When I’m alone I get into weird shit.
I once found a freshly dead crow on my walk home. I knew it was fresh because it was soft and warm; its head flopped over when I picked it up, and a word bubble dripped out of its beak: “Dude, I just died.” I carried the bird home and dug a grave in the backyard. Then I busted out this big black accordion from the attic to play the saddest song ever played. Right when I was really feeling the moment and started to cry, a housemate came out and busted me. I was alone, in my twenties, and into some weird shit. I bet it happens to you, too.
Recently my son took a tiny vacation to visit family in Ventura, and it was then that I knew I’d get into trouble while he was gone. Something weird like Zoobombing.
I learned about Portland’s Zoobombers in 2003 when I asked someone about the 20 kids’ bicycles that were locked up across the street from Powell’s Books. “Oh, that’s where the Zoobombers keep their bikes before and after they bomb down the hill from the zoo,” someone said in not-those-exact words. This person also said, “Zoobombers are gnarly punks who don’t give a shit about anything that isn’t fun.” I’ve always admired the fun they were having for free!
With my son unable to stop me, I rode his Spider-Man bike across town to that pile of mini-bikes for my first Zoobomb.
Zoobombers are very generous with their free fun; they’ll even supply bikes if you don’t have a six-year-old son to steal from. Tourists are welcome as long as they’re friendly to people like Anthony, a Zoobomber who described the gang as, “A bunch of fun-loving daredevils with nothing better to do on a Sunday night.”
The sun was setting on downtown Portland as busy people walked around mini-bikes on the corner of SW 13th and Burnside. One of the bikes tipped over, which caused a tallboy of Hamm’s to pop open. It sprayed everywhere until a Zoobomber snatched it up and shotgunned that puppy. We “woot-woot”-ed, “yeeew”-ed, and howled like wild animals as we rode off to catch the train that would take us to the Oregon Zoo.
The train, or Metropolitan Area Express (MAX), takes you from downtown into a tunnel that goes under the West Hills; halfway through there’s a stop where you can catch an elevator that goes up for like a mile or so to the zoo in Forest Park. When we unloaded, I hoped on my bike and started riding to the elevator. A Zoobomber with a motorcycle helmet named Lost Blake told me, “You gotta walk it here.” He pointed to the invisible surveillance cameras, “We give them respect, they give us respect.”
We piled into the elevator and I farted before we reached the top. I like to fart in elevators almost as much as the Zoobombers like to lie down in a field under the night sky to smoke, drink, and laugh before bombing the 3-mile hill. We killed time and brain cells until everyone was ready to line up and go straight down as fast as gravity allowed.
“You Belong in the Zoo,” said a button on the demin jacket worn by the Zoobomber named Val. It was a direct message to me from the Spirit of the Universe that I was truly wild among the animals.
A volunteer leader shouted the rules of the road to the crowd; we shouted them back. Then we were off. I pedaled as fast as I could to keep up, but those Zoobombers were super fucking fast. I was left in the dust along with the other first-timers and an experienced Zoobomber with a first-aid kit. I was going super fast down the curvy road in pitch-black night, screaming with fear and pure joy. The Zoobombers ahead of me were going faster, crazier, and hogging all the fun. I pedaled harder to catch up, but lost my tiny bike chain and nearly crashed hard before the bike bucked me off. My ankles got a little chewed up by the tiny bike and I released the ceremonial blood that every true adventure demands. It was glorious!
After getting the bike back under my butt, I got back on the ride. The road got steeper, faster, and the turns sharper. Surely someone has gone off the cliff doing this. Oh wait, they have. It was Josh Brolin in Goonies. “Goonies never say die,” and neither do I.
Everyone met at the bottom of the hill by the MAX station. Some Zoobombers got back on the train to do it again and again into the wee hours. I rode back to the bike pile with some other newbies. We all agreed Zoobombing was awesome, but definitely some weird shit to get into.