Thursday, November 12, 2015

The race that stops a nation

Last week I got to experience a uniquely Melbourne event: The Melbourne Cup.

The grand entrance to the Flemington Racecourse, where the Melbourne Cup is held. 

I'd never heard of the Cup before we decided to move to Melbourne and all I really knew about it when we got here was that it was a horse race. We have those at home, and while I am not in the target socioeconomic demographic for the sport, I understood all the pomp and circumstance that goes along with horse sports. It's a sport with a rich history and even more rich patrons and frankly I didn't understand the appeal. Here, the Cup is a huge deal, so much so that half the country gets a day off from work to watch it, and folks come from all over to attend the events.

Tyler and I haven't miraculously struck it rich in this gold town, so I didn't attend the Melbourne Cup as a patron. No, no. I was serving the food to the rich patrons. I got a job working with a catering company that hosts one of the marquees at the racecourse, but it got me a front row seat (well, really it was more up-the-hill-and-in-a-tent seat) to the action and I didn't even have to worry about my outfit!

Actually, I was a little worried about my outfit because the catering company had very specific requirements for our uniform, the most stressful of them being the required "donut bun" my hair had to be in before arriving to the job site.

Donut bun!? I didn't even know that was a thing! I googled it and found all kinds of YouTube tutorials and let me tell you this is not a hair style for curly girls, especially the way this company wanted it: smooth, sleek, no bumps or fly-aways. They do not speak my hair's language. So a few days before the Cup Carnival began I had a practice round. 

nailed it. 
Eventually I got the hang of it and with the help of approximately 17 bobby pins, the hair portion of my uniform was a success. The other funny part about the uniform was that the company wanted all the girls to have the same "signature" look, so make up artists did our make up every morning before going on the floor. 

Tyler says this photo makes it look like I got a DUI in my minivan on my way to soccer practice. He loves me.

Yikes. I personally thought I looked like a tired Vegas lounge singer with the heavy eye liner, orange-y bronzer, and bright red lips...but what does it matter, I got paid.

Anyway, while the Melbourne Cup is just one single race, the whole event lasted a week and incorporated four days full of racing: Derby Day (pronounced "Darby Day" like some kind of pirate...sadly no pirates were involved in the festivities), Cup Day (the Big Day), Oaks Day, and Stakes Day. Each day had its own theme, signature flower, and color scheme for the race-goers to observe. Tired Vegas was my theme for all four days. 

Oh how I wish I could have taken photos of all the hats and the fancy outfits and the less-than-fancy outfits, but I was running around like crazy the minute the doors opened until the last guest was escorted out. Each day of the Carnival brought very different groups with unique dynamics. Derby Day's crowd was young, fun-loving, and not shy about the bottomless drinks and open bar. They were well behaved and the friendliest of all the groups, but while the rest of the Carnival involved groups coming in and making polite conversation while snapping posed photos, Derby Day's group beelined it to the bar. They were really fun! 

Cup Day was the oldest crowd and as such they were more focused on propriety. The weather on Cup Day was AMAZING, so the crowd was amicable, just not overly friendly. It was really cool to get to be at the racecourse for the Cup because this year the winner was a horse that was completely unexpected to win (100 to 1 odds) being jockeyed by the first ever female jockey to win the Melbourne Cup. Her strapper (which I learned is the word for the guy that looks after the racehorses and is a term primarily used in Australia) was her brother, Stevie, who has Downs Syndrome, so the media wasn't short on inspirational stories that week. 

The amazing view of downtown Melbourne from the tent. The racecourse is in the foreground. 

The other two days, Oaks and Stakes, were relatively uneventful with the exception of the massive downpour and apparent tornado that supposedly "struck" Melbourne on Oaks Day, though I was none the wiser because I was in the middle of entree service when it was happening. The crowds were grumpy on Oaks Day (likely because of all the rain) and just rowdy on Stakes Day, which is funny because it is supposed to be the family-centered day at the races. There were no kids in our tent, but lots of childish behavior! 

By the end of the day it was a little less classy and a little more horse's-ass-y. Ba-dum-cha! See what I did there?
I enjoyed being back in the food & bev scene, having taken about 10 years off since I started teaching. Being an American in Australia is a major ego boost because, funnily enough, Australians love our accents just as much as we love theirs, so I had a lot of guests strike up a conversation with me just to hear me talk. I was really happy with the number of people that said, "Oh I love Nashville!" when I told them where I am from. Thank you, Mayor Dean, for putting our city on the map for international travellers! I no longer have to say, "Umm...have you heard of Miley Cyrus?" when people ask if any famous people share the same hometown. 

Hopefully all these shifts will result in the catering company booking me on for more events because, frankly, Tyler and I could use the cash and we have four long months before grad school starts back up and boredom is quickly setting in.

Vicariously yours,

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