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New York Times One Million
Idiotarod: Inside the Madness
So this year I decided to participate in the 2nd Annual Idiotarod, a shopping cart race from Brooklyn through lower Manhattan, instead of merely taking photos as I did last year. I found the 2004 race truly awesome and ridiculous, so it was great to finally get involved. Now I've been suffering from a bad back for a few months so I wasn't sure I could handle the grueling run and get drunk at the same time, so I just decided to opt for participating in a way that would merely allow me to get drunk - volunteering. Little did I know that it's just as much work to sit as it is to run in a race of this nature, though I soon learned it is far easier to get drunk whilst sitting still.
A few days before the race an email was sent to all participants (racers and volunteers alike) that we were to show up at the Fulton Ferry Landing in Dumbo, Brooklyn. Now me, I don't know my Dumbo from my Central Park West (though I realize, yes, they are far different places), so I wandered around the national park for a while and hung out with the two forest ranger goons on duty for a while. (Yes, that's right, there are forest rangers in Dumbo, of all places.) They were actually really nice and funny though a little concerned about a whole bunch of people showing up at once. As it turned out everyone had gathered about a quarter mile away at the actual ferry landing as opposed to the park, which I suppose I might have recognized had I actually paid attention to the email for a second instead of worrying about filling my flask. I did get to have a quiet contemplative moment to shoot a nice picture.
That quiet would soon be shattered, but I'll get to that in a moment. At the ferry landing a few early teams were setting up, and most of the volunteers had arrived. There were referees, folks running registration, a few ladies setting up an igloo which later housed free hot toddies, and of course the people who would be manning the checkpoints, of which I was one. Everyone was super hyper and totally cold already. In our volunteer meeting I learned I would work with five other people at the second checkpoint at Lotus Lounge as a timekeeper/judge of sorts. Jeff Stark from Precision Accidents and Nonsense NYC ran us through our responsibilities and gave us tips. He told us to be careful about the drinking. "Start slow," he said. I would soon learn why he gave us this advice.
Setting up the igloo. Cold, hard work.
Cutie co-volunteers from Checkpoint 2.
I like how the line at the registration table looks a bit like mental patients waiting for their meds.
View more pics from the Set-Up.
Around 2 PM the rest of the teams began to show, some by car, some on foot. A lot of folks were giggling, but there were some that were clearly going to be competitive, dare I say they were growling even? I had high hopes for these kids. I spent a lot of time walking around observing, curious to see their attitude and behavior before they got to the checkpoint. Would they keep it real? Were they truly idiots, or just faking it?
It was nice to see all those people in such a cool setting. I heard more than 70 teams participated!
Ben White from Team Zissou. He bribed early and often with brownies. Wise man.
View more pics from the Starting Line.
Now here's where the story sort of turns a bit into unfamiliar territory for me. My checkpoint mates and I all hopped into Tara's car and drove into the city to set up at Lotus Lounge. On the way over Tara, who is 8.5 months pregnant, told us it was going to be a girl and she was naming her Liberty, which I really liked because I pictured the first boy who falls in love with her saying, "I love thee Liberty" and things like that make me happy because I am a huge dork.
Also Lea was telling us about how her father just had a baby with his much younger wife, and I was talking about how my brother and sister-in-law are due in May, and all in all it was definitely the estrogen car which perhaps set the tone for the rest of my race experience. I mean we weren't playing freaking Sarah McLachlan and holding hands and having a sharing ceremony or anything like that, but I just knew everything was going to be ok.
So at Lotus we had maybe fifteen minutes to set up the table beforeen the first teams arrived. I was responsible for clocking in each team, and putting the time down on their form, and keeping track of it on another pad as well. Each team was also given an egg timer with registration, and the rest of the checkpoint volunteers had to turn the timer to twenty minute, and when it went off, the team was free to go. Teams were allowed to try to bribe us by whatever means necessary in order to get minutes shaved off of their time.
The first teams arrived within moments of each other. This is one of the last times I remember my notes making sense.
So the first team, Mango showed up and immediately offered to buy us drinks, but the second team, Van Halen, they were right behind them, and they also offered to buy us drinks. I was appalled to see Mango did not follow through, while Van Halen had drinks in moments for us. I made some noise ("How is it that I do not have a drink in front of me?") and a beer was soon procured, but seriously people, if you're at the front of the race, follow through is crucial. Do you want to win or not? Anyway we found the Van Halen team representative's attentiveness to our needs refreshing (and also he was kind of cute albeit sweaty) so we gave them the same starting time. (It didn't help, I found out later. I think Mango won.)
I should mention that the head ref, Splinter, showed up at some point because there had been some sort of shoving between the two lead teams but like kids on a playground who have been taught never to rat, both team reps said, "No we managed to work it out between us." There was a lot of competitiveness throughout the day, and as long as it's good natured, I'm in, but I heard that initial run across the bridge was a little rough. Let's make love on the Brooklyn Bridge, kids, not war. I'm just saying.
Next a handful of teams came in, and they were breathing hard, so if anyone doubts these people were running hard, let me assure you, they were racing for the gold (or at least a cash prize.) Every second counted, so there were more bribes, and the sweaty men hovered anxiously, waiting waiting waiting, "Can we go yet? Check the time."
It was fine at first and we just smiled at everyone and sipped our beverages, alcoholic for some, non-alcoholic for others, but then all of a sudden it became really crowded and chaotic and we were told, we were warned, but nothing really prepares you for lots of sweaty people hovering in front of you and offering to buy you drinks. I felt a bit like the hot foreign exchange student at the frat party, only I am not hot and foreign so what is going on here? Plus folks had to shove their forms at me for me to sign. It was mostly hilarious, but I would say for about a half an hour it really kind of sucked there, and a few times I had to tell people to move away from me. It was just strange having these people standing right next to you for twenty minutes straight just trying to buy you a drink or whatever.
On that note, let me give some tips to next year's racers about bribery. I would say maybe the first ten to fifteen teams should definitely be offering to buy cocktails, that's just a given, but if you want to really distinguish yourself, be creative, plan ahead. To the team who traveled with a cocktail waitress? I commend you. The girls who made cupcakes? Thank you very much. The teams that brought us bags of candy. Yes I like you very much. The guy who fed Tara's meter for her? Duly noted, and you sir can have five minutes off your time. But you who had an open bag of Pepperidge Farm cookies that you kept shaking at us like a master to his dog? Not flattering.
You know what I really would have loved? A sandwich. A slice of pizza. Even some mixed nuts. We're drinking here people, how about a little salty food to go with it?
The right way to bribe. Also I heard she flashed us for a second and I missed it but I heard they were, "the most perfect breasts I've ever seen."
Now as things started winding down, it got more fun again. People were drunker and more relaxed and less intense (it seriously only sucked for like a half hour) and wanted to perform for us (or anyone, those whores), and I got a chance to drink all those cocktails that had been purchased for me early on.
A bunch of different people told me they thought the Ghostbuster girls were cute.
He kept taking people hostage. I could never decide if it was funny or not but I appreciated the effort.
Heh. This dude doesn't even have to do anything.
The guy in the bunny suit threw snowballs at racers while riding a bicyle. Highly impressive.
Oh yea, the cop. Why do all cops look like such assholes? Anyway lots of tickets for public drinking were given out.
As the last teams cleared out toward the finish line at Tompkins Square Park, one last time straggled in, Team Elian Gonzalez. They were college kids from Philly who had just heard about the race the day before. They didn't know their way around the city at all. "We went thirty blocks the wrong direction," laughed one of them. "Don't tell us we're last. Dude, we're last?" They had a round and chatted with us. Such youthful enthusiasm. We decided they were the team with the most heart.
While cleaned up and got ready to leave we noticed there was another team left at the bar besides Team Elian Gonzalez. They were prepping to leave at the same time. Even though the race was long over, the two teams decided to finish tit anyway and headed to Tompkins Square PArk
Aw, we all said. So much heart!
Checkpoint cuties do their impression of how stressful it got.
The boys from Philly.
The other last place team
As we drove off toward the park in Tara's car, we passed the two teams racing on the street. The girl were walking (I'm sure they were over it, I would have been.), and the boys were running like idiots. We cheered and waved from the car and then one of the members turned to us, waved cheerfully, and then dropped his pants. Aw, so much...oh.
Later on that night I couldn't sleep. I was up till 5 AM at least, just rolling around, switching sides, pillow over the head, facedown, blankets off, then on. I couldn't shut off the day, I was just so stimulated by everything. It had been like New York times one million, I tell you. I met hundreds of people in one day, seen so much craziness, and I just couldn't shut my brain off, no matter how hard I tried.