Despite being a Baltimore native, I didn't start attending Preakness until I was closer to college age. My father is a very religious man and preferred to keep me away from the den of sin that was (and to a lesser extent still is) the Preakness infield for as long as he could control my whereabouts.
But I've missed few since coming of age -- and only because of significant circumstances (like taking a job in Arizona for two years or my wedding). I've seen just about everything there is to see at Old Hilltop on the third Saturday of May. I've been drunk on the infield. I've rubbed elbows with celebrities. I've snuck people into areas of the track where they weren't supposed to be. I've done shots with politicians. I've lost a fair amount of money. I've even done a minimal amount of work from time to time.
So in the spirit of trying to improve your life (I'm always so giving), here are some suggestions if you're attending your first Preakness May 20. While you read this, I'll scramble to figure out what a Zedd is.
1. Is your name "Lewis, Ray?" No? You're not getting in the Under Armour tent. You're wasting precious time that you could be spending impressing people with things you read about the horses on the internet the day before.
It's not even worth trying. If you have access to the corporate village, you'll probably see some celebrities at some point during the day. 50 Cent nearly knocked me over last year. Also, did you know 50 Cent was still a thing? Me neither.
Former Maryland football head coach Randy Edsall's wife once told my wife she thought she could get us in. Which was weird, because: A, she definitely couldn't; and B, she didn't actually know us. But it was nice of her to offer.
2. There's no way of getting around the disaster that will be your arrival or departure from Pimlico. Just prepare for it. And if you're inclined, it wouldn't be the worst idea to skip the race and sign up for Uber instead.
There are a million people who will offer you a million tips about how to handle this. "Make a friend in Mount Washington," they might say. "Coordinate a ride to drop you off and pick you up that is a reasonable walking distance from the track." They're neat ideas. But nothing is going to fully protect you from the disaster that is Northern Parkway on Preakness Saturday.
My best advice is that no matter how you're getting there, arrive as early in the morning as possible. By late morning, you're just asking for an additional headache. (You know, as opposed to the one you're going to have after hours of drinking in the sun.) If you're in it more for the experience of attending than you are for the actual race, arriving in the morning and leaving by 5 (well before the actual Preakness) is a great idea. Unless you're sitting on the roof (and you aren't), you're not going to have that great of a view anyway.
And I'm not kidding about signing up for Uber. One time years ago as I was leaving (before Uber and Lyft existed), I drove by the cab line and had my ex-girlfriend ask what revelers were willing to pay for a ride. A group of four offered $100 to get to Federal Hill. They piled in the back of my mother's Ford Tempo and, wait a second. Did I just admit to committing some sort of crime? There's definitely a statute of limitations on this, right?
3. Many of your friends will be in attendance. If they didn't come with you or aren't sitting next to you, don't make plans to find them. You'd rather just go ahead and walk to Laurel than walk around the track on Preakness day.
Did you happen to attend a wildly overcrowded public high school? Do you remember the first time you had to get from one side of the school to another in the five-minute span they give you between classes? Do you remember the exact moment you thought, "Oh, the hell with this. Mr. Foster, can just get used to telling me I'm late?" It's just like that.
You're going to have to walk around at some point -- to get another beer, to pee, to see a musical act on the infield or whatever. Don't add unnecessary additional trips. Allow me to preview this unwanted interaction:
You: Tom and Karen, it's so good to see you. We just had a 40-minute walk through what felt like an actual live war zone to get here. How are you?
Tom: Great. Did you see that we met Mayor Pugh earlier?
You: Yeah. I have Facebook and my phone battery still had some juice before you called us.
Karen: Are you coming to our Memorial Day cookout?
You ( Definitely not going because they don't have a pool): We'll try to stop by this year.
Tom: Well it was good to see you.
It's not worth it.
4. Sunscreen. Hydrate. Rinse. Repeat.
Obviously, this isn't as significant if for some reason you're sitting indoors. Otherwise, create a buddy system. Identify a hydration partner. Identify three hydration partners. Ask strangers to be your hydration partners. Ask cops to be hydration partners. Ask the damn horses to be your hydration partners. It's that important.
5. Bet responsibly. Figure out how much money you're willing to lose and then leave your credit and ATM cards in your car. Actually, go ahead and shred them today just to be safe.
Basically, go by "strip club during a bachelor party" rules when it comes to your cards.
Most of all, enjoy the race. You'll be very familiar with Pimlico by the end of the day. Which is nice, because by the looks of it, you may never be there again.