There's nothing like a naked glide through the streets of Tucson on a gorgeous June evening.
Or at least there hasn't been, until now. In case you missed it, about 100 bold souls took to their bicycles earlier this month, with little or nothing on, to inaugurate a Tucson version of a growing tradition: the World Naked Bike Ride.
In more enlightened places--including Europe, Vancouver and Portland, Ore. (which probably should join the European Union due to its surpassing civic sensibility)--huge crowds have participated in this loosely organized event. The idea is to raise awareness of the vulnerability of bicyclists and the negative consequences of an oil-dependent car culture. It's an old but reliable strategy: Take your clothes off, and people pay attention.
It did not fail here. As dusk settled on the city, riders arrived by twos and threes at an otherwise quiet corner in the People's Republic of Dunbar/Spring. At first, we were badly outnumbered by voyeurs, police and news crews, who were apparently alerted to the gathering by a front-page, above-the-fold article in the previous day's newspaper. This precipitated a somewhat unsettling series of media interviews, police negotiations and explanations for the few bystanders who were mature enough to engage us.
My partner, sporting splendid striped hip-huggers and duct tape across her nipples to avoid the risk of arrest, was a bit apprehensive as a handful of trailer-trolls walked around securing cell-phone pics of the more nubile participants. At least these guys generally asked permission before they shot, unlike a couple of dudes using long lenses from across the street. (Men are sooo predictable!)
I gave a TV interview perched on my bike in my teeny-weenie bikini briefs, nipples duct-taped in solidarity. (A tangential political point was to question discriminatory, gender-specific nudity laws that deem a woman's nipples obscene, but not a man's.) Women used everything from gift-wrapping bows to fig leaves to cover their danger zones, while loincloths were popular with the guys.
I assessed the gawkers and cheerfully reassured my partner with, "See, our strategy is working already, and we haven't even started riding yet." This resonated about as well as the cops telling a crowd of naked radicals to obey traffic laws. I bit my lip when the officer insisted with a straight face that we ride "two abreast."
When we finally set out, our members had swelled (oops) to less than manageable proportions, but the police patiently herded us through red lights. The cops, clearly not comfortable with the general state of undress, nevertheless maintained their professionalism. You might say they served and protected, without being dicks about it (unless you were trying to avoid puns).
Everywhere we went, we were greeted with hoots and hollers of vigorous support. Students and folks of all ages poured out of frat houses, restaurants and bars and cheered us on our way. One enthusiastic observer dropped his shorts in solidarity. Other riders joined in, with one stripping down from bicycle-spandex chic to jock-strap cheek. It was a gloriously subversive and positive event.
That night, we watched the news channel that had interviewed me. Our antics led off the newscast, but it quickly became clear why: It was yet another exercise in faux-Puritan doublethink. The whole thing was cast as a barely averted disaster (ouch), cynically employed to snag viewers.
The coverage stressed that the police were prepared to arrest anyone who achieved 100 percent butt-nekkitude, but, "Luckily, no one took it that far." Really? Standing 10 feet away from me right after my interview (with the same on-air personality who ominously intoned that falsehood) was a woman who was covered only by what the good goddess grew between her legs. And later, I counted a half-dozen other unauthorized genitalia gliding free in the breeze, schlongs and coochies alike.
It's as if the newsies couldn't bring themselves to report that for one special night, for some very good reasons, a little bit of nakedness was tolerated, encouraged and even celebrated in downtown Tucson. And that is precisely the sort of profound immaturity that prevents us Americans from taking responsibility for the harm that our cars are doing to our fellow humans and our planet.