Some people spend their lives pursuing fame, or at least notoriety, without ever achieving their goal. In the last week, however, I have discovered a sure-fire way to do it.
Just go to Louisville (or, perhaps, some equally undistinguished city in middle America) and knock the place. You'll have every editorial writer in town making you a celebrity.
Last week, I wrote a column under the headline, "Trouble With Derby Is That It's Run in Kentucky," which was reprinted in the Louisville Courier Journal. To judge from the reaction, you think that I had spat on the flag or committed suspicious acts with Spectacular Bid. The Courier Journal ran a story quoting congressional reaction to my column. For days, the papers and the air waves were filled with angry rebuttals.
One group of 671 Kentuckians living in the D.C. area reportedly will cancel their subscriptions in protest over the column. (My boss said I must offset this reaction by hustling up 671 starts.)
I was called names I had never even heard before. The editorial page of the Louisville Times damned me as "a misoneist." A Courier-Journal columnnist labeled me a "feckless creep".
(Unaware that I was deficient in feck, I asked two of my most literate press-box colleagues, Newsweek's Pete Axthelm and Sports Illustrated's Bill Nack, what the word meant. Stumped, Nack went to a dictionary and read: "It can mean worthless, weak, ineffectual or irresponsible." Axthelm said, "Well, he was four for four.")
My principally for the benefit of insiders, while the interests of bettors go unprotected. Larceny and inside information abound at Keeneland and Churchill Downs. Unable to deny this criticism, Kentuckians reacted to it with embarrassing ignorance.
Courier-Journal columnist John Filiatreau wrote, "Chicanery is part of the racing game. Anybody who thinks he's likely to get a fair proposition at the race track is a fool." Warren Buckler wrote in the Louisville Times, "The fact is, of course, that horse racing is a consumer, fraud everywhere."
Of course, horse racing is not a comsumer fraud everywhere. Most states do strive to keep the sport honest and protect bettors from being robbed too flagrantly. But the Kentuckians are so provincial that they will not look at the rest of the racing world and see that it might contain some useful examples for them to follow.
It is this same sort of provincialism that enables Louisvillians to look at their shabby, boring city and think that it is what a city is supposed to be like. And to react so heatedly to criticism of it.
I was utterly unprepared for the stridency of this reaction, coming as I do from Washington, a city that takes civic insults as a matter of course.
Louisville was exposing its inferiority complex by its overreaction to the remarks of an itinerant horse-racing writer, but there was more to it than that. It was an outpouring of the city's resentment of the nation's capital, which Van Cavett expressed articulately in the Louisville Times:
"Washington is the most prosperous company town that ever existed. Thanks to the taxpayers' generosity, the per-capita income there is almost $2,000 above the national average. And it's us peasants out here in the hinterlands that made it all possible.
"We could Proposition 13 Washington down to the level the rest of us occupy. Then it, too, would suffer from the lack of 'perceptible virtues' that Mr. Beyer so sneeringly deplores. Talk about biting the hand that feeds."
This is an incisive argument, but it would carry a lot more weight if it emanated from any city other than Louisville. No other city has so refined the art of biting the hand that feeds it.
No city gouges its visitors quite so mercilessly as Louisville does during Derby week. Moderate hotel rooms soar toward $100 a night. Taxi fares are astronomical; innocents have reported spending as much as $48 for the short ride downtown from the airport. Host cities for other major events may engage in similar practices-to a milder extent, of course. But Kentucky is the only place where they'll rob you and then call you feckless because you protest. CAPTION: Illustration, no caption, By William Coulter for The Washington Post