Seattle, Culture, and the Freedom to be Naked

 

Being a resident of the Northwest, it is an inescapable fact that the urban anchor for the region is the city of Seattle. The Emerald City’s influence ranges far beyond King County, from sports fandom to government institutions, even the most hard-line backwoodsman would have to admit being at least partially cast under its spell. As someone who in most cases prefers the pastoral over the urbane, I nevertheless make periodic pilgrimages to Seattle to get my doses of culture and shall we say, “excitement.” As far as cities go, Seattle can come off as staid and cold in some aspects, and it certainly doesn’t have the Latin warmth of Miami or San Diego, but should it? Isn’t the Rainy Northwest the perfect region for an inward focused life, one of creative endeavors, reflection, and the freedom to develop ones own personality in private, thus revealed in great fanfare when public appearances are made? I had a recent opportunity to take a road trip with some good  friends to make a short tour of Seattle and Portland, with a short detour to the beautiful Oregon coast. My companions and I were in the midst of completing a two-day pedestrian tour of Seattle’s northern neighborhoods, namely Ballard and Fremont. We planned to catch a parade in Fremont, held to celebrate the Summer solstice, but none of us really had a full idea of what the event entailed, so we simply followed the trickles of people down to the semi industrial section of Northlake Way, fronting the Fremont cut. Well, unbeknownst to us, this parade had a longstanding tradition of including a clothing optional bike ride as part of its activities. Sure enough, we were sitting under a metal roof, when the nude, body-painted bicyclists began to appear. They all seemed to be in jovial spirits, and my companions and I, despite not being used to this form of entertainment, decided to just let things unfold and “appreciate” the artistry of the participants. We engaged in some lovely conversation regarding the different levels of effort that each cyclist took in creating their body art. Some, I am sure, attempted to scoot by with the bare minimum, while others had some rather intricate designs painted into each nook, cranny and fold of human skin. It was worth noting, I might say, that very few of the riders seemed like they were in shape, as many were overweight, and as we were able to smell later, very much fans of their weed. After the bike ride was over, my companions and I wanted to go check out Gasworks Park, which has impressive views of downtown Seattle. As we made our way to the park, we noticed that a good number of the cyclists had dismounted and congregated in the very spot that we wanted to go. After adjusting to the fact that we were now mingling with nude, body-painted individuals, we spent some time looking around and taking in the view. Admittedly, the view across Lake Union at downtown Seattle was impressive enough to make me want to return. Clothed, of course.  Our visit proceeded rather uneventfully, until I was propositioned by an older man, who was wearing nothing but a sash, covered head to toe with gold body paint, to take his picture. I quickly glanced around for an escape route but alas, there was none, and I hesitantly accepted the half broken, ten year old camera he shoved in my hands. After clearing gold paint off the viewfinder, I took his picture, forced a smile, and handed the camera back to him. As I walked away, I looked down at my now gold tinted fingers and made a beeline to the nearest sink and thoroughly cleansed my hands. Ah, Seattle, you and your people…. Ruminating on the episode as we departed, it struck me that what had happened, cumulatively, was as blatant an expression of American freedom as one could expect. Now yes, the concept of “Freedom” is somewhat nebulous and ill defined, and in today’s current political climate, can be a controversial term. That being stated, what we observed in Seattle that day was an exhibition of, well, free choice. As convoluted as some of the riders’ motives may have been, at least according to my psychoanalytic mind, both the spectators and the riders present that day were engaging each other in realizing their freedom of choice. The spectators needed the presence of the riders to be entertained, and the riders required an audience for their antics. Nobody was forced to participate or attend, and natural human curiosity being what it is, I was admittedly, thoroughly fascinated. We often think of blatant displays of American patriotism as being the flag, bald eagles, fireworks, etc.. While there is nothing wrong with these symbols, I would venture to state that freedom is best acted out and demonstrated, and why can’t freedom be, well, the freedom to ride a bicycle in the nude? To have fun while doing it? To watch? To decline? If the only thing taken from me that day was a slight bit of comfort, than so be it. I would rather events like this take place un-harassed and openly than have to live in a place where this freedom of expression is shuttered. After all, I can always just wash the Gold paint off if I have to.

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