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Nudie on Duty



Published January 10, 2001 at 7:54 p.m.

There’s that long stretch after the foliage has its final say. Winter is lurking behind every wind-swept downtown building, like a growling polar bear in the distance.

Now it’s early January, and the bear has arrived. I’m idling on a Thursday night at a downtown taxi stand. There’s no shutting it down to save gas anymore; winter nights demand a non-stop purring heater.

For us cabbies, the cold weather is a mixed blessing. On the plus side, there are more fares. People don’t want to walk even short distances in a deep freeze, nor do they relish waiting for the bus, or even driving their own cars — if they start — when it’s snowy. On the negative side, we cabbies get worn down by the mental strain of hours sliding around treacherous roads. Of course, here in Vermont, brutal winter conditions are the third inevitability, right after death and taxes. Why complain about the ineluctable?

Gossamer flurries begin swirling in wavy circles over the black asphalt. I find myself drifting back to a favorite warm-weather memory. Firmly placed in my top five taxi moments of the new century is the Night of the Nudie Cyclists.

It was the last week of classes and the graduating seniors were feeling frisky. Some brilliant summa cum laude must have come up with the idea — the sort of project that makes perfect sense only in the final week of college life.

The whooping and cheering was my first clue. All at once, the streets were buzzing with energy. I was waiting for a pick-up in front of Sweetwaters when the first naked man whizzed past on a bicycle. Then another. Then three naked women, a couple more men, a few more women. Regarding the naked men, my first thought was, “Gee, that’s gotta hurt.” As to the women, my reaction was, “What a terrific new way to enjoy cycling!” Meanwhile, the crowds on the street were loving it. It was like the circus had come to town.

Luckily my Sweetwaters fare was only going to the Sheraton. I shot up the hill, dropped them off and made it back in time to catch naked people on wheels turning onto Main at the corner of Mr. Mike’s Pizza. There was a disciplined manner to this madness, a commando-like precision to their formation. It appeared they were executing figure-eights, swinging through the downtown streets.

Then, with a startling alacrity, the Burlington Police appeared in force. The APB must have gone out: Naked People on Bikes! It seemed like half the patrol cars in the fleet were pulling up to City Hall, blue lights a-flashing. The officers sprang from their vehicles and began methodically fanning out onto the streets. The coordination appeared practiced, as if the Chief of Police had foreseen the possibility of just such a civic disturbance and had prepared a Naked City Swat Team, as it were, ready to spring into action at a moment’s notice.

At the sign of the cops, the naked bikers split up — it was save yourself, every man and woman for him or her naked self. There was no question who the crowd was routing for in this competition. Everyone was lustily booing the blue-clads and gleefully cheering the non-clads. Here and there, the police managed to corner and catch one, and then handcuff and haul off the naked offender to a patrol car. It looked like most of the bikers were managing to elude capture and flee into the safety of the neighborhoods.

I took up a sentry position at the corner of Church and Main — the best vantage point, I figured, to take in the finale of this evening street drama. Sure enough, I saw an officer with one last biker in tow emerge from the narrow alleyway between City Hall and the old firehouse. The poor kid at least had some pants on, but he still looked mortified. As they came closer, I saw that he was in handcuffs. Before placing him in the cruiser, the arresting officer began reading him the riot act.

“D’ya know how stupid this is? This is disgusting.” The cop was right in the kid’s face. “What kind of life are you making for yourself? What the hell are you going to tell your parents when we book your ass?”

Wisely, the young man didn’t say a word. From the steps of City Hall, a sergeant called out, summoning the officer.

“Don’t move a friggin’ muscle,” he barked at the kid, “I’ll be right back.”

Without thinking about it too carefully — my standard modus operandi — I pulled my taxi up alongside the police car.

“Hey, buddy,” I said from my window, gaining the kid’s attention. “Don’t be worrying about what that cop told you. You’re just gonna get fined, that’s all.”

The guy looked at me, and shrugged his shoulders. It’s hard to relax about a situation when your wrists are pinioned behind your back.

“This night,” I continued, “is one for the books — one for your grandchildren. You’re gonna remember the thrill of it for the rest of your life. So just be respectful to the officer, and — ”

“Cabbie — you having a problem here?” The officer was back. “You’re blocking traffic, so move it along, all right?”

“Hey, at least I got my clothes on!” I replied, and took off down the street.