So you’re visiting Kentucky for the Derby: Welcome! Bless your heart, we’re just so pleased you’ve stopped by our little state before you get back to running the superdelegate counting process, or whatever your real job is.
For some, Kentucky is that state that, although known for Daniel Boone and bourbon, isn’t really all that familiar. So here are a few things you should know about us, at least those of us in Lexington and the eastern part of the state.
1. We obsess about the weather, because Kentucky gets all the extremes and none of the credit.
There’s no way to predict Derby weather year to year because this is Kentucky: You might need to put a poncho over your sodden hat, or shed your stilettos in the heat.
Minnesota might be chilly and Florida hot, but it’s still pipe-busting cold during the harsh Kentucky winters and swampily humid in the summers. Whatever the weather, we remain mystified about how to cope. Therefore, we revere our weathermen like the seers and gods they are.
2. Don’t call us “a flyover state.”
Sure, our left-wingers would be considered Republicans in Vermont, but we love to fight amongst ourselves. And do the names Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul mean anything to you?
3. Stuck in a room/plane/elevator with a Kentuckian? Here’s how to survive.
Having a real opinion about a horse is not necessary. The line you want is, “How about that Rick Pitino?” Every Kentuckian currently rocking a brain-wave pattern has an opinion about the mercurial, scandal-tinged University of Louisville men’s basketball coach, who left the University of Kentucky and broke our collective Big Blue Nation heart.
Pitino is loved and hated, often by the same person within the same conversation. It’s mesmerizing.
4. Backup survival tip: #BBN forever, please add bourbon.
It’s Big Blue Nation here, folks. That means the fate of the men’s University of Kentucky basketball team is always acceptable conversation. You do not have to understand the intricacies, and frankly, it’s impossible to grasp them all.
When pressed for a conversational contribution, pump your fist and say: “Go Cats!” This works both earnestly and ironically and covers you with everyone from the artisanal beer-sucking millennials to the small-town Dairy Queen-employed saints who help you when your GPS lands you in the middle of the railroad tracks.
In Kentucky during basketball season, it is acceptable for church to let out a little early so the BBN may get home to watch the game. The Lord is concise on game days.
During Derby season, you should follow this display by ordering a mint julep to show that both BBN and bourbon, the state spirit, are OK by you.
5. Jordan Smith of Harlan County won NBC’s The Voice, and he’ll be singing the National Anthem at the Kentucky Oaks the day before the Derby.
It’s about time something really, really good happened for our friends in Harlan County. And, just so you know, we don’t all hum Coal Miner’s Daughter. (It is a catchy tune, though.)
6. How to dress like a Kentuckian at Derby.
Men from 18 months and older should wear khakis, a button-up cotton shirt — in plaid if you’re feeling rakish — and some kind of dark shoe that takes mud well. Guys should look as if they just blew in for the race from their horse farms, even if they live in squalid apartments. If men have madras, this is the day to break it out and be proud.
Women can wear anything they like, but the hair had better be properly blown out. Derby Day is known for its hats — the more outrageous the better: Think of Princess Eugenie’s enormous hat at the royal wedding as a starting point, then start adding feathers and glitter.
UK blue — let’s describe it as royal blue without a dimmer switch — is, of course, acceptable for all occasions.
7. How to sound like a Kentuckian.
A Herald-Leader reporter who went on to great things once approached a group of mountain men and referred to them as “chums.” That he is still among the living indicates that the group laughed too hard to draw weapons.
And just so you know, here are the city pronunciations we use: vur-SALES for the town to the west of Lexington that might remind you of Marie Antoinette’s pleasure dome, and PAHK-ville for the city to the east. Far to the east.
Soda is most often called pop. Kentuckians are fond of specifying Coke or Pepsi. Pepsi is strong with Kentuckians, and Mountain Dew is strongest of all. A Kentucky power breakfast is a pack of Little Debbie doughnuts and a Mountain Dew, which does in fact get you going.
Don’t call a water fountain a bubbler. We don’t hold with highfalutin talk like that.
8. You have to eat: Kentuckians love a fried thang or two.
We’ve got foodies too, so don’t look down your nose at us. Just be advised that we take cornbread and biscuits very seriously. Don’t say snotty things about salty country ham: We like it, so that’s just bad manners. And please try the beer cheese. You won’t be sorry.
9. You’ll want to drink: Bourbon rules, but like every other state in the union, we have a cluster of small independent breweries concocting light, lemony ales and hoppy, chewy dark brewskis. Your choice. Or, you can find the two together in some locally brewed Kentucky bourbon barrel ales.
10. Well-to-do Kentuckians have houses at the lake. Rich Kentuckians have houses in Florida. Truly rich Kentuckians have limos that ferry them to Churchill Downs for Derby, and jets that fly them to France for dinner.
It’s hard to tell who’s who, isn’t it? That’s the brilliance of Kentucky dress.
11. Lexington is the center of Kentucky. Louisville residents who say otherwise are probably undercover Hoosiers.
And no, Lexington is not the Derby City. That’s Louisville. We have Keeneland, which is just so much more racetrack-chic.
12. Lexington had an openly gay mayor before it was cool; indeed, he’s still in office. In Lexington it is safe, although not popular, to be an actual mainline Democrat.
13. Subjects to avoid: Rowan County clerk Kim Davis (done to death), firearms (you won’t change anyone’s mind), obesity (we’re always close to the top of states packing the pounds).
14. Another sore point with us: We hate the CentrePointe hole in the middle of Main Street, having lived with it for years.
It’s super that it now has those lovely photo-curtains to kind of disguise it, and some work is now going on (oh-so-slowly). But we still know it’s a hole. Hatred of the CentrePointe hole is something that unites Lexingtonians at all ends of the political spectrum. We eagerly await seeing something being built there soon. If not sooner.
15. Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln are revered here. Abe Lincoln was born in nearby Hodgenville; Mary Todd Lincoln was more the Lexingtonian. You can tour her onetime house on West Main Street in downtown Lexington. When it opened in 1977, it was the first house museum in America to honor a first lady.
Welcome to Kentucky! Enjoy the Derby! Here’s a biscuit and a tumbler of bourbon. Bless your heart.