WOODWAY, Wash. — It happens in a flash as the afternoon Sounder trains carry commuters north from Seattle to Everett — a glance at an otherwise secluded beach frequented by mostly gay men who take it all off.
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"Every day we look outside the train and count how many are there in their birthday suits," said Sarah Thompson of Edmonds, a project manager. "It's a plus for riding the train. It's an added bonus. It's the entertainment factor for the Sounder."
The beach below a bluff in this peaceful suburb, which bills itself as "The Quiet Place," has been a favorite with male nudists for decades. In 2004 the start of Sounder service gave them new exposure to commuters shunning the Interstate 5 traffic follies for a ride along the eastern shore of Puget Sound.
"All the women pile themselves up against the window," said Steve Barber, a rider who works for King County law enforcement. "It's comic relief."
As the train crosses from King County to Snohomish County and passes the huge tanks at a roofing and paving plant, books close and fingers cease their tapping at laptop keyboards as attention is focused through the shoreside windows.
‘It’s definitely worth it’
"It's just a fleeting maybe four or five seconds, but it's definitely worth it," said Cecile Bagrow of Edmonds.
"Most of the time we have to get up out of our seats to look out the window," Thompson said. "It depends on who's on the train. Sometimes we get kind of rowdy about it."
The rocky beach is bounded by railroad tracks, fences and the water. It's accessible only by trespassing on land owned by Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. and a petroleum company.
"You would have to be one of the people that sleeps both ways to miss it," Thompson said. "They're right there."
Some men recline on towels. Others stroll this way and that, stand gazing out at the water, scamper for cover, leap into full frontal view in an apparent effort to shock the riders or just wave at the train.
"There's an average of six a day," Thompson said. "Sometimes there's more, sometimes less. Sometimes we're disappointed because there aren't any."
Police usually give warnings
Police Chief Doug Hansen said he's been aware of naked men on the beach throughout his 20 years of work in Woodway but adds that more have been seen in the past five years.
Local officers sometimes team up with Edmonds police and Snohomish and King county deputies to shoo away the nude sunbathers, most of whom come from the Seattle area and foreign countries, Hansen said, adding that their reactions range from "openly hostile to embarrassed."
Although nude sunbathing and trespassing on private property are against the law, officers generally just give warnings and seldom issue tickets, he added.
By some accounts, the beach has been frequented by gay men since the 1930s, and Mayor Carla Nichols said local residents have not complained.
"Just about everybody in town is aware," Nichols said. "Now that we have the commuter trains going regularly, it makes sense it would eventually become a feature."
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