Photo by David CoxStory by Adam Gropman
The noise drifting on the ocean breeze is not the usual sort one hears emanating from the Santa Monica/Venice beach path area on a warm, beautiful day. It is more raucous and hard-charging, almost martial...nearly barbarian. I have to investigate. Atop and around the small, manicured grass-covered hills that lie just east of Ocean Drive, between the tall residential towers and the shorter Sea Colony complex of southwestern Santa Monica, I see a few hundred people- mostly in their 20's and 30's partying their asses off in a brazen, carefree manner usually reserved for university campuses, outdoor music festivals and the former New Orleans.Mush, shopping cart! Mush!
I spot lots of zany costumes- many duplicated in groupings of three or four - some haphazardly thrown together, others more intricate and carefully assembled. There are white-capped sailors, long-bearded Old Testament characters, coonskin-hatted Davey Crocketts and human-sized bunny rabbits, among others. Shouts, chants, song, laughter and eager conversation fill the air and the bubbly, boozy vibe is palpable, further evidenced by ubiquitous beer cans in hands and a full size keg in a supermarket shopping cart. In fact, many such carts are interspersed among the revelers. The energy is beyond infectious. It is a pure shot of untroubled, bacchanalian joy- something all too rare here in the City of Angles.
This, I soon find out, is Los Angeles' second annual Urban Iditarod, an event that started a few years earlier up in San Francisco and has now spread to several U.S. cities. The idea of the U.I. is to very, very loosely recreate the original Alaskan Iditarod, happening on the same day. In Alaska, a hand full of brave and masochistic souls on wooden sleds race through the stingy, frozen Northern tundra yelling Mush! Mush! to a team of equally brave and masochistic dogs. Here in L.A., creatively costumed teammates push shopping carts from Marina Del Rey to Santa Monica, yelling out whatever pops into their minds and drinking like it's St. Patrick's Day. OK, in general the L.A. version is a lot easier, although it is a hell of a lot more challenging to keep the beer cold.
Teams pay $20 each to participate and any leftover money goes to the L.A. Humane Society- maybe to karmically compensate for those poor sled dogs busting their asses up in Alaska.
In Alaska it's very dangerous. says Trino, 26, a tall, gregarious software specialist from Culver City wearing an awesome red and blue Underdog costume. You could get frostbite, you could get lost, you could get eaten by your own dogs. Here, we try to emulate the dangers. We've got cops, sprained ankles, skinned knees, alcohol poisoning.
Photo by Marc NewhausThese guys prove that- contrary to sexist stereotypes- men can handle the shopping.
One team called itself the Raw Dogs, their theme being that they hate using condoms. Don't worry ladies, they don't have anything that a doctor visit and a shot of bug spray won't fix.
Photo by David CoxIt's not just a party...it's an adventure!
Photo by Marc NewhausExpeditionary Unit #137 braves the back streets of Venice alone, on a mission to win hearts and minds.
Photo by Marc NewhausIn this game, everybody's a weiner.
Photo by Marc NewhausCrips and Bloods, finally coexisting peacefully?
Photo by David CoxThe Urban Iditarod ends up in front of O'Brien's Pub on Main St. That's when things get really interesting. At first a couple hundred people or more crowd around O'B's small front patio. They're a happy, peaceful crowd, but the sheer size of the ebullient, colorful group jamming up a half block of sidewalk freaks out the Santa Monica police, who start dispatching cruisers.
Photo by Marc NewhausUnfortunately, cops, authority-minded citizens and supermarket owners are none too happy when they see some borrowed shopping carts, especially ones abducted into the service of such brazen, hedonistic fun-seekers.
Photo by Marc NewhausUnderdog can sniff out law enforcement overreaction wherever it lies, and he doesn't dig it. Neither does his ambiguously costumed woman friend.
Photo by Marc NewhausThe bright blue and red of the cop cars' roof lights, the solid earth tones of her woolen blanket, the cops' black outfits...it shouldn't work as a composition...but somehow it does!
Photo by Marc NewhausMore than two thirds of the original crowd that swarmed around O'Brien's has dispersed. There is only a core of Urban Iditarod partiers left, outside, but within O'B's private property lines. Tactical briefings back at the academy probably never covered: 'Small mob of squeaky clean, post-collegiate kids, dressed as hot dogs, burritos and and superheroes, catching a beer buzz outside an Irish bar.'
Photo by David CoxPlease keep moving These officers were relatively polite and business-like when clearing a wide perimeter around O'Brien's, but I wouldn't have wanted to see them ticked off.
Photo by David CoxOK, listen up. Peterson, you pull the cape up over Underdog's face. Henks, you yank the fake beard on the Biblical character guy. And Gurolsky, you squirt mustard on the human hot dog.
Photo by David CoxThe perimeter is sealed. The threat is contained. A few businesses near the intersection perhaps lose a small bit of business during the siege, but O'Brien's probably sells 500 beers. Hmmmm...maybe it's a conspiracy between the S.M. Police and the pub's owners!
Photo by David CoxThe author chills with some fun peeps. The bizarre, slightly surreal police standoff goes on for perhaps a couple of hours. At the confrontation's height, eighteen police cars are visible within around one block of Main Street, plus other official vehicles like parking officer buggies, fire engines and special police pickup tricks, onto which officers load the borrowed shopping carts. The police presence looks well suited for an edgy political protest or contentious soccer match, but what they face has the vibe of a Halloween party meets Dave Matthews Band concert. The cops are wise enough to avoid going onto O'Brien's property and laying hands on any of the Iditaroders, as that would only catalyze the mostly apolitical revelers and potentially turn a happy-go-lucky ad sales rep into an Abby Hoffman. I have the feeling that while some of the folks in O'Brien's are enjoying their day of mild authority-defiance, quite a few are enjoying way too good of a buzz to even notice.