Last night, the 2016 Portland World Naked Bike Ride started from my neighborhood. I cheered it on from the start.
I didn't see them, but several friends were among the thousands riding. (THOUSANDS. I'm not exaggerating.) The riders met in Mt. Scott Park, a few blocks from where I live; some riders were there as early as 5:00, when I went to the park to get some sun and write. Volunteers had already set up check-in booths and PortaPotties. Large sheets of paper lined the windows in the park's community center, I'm guessing so swimmers wouldn't see the crowds in detail. The nearby bike shop was doing last-minute repair work for people. And a few in the park were already naked. "Ah," I thought, "practice."
I went home for food, drink and online time, then returned to near the park at a quarter to 9:00. I arrived fifteen minutes before the projected start; the ride started closer to 9:15. I joined LOTS of bystanders: people clapping, dancing, joking, and watching. The weather was clear with a touch of breeze: cool and comfortable. I wonder what the body heat was like among the riders waiting to leave. A band played music; people's radios played more music. Then some signal I couldn't hear or see was made, because the mass of people started to move. And since people were still arriving via SE 72nd, the road I was standing on, they became de facto starting riders blending with the riders turning off of SE Knight.
SO MANY PEOPLE. Most naked, many topless, some in underwear or swimwear, since the guideline is "bare as you dare," plenty in cool hats or wigs or body paint. I saw a Leeloo from The Fifth Element AND someone dressed up in a makeshift version of that film's Diva (the blue alien with the head tentacles). There was a Mario, with a real cap and body paint costume. A team of people painted all blue wore cut-off jean shorts: yes, Arrested Development Never Nudes. (One, of course, had a sign on her bike saying "There are dozens of us!") And they all slowly moved down onto Woodstock, bicycling or walking their bikes because, again, SO MANY.
We cheered loudly, sung along to music, and made way. A few stragglers on bikes rode on the SE 72nd sidewalk, so I had naked people passing me on both sides. They opened up and sped up when they could, as police escorts closed off the route to street traffic ahead of the riders arriving. (Each year's route is different and not disclosed to the public beforehand; it's known only to some of the organizers and of course the Portland Police. This year's route was supposed to go across the new Sellwood Bridge and end at Willamette Park in SW, but on Thursday the organizers saw problems on the bridge that could have caused accidents. Probably by the time I'd been in Mt. Scott Park on Saturday, the organizers had changed the route to end instead at Sellwood Park in SE.) By the time street lamps were on and the sky was darkening, I headed home, cheering on more people; there were so many to cheer. Last year's ride had over 10,000 people; the ride I saw in 2010 had 7,000 people; I'm waiting to see what this year's official tally is.
Portland, even with its current vexing gentrification issues, can still be weird. I'm glad.