The first in a series of postcards from guest writers on The Longer Way arrived from Anne S. Ditmeyer. An American designer and editor based in Paris, she is the author of the excellent (and obviously well-designed) Prêt à Voyager, which is one of my favouite blogs. Anne will be teaching a map making class on Skillshare this month, and you can follow her @pretavoyager on both Twitter + Instagram.
I lived in Baltimore for five years and the Kinetic Sculpture Race run by the amazing American Visionary Art Museum [AVAM] quickly became one of my favorite days of the year. Baltimore already is a pretty quirky city (see: John Waters ‘Pink Flamingos’ or ‘Hairspray’), so this man-powered race around the city only seems fitting. The race to mediocrity happens the first Saturday in May each year. I say mediocrity, because in fact, the winner of the race is the vehicle – which is all powered by bikes and human power – that finishes in the middle. With so much pressure in the world to be the best, this race celebrates good humor instead. During the course of the 15 mile race there are certain tasks each vehicle must complete, which include going in the water (Baltimore Harbor), through mud and sand. It’s an exhausting day, but the costumes each sculptural vehicle and crew wear keep spirits up. (That’s Fifi the pink poodle in the photo, one of AVAM’s featured vehicles).
When I lived in Baltimore my role in the race was a “Kinetic Sheriff”. Translation: I wore a fun blue wig, plastic police gear and handed out tickets. Why yes, if you didn’t have a sock monkey on board, I would give you a ticket for sure. However, in this race, there are also bribes so often I’d look aside if the bribe was good enough (for instance, a mango lassi made with a hand crank blender!). Yes, this race is the epitome of creativity. And don’t worry, there was a trophy for “Best Bribe” as well. Details don’t go un-noticed.
This ‘postcard’ is particularly memorable because it was from the first Kinetic Sculpture Race after I moved to Paris. On a bit of a whim I booked a ticket to Baltimore with a couple weeks notice, and I didn’t tell anyone (except my parents, and the intern that I knew at the museum). At the time, I knew most of the staff at the museum, and of key importance, my best friend. No one had any idea I was there, and the day before the race, knowing full well they’d be putting together finishing touches, I walked up and saw my best friend hot gluing tchotchkes on trophies. Then she screamed when she saw me. It was the best surprise ever, on the best day ever. Spontaneous travel has its perks.