Since Monty moved to a state with more sun leaving me in the damp PNW, we try to talk on the phone every week or so.
“Hey, I was just thinking about you. I rode with Dykes on Bikes in the Gay Pride Parade in Portland yesterday. Bet ya don’t get a lot of that in Arizona.”
Then, “Okay, Breezy showed me the photos of flowers you’ve been taking and posting on Facebook. I know your roommate is a lesbian, and I know your kid is on that team. But, Bro, Gay Pride? Do I have to come back to Oregon and kick your ass!??”
The day before Cassie had wrung me from my slumber at about 5:30am. We wanted to be on the road by 6:00am for Portland. When I stumbled into the kitchen for coffee, meticulously arranged on the table were a box of tampons, a couple of cigars, and a motorcycle helmet sitting on a pair of lace-up leather chaps. If there was ever a still-life iconic of a lesbian biker, this was it. Two cups of coffee later and I was behind the handlebars of my Harley watching the headlight on Cassie’s hopped-up Yamaha bob in my rearview mirror. Sundays were made for trips to Portland with a scarcity of cars leaving an abundance of lanes to choose from. The weather threatened with teeming clouds, but the mountain ranges were able to rein them in for the day—the valley between was dry all the way into West Portland.
It took a little finessing to find the meeting place for the motorcycle group in this spectacle, which was complicated by the cops closing down street after street for the parade. Finally I dispensed with worrying about traffic laws and led us into the camp after a brief trek down the wrong side of Burnside and slaloming between several barricades. As luck would have it, I had to ride past a police officer on his motorcycle as I pulled into the gathering area. He seemed unimpressed with my unorthodox entrance. After all, this was just the tip of the most colour and fabulousness I’ve seen in one place in my life. My bending of traffic laws was hardly noticeable.
The thing about any event that involves motorcycles is that for bikers, it becomes all about the motorcycles. In a matter of minutes I was chatting with a nice young woman about the performance mods she had made to her Honda Shadow 1800. No discussion of politics or even about the event. We were all about the bikes. Any time something a little unusual rode by; we snapped our necks in its direction.
I have long associated with and enjoyed the lesbian community. I cringe when I hear stories of unveiled anger and the iron dogs of feminist rhetoric unleashed without warning on a member of the penis-packing half of the population at the utterance of one broad comment. Some say I’m just lucky, but my Blurt Filter (tm) is usually maxed out at only ten-percent, and I have never had any such negative experiences—though have arguably deserved it. This event perpetuated my opinion that there ain’t a damn thing wrong with this community. Though I easily could have been the only straight person there, I got nothing but appreciation—and latitude. I hadn’t washed and waxed my mighty steed before the event and was a little self-conscious about the glitter factor of the other bikes present—Cassie’s included. When one of the event organizers walked up to me, her first words were, “Well, here’s a bike that gets ridden.” I liked her immediately.
We were the first attraction of the parade! Had I known…. We were told that getting the parade going was moving a little slower than it should be; so they wanted us to stop and wave and honk and make a lot of noise—and stall for time. We were there to rev up the crowd! The event coordinator said that those of us who had skills were to ride in circles and figure eights. The rest were to just look pretty, hold up traffic, and wave. We had time to kill. Since I was easily the oldest one there, I figured I had the skills. Cassie looked a little worried since this was her first parade and we wouldn’t be riding together. As we started heading out a couple of the women dispensed with their tops and beat their chests like Amazons, which I found to be a perfectly acceptable/appropriate way of livening up a party. Any party. Anywhere. Any time.
These women knew how to ride. Many were on bikes as big as mine and were slamming those huge Harleys around like they were Schwinns. Their skill level in this kind of riding far exceeded my own, and it was a pleasure to behold. In the space it took me to do an oval, they would do a figure eight, all the while yelling and high-fiving the crowds. The crowds lining the streets loved us and the noise…and probably the boobs.
There was an inclusive tone this year that was reflected in the name of the group I rode with: Dykes and Allies on Bikes. Yes, the churches showed up for gay pride, god love ‘em, but the signage I saw was supportive, espousing love rather than condemnation. After our frantic and proud procession, we parked and made our way through the crowds to the Saturday Market for food. As we sat by the fountain eating, we watched the children dancing and frolicking in the water jets. Their parents stood just out of the mists watching their kids. Same-sex parents and people of faith (not necessarily mutually exclusive) stood side-by-side watching their children play together in the water. Music played and the sun tried to make it through the thin cloud cover. Maybe there is hope for our species after all. I was alive when blacks and whites were still not allowed to drink from the same water fountain in some parts of the United States; and when I was in high school, the thought of a Gay Pride Parade happening in Portland was inconceivable. Yet, here I sat on a concrete curb, eating French fries, listening to SRV being belted out by a decent musician, watching it all happen.
After food we watched more of the loud, multi-coloured spectacle funnel down First Street. But even with all the visual stimulation, fatigue threatened; and we fled the crowds for a cup of coffee, heading up the hill away from the waterfront. An older man was at a table by the Scientology building. He offered to give us a stress test and tell us about Dianetics. I declined with thanks; and he told me that if Ron Paul embraced Scientology, he would be rid of all the aggression caused by his war experiences. ‘Fascinatingly irrelevant,’ I thought until I noted Cassie was laughing. She pointed to my shirt. On it was a picture of Paul Giamatti and Ron Jeremy looking very presidential over the copy: “Ron, Paul 2012.” When we walked by the table on our way back down the hill I puffed my chest out at the Scientologist. He wouldn’t make eye contact.
Cassie had a great time riding in her first motorcycle parade. Monty was with me the first time I rode in a motorcycle parade to bring toys to kids during the holidays—long ago before we got fat and bald. No matter how many miles we’ve shared since then, I still respectfully and reflexively let him lead. The chances of Monty riding in a gay pride parade are pretty slim, no matter how topless the female riders are. Still, I wished he was there, chomping on the end of a cigar while revving his motor festively, grinning maniacally at the crowd just like he was the first time I rode in a parade with him. I hope Cassie’s memory of me is as kind.