This Saturday afternoon I emerged from the #6 Subway out onto Canal Street dressed as a monkey. Yes, you read that right…and no, I haven’t been taking prescription drugs, or non-prescription drugs, nor had I been drinking (but I started shortly after emerging from the subway), nor was this a dare, nor was this a new job that I took on to make money. Instead, I was part of something bigger, part of a team of bananas, part of an age old, illegal tradition…the Brooklyn Idiotarod.
You’ve all heard of the Iditarod – the famous dog sled race in Alaska. The Idiotarod is a Brooklyn race modeled after the famous Alaska race. However, since we are in a huge metropolitan area as opposed to the frozen tundra of wide open space in Alaska the race organizers had to make a few amendments to the rules. Keeping with the tradition of the Iditarod, we had a ‘sled’ (stolen shopping cart) and dogs (people…ahem…me, tethered to the shopping cart). All you had to do was make it through the checkpoints and to the finish and you would complete the Brooklyn Idiotarod.
I know my brother is reading this thinking about all those years of calling me Dog Face when I was a kid now applies…sad but true…Troy, you won. The race is pretty much as it sounds…5 miles of running with idiots. There was no age limit – yet I firmly believe that I was in the upper age bracket – I think I only saw one other guy older than me. The rest of my 4 person banana team was made up young 20 somethings…clearly I was the geriatric of the team. Some people have a mid-life crisis and have affairs – I apparently dress up as a monkey pulling a stolen shopping cart with a bunch of fun friends that could be my children. Hell, when you are unemployed and 37…why not hang out with a bunch of drunk fools running around breaking the law. To each his/her own.
1. Each team must go from the starting line, to each checkpoint and then to the finish line. Teams may chose the route between these points for themselves.
2. The five racers in a team must be in some way connected to or touching the cart at all times along the route, when the cart is not stationed at the checkpoints.
3. While the cart is moving during the race, four racers must be forward of the back wheels of the cart (the “sled dog”position) and one racer must be behind the cart (the “musher” position). Racers within a team may switch positions whenever they choose.
4. The racers must pull/push the cart on foot for the whole route. The cart may not be motorized, towed by a vehicle, attached to motor vehicles or bicycles, or put inside a motor vehicle.
5. The same five racers must pull/push the cart for the whole race. Substitutions will cause disqualification of the team.
6. Any team wearing spandex is disqualified.
7. Carts can be modified, welded, broken, rearranged, and decorated in any way the team chooses. Teams may attach platforms which allow them to “ride” the cart.
8. For prizes not based upon order across the finish line, a points system will be used to tally positive and negative accomplishments of each team. Judges and race officials will be at checkpoints and along the route to increase or deduct points for teams. Prizes may be awarded to specific teams, or to organizations of teams.
9. The Committee has sole discretion over all points awarded or deducted, prizes awarded, which prizes are being awarded, race rules, all laws of physics, what time it is, and what happened in the past, all of which are subject to change without notice
With this – I lined up a few of my responsible friends to bail me and my team out of jail just in case we ended up there by the end of the afternoon – and we were off!
Photo: Olin waiting for the subway
My team consisted of Anna and Olin our team captains, Yinka, Lindsay, and myself. They were all under 25 and therefore had a built in excuse for doing something stupid like this…me…well – I guess I’m just in denial. Anna and Olin somehow stole a shopping cart a couple days before the race so our first mission was accomplished! We armed ourselves with 3 banana costumes (kids sizes because they were cheaper), a Chiquita Banana costume, and a monkey outfit. We filled the cart with 18 lbs of bananas, some spiked ‘Gatorade’, and peanuts – we were ready as we could ever be!
It was a cold 28 degrees out, but Olin, a native Wisconsinite, felt that it was the right temperature to wear shorts and a t-shirt…youth! It was clear that as the elder of the group…I was the Type A personality that every good team needs. I wasn’t much help in stealing the cart, nor did I help with the drinks, or the heavy lifting or pushing – but I did decide to get a valuable piece of equipment that turned out to be a life saver…a map of Brooklyn.
This clandestine race didn’t even have a start time or place. The day before the race, we received an email notifying us of the race starting point, but no time. However, the day of the race, in true James Bond fashion, we received a text message on Olin’s phone reading “Race start at Cherry and Market in China Town – noon”. This was a different location than our last message from the race organizers…for a moment I wondered if this was the beginning of the sabotage that is a strategic part of the race. Regardless – we couldn’t sit around Anna’s apartment forever dressed up like bananas, so we left the comfort of the indoors and went out into the city of Manhattan dressed like idiots. We carried the cart onto the subway, with only a few comments from construction workers as we passed. Yet during out 20 minute crowded Saturday subway ride, not one person said a word to us (except some foreign tourists). Now that is classic New York. Everyone just minds their own business while the craziness ensues around them…a typical subway commute.
Photo: Carrying the cart out of the subway
We emerge from the subway on Canal Street, one of the busiest streets in NYC on a Saturday, where China Town, Little Italy, and knock off purse vendors converge on Canal Street. We make our way down Canal in our outfits with tourists asking us to stop so they can take pictures. Had I been a tourist – I would have done the same. We even tried to recruit some curious strangers onto our team with our extra unused banana outfit, yet we couldn’t convince anyone to join in – I have no idea why.
We wove through China town while old men yelled at us in Mandarin…I never learned the word for banana in Mandarin, nor did I learn the word for idiot – but I’m sure they were using both of them. Finally we started to see ‘our people’…cart people. We rounded the corner by the Manhattan Bridge and there was a large group of people…all with shopping carts. We made it! I think half of the fun/challenge was actually finding out way to the start with our cart and outfits on – and we had passed!
This was our first look at our competition…and it was scary. There were two men dressed as zoo keepers wrestling a stuffed alligator on the ground while their friends drank beer. Various scantily clad people. There was a cart with a stove on the front – yes, an actual stove. The team was dressed as chefs. I watched as one of them pulled chocolate chip cookies out of the gutted-out oven and the others put a plastic plate of spaghetti in a sling shot contraption connected to the cart and shot spaghetti out into the crowd. That’s when I went…where’s the Gatorade…I need a drink!
We checked in and got our paper for the checkpoints. I looked at it and said to Anna – “Where’s the information on the location of the checkpoints?” She said “I don’t know, I guess they’ll tell us.” The cops were circling the crowd and came over their loud speaker asking to see the person heading this up…no more than 2 minutes later – the crowd takes off running…the race has begun…no gun, just a mass exodus, so we follow. As we started to follow we heard a rumor that there was a new text message as to where our first checkpoint was – Olin checked his phone and sure enough, we had our first address. However, the best strategy was to simply follow the crowd as we all had only one way to get to Brooklyn – over the Manhattan Bridge.
Photo: Team picture before the food started flying
I’ve never been involved in an actual food fight when I was a kid…but here – during my mid life crisis activity – I found myself in the line of fire…eggs, tomatoes, ketchup, mustard, ice cream, flour, salad dressing, powered sugar, some kitty litter mixture, water balloons, silly string, green vomit looking stuff, and bananas…yup…that last one was courtesy of our team. It’s a dog eat dog world out there – and when you are pelted with kitty litter and eggs – you have to fight back. The race took over the streets of Manhattan stopping traffic, throwing food over and around pedestrians, and fleeing from the cops all of us trying to make it onto the bridge walkway. A narrow little walkway that was about 2 carts wide…now all the craziness was confined for the next mile over the bridge – thank God there was a railing.
This was definitely one of the biggest challenges of the race – pushing the cart uphill while fighting off sabotage and trying to get around the saboteurs so that we could have room to run. Anna, Olin, and Yinka navigated the bridge wonderfully as Lindsay and I fought to keep up and stay out of the line of the kitty litter fire. But once over the bridge we realized that we had actually fared pretty well – we were one of the first teams into the checkpoint. We later came to find out that this was not actually the real checkpoint – but a sabotage checkpoint…oh well…I guess we should have paid more attention to the address but we were there with about half of the other teams in the same debacle. We arrived at the checkpoint and had to wait there 15 minutes before we were allowed to leave. We were given the name of the next checkpoint and we were back on the right track! However, we had one problem – we had no idea where we were going. A few cell phone calls later – we received the street address for the area called “The Yard” at Carroll Gardens. I was able to pinpoint it on our map and we were off and running yet again. This time – we were alone, no other teams trying to run us down, we were just a bunch of bananas running down the lovely shopping districts of Carroll Gardens. We made lots of friends along that 2 miles of running in the commercial heart of Brooklyn, and yes – we even made it to “The Yard” in good time.
Photo: Team on the move!
Checkpoint #2 (a real checkpoint this time) was more like a bootcamp…a nightmare! It was an actual old junk yard of sorts that the judges had taken over and decided to lay down the law. In order to get in, we had to bribe the judge with alcohol…that part was easy. We went to the judges table and we were informed that we could not leave the yard until we had done the following:
Turned in 5 empty beer cans, and 10 flags to the judges, plus we had to have stamps saying that we participated in the tug of war and the cart pull race.
We stood there a bit dazed at first – and then the Project Manager in me kicked in…I looked around and found a woman in the corner of the yard selling beer – done…5 beers please. Now, the flags were a bit harder. As we were being told the ‘rules’ of the yard, they stapled 1 flag onto the back of each of our coats/costumes, yet as soon as they were stapled on – another knowing team stole them off of us while we were listening to the rules….hmmm…now we had to get 10 flags from scratch. I became a lurker…lurking around the judging table trying to steal flags as soon as they were stapled on to other teams…but people started to catch on to this, I had to come up with other ways. Olin and I danced on camera doing the Peanut Butter Jelly song and dance earning us 2 flags…I’m sure it’s on YouTube somewhere…joy. I started to get more desperate though. As I was lurking around the table, I saw another team turning in their beer cans and 10 flags – greediness came over me and I grabbed a handful of the flags from the team handing them over to the judge and ran for my life! See – sometimes it pays to be the youngest child…you have to outwit your older brother and run fast else you will get beat up…the instinct came right back to me as if I was 9 years old again! Luckily this guy didn’t sit on me and tickle me until I peed…yet he was really pissed off and I did consider the fact that he really wanted to hurt me. We participated in tug of war and had our asses kicked twice but sweet-talked the judges into giving us a stamp. At this point the checkpoint was getting really rowdy with more teams showing up – we all agreed that we needed to get out of there. We went and bribed the judges with booze and pushups (thanks to Olin and Yinka who could actually do 10 clapping push-ups each!). We received our golden ticket and ran out of the mayhem!
Photo: The goop in Anna’s hair -cement or kitty litter – we weren’t quite sure!
We were given our last address for the finish line…wooo hooo…we were about done! Yet finding the street on the map proved to be rather difficult. When we saw a mailman delivering mail – a light bulb went off and we went up and asked him where the address was. I actually can’t believe that he looked at us dressed in our banana outfits, smelling of egg, beer, and other goop – and gave us directions without even faltering or asking us what we were doing. God Bless the US Postal Service!!! We raced down stairs, up and over a highway, and to the finish line! We made it – and we weren’t in jail – a real reason to celebrate!
Photo: The finisher picture!
We later found out that we came in as the 6th team…however I’m not real sure how we ended up once they gave us a penalty for being at the wrong checkpoint #1…but it didn’t matter…we survived and that was all that we cared about! We watched and cheered on the other teams coming across the line, as the cops kept a close eye on the crowd ensuring that it didn’t get too rowdy. Yet when a dodge ball game broke out in the middle of the street…you could see the cops tense up like my mother used to do when she had enough of me and my brother fighting. The race took us about 2 ½ hours in all, and it goes down as one of my top experiences in New York. Sure, I’d rather be traveling through Bolivia, but the Idiotarod in Brooklyn is like traveling to another world – no passport required!
Just in case I didn’t paint a vivid enough picture in your head, here’s a few video’s that I found on Youtube about the race. The first one is well done and hilarious. The second one is a good example of the mass chaos at the start…and you can even see our team running by the camera!
Tags: Human Interest