Dispatch from the Center of the Universe

Everybody knows that the Fremont neighborhood in Seattle is the Center of the Universe. (According to the Fremont Chamber of Commerce, the determination was made in 1991 by an assemblage called the Fremont Scientists, who issued the declaration “after a careful and considered study.”)

A band of rogue sign makers, instigated by local artist Maque daVis, erected a sign on a pedestrian island pointing directions and distances to various landmarks – TROLL; 2 BLKS, LOUVRE; 9757 KM, MILKY WAY; 69 LT. YRS, “NOOGIE; TOP OF HEAD – thus proving Fremont’s centrality. A couple years later the Metropolitan King County Council issued a proclamation and in 1994 put up an “official” sign.

Fremont’s decline began in 1998, when Adobe came, moving into its new building, a modern, soulless edifice put up without regard to its eccentric surroundings. The resulting gentrification and rising rents over the past two decades have driven out the artistic community that made Fremont its home and gave the neighborhood its quirkiness. Even the beloved Red Door Ale House has transitioned to upscale.

The sign remained. Errant drivers have twice taken out the signpost; both times it was repaired and replaced. Recently, a villainous miscreant stole the sign, post and all. Surveillance video shows a woman loading the sign into her Audi and driving away. Seattle police have a suspect, a “serial sign stealer.”

Maque daVis

Mr. daVis, who no longer lives in the neighborhood, is finishing work on a replacement sign. Keeping with the spirit of Fremont, the new one is being built with materials donated by local merchants and erected without permits or other bureaucratic interference.

Keeping Portlandia Weird?

Portland’s version of the World Naked Bike Ride took to the streets a recent evening. Ten-thousand riders wearing shoes and helmets gathered at Fernhill Park in northeast Portland, two blocks from where I grew up  to begin the procession.

You may or may not believe Seattle’s claim that the World Naked Bike Ride was inspired by the Fremont Solstice Naked Bike Ride. Unclothed bike riders have long been a featured attraction of the annual solstice parade in the Fremont neighborhood. The event has morphed into the Fremont Solstice Parade and Painted Bike Ride. Most participants are naked or painted or both.

Portland’s bike-sharing Biketown (sponsored by the swoosh people) offered free use of their bicycles for the event with disposable seat covers included.

Johnson’s Beach

The spectacle’s purported purpose is “a protest against dependency on fossil fuels and for bike safety and body positivity.” The latter recalls the Russian River Blues Festival at Johnson’s Beach in Guerneville California. The festival was for many years a sibling bonding experience for my sister and me. Before transforming itself a few years ago into a more upscale “Jazz & Blues” fest in September, the festival took place in mid-June, usually very warm, even hot. The cynical part of me suggested there be color-coded wrist bands for the event, the color indicating how much skin a person would be allowed to expose… for the sake of other attendees, “body positivity” doesn’t have to mean uncovered.

If you can stand it, click here for uncensored photos from this year’s Naked Bike ride.