CALIFORNIA DREAMING: This photo accompanied a letter that promised that "Donna's attire will add to the beauty of the event." Maybe next year.
Photo courtesy of Churchill Downs, reprinted with permission of Louisville Eccentric Observer
But somehow they were less dramatic than I'd expected. Many were handwritten, sometimes even scrawled, in the most stilted language: I am writing to you to request ... In a few instances, the word "request" was underlined, or written in capital letters, as if to convey an impression of immeasurable significance to a reader whom the writer imagined to be slow or easily confused. One expressed a willingness to beg. Another exercised remarkable impropriety: God will bless you if you send me tickets ... And they came on every kind of paper from the yellow sheets of a legal pad to fancy colored notepaper, from ordinary typing paper to the watermarked letterhead of professional offices. Most were straightforward, even pretty tame.
Then a handwritten request from San Pedro, Calif., a beach town below Los Angeles, caught my eye: "Gentleman," it began, apparently assuming that gender equality is still to arrive in our sorely misunderstood state. "My girlfriend and I are anxiously anticipating being at the Kentucky Derby this year ... Donna will be dressed like a movie star in a gold dress with all of the trimmings ... I can assure you that Donna's attire will add to the beauty of this event. I'm also hoping that we'll be allowed to have a picture of Donna with the winning horse and jockey ..." Attached was a snapshot of Donna, seemingly clad for the role of go-go dancer in a Wagnerian opera as she smiled whimsically from the middle of a room in which Elvis Presley would've felt very much at home.
Shellman hung up the phone and looked over at the picture: "They're not getting tickets," she sighed. "Maybe next year. But that is my favorite letter from the past couple of weeks."
This article originally appeared in the May 2, 2001 issue of the Louisville Eccentric Observer, reprinted with permission.
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