Hi. I’m in Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia, with my dad right now.
Over the next few weeks, Joe and I will be traveling through Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkey, which makes it really hard to scout for stories in Albany Park and Beverly. I’ve loaded up as many stories in advance as my schedule allows, but there were a few gaps. So you’re in for a treat.
From 2008-10, I was the alternative culture blogger at the late and much-missed Windy Citizen. My blog, Getting Strange, ended up being a proto-1,001 Chicago Afternoons, with me chasing after adventure and weirdness with cosmologists, burlesque dancers, punks, zinesters, clowns, metalheads and the other strange crew that makes up this city of ours.
The Windy Citizen went offline in 2012, but I loaded up on pdfs of my stories before the site’s final day. So during my father-son globetrot, I’ll be filling some 1,001 holes with old Windy Citizen stories. Each old Getting Strange will have an italicized preamble like this so the 2008 stuff doesn’t get confused with the 2014.
I’ve given the old stories some polish and a few mercy edits, but welcome to this brief and, for me, horrifying look at how I wrote in my 20s.
This story originally ran June 15, 2008 and was titled “All bike rides should be naked.”
My mom will be happy when she finds out I wore my bicycle helmet. She probably won’t be so happy when she finds out I didn’t wear pants.
I went to the Chicago leg of the World Naked Bike Ride, folks. And I had a blast.
The event is a world-wide one, with events in 70 cities in 20 countries. I didn’t realize how cool that was until a completely nude girl from Indiana named Diana mentioned that people were naked or semi-naked biking in Portland, Ore., and London, England, on the same day as we were.
It’s ostensibly about biking as a fun mode of transportation, about the environment, about the damage our car-centric society is wreaking on the world and about the negative associations nudity has with obscenity and poor body image.
And it was about that. But there were a lot of people there who just wanted to get naked on bikes.
For me, the night started at 6 p.m., when I left my heavily Hispanic neighborhood in the midst of loud, honking celebration of Puerto Rican Day. I was wearing shorts I had recently created out of a pair of khakis with a hole in the knee and a short-sleeved button-up.
Underneath were the boxers I soon realized the world would see. Unless, of course, I decided to go totally nude once I got there.
That was a question in my mind as I pedaled to the rendezvous point in Union Park on Ashland, specifically by the statue of Carter Henry Harrison. Would I go nude or would my novelty “Hot Stuff” boxers with the little chili peppers stay on once the shirt and shorts went into my backpack?
I thought about this as I rode by families celebrating, by children playing with sparklers, by churches and by restaurants where elderly couples were looking at each other and realizing their love had lasted time.
I went too far on Ashland and got a little lost. But I straightened myself out shortly.
I got to the statue of Carter Henry, who Wikipedia tells me was Chicago’s mayor from 1879 to 1887. There was a cluster of 15 to 20 people around poor Carter. All clothed. All somewhat confused-looking. All casting sideways glances at the cop who was there.
I struck up a conversation with a guy who had a vaguely German accent. He was nice, but as confused as I was.
Eventually, someone came up and whispered directions to the real rendezvous point to us. I wrote it down, which later led me to the dismal circumstance of having to repeat it to other wannabe nudists who looked at me as if I knew what I was talking about.
So I rode to the spot. And holy shit.
It was what appeared to be an abandoned factory with a gigantic cell phone tower possibly irradiating us. There were a smattering of people – some nude, some semi-nude, most getting body painting done.
There’s a strange reckoning that comes when faced with a sea of multi-gendered naked people. At first it’s the, holy crap, they’re naked! That’s some girl’s boobs! That’s some guy’s stuff! That’s some girl’s stuff!
Then, when you realize that, yeah, they’re naked, you start to notice differences. For me, as a guy, it started as “Huh, she has really big ones.” Or, “Huh, hers are perky.” Or, “Huh, I’m having a conversation with a totally naked pudgy guy named Jeff and we’re talking about our respective farmer’s tans.”
The age range was enormous. I think the most beautiful woman I saw had to be 60 if she was a day. She was completely naked, walking around with her husband. He was a hirsute beast decorated with body paint declaring slogans about stopping the deforestation of his forest.
She was old. Fallen tits and saggy ass, like any meathead description of an older woman would be. But she was lovely. Her front was decorated with an elegant array of leaves and vines, circling her form like grape vines clinging to a weathered but still useful and vibrant wooden frame.
Her back just said “My bush would make a better president.”
Boxers on, I told the body paint girl to only do my front, as I would be wearing my backpack. I told her, who I had recently seen adorning her own body with flowers painted via a mirror, to go crazy with it. She balked, so I suggested a big hot pepper, like the ones on my undies. Go with a theme, I thought.
It was a long time of naked waiting. The e-mail said the ride would start at 9 sharp, but there were delays. People willing to strip down and ride through Chicago are not a breed that easily handles delays and being kept in a cage.
Then, finally, the ride started.
Wow. Just, wow. We were celebrities. Cars stopped. The cops blocked traffic. People yelled and took cell-phone pictures and video. Some looked with disgust, most with hollers, appreciation and high fives as we went by.
Despite the organizers’ desire to keep everyone at least body-painted over their bits, some people were just riding in the nip.
Some weren’t. Some had boxers with chili peppers and had to decide whether to pull them off or not.
We went up Michigan Avenue. We went through Bucktown, Lincoln Park and around and around that damn gas station at Fullerton and Ashland. As I told Diana, I think they might have chosen the route for maximum discomfort for the locals.
I don’t care what anyone says. And there were motorists very unhappy we were blocking the roads. But we, or at least I, felt like gods.
There was a party afterwards, but that story comes down to typical party stuff. Music. Impromptu dance lessons from drunk girls. Saw that someone tried to chop through my bike lock but failed. Go, Master Lock. Riding a bike home and realizing how stultifying it was to be forced back into shorts and a button-up.
As for the question you might be asking yourself – did Paul give the crowds “The Full Monty,” “The Whole Nine Yards,” the… ummm… “The Sandlot”?
I hate to be a tease.
I must make it, however, a mystery. It is a mystery that will only be solved when you read the last part of this sentence, which is about how my junk was totally flapping in the breeze at points. Sorry, Mom.