Behind the Scenes at Idiotarod 2010
My fascination with Alaska’s Iditarod stems back to when I was five. Rather than the typical bedtime fairy tales read to little girls, my dad used to read me Jack London stories about violence and dogs. When Disney’s version of “White Fang” came to the theatre and later “Iron Will,” my dad and I attended together, excited to see dogs and wolves running along the big screen. While I would swoon over the handsome teenage stars, my dad would exit shaking his head, disappointed yet again that the movie had made the protagonists human.
My dad has never witnessed NYC’s Idiotarod, but if he did, I’m sure he would also be shaking his head. Instead of sleds there are shopping carts, instead of the tundra there is Brooklyn and Queens, and instead of dogs there are hipsters. The only parts possibly resembling each other would be the cold and the vodka.
Saturday January 30th, marked NYC’s 7th annual Idiotarod. Up until yesterday morning, the race had been cloaked in uncertainty. Last year Team Danger Zone won organizing rights to the race from team C.O.B.R.A. after winning best in show for 2008 (Top Gun) and 2009 (Romulus & Remus).
With the race sold, registration was compromised and no one was quite certain if the race would even happen until hours before its actual start.
Disclaimer: I was not a participant in this year’s race. My team, Little Lebowski Urban Achievers, raced valiantly last year and even had to negotiate a cart from a Food Emporium along the way when our fifteen foot bowling alley decided to no longer roll. But now the team was scattered across the country, and honestly, I had found the registration process this year a little too hard to figure out last minute. I didn’t have the text messages of starting and checkpoint locations granted only to registrants and I wasn’t sure if searching for shopping carts on a 16 degree day was a worthwhile endeavor, especially since the race was supposed to be ultra top secret. However, I had a friend in town who was dying to witness the race, so we decided to take a shot at unraveling the hipster code. (Thanks to all the twitterers out there making sure the world knew what they ate for breakfast, and their exact GPS coordinates at every moment of the race, we found it just fine. Also, the race course was basically the same as last year in reverse.)
I joined the racers at their third checkpoint in a bar in Long Island City. There I found a team of panty-mimes silently pushing their way to the bar, vikings dancing on tables, Cash for Gold Girls hawking their wares, a 17 person team of Las Vegas gamblers and show girls giving away shots and blue-faced Team Brave-cart boys offering to buy us beers. Like the other non-costumed bloggers observing from the corners, I was feeling a little self conscious being well rested in my warm clothes, showing up just in time to enjoy the atmosphere and a beer. Yet, I found the racers extremely friendly and fun, while hilariously staying in method with their costumes. And besides, last year I played the role of Bunny Lebowksi. Even though my coat rarely came off to reveal the infamous green bikini and green toes, I felt, with confidence, that I had been the coldest of 2009 and had earned at least a little street cred.
While the Polar Bear Swim Team poured vodka through their ice block shot luge to the Iceman himself, Maverick and Goose led wild songs and games nearby. I assumed this had to be Team Danger Zone, wearing their costumes from two years ago. I approached an unnamed Navy fighter pilot. “You’re here! I thought you gave the race up. Is this your cart?” I pointed to a shopping cart well disguised as a fighter jet.
“Yes. We resurrected it.”
The pilot was kind and affable, or perhaps just drunk enough to be forthcoming. When asked about giving up rights to the race, he explained that once it was all said and done the team realized that they just liked racing. It had been so satisfying for the group of friends to build their own carts and compete, that ruining their run with organization and boss-man roles just didn’t seem right. “We volunteered to run this checkpoint instead,” he said, as he marked off different teams’ checkpoint cards as we talked. “And we are going to come back next year as racers , better than ever.” As for Corporation X and the difficulties of registration? “They wanted to be more secretive,” he explained. The race had grown too big and rather than engaging in clever sabotage (last year my team locked bowling balls to other carts) players had devolved to throwing eggs and other food which made the city a mess.
We debated whether or not keeping last minute registrants out would really stop the food fighting and how one could decide the “type” of person who would food fight or not. I felt like I was speaking to the board of a summer camp. Whatever happened this year seemed to work though. Positive traditions remained with creative carts and well executed sabotage and bribes where the amount of thrown food greatly decreased.
The fighter pilot asked me if I might want to wear a fighter pilot costume too, just for fun. He felt bad that my friend and I hadn’t gotten to be on a team. I thanked him for his offer but didn’t think it would be right. “Did you resurrect those out of the lake in Nam too?”
“No, just our closets.”
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