The Shopping Cart Sagas: At the 2011 Idiotarod

01/31/2011 12:35 PM |

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.)