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Saturday, January 24, 2004
By Paul Ford
I want to set a story in Union Square Park, and so I went there to pace the park's boundaries and observe its statues. Suddenly, a group of men ran up, all in black, four of them tethered together to a shopping cart, one behind pushing the card, and yelled “timekeeper! Timekeeper!” No timekeeper was found.
“Well, damn, we won,” said one of them. “We beat the timekeeper.”
A similarly appointed team, in track suits, followed soon after, and then a third in painter's paper overalls. Eventually the timekeeper appeared, in a bright blue overcoat, along with cheerleaders wearing paper bag masks over their heads, and winners were proclaimed.
This was, it turned out, the Idiotarod. 20-odd groups, all in the same configuration, with 4 “dogs” and 1 sled driver, yelling “mush,” behind a shopping cart. Each group had run, or walked, or stumbled from Brooklyn, across the Manhattan Bridge, through Chinatown, and up Bowery to reach the finish line. More teams came, and passing observers, speaking English, Japanese, and Czech, rolled their videocameras.
“Who put this on?” a confused-looking man asked me, but I had no idea. A policeman looked on and laughed. The group crossing the finish line, and their supporters, quickly grew larger, and after a half-hour the final few stragglers—including one marvel, a full Chinese New Year's dragon operated by five good-looking women—pulled their carts up the steps and joined the celebrating crowd.
“Where do we go for the drinks?” someone asked, and slowly the group dispersed, some pulling their carts behind, some pushing them in front, and some riding in them with their legs sticking out of the front.