This post is a cheat, I know. The Idiotarod is not a space, and it’s not even always (or only) in Brooklyn. But it is so ludicrous, so fantastically silly, that I don’t care. There’s so many things like this—Lost Horizon Night Market, Improv Everywhere, Newmindspace, Fluff’s Stuff—silliness and spectacle just for the sake of it, which is what makes this the best, funnest place to be. It’s part of the essence of Brooklyn for me.
So what’s the Idiotarod? Well, as their website explains: “The Iditarod is the famous long-distance race in which yelping dogs tow a sled across Alaska. The Idiotarod is pretty much the same thing, except that instead of dogs, it’s people, instead of sleds, it’s shopping carts, and instead of Alaska, it’s New York City.” How this works is that teams of five people pick a theme,
steal acquire a shopping cart, dress themselves and their cart up accordingly, and race from checkpoint to checkpoint, usually for about five miles and over at least one bridge. Sabotage is encouraged, as is throwing food or snow, and, of course, drinking. No one knows where the race will begin or end, or where the checkpoints will be, until the last possible minute. Prizes are awarded at a secret afterparty for things like fastest team, best costumes, best sabotage, etc.
Want to hear more from people who have done it? Check out my interview with Alix and Leila! (That’s them in the top photo on this page, Alix on the right and Leila on the left, part of team Andrew W.K.art in Idiotarod 2012.)
brooklyn spaces: When was your first race?
Leila: I did it for the first time in 2007, and our theme was the Cold War Kids. Half of us were dressed as Americans and half as Russians, and we divided the cart in half, and in one half we had a vodka bottle and the Communist Manifesto, and in the other we had an old McDonald’s carton that we found on the street, and then I took a dish towel and covered it with duct tape and wrote “The Iron Curtain” on it and hung it on the front. In 2008 I was Jem, and 2009 we were the Oregon Trail of Death. In 2010 I took off, which I’m glad I did, because Alix says that was the coldest day of her life. This year we did it together, and we were Clam Rock.
Alix: I first did it in 2008, and we were the Boston Tea Party. We had wet teabags to throw at people—there was a lot of food throwing then. Our cart had a Sam Adams picture on it, and we decorated it as a boat. In 2009 we were The Price Is Wrong, Bitch! In 2010 we were Gilligan’s Island. I got my boyfriend to do it, and two other friends. I was like, “It’s going to be really fun!” And then it was just the coldest day ever. I only had fingerless gloves on and I could not feel my fingers once we started running. We’re running, my eyes are tearing and I can’t see, snot is flying. My friends were like “Why the fuck would you do this? This is not fun at all.”
brooklyn spaces: Tell me about the actual mechanics of the race.
Leila: Okay, the mechanics of the race are stupid, it’s incredibly disorganized. It takes a lot of effort to even figure out when the race is happening.
Alix: They don’t really have much information on the website. It used to be run by COBRA, Carts of Brooklyn Racing Association, and then I guess they “sold” it to Corporation X. Or no, COBRA gave it to Team Danger Zone, and then they gave it to Corporation X.
Leila: Once you’ve figured out when it is, you have to figure out how the sign-up works, because the fact that you’ve done it in the past doesn’t mean they’ll assume you might be interested again and tell you about it. And they make it really hard for you to sign up. This year we had to complete an eight-page form filled with stupid questions, which we had to get notarized—we faked the notary. Then they text or email to say where it’s going to leave from, and everybody knows it’s a lie. That used to be to mislead the police, but now it’s just tradition. You have to wait until like 8:00 on the morning of the race to find out where to go. One year we started in Chinatown, one year we started in Queens, one year we started at fucking like 63rd and York or something.
Alix: Every race goes over at least one bridge, so it’s cross-borough. But this year there was a lot of snow still on the ground, and I think that they changed it around at the last minute, because we just stayed in Brooklyn. Anyway, you have to go to four or five checkpoints, and you have to complete stupid tasks before they tell you where to go next. Sometimes you can leave early if you bribe the people there, so a lot of people bring mini bottles of booze for that.
brooklyn spaces: What are some of the tasks?
Alix: This year, one was you had to blow a feather and keep it in the air longer than the other team, or there’s races around the bar, or you have to find someone and have them give you something.
Leila: Sabotage used to be a big part of it. One time we were going across the bridge into Queens, and people were pouring dishwashing soap down the bridge, and everybody started doing the thing like you see in cartoons, where people are like “Whooooaaaa!” with their legs.
Alix: There was another sabotage where someone had a bowling ball they would put it in people’s carts. They put it in ours and we didn’t notice. We were running, going, “Why is this thing so heavy?” And with the sabotage, you never know if you’re going to the right place. The first year I did it there was a fake checkpoint, they just said, “You have to stand here for twenty minutes, this is the first checkpoint.” Some people were like, “This is fake, we’re leaving!” and then you’re like, “Well, is that a sabotage?” You can’t trust anyone.
brooklyn spaces: What are some of your favorite carts that you’ve seen?
Leila: The Roman Chariot was really good. They had like forty people, including Remus and Romulus, and there were all these people in matching costumes, and this triumphant Roman Empire–style music
Alix: My first year there was a team that I think was called Two Girls One Cart. They had two blowup dolls and this huge tub of poop-looking stuff, and they were throwing the pudding-poop at people. When we were running over the Manhattan Bridge, there was this huge goop of pudding just dripping down the railing of the bridge.
brooklyn spaces: Does anyone get in trouble?
Leila: One time when we were outside of a checkpoint, a cop drove by very slowly, and shouted over his bullhorn, “Please at least try to not let me see that you are drinking in public!” And everyone was like “Okay, we’ll try.”
brooklyn spaces: And so is it the funnest thing you do all year?
Alix: I love it. If you have a really good cart design, and other people have really good cart designs, it’s great. Just looking at the carts is really cool. When you line up at the starting point, everyone’s checking out all the other carts and taking pictures.
Leila: It’s also a cool way to see neighborhoods you don’t usually get to see.
Alix: It’s the only time I ever run, too. It’s like a five-mile run every year. So yeah, it’s fun. And it’s a tradition. It’s this thing we do every year that we get to amaze our friends with.