Spokes folks star in film fest inside, out
On the Rocks
There are bicycles chained to every pole within a three-block radius of the Clinton Street Theater. Bikes are locked to trees, to railings, to one another. By 6:30 p.m. last Friday, Filmed by Bike had taken over the neighborhood. The annual film event, which screens short, bike-related films from around the world, doubles as a rally for Portland's bicyclists.
The line to get into the theater is a block long. If you were brazen enough to arrive by car, though, you'd find several parking spots within sight of the theater. And that's despite the fact that two-thirds of a block along Southeast Clinton Street is taken up with a giant makeshift bike rack.
This could be a bike activist's rosy vision of the future, and riding a bike is certainly a clean, healthy, forward-thinking activity. But I'm not so interested in that.
Instead, I spend the evening milling around in the street, drinking beer and trying to get a grasp on the particular brand of anarchy that gatherings of bike riders seem to generate.
Ayleen Crotty, who has been organizing the festival since 2003, is highly enthusiastic about the city's bike scene.
There's more going on here, she says, than just large numbers of people on bicycles. It's a culture, she says, with a variety of events, and people who identify cycling as part of their identities.
'It's great, and it's really unified,' she says. 'People are friendly about sharing ideas, helping each other get started riding, and working with motorists and city planners to try and make the streets as safe as possible for everyone and working with other cyclists to make it fun.'
Riding a bike can be dangerous. Gary Dunkley, who is volunteering tonight as a 'ticke-nista' (that is, ticket taker), says he's been hit by cars five times in the past seven years. He always gets back on his bike as soon as he physically can.
'I love to bike,' he says. 'I keep in shape, and I can eat a lot.'
During the summer, he says, he covers 200 to 300 miles a week. Dunkley is a high-energy guy: His job is leading outdoor excursions, and tonight, after the show, he's planning to climb Mount Hood with some friends. They figure they'll have a great view of Saturday's sunrise.
Now, the sun is setting, the crowd is getting thicker, and hula hoopers have taken over the left-turn lane at the intersection of Southeast Clinton and 26th Avenue.
At 8 p.m, with a capacity crowd inside the theater, a few hundred people are already waiting to get into the 9 p.m. show. Crotty has invited a troupe called Hoopshine to entertain the crowd. Dressed in metallic sashes and fur-trimmed bellbottoms, several young ladies twirl glow-in-the-dark hoops.
Meanwhile, all manner of human-powered vehicles are passing by: a tandem bike, a unicycle, a pedicab that's giving free rides around the block.
Greg Lavender pulls up and locks his bike in the midst of many others on the main bike rack. He moved to Portland with his girlfriend from Oakland, Calif., he says, 'to be a part of what's going on here in Portland with the cycle scene.'
He's also a neighbor of Crotty's, and served as a judge on the panel that selected tonight's films.
Lavender also works for the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, as an instructor for the Safe Routes to School program, which encourages kids to ride bikes to school. Ironically, he grew up in Detroit, where his dad worked in an auto factory.
I ask him if there's any special connection between bike-riding and filmmaking.
'I think many creative people ride bikes,' he answers. His girlfriend is a painter, he says, and he's done some performance art and improv.
'When you're out of your car and you're on your bike,' he says, 'the freedom of going down the streets and seeing your neighbors - the kind of things you don't get to do when you're trapped behind metal and glass your whole life - being able to nod to other cyclists and get exercise and not be stressed out sitting in rush-hour traffic - I think it allows your brain to be more creative. … I think a lot of artists are cyclists, and I think a lot of cyclists are artists.'
This evening is being thoroughly chronicled: There are cameras everywhere. And there's a lot to see. How often does the crowd exiting a movie theater attract an audience of its own?
As the cyclists from the early show begin to take off, bike by bike, I stand across the street to watch, along with a small group of passers-by.
The spectacle has some of the head-turning scale of a motorcycle club peeling out, but it's less orderly, and, of course, much quieter.
Men in shirts with the words 'Team Beer' stenciled on them rove the crowd. It turns out that they're tonight's security force. BEER, they tell me, stands for 'Beer Enthusiasts who Enjoy Racing.'
The 12-member crew also goes in for community service, so they've volunteered tonight to keep the traffic flowing, more or less.
Right now, team member Ben Davis says: 'The compelling question is: Do we need to control the hula hoopers that are in the left-turn lane or should we just let them be? We're not quite sure.'
Some cars slow to a crawl as they pass. Others speed up, threateningly, including one with a bicycle strapped to its roof.
'The interesting thing about morals,' Davis says, 'is they don't necessarily always follow the law.'