With Liberty and Justice for All Idiots

By Carolyn McSween

There is no shortage of opinions on what makes this country great, or on how best to celebrate the freedoms we gratefully enjoy. The beautiful thing is we can celebrate it any way we like and no one can tell us otherwise. But what could unite us on the historic birthday of our nation when we do not share a single, common heritage with which to identify? Admittedly, the America we see in high-gloss magazine ads – of white picket fences and strawberry shortcake – is not everyone’s America.

Come the Fourth of July, for the second year running, Phoenixville finds a way around this dilemma by hosting a new tradition, a community event with no apparent symbolic meaning and such obscure origins that it has no exclusive ties to any one tradition: The Philadelphia Area Idiotarod. It is a competition in which teams of five people, four of them strapped to a shopping cart and one steering the ungainly thing, traverse the streets and sidewalks of town in a race to stop at designated checkpoints and be the first to reach the finish line.

The Idiotarod might sound like an especially odd addition to your Independence Day festivities. A headline on the website of the event organizer, the Phoenixville Chamber of Commerce, reads aptly, “What do shopping carts and Fireworks have in common?” But the absurdity is by design, as the registration packet for the Idiotarod explains. “A group of us decided that Phoenixville needs to start doing more fun stuff…Because we want to live in a town where people do crazy ridiculous things to amuse others – and themselves. And because we believe the most important thing you can do with awesome public space is…use it.”

It seems that the race is all about the things we actually do share as residents and friends of Phoenixville: our town and each other.  But for the record, The Philadelphia Area Idiotarod was not invented here in Phoenixville. The all-human version of the 1,000 mile Alaskan Iditarod dog sled race was first conceived in San Fransisco in 1994 and the idea has been borrowed in cities all around the country, from Portland to Cincinnati to New York.

And while the event is not inherently patriotic, it does strangely embody the same spirit of freedom on which these United States were founded. There is, for instance, no designated course for reaching the checkpoints and finish line. Individual teams must determine the best course to follow and hope that unsuspecting pedestrians and traffic cooperate. Participants may also race in a team uniform or costumes, as well as with creatively modified shopping carts. To this ingenuity, team-work and chance, add some healthy competition – in which teams can devise ways to sabotage opponents – and the efforts of volunteer checkpoint marshals and race officials, and you’re channeling the Founding Fathers in just a 3 to 4 mile stretch of madness.

Really, the name of the race itself says it all. This is a new tradition is inclusive of all, right down to the lowest common denominator. All it takes (besides some of “your dignity plus a small fee,” of course) is the right kind of crazy to be in the game. And as the history books tell us, what some have called Idiocy others would call Heroic.

To be counted among the scores of cart-racing Idiots this July 4th, be at the starting line in downtown Phoenixville ready to roll at 5 pm. To be among the innocent bystanders and amazed onlookers, come downtown for live entertainment and for the day’s grand fireworks finale at dusk. More details about the race, including rules, how to register, and prizes awarded, can be found at www.phoenixvillechamber.org or by calling Race Official Kim Cooley at 610-933-3070. If the Race of Idiots doesn’t sound like your box of cupcakes, go to www.phoenixvillefunguide.com for a complete listing of July 4th events happening in Phoenixville, and be part of the fun this Independence Day.