As you’ll recall, the last time we heard from Dave Miller, our intrepid correspondent from the deviant underbelly of Portland, he was watching homemade porn movies at an event called Hump. Well, he’s back today, after a much needed rest, reporting on his experience as an nearly-nude bicycle medic at Portland’s World Naked Bike Ride (WNBR)… The next voice you hear will be Dave’s.
As I’m sure you all know, yesterday was World Naked Bike Ride day. According to the event’s manifesto, it’s all about reminding car and truck drivers that they share the road with us vulnerable, soft, fleshy humans. That’s the theory, at least. My experience, having participated in the Portland ride last night, though, leads me to believe that it probably has a little less to do with protest, than it does the fun of cruising down main thoroughfares, balls and tits literally flapping in the wind.
When I read that the Portland ride was looking for volunteers, I signed up as a “marshal.” Our job, I was told, would be to help people with first-aid and mechanical problems. At the pre-ride briefing, which was held in a Portland Art Museum conference room, 30 riders (naked) and one police officer (clothed) were given maps, information about how the police lead-, chase-, and route- vehicles were going to operate, and a group text number that we could all use to communicate. The route was kept a secret to discourage large crowds of spectators forming along the way.
Here’s a shot, for those of you who can handle full-frontal male nudity, of the lead marshal talking bike safety with the assigned police officer.
Before the ride, I stood ready with my first-aid pack as a nude marching band played for the crowd, which was predicted to be 5,000… My wife heard that it was 11,000 on the news after the event.
Having never done anything in the “naturalist” realm before, I learned two things:
1. I like to think I’m relatively polite person in general, but, when I am naked and maneuvering through a crowd of other naked people, I am extremely polite. “Excuse me.” “I’m so sorry.” “Thank you so much.” It was just a constant stream of deferential civility coming out of my mouth… And it probably marked me as a complete amateur.
2. Nudity begets nudity across all social strata. This was one of the most fun elements of the ride: seeing people who just happened upon the event join in spontaneously.
The ride launched from a centrally located park downtown that is bordered by the Portland Art Museum, the Portland Historical Society, and other high-society venues. By the time the ride got started, the sidewalks were packed with middle-aged, upper-class looking theater and museum goers. One tall gentleman, who I’d guess to be in his 50′s, was standing there in a nice sweater, next to his wife. He was gazing about, sporting the same sort of bemused smile as all of the other onlookers. He stood out, though. Apparently, feeling some sense of solidarity with those of us who were riding, he’d been compelled to remove his pants and underwear, exposing himself right back at us.
As we winded through the city, we passed through the strip of clubs and bars catering to college aged folks. This produced lots of topless flashing by women and hooting and hollering by all. Since I was there to provide first aid, I rode the first part of the ride actually wearing some boxer briefs, thinking that being completely naked might inhibit my ability to properly examine someone with a back injury, or perform CPR. This resulted in the surreal experience of a frat guy yelling at me “TAKE YOUR PANTS OFF, YOU PUSSY!!”
Also in this area, a women, a little older than the average around her, shouted at me, also a little older than the average around me, a fantastically enthusiastic “SEEXXXXYYY!!!”
The homeless shelter/soup kitchen area was great fun and probably elicited the most crowd participation. My favorites were the people who couldn’t be bothered to fully remove their pants. They simply stood anchored in place with pants and underwear around their ankles, and t-shirts or tops laying on the sidewalk nearby. Yelling. Hands in the air. Pelvis usually thrust forward.
On the street, I encountered this guy…. He was running full speed in flip-flops with a camera bag over his neck. Since I had a map, and none of the participants knew the route, or even where the finish was, I asked him if he was OK running for several more miles. “I can give you a shortcut if you need one,” I told him. He just shouted back in a thick Chinese accent, “I forget my bike!” and kept running. I saw him at the finish line 45 minutes later, sitting on the curb, exhausted.
I came across two other runners and gave them the same offer. They similarly turned it down. “I don’t care where it’s going!” one said. I noticed that both had wadded up shirts in one hand, and shorts and underwear in the other. They apparently had stumbled upon the event and could not resist the urge to run through the streets stark naked with no particular destination.
After leaving downtown and entering urban residential neighborhoods, things were a little more quiet, and the riders themselves providing most of the entertainment. “I find this really empowering,” said one participant, to which his companion, a tall women covered in green body paint, responded, “What an interesting experiment,” in a low voice that could best be described as academic.
We passed a fire station and all of the firefighters were lined up in uniform at the curb, yelling and high-fiving anyone within range. 15 minutes later these same guys would arrive on the scene of the first first-aid case that I had.
I came across several broken down bikes. One was really unrepairable; the derailleur was all bent out of shape. When I realized I couldn’t help the guy, I made the joke that this was just a dream. “You’re not really standing in the middle of the road about to be left behind by the crowd miles from your home or any safe place to go without a stitch of clothing on,” I told him. He didn’t seem to think it was that funny. I did tell him where the finish line was, though. I assume he walked his bike there, hopefully with friends.
I came across my first accident near the end of the ride. There were several bikes involved, and one rider had a head injury. I’m kicking myself for not handing my phone to a bystander to take pictures. I knelt down in my underwear, put my medical gloves on, and assessed and treated the guy for a cut on the back of his head. 911 was called and the firefighters from earlier showed up and released him.
1/4 mile down the road, I came across another incident. Three young women were huddled at the curb. I circled around and asked if they were OK. They asked if I was first-aid and said they had had an accident. Despite the fact that I’d been standing around and riding with naked people for two hours now, this scene felt comically surreal for several reasons. Everyone I’d dealt with so far was old enough to be considered an adult. Yes, there were a wide variety of ages, but I didn’t perceive any kind of generation gap. These girls were young. High schoolers? Two of them were stark naked, blonde, and… busty. I’ll admit I had a hard time looking them in the eye when they spoke. The third, the injured, was from India and fully dressed, covered from head to toe. Standing there in my underwear, again with medical gloves on, trying to listen to the two blondes earnestly explain what happened to me, the adult, while doing my back-neck-head injury examination routine on a person who was odd because she wasn’t naked, had a bizarreness to it of which I was acutely aware in the moment. The injured girl checked out OK and they decided to walk to the finish since it wasn’t far.
As you can imagine, the finish area was packed as the however-many thousands of cyclists rolled in. There was dance music blaring. Half a dozen official after-parties around town were just getting started. The venue near my house (a bar/music venue/bike repair shop) promised they’d have their windows covered to allow for further naked fun. Since I had a sitter at home though, I decided to call it a night.
My ride home was 5 miles, and I donned a shirt for it. Didn’t bother with pants, though, as it was after midnight anyway. Who would see me? Of course, as I neared my house, a neighbor was standing at an intersection. She giggled and then averted her eyes. The context that the event created was gone, and now merely bared legs was something to once again blush at.