Saturday morning and afternoon was one of those days when I logged quite a few miles without ever leaving the Columbus city limits. To a bank on High Street to cash a check, then on the long journey to the West Side to pay a bill, and then to the library. I’m almost always thankful that I don’t drive, but never more than when I have to make these junkets to run different errands on far-away ends of town. Susie had dinner with one of her godmothers on Saturday evening, and Steph pretty much stayed home for the entire weekend. I took advantage of the long bus ride to begin Steve Thayer’s novel Moon Over Lake Elmo, which I’m sure will be good, since I enjoyed The Weatherman and Silent Snow so much.
Saturday night lasted well into Sunday morning, and my friend Scott and I were witnesses to a quasi-historic occasion in Columbus. We were on hand at the first Columbus World Naked Bike Ride, an event that has happened annually in England, Canada, and more enlightened U.S. cities. Neither of us rode, nor did we get totally naked, but we were there to support the protest against excess dependence on oil and to celebrate the human body in all its glory.
As opposed to the OSU/AXE Undie Run last month, this event did not receive any publicity at all. Police were notified that there would be scantily clad (and possibly unclad) people on bicycles and other human-propelled vehicles headed from the Short North to downtown and around the Arena District and back north. However, I did not see a squad car, there were no TV mobile units, and E. 5th Ave. (where the Third-Hand Bicycle Cooperative‘s headquarters are) looked so deserted at first that Scott and I wondered if the event had been cancelled.
But it hadn’t been, even though a heavy rain was falling. At first, the Co-Op’s garage was almost deserted, except for a few guys sharing tools, bicycle advice, and a bottomless supply of Pabst Blue Ribbon (Scott and I were one of the few teetotalers that night). It looked just like a typical bike shop.
All that changed starting around 10:30-10:45 p.m. Bike-riders (and riders of other vehicles) began arriving, and soon paintbrushes and tubes of acrylic paint were in demand as much as wrenches and calipers. Although Scott and I were by far the oldest people there–the oldest of this crowd was probably 15 years younger than we were–we felt welcomed. Some women just removed their shirts, and wore sports bras or halter tops, although several women rode topless, and men were mostly in tight briefs, jockstraps, or thongs. Most of the topless women took advantage of the free body-painting, and the designs ranged in complexity from museum-quality work (executed in a very short time!) to simple line drawings. I overheard one topless woman in the parking lot asking her friend how she should be painted, and I jokingly suggested she should have the BP logo painted on her. When she emerged from the crowded, chaotic garage, I saw that she indeed have a shield painted above her breasts, with the big “BP” painted in the middle.
Several men did strip completely, which I am not sure is wise from a safety standpoint if you’re a bike-rider. The only woman who shed all her clothes was a pixie-like woman of 20 who arrived wearing nothing but a porous white shawl and a black thong, both of which she took off for the ride, and which remained off for the rest of the night. (She shouted, “I love you!” and blew kisses to each pedestrian she met en route to and from, I heard.)
I was astonished to see that the ride actually took off at 11:59 p.m., as planned. Even at 11:50 p.m., there were many people crowded into the garage awaiting body paints, tools for last-minute adjustments to their bikes, etc., that I wondered how they were going to leave on time. I wasn’t sure when they would return, because I knew this was a ride, and not a race. Because of the falling rain and wet pavement, no one was encouraging speed.
Scott and I lingered in the Short North, after making a vain car trip southward to see if we could “catch ’em on the flip-flop”, as the CB radio enthusiasts used to say. By the time we got back to E. 5th and Hamlet, the wet and exuberant naked riders had begun to arrive. That was when they adjourned to a warehouse in the alley behind the Co-Op, a nondescript white building that looked like a small airplane hangar. The warehouse now served as a clubhouse and impromptu dance hall.
We stayed until nearly 4 a.m., and spoke with many people, watched people in varying degrees of intoxication attempt the climbing wall, and made frequent trips outside for air. The building was not well ventilated, and most of the people there smoked, so we went out into the alley, both to breathe and to be able to talk without having to scream over music.
The whole event was memorable and idyllic for me, but what stands out in my mind were one or two specific incidents. Someone found hula hoops in a storage area, and one woman managed to maintain, without losing any momentum, her hoop around her waist for quite some time. If I had the laptop with me, or a cell phone that accessed the Internet, I would have checked with The Guinness Book of World Records to see if there was a standing record for topless hula-hooping.
I had brought a camera along, but never took it out of Scott’s glove compartment, since I didn’t know any of the people at the gathering. Around 3:30-3:45 a.m., there was a Kodak moment in the alley that I will regret never capturing.
Many of the people there tried out bikes they had never seen or ridden before. One person had ridden a tall bike, and a woman at the party wanted to try it out by riding it back and forth in the alley. (The bike reminded me of those penny-farthing bikes that were popular in the 1880s, minus the huge front wheel.) After some difficulty, she was able to climb in the bike’s saddle (see picture, courtesy of Wikipedia) and make some initially shaky progress down the alley.
A car came down the alley, and there was a man in his late 50s or early 60s behind the wheel. I wish I had captured the look on his face–the wide eyes and the perfect O of his mouth–when he looked out in front of him and there’s this gigantic bike in the beam of his headlights, and riding it is this rather well endowed woman wearing nothing but a smile and a pair of bike shorts. He would have needed CPR if he had glanced inside the entrance of the warehouse to see the party going on there.
My friend Steve Palm-Houser writes a bicycling column for The Examiner.com. He was unable to come to the ride, since he and his wife were in Chicago, but he pumped me for information on Monday, and here is his article: Columbus Cyclists Join World Naked Bike Ride. You can imagine how much arm-twisting it took on his part to get me to go and be his eyes and ears to this event!
Only in Clintonville can you have a schedule like this: Sat 10 p.m.-Sun. 4:30 a.m.–World Naked Bike Ride and party. Sun 12:30 p.m.–Church Annual Meeting. Sun 5:00 p.m.–Picnic at Whetstone Park with Susie’s youth group.