Hammered at High Noon
The day of the Isla Vista Bike Races has arrived. It was the night before that my roommate told me about it. After refusing to join his team, I decided to cover it for the Nexus. And cover it right.
“You work for the Nexus, huh?”
“Yes, I’d like to ask you a question or three.”
“Can I see a press pass or something?”
“Yeah, I’ve got one right here.” My wallet isn’t making any sense. I pull everything out, drop it, stuff it back in.
“Is that whiskey?”
“Yes. Want some?”
“No. Good luck. I’m going to…” she looks around, searching for someone she desperately needs to talk to, “go over there. Bye now.”
The almost-interviewee steps away quickly, casting nervous backward glances in my direction.
Stumbling away, I look around. There are people everywhere – in my best estimate, around 150 – and not a lot of clothes. A man in what appears to be an old prom dress – black to avoid stains, I imagine, but with delicate lace around the boob area – bumps past me with a beat-ass beach cruiser. He reeks of booze of all sorts. He burps as he goes. The smell of digestive juices and beer wafts towards me. I walk toward the water.
Suddenly my name is in the air. Some guy with a curly dark brown ’80s rocker wig and aviator glasses is staring at me.
“Justin goddamn Richardson! You’re involved in this madness?” Justin is an old hallmate from the dorms, years ago. Obviously he isn’t graduating this year.
“Hell yeah! Los Tigres del Norte!” he shouts.
“That’s our team name. We have wigs.” Each team is required to have schtick of some sort. Some wear dresses, some wear Speedos. My roommates chose Robert Downey Jr. as the crazy friend from his ’80s movies as their theme – meaning suit coats made into vests and spiky hair.
Justin looks at the bottle clutched in my armpit while I try to take notes. “Is that whiskey?”
“Yeah, want some?”
“I Probably Won’t Realize It ‘Til Tomorrow.”
Arguably, 1:50 in the afternoon is too early to be stumbly drunk. On this particular Saturday afternoon in sunny Dog Shit Park, nobody would participate in this debate. Certainly not with me. The flask of Austin Nichols Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon (375 milliliters) in my hand precludes most intellectual engagement. These people, my people, are here to drink – while racing bikes.
The crowd and the riders mingle. A gentleman who would only identify himself as “Pimpin’ Ain’t Easy,” sporting six or seven gold chains around his neck and gold-rimmed and gaudy sunglasses that would put a porn star to shame, takes $15 from each person who wants to be drunken-biking king of the world. For their hard-earned or stolen money, each racer will receive the honor of participating in the fourth annual Isla Vista Bike Races and 15 vaguely chilled brews.
The rules are simple: This is a relay-style race around the perimeter of the park, along the dirt footpath. Each team has three members. At the start, the first rider runs to the back balcony of 6777 Del Playa Drive to pound a beer while the second rider holds the team bike at the starting line. After the beer is finished, rider number one runs back to the bike, gets on and goes. This will be the first of 15 laps for that poor sucker, and 15 beers. When he returns from his first lap, he passes to the bike to rider number two, who has just pounded his beer. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Cheating of any sort, especially throwing things, is highly encouraged. “You can use flour, eggs, whatever,” says the announcer, who also refuses to identify himself. The final, and perhaps most brutal, rule comes last. If you puke, you must do it on a bike, or you’re disqualified. He calls the racers to the line at 2 p.m., the scheduled starting time. It takes about 15 minutes to round them all up. As they approach the line, the stereo set up on the stage comes to life. The theme song from Pee-wee’s Big Adventure” riles up the crowd, prepping them for the two-wheeled madness that is about to ensue.
“GO!” And they’re off, running towards the keg. Then they get back to the line, a little drunker, and then they’re off again. The other riders watch as their teammates make the first bend with little trouble. I ask the nearest racer, who identifies himself as Todd Undy and is a member of Swimming for God – the Speedo team – if he thinks that all this drinking and biking might result in some serious injuries.
“Oh yeah. Lots of it. I probably won’t realize it ’til tomorrow.”
Hairpin of Death
The prime vantage point for the race is at the southwest corner of the park, where the dirt path curves around a bush. The path runs straight at the bush, turns right abruptly, then doubles back making a 180 degree turn that looks like the hairpin of death.
Racers approach this curve with no heed for their safety. Some skid and shoot around the bend, some leap off their bikes and run it. One guy’s brakes failed, sending him careening into the fence along the cliff. He was uninjured, as far as he could tell.
Each time the riders round the bend, they’re a little more covered in dirt, flour, eggs, vomit and other unidentifiable filth. They also make the curve a little less gracefully due to the cup of beer they must chug before mounting the bike for each lap.
After five or six laps per racer, about twenty minutes have passed and about 150 milliliters of Wild Turkey has gone missing from my bottle. Probably, I drank it. At any rate, I have kept pace with the competitors. There’s a ruckus at the starting line. It demands my attention and involvement, so I swagger in that general direction.
A bike zooms past me as I walk along the course back to the starting line. It continues zooming straight through the curve and into the bush that divides Dog Shit Park from the end of the 6700 block of Del Playa residences. He bails at the last second. The bike hammers into the bush. The rider flies into the bush and bounces onto the ground. He grabs his bike, jerks it upright and vomits before his teammate races away.
Somebody with a yellow legal pad bumps into me. On it, the words “Laces Out” are written in huge letters. He shows it to a racer who nods attentively. He is Matt Leider, part of the support staff for his team and captain of Team Ramrod.
“We’re supervising the drinking, the training and trying to sabotage the other teams.” As he says this, one of his compadres is attempting to tangle a rope in another rider’s spokes. He explains the training process to me: “We were pounding beers then running up and down the hallway. We taught them how to throw up while riding and projectile vomit at the other teams.” I offer my rapidly diminishing supply of Wild Turkey. He takes a swig, then passes it to his cohorts. It comes back without the cap.
Amazingly, as some teams finish and the riders begin to congregate and boast of their drunken-biking feats, the overwhelming majority of them continue to drink, even after the hour and 15 minute race.
As soon as the winners were notified, after the official tallying of laps, I track one of them down. Boa, of Team Buttfloss, finished the final leg for his team. “Last year we came in second and that wasn’t good enough.”
How many times must one vomit to win this thing? “Just three times.” Some of it is crusted on his clothes. A breeze blows his suit coat open. There’s their team theme – highly visible thongs.
After all the other teams either finished or gave up, the announcer calls everybody back to the stage. “Everybody cheated, but [Team Buttfloss] did it better than everybody else.” They’re awarded the tap used to pump all the beer – a custom job with four spouts.
Team Bike Dykes, the men in dresses, took second. “I’m plowed,” says Drunk Tunk, who had a cute miniskirt on. His teammate took some of my whiskey and spit most of it back up. I ask another racer, Phillip Wittrock, what his favorite memory of the race was. “I only remember two laps of 14.” He means 15. “I remember drinking a lot of beer.”
The announcer requests that everyone pick up a piece of trash or two before they go. I ask everyone I see if anyone got hurt. This is the response: “No.” Amazing.
As people straggle away, most to parties continuing late into the night, I look across the park. Vomit ziggurats line the track. The whole park smells like beer. My whiskey’s gone. It’s going to be a long night.