Crouched down against the concrete wall of an industrial park, I looked out into Saturday night in NW Portland and a sea of people, mostly young, in various stages of undress and revelry. All body shapes were represented: tall, short, large, small, male, female, non-conformist. Music with a beat thumped out into the cold air. It was dark, around 10:30 PM.
Bikes everywhere. Beer being drunk. Laughing, both uproarious and nervous.
And dancing. Much dancing.
I was just taking it all in. I had not yet taken any clothes off, but I knew I would. I was waiting until closer to midnight, when this huge party crowd would be mounting their tall bikes, their mountain bikes, their retro cruiser bikes, their stripped-down fixies, and even their Clevercycles and unicycles and skateboards and every other kind of human-powered wheeled contraption, and take to the streets of Portland.
Naked. As naked as they want to be.
I was just getting over a cold, and I knew that riding in the naked would likely cause a relapse, but I wasn’t going to miss it. But the extra layer of mental protectionism that kept me clothed until the last minute also kept me a bit separate from the pre-ride party. I was an observer, not a participant. Not yet.
I pulled out my phone and keyed in a text:
I hate being in a crowd and feeling so alone.
Almost immediately came her reply:
Go make some new friends!
To which I responded:
That seems more difficult than riding my bike naked.
As brave as I might be for riding naked, I still had the cover of being one of thousands. And yet, I still felt self-pity.
Almost as soon as I received Tracy’s
"LOL! OK." in reply, I glanced up and saw a guy who looked barely old enough to drink, tall, thin, dark hair – geeky – look at me and smile.
“Is this your first time?” he asked.
After asking him to repeat himself (it was noisy and my ears were still stuffed up from the cold, not out of rudeness), I told him, “No, actually, it’s my second. You?”
His smile, already sheepish, became even more so. “Yes! I just wanted to come see if this was really happening.”
I laughed. “Oh, it’s happening.”
“So… how naked are you going to get?”
I wondered, briefly, if he was picking up on me or just looking for a safe person to talk to. I was flattered either way, though I didn’t swing that way. “I’m going to get all the way naked. But not just yet.”
He continued to make small talk – he biked all the way from Milwaukie, south of Portland – while I continued to think about what kind of vibe I was giving off.
And then an older woman, glasses, gray hair, dressed in sensible sandals and pants and a technical jacket, approached us from the other side. “Hi,” she said, cautiously. “Is this your first time?”
She was, like the kid, mainly there out of curiosity. Would this actually happen? She was looking for a friend of hers, though with the crowd growing larger by the minute, it seemed unlikely that she would find her. And she was, as I suspected, gay and out.
She joined in our conversation, each of us talking about just how amazing this was that so many people could come together for such a silly and subversive idea as riding a bike naked. Without pointing out any one person in particular, we expressed amazement at the variety of people present. And as it turns out, I was the one who had done it before.
The kid was a college student. The woman was an activist and social worker.
And, again: what kind of vibe do I give off, that out of that huge crowd I became the focus point for a young boy and an older lesbian?