Running across the Manhattan Bridge on a picturesque late-January day would be an excellent way for a relative newcomer to view the cityscape. Unfortunately, on this particular day, while the air is pleasant and actually quite warm, there are five six-foot-tall bananas running alongside, impeding my view. Luckily, four friends and I, dressed in the most pirate-like clothes Target could offer (striped polo shirts with the collar ripped off, ragged sweatpants, striped knee socks and, of course, eye patches), bang away on the ketchup guns mounted on our to our pirate ship-cum-shopping cart as we speed up and fly past the Chiquita rip-offs.
Further up the bridge, a B train next to us slows down and the conductor quizzically asks us what's happening. "It's a shopping cart race," my teammate yells. "The Idiotarod." With a look that expresses both "stupid kids" and "damn, I wish I could run, too," the man's head retracts and the train speeds away.
For those not hip to the fringe sporting events in the United States, the Idtiotarod is loosely based on Iditarod. But, while the latter is dog sled race across the frozen tundra of Alaska, the Idiotarod features teams of five racers attached to a team-shopping cart and takes place through the concrete jungles of Manhattan and Brooklyn.
Based on the fear that police might shut down the race before it began, participants did not receive instructions about the starting line until the night before. With a scheduled race time of 2:30 p.m., my team assembled on the terrace at Fort Greene Park an hour early, and efficiently transformed our shopping cart into a pirate ship. While other teams had clearly spent weeks on their cart designs, which included a giant Pac-Man and an ambulance nicknamed the "Mayo Clinic," we threw up a homemade pirate flag, turned up the boom box and prepared for battle.
What we lacked in thematic paraphernalia, we made up for in enthusiasm and, more importantly, sabotage materials. We chose ketchup guns (ketchup bottles duct taped to the cart walls), flour (both for throwing at opponents and using to theatrically simulate a puff of smoke from the guns) and caulk dispensers filled with Liquid Nails as our pirate weapons
When the actual race began, disaster struck immediately, robbing us
of our soundtrack. As we ran down the first set of stairs, the CD player
bounced out and disappeared under the mass of carts, legs and costumes.
Sadly, Van Halen would play no more.
Suddenly "Jump"-less and in almost dead last, we soldiered on to the first checkpoint, located at the corner of Pearl and Gold Streets. We passed a number of teams, attacking each with ketchup and flour. Finally reaching the corner, one team member went to check in with the organizers. Although the official rules mandate that teams must remain for 20 minutes at each checkpoint, in the Idiotarod reality, the only clear rule is follow the leader. After an interval of time that can only be measured by the massive amounts of mayonnaise and chocolate on my shirt, the pack began to move toward the next checkpoint.
At the second stop, the corner of Clinton and Delancey, we witnessed similar debauchery to the first -- think condiment throwing, beer drinking and general revelry. I've never been to Mardi Gras, but I imagine this event rivaled the joyous celebration on Bourbon Street. (Although they aren't technically "piratey," we even had bead necklaces.)
After our team captain received a text message telling us to head towards East River Park, we left the mess and ran in that direction. Judging by the number of people and carts present upon our arrival, we finished somewhere in the bottom half. Not that it mattered. Finishing dead last would have been fine. There's something wonderful to be said for running through the streets of two boroughs with 800 of your new best friends.
In the end, I have no idea who won the actual race, or even if there was a winner (although Team Cobra did receive best team spirit and therefore won the pleasure of organizing the event next year). The Idiotarod was quite simply the most fun I've had since moving to New York City. And happily, the damage was minimal. Though, both Fort Greene and the East River Parks were a little worse for wear. And the NYPD handed out at least one open container violation. But other than that, residents of this great city might not have even noticed the intrusion of 800 costumed fools. Except for subway patrons waiting around 3:10 p.m. at the Dekalb Avenue stop on the B line; I'm pretty sure a certain subway, driven by a smiling conductor was at least fifteen seconds late.