New York events have a way of starting small and then quickly becoming either commercial or obnoxious. My friends remember when the Mermaid Parade and the Halloween Parade were small events, organized and attended by a handful of dedicated freaks. Santacon has transitioned from a good-natured charity event involving a couple of hundred Santas at most to a citywide fraternity drinking binge so universally loathed that bar owners celebrate the day by putting up signs reading "No Santas or elves".
Only the Idiotarod seems to have stayed true to its roots, possibly because no one has yet figured out any commercial potential in dressing up in preposterous costumes and pushing a shopping cart through the icy streets of Brooklyn. Or perhaps it's that the NYPD's habit of descending mob-handed to confiscate carts and issue moving violations to participants means that only the truly dedicated want to get involved.
Whatever the reason, the Idiotarod remains relatively small, benign and thoroughly uncommercial. The only people making any money from the event are probably the owners of the bars that serve as waypoints for the race, and they probably earn it. It can't be easy having your bar invaded by pole-dancing smurfs or a posse of pandas on a Saturday afternoon.
There are hints, however, that people are taking the Idiotarod more seriously. This year's entrants were more ambitious than most that I remember from previous years. It takes real dedication, for example, to construct a replica of the Wall Street bull, let alone to push it through the streets while wearing a tuxedo. Or to to convert a shopping cart to a lifeguard's chair. Or to dress all your (Hispanic) friends in blond pigtails, furs and viking helmets, and give the world a taste of what a Latin-Viking fusion might look like. Or to construct a huge faux-Victorian steampunk juggernaut, complete with a towering smokestack, and have all your friends drag that through Gowanus on an icy January day.
Happily, there's still room for individual fantasy, the touch of individual genius that makes an otherwise inexpensive costume stand out. This year, Princess Leia with pumpernickel bagels fastened to her ears was a particularly inspired choice. As M. commented, "Only in New York".