Sunday, March 9, 2008

...And they're off!


He drew the ring back on the toy gun again. Floonk. Another creamy, white marshmallow sailed through the cold March air striking the target, a young woman dressed in a beige poncho, sombrero and false mustache, on the forehead.

This was just part of the insane scene before the third Chiditarod got rolling. In excess of 70 costumed teams gathered at Shakespeare and Damen for the annual mayhem. Modeled after the Iditarod that takes place in Alaska every year, the growing trend of Urban Iditarods got their start in San Fransisco. The Urban Iditarods draw teams that race through the streets of a city with shopping carts taking the place of the dog sled and four close friends taking the place of the dogs. The Chicago incarnation added a charitable element to the oft-dubbed "glorified pub crawl." There were five checkpoints (bars) scattered through the city where teams had to check-in before continuing on; many teams used this to refuel. This year teams had to cross the finish line with at least 25 pounds of canned food items, which would be donated to two local food depositories. In addition to a prize for coming in first, other prizes are awarded to Best Designed Cart and Best Food Presentation.

I arrived at the lot a little after 11 a.m. There were a few teams already there making adjustments to their "sleds" as a band consisting of some horns and drums belted out epic groove music to modify your cart to. After meandering around and observing the different carts, I realized this may be one of the best events of the year. Nearly everyone there snapping pictures of their carts and evaluating the competition. There was a reporter from WBEZ there getting sound bytes, but no professional TV crews. I fully expect next year to get some TV coverage. The event demands video coverage with designed carts and more than 300 people in costumes in early March running through the streets with shopping carts. As I looked back on my photos, they just don't convey the fervor and energy of the event.

Around noon the lot was crowded and several teams began "hydrating" for the marathon ahead. There was a barbecue and fresh fruit, perhaps there to help absorb the drinks to come.

Two friends of mine saw the inherent lunacy of the event and came down to witness the majesty of the Chiditarod. Brian came down for the start of the race and ran/walked through the slippery streets to the first checkpoint with me. Cristy met me at the fourth checkpoint with a video camera from school and accompanied me to the finish line getting video (to be posted here soon) and interviews. The race finished up at 5 p.m. at the Cobra Lounge.

Some of my favorite memories/observations from the day:
  • I thought drinking in public was illegal. Apparently there is a loophole if it's for a charity. Teams had cases of beer in their carts, as well as higher proof liquids and Jell-O shots stowed away in backpacks.
  • My favorite cart was the Mr. Rogers cart for it's holistic approach to the race. They had the puppets from the show and the main man. But what sealed the deal was when Brian and I were running alongside them as their cart careened down a side street. As they passed people on the sidewalk they'd shout out "Hi Neighbor!"
  • Other great themed carts included Pac-Man, an Air Force cart with a plane molded around the cart, a few Viking and pirate homages, cinema-themed carts for Superbad and Hot Fuzz. Another great one was a Christmas-themed cart that had the star, wise men and a two-person camel.
  • The winner for best-designed cart went to the Streets and Sanitation cart. There was a C.P.D'oh cart in tribute to the city's finest. They were dressed as cops and their cart looked like a squad. Perhaps the best moment for their cart was when the real Chicago Police got their picture taken with the cart.
It's a great event that creates countless memories, unless you drink too much, in which case (a 24-pack case?) it creates a drunken romp through the streets.

I'm now taking applications for team members in next year's race and theme ideas. Current thought is a cover of National Enquirer-theme cart with Big Foot, batboy, bearded lady, a photographer...