A shopping cart dressed up as jetliner is being pulled down a freezing Manhattan street by four half-naked men covered in goose feathers. Another cart has the guise of a Roman chariot driven by a gladiator in a broom brush helmet with music blaring from a boom box while centurions hand out scrolls of Roman porn. Tourists happily snap photos to show the folks back home just how crazy this city is. No, you have not taken a wrong turn and ended up at the Bronx zoo. You have tripped across (like many of the competitors) the annual New York grocery cart travesty known as the Idiotarod.
The rules are there are no rules, as long as you wear no spandex and have no motor on your shopping cart. There is not even a pre-determined route in what turns out to be the most elaborate pub crawl in the world. Grocery carts become intricate floats with names and themes such as Octopussy, Top Gun, and Couch Potatoes. Some produce their own steam and even make a pretty decent cup of coffee. Competitors are encouraged to cheat by bribing judges with whiskey and sabotaging fellow competitors by tripping and blocking. It is not unheard for a food fight to break out in front of Rockefeller Center. One year some fake judges sent half of the competitors the wrong way toward Central Park.
Idiotarod is for the hip and anarchic and is thrillingly illegal—thus the lack of a pre-determined route to deter the police from stepping in. Yet this race, inspired by the endurance dog sled run in Alaska of similar name, is gaining such fame and notoriety with hundreds of entrants every year that it’s only a matter of time before it becomes official and indeed a major annual event. For the moment, it is a maniacal 6-mile (10km) drunken drive across this island of skyscrapers, where competitors do what they can to cross to line—even hijack legitimate shopping carts from a grocery store when their own breaks down. In 2009 there were 15 arrests for being public nuisances, but that’s what you’ve got to do to be an idiot. —CO’M
When to Go: Last week of Jan.
JFK, LaGuardia, Newark Liberty.
$$$ Inn New York City, 266 W. 71st St. ( 212/580-1900; www.innnewyorkcity.com). $$$ Sofitel New York, 45 W. 44th St. ( 212/354-8844; www.sofitel.com).