I’m one of those liberals that likes to keep their clothes on. Don’t bother to call me a prude —I’ll do it for you— but thanks to a mix of mainstream upbringing and fear of photographic repercussions, I just prefer not to protest dependence on foreign oil or wasteful American culture by getting naked. But since I live in Portland, my friends sure do. Which is how I wound up last night at the world’s largest naked bike ride. As the volunteer coat checker.
Here is a word of advice in case you ever attend a naked protest/dance party: Wear a mask. The biggest mask you can find. There are two good reasons to do this. One is no one will recognize you and attempt naked small talk. The other is that no one can see you laughing at them. As a coat checker for nudists, this is an essential diplomatic trait. I wore a foam lion mask I had dug out of the Goodwill outlet bins earlier that day. It was tough to breathe and my speech was unintelligible, but even the over enthusiastic Obama-loving creepazoid who harasses me with dozens of text messages didn’t recognize me as he handed his pants across the table between us.
The first of the 3,000 people to get naked during the course of the night were a handful of men who walked through the front door of the party in nothing but a wristband and Crocs and therefore did not even pause at the coat check. Otherwise, people approached the table, stopped for a moment of restive thought and immediately stripped off some outer layers. Some people wore no pants. Some people wore no shirts. But all in all, the first half of the night, while everyone gathered for a DJ dance party before the bike ride began at midnight, was pretty tame. I clung to my shirt, mask and practical Patagonia skirt with ID and a first aid kit stuffed in the pockets.
But at midnight, everything changed. As people trooped outside and mounted their bicycles for the ride, the coat check got slammed. People tore off all their clothes now, and with vigor—and tossed them to me in bunches. Boxers and cowboy boots, backpacks and sweaters, I couldn’t grab them fast enough. It was exhilarating, a room full of people stripping down and dashing outside, hooting and cheering. It wasn’t sexy at all, it was just plain fun, with big-bellied fellows bounding past the coat check line and everything a swirl of butt cheeks, body hair, exposed regrettable tattoos.
When the room cleared out and a drumline started up at the head of the thousands of bikes, it felt a little lonely in the coat check. Fully clothed, I had quickly become the weirdo at the party. The volunteer next to me wiped the sweat from his brow and checked his watch. “Almost midnight!” he said, taking off his shirt and then pants and undies in one swift swoop. Clothes bundled under his arm, he strode outside, “No Blood For Oil” painted on his bare back.
“Hey! Wait up!” I called, pulling my shirt over my head and rushing to my bicycle just in time to fold into the fleshy middle of the unfathomably large, naked crowd. Together we rushed down the main artery in town, past crowds of cheering bar-goers and police motorcycles. Though I doubt my topless presence changed many carbon-consumption habits, there is nothing quite as thrilling as biking through red lights at top speed in a lion costume while hundreds of strangers shout, “I like your boobs!”
Along the way I lost my skirt, drivers license included. I had to bike home at 4AM in someone’s borrowed bright orange short shorts, hoping that whoever found my skirt in the morning would have the common sense not to ask any questions.
Well, so much for practical prudishness.