of us who live for basketball, and the quiet minority who don't. 

Unpopular opinions are something that we here at Her Kentucky have been talking about quite a bit lately.  We've been discussing many of the Kentucky traditions that one or more of us just don't get.  Burgoo, mint juleps, hot browns, Ale-8, even my beloved Kentucky basketball.  Just because we're all Kentuckians, we don't all love "Kentucky things."

Over the next few weeks, Her Kentucky will bring you a series of blog entries about unpopular opinions.  We'll be discussing some of the Kentucky traditions that fall short of our expectations.  We'll give you some ideas that you don't quite see in the travel brochures.  We'll most likely drop  the phrase "there, I said it" a time or two. 

Until then, we'd love to hear any unpopular opinions y'all may have.  

What Kentucky traditions fall short of expectations for you?