still offers a few places where you can have good, clean
fun away from the prying eyes of those who would seek to
prevent it (hence, stickball). One of those places is a
fenced-in patch of condemned state property abutting the
East River in Williamsburg. If you walk down the last desolate
trash-strewn block of North 7th St. to where it ends at
the disused MTA power station, you'll find-so long as no
cops are camped out and you're not put off by the No Trespassing
signs or the occasional burned-out car- a ratty park that
offers one of the most blessedly intimate river views of
Manhattan. On any given day there, Williamsburg's skateboarders
and bikers can be found doing tricks on a concrete expanse
about the size of football field that rises about five feet
above the weeds and crabgrass (a refrigerator offers a leg
up). It was here, on the last Saturday of July, that Chunkathon
2003 went down.
Chunkathalon is an offshoot of the Bike Rodeos hosted by
San Francisco's Burning Man-inspired Cyclecide group. Held
in West Coast junkyards and on San Fran's infamous Toxic
Tire Beach, the rodeos include bands, bikes flying over
flaming cars, a 17-foot bicycle ferris wheel, games such
as bicycle bowling, and more. This year's Chunkathalon was
described as "a series of death-defying contests by
which C.H.U.N.K. 666 will purge their ranks of the weaker
members while amusing themselves and others," CHUNK
666 being the Portland-based bicycle club whose stated objective
is to chug beer and whiskey and cause mayhem in the streets.
They follow in the tradition of custom bicycle clubs such
as the Minnesota-based Hard Times club, the Chicago-based
anarchist Rat Patrol club, and even the Christian chopper
riders the Scallywags, and are known for their gonzo costumes,
their attention-grabbing modified rides, and their "flaming
bike" displays, wherein bikes are doused with kerosene,
rigged with firecrackers, and set on fire while being ridden.
Unlike, say, the Puerto Rican Schwinn Club, whose modified
bikes are like precious museum pieces, 666's bikes are built
specifically to "induce the feeling of intoxication"
and "fuck shit up." They are obvious mongrels
(a tiny Barbie bike wheel will be paired with a 10-speed
wheel) and are often constructed on the spot by welding
together various pieces of discarded bikes-forks and handlebars
are extended several feet to form a "chopper";
a frame is welded on top of another frame to form a "tall
bike" that allows the biker to sit so high up he appears
to be riding a horse; wheels are added to form a "trike,"
perfect for carrying kegs of beer. Along with all of this
comes C.H.U.N.K. 666's hilarious jargon- "chunking,"
with all of its consequent cuts and scrapes, is a means
of preparing for the Apocalypse, or "anticarpocalypse,"
when all regular bikes spontaneously explode and those who
have been busy "devolving" via alcohol-fueled
tallbike buffoonery will finally find themselves at the
top of the food chain. It is also a good way for a social
retard to impress a girl.
Although open to everyone, this year's Chunkathalon pitted
the CHUNKs against the NYC chapter of the Black Label club,
whose members are recognizable by their custom black denim
biker jackets and insignia arm slings. Some random guys
from Long Island also participated. Incredibly, chunkers
had come from as far away as Portland and Seattle to show
their shit off, having shipped their bike parts ahead of
them and constructed their rides upon arrival.
On the course, about a hundred people milled around as
Black Flag blasted out of a boom box that some kid had attached
to his handlebars. The crowd ran the gamut from classic
Williamsburg hipsters to gutter punks to a few squares dressed
in Polo casual who had presumably seen the event listed
in the Bike Summer pamphlets. A couple dozen people chugged
beer out of brown bags. The smell of weed overpowered the
smoke wafting off of three portable barbeques. The announcer-
a man wearing a coattailed tuxedo over a negligee top-asked
people through a bullhorn to "keep it on the DL, if
you know what I mean."
In the center of the course, a few guys had lined up their
tallbikes and low riders like Harleys parked outside of
a biker bar until the wind caught the tallest and it fell,
knocking the rest down like dominos. Most of the bikers
were in their twenties, tattooed, not very well groomed
(even in the open air, the smell of BO was thick.) At one
point the announcer stopped the proceedings to announce
that he had found someone's high school ID.
The games commenced with the 16-ounce relay, wherein the
competitors took a lap around the track while chugging a
tallboy. The winner of the event was Ninja, a slim man in
welding goggles who was dressed as, yes, a ninja. (Although
last year's Chunkathalon, which took place in San Francisco,
included a man disguised as Spiderman, the costumes this
year were more subdued. The real freak scene was in the
crowd, where I saw a bearded kid in a YMCA shirt who, intentionally
or no, was the spitting image of Osama bin Laden, a dread-locked
man with cobwebs tattooed all over his face, and a demure-looking
blonde whose back was covered with a tattoo of an elephant.)
The next competition pitted a "good" biker against
an "evil" biker-the former attempting to rescue
a baby (actually a battery operated doll sitting on two
milk crates) from the latter, whose object was to knock
the doll to the ground before the rescuer could get to it.
Evil was a clear favorite, as people screamed, "Kill
the f*cking baby." The much loathed judges, perched
above the fray on a rolling scaffold, instructed the crowd
to pelt the competitors with anything they could get our
hands on (after all, this was an "endurance event.")
As the bikes whizzed by, the air exploded with shoes, toilet
paper rolls, and beer cans and bottles. A beer bottle sprayed
me as it shattered at my feet.
The audience favorite this round was a cocky pre-adolescent
black kid in a do rag who lept off of his bike (a pink one,
strangely) to tackle the baby in mid air. High fives all
around. For good measure, the judges decided to spice up
the last round by dousing the baby in lighter fluid (a man
beside me screamed, "Soak it!") and lighting it
on fire. The impact, when it came, was spectacular.
The next round-the derby- was easily the most absurd: the
object of the free-for-all was to be the last man to put
his feet on the ground. Competitors were allowed to bump
each other, but the real danger was the audience, again
called upon to make things difficult. At first this entailed
pelting the usual shoes and beer cans, but the tameness
quickly ended when a bowling ball was launched into play.
All manner of objects joined the fray. One biker went down
after being pelted with mannequin parts. A man who had found
a shelled out refrigerator on shopping-cart wheels was gleefully
plowing it into every cyclist that passed. Another man went
after the tallbikes with a gigantic bulldozer tire, his
drunken friend curled up inside. To my right, a 10-year-old
kid cocked the charred baby doll in his hand and made ready
to follow someone's shouted advice-"Aim for the head!"
To the crowd's fervent delight, the first round of the
derby was won by a cyclist who had entered as number 666.
The second round went to a girl who wore a feather top and
rode a pink bike. When it became apparent that the last
man standing was a chick, the crowd erupted into applause.
The girls, however, faired worse in the next competition-the
much anticipated tallbike jousting.
The joust pitted the Black Label club against the Chuck
666 club. Facing off at about 100 feet, members of each
team attempt to knock each other from their bikes using
eight foot poles (foam is duct taped to the end). The early
leader was Purple, who wore a purple stocking over his head,
a straw hat, and a purple bathmat as a jacket. The crowd
grew restless as he knocked person after person to the ground.
He was finally defeated by an ogrish looking man on the
Black Label team who double fisted victory beers between
matches. Black Label dominated until one of their crew-an
elfin 90-pound girl-hit the concrete with a THWAP that reverberated
in everyone's sneakers. She had literally taken it on the
chin from the only person in the competition wearing a helmet-
a girl by the name of Safety First. The 90-pounder attempted
a rematch, getting back on the horse and comically screaming,
"I'll kill you, bitch! You're going down, you little
cunt!" Although she was forced off the bike, her friend
had no trouble avenging Safety First.
As I left the course to make yet another beer run, I heard
a fat man ask one of the spectators what was going on. His
thick New York accent gave him away as an undercover cop.
Sure enough, a few minutes later an NYPD Emergency Services
vehicle pulled into the lot. Luckily the cops found it all
very funny and watched from the van instead of writing summonses
for trespassing, littering, smoking weed, and chugging open
containers. But I knew that with the cops staked out, there
was no chance of the glorious fire displays that last year's
show had culminated in. Like most of the others, I jumped
on my own bike and headed home.
Unexpectedly, as I peddled down Kent St. with the Manhattan
skyline at my side, I was filled with a rare sense of pride
for the youth culture my neighborhood is so often mocked
for. Somewhere in Manhattan one of my friends was probably
watching Jackass on DVD while here in Williamsburg the real
thing went down under the summer sun for those who knew
enough to be there with beers, bikes, friends, and a healthy
dose of suspended adolescence. In a city so tough on balls-out
fun, it seems almost too good to be true, but here in Brooklyn
there are still a few people who are up for it and a few
places where it can be had.