The dancer was a vision -- one of many visions -- in the Pimlico infield yesterday. As his red Bermuda shorts slid ever downward toward his red high-topped tennis shoes, the shirtless man did an oblivious jig, his pink head scarf blowing in the breeze.
It was mid-morning on Preakness Day, and the 29-year-old man from Pennsylvania was evidently very happy.
"He's feeling very happy right now," one of his friends offered helpfully from his reclining position on a blanket as the man continued to dance. "He tends to enjoy himself."
Certain things can always be counted on at the Preakness:
The ubiquitous black-eyed Susans, Maryland's state flower that has come to symbolize this middle jewel in racing's Triple Crown, were bogus as usual -- mere daisies with boot-black centers. (The real thing doesn't bloom until July.) The namesake drink of rum, vodka and fruit juice was back, but this year sold for $4.
The lines waiting outside the betting counters, the hot dog stands, and especially the restaurants grew longer, louder and more urgent as the day passed.
The 87,652 people, a record crowd, while united in their determination to have fun, nevertheless fell into traditional Preakness Day categories: those who dressed up for the occasion and those, like the Pennsylvania dancer, who gradually undressed under the sunny skies in the 90-degree weather.
In the exclusive air-conditioned club that spectators pay a premium for, the men wore sherbet-colored jackets and the women silk dresses, diamonds and pearls and hats with peek-a-boo veils. As waiters in gold jackets with black braid stood in attendance, they dined on shrimp, crab cakes and country ham, and a dessert called "the black-eyed Susan sundae."
They were a civilized group. They did not hoot. Their trash was neat and quickly disappeared.
Outside, on the other hand, was the anything-goes crowd, the beach party on the infield, the happy homesteaders. Chroniclers of this event invariably use the words "bacchanalian," "reveling," and "debauchery" when describing this group.
These fans stumbled under the weight of coolers and tin tubs heaped with ice and six-packs of drinks, full-sized grills, lounge chairs and, in some cases, couches. They pitched tents, tepees and volleyball nets. They staked out their territory with rope, yellow plastic "do not cross" strips and uneven rows of empty beer cans. Their trash crunched underfoot.
Harry Nickens, a 46-year-old Baltimore store manager, and his half-dozen brothers and male cousins relaxed in a huge screen-sided tent. Their grill smoked just outside; their hot dog buns waited on a little folding table. Their portable television was tuned to the Boston Celtics-Milwaukee Bucks playoff game.
"Our wives went shopping and we came here," said Nickens. "This is our day -- and this is their day."
Not far away, Jay Reid, 29, of Baltimore, and about 50 friends opened "the Pink Pussycat Club" under an open-air tent, complete with a sofa and life-sized cardboard cutouts of bikini clad models. Reid and his friends wore red and black printed polyester dinner jackets over their tank tops and cut-off shorts. "We wanted to be elegant today," said Reid, who works for a chemical company.
Women padded by, barefoot, dressed only in string bikinis. A man stood up in his little encampment, whooping, draped in a white sheet. The air was thick with the smell of beer, barbecue and coconut oil. Here and there stood the makeshift restrooms of the little camps -- cardboard appliance boxes with buckets inside.
Some people made more detailed preparations than others. David Hall, 27, a lawyer from Vienna, Va., presided over the construction of a plywood outhouse, "a double seater" with a tall interior, graffiti on the walls and the requisite moon cut into the door. Instead of the usual buckets, Hall and his helpers used shovels to dig a trench and sprinkled it with lime to keep down the odor.
By late afternoon, when more than 100 people waited outside the official infield restrooms, a dozen others waited outside Hall's facility, paying $1 for the privilege of its use.
Far away, in the clubhouse, Mary Dietrich and Irene Cicone, both of Baltimore, sipped soft drinks and watched the people walk by. Both women were elegantly dressed in cream-colored suits.
For 40 years, Dietrich has come to the Preakness. She has never, however, ventured into the infield.
"But I do love the kids down there," she said. "I brought my glasses and binoculars so I can look down and see what they're up to."