#289: Welcome to Wal-Cart

March 3rd, 2014

I took a shot of vodka from a Cold War-era Russian intercontinental ballistic missile.

I watched a sexy C3PO grind on a leisure suit Chewbacca.

And I got “the highest of fives” from one of the faux Medieval warriors from that throne-game show I’ve never seen.

Because it was the Chiditarod and these sorts of thing happens there.

The Chicago Urban Shopping Cart Race took to the streets for the ninth year this past weekend. Costumed teams hauling carts from bar to bar in the West Town region of hipster oddities raised more than $32,000 and thousands of pounds of canned food for the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

It’s a bar crawl with shopping carts. It’s a charity event that gets a town fucked up. It’s the goddamned Chiditarod, where hot mess teams of drunken bros dressed as Ben Stiller characters stumble trash-filled shopping carts up next to teams who spend weeks or months carving and reshaping carts into 1950s garages, working Pac-Man games shaped like Pac-Man or ICBMs that blast shots of Russian vodka into little cups.

I first heard of the race in 2008, when I helped cover it for the now-defunct WindyCitizen.com, following a random Mr. Rogers-themed team from starting line to final bar.

In 2009, I gathered a few friends to form a truly awful 1980s-music-themed team that splintered to bits once the race started. Devo had to leave early, Sting got pissed off and left, taking his then-girlfriend The Bangles with him, leaving me dressed as Duran Duran’s Simon Le Bon to get drunk in the rain with George Michael.

In 2011, I decided running through the slush is for suckers and started volunteering instead. I joined Mr. Rogers’ team from year one (his name’s Andy) and have since helped out at bars along the route, getting booze and bribes from increasingly sloshed costumed people who raised incredible amounts of food and money to fight hunger.

Since then, I’ve dressed as a cowboy, Canadian and Walmart (Wal-CART) greeter. I’ve gotten bribed with royal jelly shots from bees and Jelly of the Month Club memberships from Cousin Eddie. I’ve gotten coffee to sober a criminally drunk bunny rabbit and watched Andy chase down a Conan the Barbarian for trying to pee on a wall.

Aside from a few bad apples (sometimes peeing apples), the people are lovely. They’re here to fight hunger and dress as Sharknado. They want to erase inequality as Spy vs. Spy.

It’s a bizarre Chicago event that’s becoming a bizarre Chicago tradition. It’s booze and fun and charity and costumes. It’s a date on my personal calendar of the year, a holiday full of people I only see then. Standing outside a bar on Chicago Ave., waving a massive flag while dressed as a Walmart greeter, I feel part of something just a little bit bigger than myself.

And I get “the highest of fives” from a Lannister while doing it. I call that a win.

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Watch video of the disaster of my 2009 ’80s pop music team, part one

The disaster continues with part two

Has the agony ended? NO! It’s Chiditarod Diaries Part Three

Race Day 2009: The Saddest Le Bon

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You are currently reading #289: Welcome to Wal-Cart by Paul Dailing at 1,001 Chicago Afternoons.

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