The last time that I photographed the Idiotarod, the cops were out in force. At one of the checkpoints, a band of rather thuggish-looking plainclothes cops were issuing moving violations according to some inscrutable logic of their own. The police it seems, have a special hatred for the event. According to my friend J., recent years have featured police helicopters. When the organizers reacted by making the route of the race a secret, things turned farcical as the cops submitted their own entry in the hope of learning where to go.
The route for this year’s Idiotarod was similarly shrouded in secrecy, but I worked my connections and eventually a good friend reluctantly divulged the location of one of the checkpoints. I threw my camera into my bag and set off into the icy wastes of Brooklyn.
When I arrived, there were a few people standing around with FERA (Federal Emergency Racing Authority) lettered on the back of their jackets, but no sign of any shopping carts. Before long, however, the first came in sight: a cart decked out as a medieval trebuchet, pulled by five knights of varying sizes wearing helmets and plate armor. They were followed by a piano, a large yellow Pacman with an escort of ghosts, “Mitt Romney’s Cart Full of Binders Full of Women” (an assortment of perky-looking Barbies squeezed into ring binders), and more besides. The most ambitious cart was a double-wide consisting of two carts welded together and carrying a complete wood-burning stove. The stove was, of course, lit, and the cart’s raffishly-attired steampunk attendants were cooking sausages and apple pies on it.
Some of the racers disappeared into the interior of the checkpoint to complete a series of ‘tests’ devised for them by the organizers, while others milled around in the freezing air. A gentleman in a fur cap sat down at the piano and started playing.
“My God, it’s actually in tune,” said my friend M. A very tall woman in a black tailcoat and a short man in a balaclava started dancing. Sausages were passed around. Someone was heard to complain
“We were actually doing pretty well, until we were ambushed by the Evil Nuns.” A participant attempted to saw through the trebuchet with his Swiss Army knife – creative and good-humored acts of sabotage are not only permitted but encouraged – until he was seen off by one of the knights.
With most of the carts drawn up outside the checkpoint, a police car suddenly appeared on the far side of the bridge and advanced down the street, lights flashing. For a moment, it looked as if the Man had finally shown up to spoil the fun. But the cops simply drove slowly past, peering out their windows at the mayhem and grinning from ear to ear. They disappeared around the corner, lights still going, and the party went on.