Laissez-Faire | In Love & Free Trade

Character in the Form of Shopping Carts and Sabotage

Photos: Tod Seelie (Courtesy of Brooklyn Vegan)

Bribery is a perversely classic form of persuasion. Whether you’re a politician in the midst of silencing a scandal or a gangster looking to get even with a foe, bribery is nothing, if not, absolutely necessary. Luckily, such “life lessons” also apply to shopping cart races like the sixth annual Idiotarod, where awards go out, not for First Place, but Best in Show, and, of course, Bribery. It’s a 6-mile battle of wits and personality between costumed teams of various themes. I ran for the first time with a group called the Tallahassee Tourists (“Go Gators!”) led by tour guide and blogger, Matt Levy. We had personas ranging from a bona fide CityGuide employee, a belle named Lola who left her newborn in Florida to explore the big city and a couple in track suits who adopted yours truly, an Asian girl named Joy (as in “Joy Luck Club”). We arrived armed to win with a crate of Florida oranges, a green inflatable gator and, above all, our sparkling Southern charm.

Before the race, the website listed Socrates Sculpture Park in Astoria, Queens as the starting point. Hardly ever the case as official locations and checkpoints are usually text messaged to teams. Locations change up and until the day of the race in an attempt to throw off the cops because the event is, of course, technically, illegal. Idiotarod is organized by Cobra (Carts of Brooklyn Race Association) and derives its name from Iditarod, an Alaskan dog sled race. Here, instead of dogs, sleds and Alaska, there are people, shopping carts and New York City.

On the way to the starting line, we encountered a team covered in trash bags who accidentally ran into a blind man and had to go back and explain to the man what had just happened. Although the man was not hurt, it perhaps wasn’t the most ideal way to build karma for the race. That is, if you believe in that sort of thing. Chances are, if you play dirty, you may not.

At about 11:30 teams descended upon the edge of the Upper East Side at 60th St. and York Ave. Temperatures were brisk and underneath the “I Heart NY” tees, fanny packs and Statue of Liberty sea foam hats were endless layers. Traversing three boroughs and two bridges, not to mention a garden variety of garbagio, fruit and eggs, some of us couldn’t help but cheerily ask the other teams how to get to Times Square (Well, how do you?) – and you have to get close with your MTA map (which is mighty big) and raise your voice because, you know, sometimes people can’t hear.

At a checkpoint in Long Island City, teams were running relays across the bar, which the Tallahasseeans were able to bypass all thanks to the sheer power of a few well-made screwdrivers – yes, sir. The next stop in Greenpoint involved a 2-on-2 dance-off with boys in skimpy swimsuits. My boyfriend squeezed juice from an orange into his mouth, while I broke out some 80s dance moves and chugged my bent leg back like bread. I heard screams and claps, and we were told by a judge to “Go go go”.

Sprinting out the bar to meet our folks, we all dashed to finish at McGolrick Park. About eight other teams had already beaten us to the finish line, which was all fine and dandy because Team Tallahassee took home Honorable Mention for (what else?) Best Job Keeping in Character. What better way to play dirty than to play nice?