"You were born naked!" is a slogan I hear repeated at the annual Naked Bike Ride on Saturday, June 11, which commenced in the cool lake breeze of Coronation Park. Born naked, maybe. But I've yet to hear of a case of born riding a bicycle.
It's only by eavesdropping that I learn the point of the thing: to emphasize the fragility of the human body and the stark contrast between big fossil-fuel-burning death machines and little person-powered two-wheelers.
I'm way early, so it's great. There's nobody but the amiable guy who's not the organizer, because there isn't one. And right now he's got clothes on. I'm in a satin shirt, wool suit, overcoat and hat. Also a paisley scarf. I've never had much curiosity about what people look like naked, and have successfully avoided such knowledge my whole life.
Instead, I wonder what everyone would look like well-dressed. My slogan would be "People are like salad - they need dressing."
Handprints in blue and red are being applied to backs, fronts and buttocks. A man asks if I'm going on the ride. "I don't take my clothes off for nobody." "Well, maybe next year," he gently suggests, "you could come in a costume - like a wedding dress." At which point, due to a recent personal tragedy, I break down sobbing the Kitty Wells song I Gave My Wedding Dress Away. Then I look for something else to put on. Sunglasses.
I take a break and head over to where a massive stage is being set up for a hospital fundraiser. Tents have been erected for the Walmart Walk For Miracles. Miracles like what? Unions and pay equity at Walmart?
Now I'm glad to return to the touchingly DIY group of thoughtful nudists: "More ass, less gas" and "Vive le velo" lettered on flesh, and the man who looks grass-stained all over, with "It's easy being green" lettered over top.
Still, I do a lot of looking off to the horizon - lines of cormorants flying low, a jet landing at the airport, a swallow lighting on a yacht called Stormtrooper. We happen on a ship-shaped WW2 monument. It's a fine piece of metalwork, but the weeds poking up between the floor stones give it that uncared-for Toronto look. The American military is the largest consumer of oil on the planet. These are my thoughts as I take mental refuge from the overwhelming experience of my first-ever naked immersion.
The Naked Ride takes place in 80 cities around the world. Ten thousand bare-bummed cyclists roll through London, England. One hundred is the prediction for Toronto, and it seems about right. We saddle up and head north. Car horns honk, a noise that could be taken for approval, annoyance or just shock. I notice a man on Bixi rental wheels. Okay, he's put a cloth on the seat. Calm down.
The most amazing thing to me is that we, unlike Critical Mass, which last time I attended was completely dictated by police, are unfettered by armed escorts. "The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams," reads the mantra board that is all that remains of the Inglis appliance factory west of Strachan. Jobs in the area now are temporary, in the construction of towering eyesores. Workmen pause, laugh and record the scene on their devices. A woman shouts from a room at the Palace, at Strachan and King, "Get all the attention you need!"
Pedestrians on the sidewalk seem generally delighted as the parade passes by at a fairly rapid clip. A double-decker sightseeing bus threatens to tip as tourists strain to record the excitement. Approval is about unanimous in Kensington Market. It's refreshing to see so many laughing and happy faces.
By now I've removed my coat and scarf. How about a slow strip ride? I'm not the only clothed "cheater." I've gotten used to all the skin, but I'm unaccustomed to so many bicycles and concentrate mostly on where my fenders are. "Cobblestones, my favourite," as we bump at the entrance to the U of T circle. A bunch of naked people on bikes? "It must be frat week!"
On the steps of Queen's Park, a bride posing for photos shields her eyes with her bouquet. "You're gonna see it sooner or later," I warn her.
Tough crowd in Yorkville. Nary a smile. A boutique clerk actually winces at the sight. On Yonge, we interrupt a show already in progress. For some reason, a man is standing in the road reciting Mack The Knife. Not like a drunk, more like an actor with a plan. At the Sunnybrook facility on Wellesley, an attendant says to a gentleman in a wheelchair, "You picked the right time to go outside."
On Church, where men have all-naked bars, it's ho-hum... next. There are two more tour buses - or the same one circling back due to popular demand. The shoe repairmen at Novelty on Yonge have stepped outside to beam enthusiastically. Two little children on Bay giggle shyly.
Later, on the Danforth, alone, getting doored by a car and verbally assaulted by a pedestrian, I miss my leaderless gaggle of naturists.