Saturday, 10:42am: one block away from Maria Hernandez Park in Bushwick, a homeless man digs through a shopping cart filled with Coors light packaging. Inside the park, another man waits. He stands alone, a black beanie pulled over his face, two eyes and a mouth hole cut out. He wears sunglasses over the beanie. The park is practically empty.
"I may or may not represent Corporation X," the man says.
Corporation X is the organization responsible for facilitating the 2011 Idiotarod, Brooklyn's notorious annual shopping cart race. Today, all affiliates, minions and executives wear black beanies, duct tape x's affixed to foreheads and (sometimes) nametags that read "HELLO. My name is HENRY MCGOVERN."
Two hours earlier, participants of the Idiotarod received an email from Henry McGovern, "Supreme Presidential Thrice-Executive of the Governing Board of Account Executive Directors," telling them where and when the race was going to be held. Registration is at 10:53am sharp, and the race begins at 11:30am. At this point, no one knows which checkpoints they'll be running to over the course of the roughly seven-hour race, or where the after-party will be held. They also don't know that the cops will show up. They only know they have two basic obligations: create ridiculous costumes and shopping carts, and consume large quantities of alcohol.
"Traditionally that's how it works," the masked man standing in the center of Maria Hernandez says (he won't reveal his real name—we'll call him Corporation X Minion #1). "You don't know where you're going till you get there."
Slowly, and then all at once, snowy and silent Maria Hernandez Park fills up with racers. The loudest attract the most attention: the team of "Techno Vikings" has constructed a Viking longboat, complete with a booming techno soundsystem, tribal drums, bright neon wigs, and a dead Viking dummy with coins on his eyes, arms folded over his chest. Then there's team Mardi Gras, over a dozen people in matching jester costumes—one of the jesters, a junior high school music teacher, has rented out his school's marching band drums for the event.
There are also the more artful carts—the Non-Virgins have made their cart into a phallic airplane and are handing out NYC condoms; Columbia's Finest (a team from Columbia University) have dressed up as the BP oil spill—complete with an embedded FOX reporter, a hapless engineer and four dead fish. But the artsiest cart by far is from Team Disasterpiece—they've constructed five giant chickenwire monster costumes, feats of engineering and playful monster design. One has a tongue dangling out of its head; another has two eyeballs (painted basketballs) extending from the top of its torso. Disasterpiece's cart (in the style of a child's bed) features green jello "monster" shots underneath.
Confused and amused locals form a ring around the pageantry. Angeles Gutierrez and her two children, Brenda, 11, and Emilio, 7, are on their way back from church (St. Joseph's) when they stop to take in the commotion.
"It's funny," Angeles says, shrugging her shoulders.
"I feel like I'm in Manhattan now. I feel like we're celebrities," Brenda adds. Emilio asks where the Techno Vikings got their massive foam hammer. Later, one of the Vikings let's him play with it. Emilio gets a kick out of this—the hammer is at least twice his size.
Then, suddenly, two people are swinging from the park's central flagpole: Corporation X Minion #1 and referee Anney Fresh.
"LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, SHUT THE FUCK UP." (Hopefully, the seven-year-old is out of earshot by now.)
Anney Fresh, dressed in full referee gear (striped shirt, whistle, pink hat with horns), has been a fixture of Brooklyn's Idiotarod for the past eight years. If the spirit of the Idiotarod could be summed up in one person, it's Fresh—she rules with fairness, joy and a healthy measure of obscenity. She also has clear criteria for judging the participants.
"I'm looking for best in show—overall appearance, the concept (number one), the time it took to create what they're showing off, good sportsmanship, excellent bribery, creative sabotage," Fresh tells me.
Back on the flagpole, Corp X Minion #1 continues.
"Be fucking careful!" he bellows. "We don't care how fast you are. We care how awesome you are."
Fresh and Corp X also make sure to note they will not tolerate food fights—keeping the neighborhoods safe and clean is a priority for maintaining the race year after year. Even for as absurd, outrageous and at times self-destructive as the Idiotarod can be, organizers are uncompromising about this point.
Embarassing, then, that Idiotarod 2011 almost gets shut down at the first checkpoint, the Pine Box Rock Shop. A snowball fight erupts outside the bar and a local takes a stray slushball in the face. Cops arrive, but it doesn't seem like there's much of a point to shutting down the mostly harmless alcoholic parade.
"Somebody threw a snowball. We got a 911 call. That's it," is the explanation Officer Carson offers.
So that's settled, though a competitor wearing only his underwear and some Mardi Gras beads is ticketed for drinking an open container of Four Loko. The race continues.
Photos by Dana Decoursey
The next checkpoint is Matt Torrey's at 46 Bushwick Ave. It's only the second stop, but it appears that some racers are already staggering between wasted, horny and comatose. A member of the Techno Vikings pulls me close.
"I would take you! You would feel the sword of Odin," he murmurs, rubbing my arm. "Now take a picture with me, or you must masturbate on the spot."
(On the way to the next checkpoint—the Bushwick Country Club—the randy Viking from before will resurface to hump our L Mag photographer.)
"My scent is on you," he says, before running off to catch up with the rest of his team.
Racers push their carts to Callbox Lounge at 2 Lombardy St., and then to the scrap yard where they dismantle their shopping carts before the after-party. It's the first time in recent history that cart clean-up has been approached this way, and it goes down without a hitch.
Finally, it's time for the after-party at Coco 66, where awards will be announced. Disasterpiece's empty Monster Costumes sit onstage—without people in them it's easy to see what true works of art they are. The racers from Disasterpiece claim it took them 60-100 hours to construct the costumes—they had been having dinner meetings and pitching concepts to one another since the day after last year's Idiotarod.
At 5:30pm costumes are in various stages of disarray, as teams switch loyalties on the dancefloor. One of the Mardi Gras jesters gyrates with a guy in a bunny suit; a Corporation X executive drunkenly rolls about on the pool table, brandishing the pool cue suggestively between her legs.
"I think I creeped your photographer out," confesses the randy Techno Viking.
"SHUT UP, IDIOTS!" shouts Anney Fresh, taking the stage. "I GIVE YOU... HENRY MCGOVERN!"
Twenty-odd people with the Corporation X getup and Henry McGovern nametags clamber onstage. They give out the lower tier awards—some made up on the spot, like "Most Creative Use of Monkey," but the most official, the most anticipated award is Best in Show.
The anticipation in the room is tangible.
"SHOW US YOUR TITS," Fresh is shouting.
"SHOW US YOUR TITS," the crowd replies.
And... the award goes to the Disasterpiece monsters. Fresh and Corp X hold mics to the monsters and ask if they have anything to say.
"RAWWRRRRR rarrrghghgh rraahh RRARHHWR..." Team Disasterpiece replies.
On cue, the dance party begins, Mickey Avalon's "My Dick" booming over Coco 66's speakers. Fresh free-styles into the mic, her muffled rhymes reverberating out of the venue and onto the street—where the sick beats, beer breath and debauchery of the 2011 Idiotarod are absorbed by the silently falling snow.