Lucky thirteen was the first time I found Idiotarod. I showed up at the Brooklyn Bridge in the middle of winter and saw the Idiots gather below. You could lump it into one of the “urban expression” series of events which have discarded seriousness for communal silliness, confrontation for fun, art for parody yet by doing all these things crafts a permissive space for the “everyday participant” to test their constitution, writing their own first amendment in a day filled with grueling farce.
It’s a race and last year was set in post-Sandy Red Hook to try to bring some business to the area as every spot is a different locale, offering the local drink and chow. This year the course returned to more familiar haunts in Williamsburg and Greenpoint, although now more used to Bugaboos and rustic artisan shopping rather than silly, off-the-hook shopping cart races.
Shopping carts are now foreign matter in this part of Brooklyn where space is at a premium and store shelves cannot afford to offer wide lanes for maneuvering steel wheeled baskets, a trend hitting much of New York as supermarkets with their basic ingredients flee the onslaught of the ready made with higher margins and less fuss. What became clear though as the race progressed is that some of the rational for the route had to do with the beautiful wall murals we passed where most of the crews would stop, pose and snap photos. Idiotarod became a fun way to show solidarity by dressing up in absurd costume, for the proper selfie in front of these massive street art mural dotting the newly chic area.
Having been a voyeur the year before, this time we got a crew together to do our own silliness. Trying to develop a journalist approach, I found that volunteering or being a part of the action in a meaningful way, not fretting about objectivity, I am finding new ways for the unfolding events to affect me.
A lot of journalism is now copy-paste press release, social media fallout recounting, or Instagram photo rebroadcasting. A fresh look might mean hitting the streets and being over the top silly.
Our crew showed up decked out in fur and a cart shaped like a vulture and called ourselves the Predatory Shoppers with the swagger that we firmly believed that American Hustle will surely win the Oscar for Best Musical. We had a banging sound system which didn’t leave us odd cart out for long. Of course we had murdered all the animals for the fur, that is the bed bugs from the thrift shops with a generous dusting of baking soda, making sure to rip off all the old tags that said Fake Fur Made in China. We were the dogs from up north that had just noticed the silliness and were now raising objections. Except that they were raised on our too true costuming rather than a too fake trademark violation. One bar even refused to serve us in this getup.
That refusal might be due to a communication issue on what Predatory Shopping is and how much wits we had about us to have the critical faculties to see it through. The quote I kept giving was “We don’t fuck around. We get that XBOX on black friday and we watch the big game on a big screen,” while in the next breath urging everyone to catch the film Midway Journey. In total agreement that wearing fur in this case was only designed to leave a slightly bitter, critical aftertaste to the silliness of the day, the wholesale switch to synthetics will surely kill more, and in the wild, in the long long long run of their endless existence. If plastics embody the proverbial eye of our current civilization, they see each kill as just a blink of temporary wrapping, just as we pretend to use them for that very purpose, seemingly not privy to their permanence.
Debates surrounding preparation for Idiotarod always revolve around how to procure a cart. I spent the day on foot bringing compost to the local park and empties to the local recycling center. I asked first at the recycling center because shopping carts are the workhorses of the informal recycling economy. Tons are carted off every day in the city and cashed in for 5¢ a pop in machines linked to giant conveyor belts separating plastic from aluminum from glass for crushing and smashing and then to be reformed.
So the carts are at a premium, and I was immediately greeted with suspicion and told what a high price such a wheeled steel carriage can command. So I walked back towards the parks department compost drop off and saw a cart half buried in a snowdrift in their compound. They were holding that for one of the recyclers, they explained it was usually locked up but they did have two more they could offer me. Low and behold one sported that classic shape from the Idiotarod logo with the tapered front basket in solid steel. It wheeled great even through snow banks.
Stoked, it was transformed overnight into a winged vulture with reclaimed speakers mounted on the side in winged pine boxes salvaged from crates of imported Spanish and French wine. The shape of the vulture head and body in the cart was made of that pine as well and painted black while a black umbrella destroyed in the last gusty city rains became the skirt for the winged speakers. A lot of our team hadn’t met before and so we arrived in staggered succession. I brought the cart by subway, receiving help at the L train exit for each of the two levels to Bedford Avenue street level. After the speakers were mounted and the sound went live spontaneous dance parties broke out and photographers devoted heavy glass to capture the action.
A big part of the performance of Idiotarod is the judging. There is a certain measure of creativity demanded from “corrupt officials” dealing with “Idiots”.
Bribes are encouraged, rationalization frowned upon.
So when I arrived late the judges knew immediately where the other furry people were but it became the running obstacle to find the group in one place as the pack never really formed, unlike say the Octopi or Nintendo crews.
Seeming eerily as if we were running with the Tines, our pack scattered while our artcart, adopted for the tunes it played, wiled somewhere else. We sported a particularly disorganized furry idiocy.
Yet the cart was fast, the tunes were heavy, the team cute, so that we pulled through, not with a cash prize, which was reserved for someone else, but with the Best Music award, one day before the Grammys, having fully convinced the judges that they had been transported back to the nineties, without the use of a Tardis or a steampunk time machine, although most likely in tandem with these beautiful artcarts.
The final sprint across the Williamsburg bridge landed us in darkness and exhaustion so that half-seven felt like two in the morning.