I am not a redhead, but I do get the shivers over gorgeous red locks.
So I was pretty excited that my red-headed friend Heather invited me to come along with her while she joined a bunch of people trying to set a World Record for greatest number of redheads gathered together. I eagerly agreed. On August 17, 2013, my camera in hand, we went to Pioneer Courthouse Square in Portland, Oregon.
The previous World record was set in Breda, Netherlands, and the previous North American record was set in Samammish, Washington. At the beginning of the event, organizers announced that at least 1300 had registered, so if they all stuck around for the official “gathering” and photo, the record would be broken. (Latest estimate is that there were nearly 1600 natural redheads in Pioneer Courthouse Square, so Portland did it!)
The excitement lasted all day long, as far as I could tell. There were live bands and booths set up all over the square. People were packed in. I began to speculate about whether all those fair-skinned lovelies in the sun would require– yes! Volunteers walked through offering free sunscreen.
And oh, the red hair!
I simply gaped, because I felt like in the midst of a redhead event, I had permission to stare. I begged photos. I drooled over the many heads that held cascades of rolling auburn locks down to the waistline. I cheered the men sporting fiery beards. There were so many smiles from so many people. A natural red came by hollering, “High Fives for redheads!” He slapped Heather’s raised hand and turned to me. And lowered his hand. “You don’t get one,” he said, and moved on to the next huddle. “High Fives for redheads!” “Yay!” they all shouted in reply.
The photo was supposed to happen at 2pm. Since it was a hot sunny day, we showed up only an hour early. Heather signed in and had her photo taken while holding a photo of herself as a tyke, in order to validate her claim to world record-ness. She slapped a sticker to her shirt and we killed time by having some Ben & Jerry’s.
Then they cleared the square and set up a makeshift fence to keep everyone out. The intent was to let the reds in one by one, so they could be counted. But…. they weren’t quite ready. So an entertainer came out and tried to make everyone dance in the sun while waiting. He was funny, and full of wonderful vivacious energy, but the crowd wasn’t his ideal audience, and most of us packed into the perimeter were lugging backpacks and water bottles and cameras and children…and even if we wanted to bounce around with his danceclub moves, it just wasn’t gonna happen. He got smart and pulled a group of children out of the waiting crowd of redheads, and they danced for the rest of us.
Finally, a stream of participants began to pour into the central brick square, and soon the area fenced in was completely full. Organizers told all the redheads to look up toward a nearby office tower and wave because photos would be taken from there. Apparently, to meet the requirements of the world record, the group had to be gathered officially for 10 minutes. The organizers weren’t ready for them to be officially gathered, despite the fact that they were already unofficially gathered. Thus, the only downer note of the whole day was a significant one: in an event designed to raise skin cancer awareness, 1600 redheads plus many non-red supporters and friends were forced to stand without any shade in the blazing sunshine on a brick square for two hours!
Someone made a crack about making 1600 redheads angry….
In all fairness, Portland is not famous for its sunshine. The weather was unusual and not many people could have anticipated it.
At long last, the 10 minutes began. We knew it would be over soon, and all the redhead participants had a bond to share at that point. Not only were they joining in the fun of making a world record, but they were also having to work
for it. As we counted down the final seconds, announcers had participants turn and wave to the cameras high above. In 4 minutes, the square was cleared.
Earlier in the day, Heather had been approached by two women working on a documentary that will be called Ginger Girls: The Secret Lives of Redheads, about growing up as a little red haired girl, and living the life of a red haired woman. (Check out all the info, videos, and an opportunity to support the project!)
And since the word came up, I’ll say a little about Ginger. And then you may want to discard my input because I was once a towhead, and then a dishwater blonde, and now a mouse brown, but I’ve never been naturally red or even close to it. Here it is: I want to use the word! At this event I felt like celebrating the hair by calling them reds, and gingers. I wanted to shout, “Yo, ginger beauty!” Heather told me that in Australia they are called Rangas, short for orangutan, and that too is apparently an insult. I wanted to feel the glee of witnessing RangaCon 2013! Instead it’s an insult. Because some people make immature statements about souls. Because some people bully with real venom in their attacks. How can we put a stop to this? Hopefully Alexia Anastasio’s documentary will be a step in making the word ginger a beautiful word.
I don’t know what the deal is: why I love red hair so much. My brother had an astonishing carrot top when he was a toddler, that matured into the most amazingly beautiful wine red hair you’ve ever seen, when he was in middle school. And now…you have to look hard to see it’s not a true brown. What a loss. His opinion? He hates his red hair. He says it would be different for me if I had red hair; then I would understand. “No one wants to date a red-haired man,” he confessed. (Except maybe his vivacious & gorgeous girlfriend, I might have retorted, but didn’t.)
Well, I am proud to say I stood on the sidelines of a record-breaking event that day. My eyes will always twinkle when I remember it, all the sun and the Indian dance music and the copper dogs that showed up to help support. My girlfriend might be in a documentary and be my first movie-star friend.
…and I need to soak it all up as much as possible right now, because Breda is going to put in an earnest effort to shine the sun back over on that part of the globe again, during their annual redhead gathering, coming up September 1, 2013! Since it takes months for the Guiness committee to announce for sure, there will be a period of time when Portland and Breda are both waiting and wondering. Will they wrench the world record back from Portland? Stay tuned.