Ushering in respect

May, 20, 2006

I saw Jerry Bailey when I went for coffee this morning at the hotel. He wasn't leaving for another 20 minutes. This meant I was going to beat somebody to the race track. It was pushing 7:30 a.m. Anyone with any credibility gets there by 5 a.m. Hats off to those who did.

Those people didn't get to experience what I did.

Driving north on Interstate 83 out of Baltimore I closed in on a police escort of a horse van on the way to Pimlico. I knew the third choice in the Preakness, Sweetnorthernsaint, was arriving in the morning. I figured this was him. A small rush of adrenaline went through my bloodstream or bone marrow or into my femur. I was having a brush with greatness. It wasn't as cool as when I got to usher a Muhammad Ali fight in college and helped lead him to the ring, but helping usher a potential winner of the Preakness to the track was pretty good for a Saturday morning.

In front of the horse van was a highway patrol car, lights flashing. Behind the van was a vehicle that looked like a sawed off tow truck. I have high respect for AAA, but this vehicle wasn't all that intimidating.

I considered going for the pass.

It would be a careful pass. I'd do nothing to spook the van driver.

But then it hit me.

I should back off and let Sweetnorthernsaint lead the way. Out of respect for the 131st Preakness Stakes, no civilian should pass this Triple Crown Series runner on an Interstate. It's just plain wrong.

It was a little bit like the dilemma back home in Seattle at a crosswalk. If the red light is on, pedestrians just don't cross. It's not civil. It's also really stupid when this rule is followed at 11 p.m. and there's not a car in sight for a mile in either direction.

I didn't show restraint in honor of Seattle. I showed respect of today's sacred event. It's the Preakness. The same race won by Secretariat. The same ground covered by Seabiscuit.

I was backing off. I was going 54 mph.

The lady behind me is not a fan of thoroughbred racing.

She was bump drafting me for a mile like Dale Earnhardt. She'd had enough of my respect for the game and she swerved with haste from the fast lane across two lanes and made an aggressive pass on the far right.

The state trooper leading the charge was not amused. He jerked his wheel hard at the lady. He forced her off the road.

The lady was made to wait for another trooper to come along and be reprimanded severely for not respecting the Preakness. As I understand it, that's a $245 fine in the state of Maryland.

The motorcade exited one stop shy of where I was headed.

They'd cost me 15 minutes. I was back at 75 mph in no time.

In another five minutes time, I learned that the van I followed did not contain Sweetnorthernsaint.

He had arrived 45 minutes earlier. About the time I was ordering coffee with Bailey.

The 5 a.m. arrivals had a great view of Sweetnorthernsaint, who had a rough start to his day. The van driver tried to drop him off at the media parking lot and Sweetnorthernsaint carried no media credential. But he has cred. He's in the Preakness.

And I came so close to ushering him to the track this morning.



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