My little Trini family had great timing when we arrived in Louisville, KY – just in time for the Kentucky Derby Festival. After enjoying days of fireworks, Chow Wagons, fair rides, an airshow and parade, the great Kentucky Derby raced on the first Saturday in May. While admiring the hats, horses and the “most exciting two minutes in sports” my mind raced back to when I was an 18-year old volunteer at historic Churchill Downs.
As an Oldham County High School Beta Club member (Go Colonels Go!) I had the opportunity to earn all my service hours volunteering over two days for the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby. It was then that I got my first REAL lesson in presenting myself.
After a previous orientation where we received uniforms that made everyone look like white-jacketed-khaki-bottomed boxes, hundreds of students from multiple schools gathered in what seemed like the basement of Churchill Downs. In there adult group leaders assessed us in a glance as they walked by, selecting boys and girls for specific jobs. We didn’t know what those jobs were until we were separated into our work groups. This was all new to me. The first day (Kentucky Oaks Day) I was selected to take tickets at the grandstands. Not a bad job. All patrons were nicely donned and mostly pleasant. But on the bus ride home I heard about the jobs my friends were selected for: ticket takers in the Infield (oh the crazy stories), other Grandstand positions (pleasant and easy), and Millionaire’s Row (oooooooohhhh they even got tips). Now, in those days Millionaire’s Row was IT. You could get no more glamourous.
So … on that bus ride home I decided to do something to improve my chances at a better position on Derby Day. The next morning, I hotrolled my hair, put a ribbon in it and put Lip Smackers lip gloss on (makeup wasn’t familiar territory back then). Later when a lady briskly walked through the throngs of students in that basement room and pointed her manicured finger at me, I was eager to know what assignment was in store for me. I followed her along with four other girls into an elevator and then into a nice room with an astounding view of the track.
“Your job is to stand at the doors for the horse owners, trainers and their guests. Ensure they have a wristband on, open the doors for them and be pleasant. That’s it.” She gave us a smile, introduced us a man in charge of the room who placed one of us at each door and left. It was a lovely day.
That experience has stuck with me for more than 20 years. Image matters. Just with a little extra effort, I was able to improve what I was able to do. Now … I’m not at all saying that appearance is the only thing that matters. It isn’t. But no one can deny that others tend to make judgments based on how your present yourself. Neat and tidy doesn’t mean high-brow fashion labels but it is the fundamental rule of presenting yourself. And it’s also important to remember that internal beauty always reflects externally.
So thank you Churchill Downs staff of 1995 for teaching me a lesson that will forever stay with me. It has, and will continue to, serve me well.
The writer, Laura (Cotton) Lee Kong, recently relocated from adopted homeland Trinidad & Tobago to her old stomping grounds in Kentucky.
Photo credit: Rainy Daiseys