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Monday, August 22, 2005
I spent some time up in Mount Tabor Park last Saturday. As I learned, there's a pretty good reason why it's called "Mount Tabor Park."
Because it's located on a friggin' mountain. Or, as the locals prefer, an "extent volcano." Despite living in Portland off and on for decades this was only my second trip to the park. I had long forgotten how hilly it was until I parked at the bottom and began my ascent.
The park has to be the city's weirdest. Large reservoirs with what look like castle outposts litter the landscape. A basketball court sits next to a cliff and long winding roads lead to the crest. In short, it's the perfect place for a adult soapbox derby. Since 2001, racers have buzzed down the park's slopes on a Saturday every August, risking their lives and limbs, along with the audience's.
After hiking up to the starting line and getting a look at the carts, I headed down the race course. Along the way there were rows of hay bales, set up to presumably prevent boxcars from sliding down the park's jagged slopes. At one point, a tell-tale bale was crushed up against a tree.
I met up with "Cup of Noodles" somewhere in the middle of the course. Nearly every adult around us was chugging PBR tallboys, which I always figured was a serious "no-no" in a public park. Maybe boxcar races are excluded from Portland's public drinking laws. Or, more likely, the organizers had some sort of permit. Whatever the case, I should have brought along beer but wasn't willing to hike back up the concessions to buy any. Hey, it was like 90 million degrees up there. You would have done the same.
At two o'clock a final series of races began with a parade. Deadpan roller skaters and a black-clad marching band stoically marched from the top to the finish line.
Despite being prompted to get off the course by organizers with bullhorns, many attendees opted to keep walking until nearly the last second before the boxcars buzzed down the volcano. Most of them looked like this.
Sleek, streamlined and made of metal- a far cry from the rickety, wooden boxcars I was expecting. They moved like thunderbolts slathered in Crisco. Ok, maybe not that fast but definitely fast.
Another team raced down in a boxcar shaped like an old roadster:
A third team rigged up a sauna:
Then there was this ZZ Top boxcar:
My personal favorite. The rider was armed with a water cannon:
And, finally, the crowd fav:
A boxcar shaped like a boner operated by two guys dressed up like superheroes. It didn't quite make it to the bottom and had to be pushed across the finish line. After the race, one of them offered a passing fratboy the opportunity to down a Pabst's out of a hose extending from the head. He agreed, dropped to his knees and started chugging as his girlfriend watched and families wandered by. It really is a shame that Norman Rockwell isn't still around to immortalize these sort of pastoral moments.
Don't you wish you had gone? Well, even if you missed out you can still catch a piece of all the wholesome, all-American action. Here's two short video clips from Saturday's final races:
Video clip # 1
Video clip # 2
I wonder if Portland is the only city in the world that hosts annual boxcar derbies involving both volcanoes and giant phalluses.