No matter how you look at it, witnessing a group of people rowing across Boulder reservoir is just not normal. Especially when the craft is designed to look like an eight-foot tall jar of mayonnaise.
But really, what else would your craft look like when you are on team “Cinqo de Mayo”?
Welcome to the world of Kinetics. For the past twenty-one years, various teams have built human powered vehicles that can navigate over land and water to compete in the race. Being the first team to cross the finish line doesn’t guarantee an overall victory. In addition to completing the course as fast as possible, each team is judged on their theme. This requires a coordinated decoration of the craft and participants. The more entertaining the theme, the higher the overall score.
Just for the sake of comparison, building a craft and competing in the race requires roughly three to four orders of magnitudes more effort than, say, writing a song about Taco Bell.
When I see any of my neighbors leaving his or her apartment wearing little more than fishnet stockings and a football jersey I would usually be concerned. Even in the somewhat liberal town of Boulder, Colorado, this type of dress would be considered to be in bad taste. When it occurs on the day of the Kinetics race, however, the socially acceptable boundaries for behavior and appearance are suspended to accommodate the day’s activities.
Honestly, how else should one dress as part of the team “XXXFL”?
During the week my neighbor Kathleen is a quiet, predictable, twenty-nine year old woman who works a steady 8 to 5 job as a cubical drone. The kinetics race transformed her into something totally different. I’m not saying she grew an extra arm out of her stomach or was suddenly able to use her appendix to digest tree bark. The change was more emotional and psychological than physical. She became part of something bigger than her own accomplishments. Something that allows us to temporarily break the molds of acceptable behavior. Something that really isn’t very productive. And I have to respect that on many different levels.
So how did team XXXFL (motto: “WE will be back next year”) fare against Cinqo De Mayo (motto: “gone bad by lunch”)? I really have no idea. The entire judging process is complex and is largely built around bribing the judges. In a contest so strange, it is quite difficult to say who is the best.
I can’t write a story about Kinetics without a, “What is the world coming to?” tangent. The first time I attended Kinetics four years ago, I saw a large number of women who had constructed bathing suit tops out of small watermelons. The general idea is to find an appropriate sized piece of fruit (the produce manager at your local grocery store will be happy to help you measure the melons), cut it in half, scoop out the insides, and take some scrap cloth and make a bra out of it. This design is biodegradable, has considerable cooling properties (the water in the fruit removes excess body heat), and is generally quite pleasing to the eye.
So why am I complaining? From my causal observations, this tradition has been dying over the years. At this year’s race I didn’t see a single watermelon bra. The race officials have spent considerable time and effort protecting local wild life while doing absolutely nothing about the watermelon bra issue. I suggest that everyone write a strongly worded letter to your congressman (or woman) so we can make sure this piece of local tradition isn’t lost forever.
Maybe I’m an idealist, but I think everyone in the entire world should be at the Kinetics race. Entire cities don’t go crazy all that often, so it is best not to pass up a chance to see it with your own eyes. It’s funny how a couple of adolescent boys role playing fantasy games in their parent’s basement are considered nerds while thousands of people doing pretty much the same thing at the reservoir is the basis for the entire town to celebrate. But who ever said life is fair? While Kinetics is never going to become part of our President’s revised energy program, it’s a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon. And of course don’t forget to bring your watermelon bra– especially if you are a woman.