I was at a tavern the other day watching two of my favorite Olympic events, fencing and racewalking, but was unable to muster even a smidgen of excitement. I couldn't stop thinking about a quadrennial tradition that used to occur in our beloved town. I was filled with a small, cold ball of melancholy, and an overwhelming urge to finish my drink and go home.
I am speaking, of course, about The Great City Tug of War.
How many of you full-blooded Portland natives remember going as children to either side of the river, sitting on a blanket and watching The Great City Tug? How many of you can claim you were one of the tuggers? How many of you brag that you were a tugger, even if you weren't? (Shhhh, I won't say anything.)
The Great City Tug of War pitted West Portland's strongest against East Portland's sturdiest. They tugged across the width of the Willamette. For transplants who never saw it, The Tug was an awesome affair and truly colossal in scale.
The rules were that each side could field 167 tuggers at a given time, but was also allowed a taxi squad of 75 tuggers who could tag in to relieve tired teammates whenever they wished. The rope was 3 miles long, and fastened around the waist of one person per team who stood 100 feet ahead of everyone else. A winning team was declared when it pulled the other team's front person into the water.
I was proud to tug for East Portland twice many years ago while still in my prime. I wasn't chosen because I was a muscular Casanova—I was wiry and had excellent footing.
Years ago, residents of the losing side were made to evacuate their half of the city for a full 24 hours, during which residents of the winning side were invited to come over and "good-naturedly" loot and vandalize any buildings and property they wished. Human nature being what it is, the looting and vandalism always seemed to go beyond "good-natured," so it was decided instead that each resident of the winning team would receive a $250 Visa gift card redeemable at any business within the losing team's side of the city.
Many of you will remember the thrilling Tug of 2004—"The most exhilarating Tug in years," it was said—until a tragic series of events ruined it all.
A recent California transplant was piloting his yacht nearby. Apparently, he thought it would be humorous to get as close as possible to the suspended rope and try to leap from the boat to grab it and dangle from it. He was successful in this stunt, but as we all realized and watched in horror, he had forgotten to thrust down, and the yacht kept going, plowing into a boat of schoolchildren on a field trip.
Thankfully, most of the children were rescued, but the accident is the reason we won't have a Great City Tug of War this year, just as we did not have one four years ago and four years before that.
Dr. Mitchell R. Millar is president of the Olde Portland Preservation Society, and has perhaps embellished his own athletic feats, but just a little.