Bare River, Wyoming – For the 777 residents of Bare River, a dry and dusty coal town in the central part of Wyoming, Zubaz is more than a fashion statement — it's a way of life. Some say, Zubaz is the very reason the town still exists today.
Zubaz pants, designed in the late 1980s for working out by the wrestling tag team The Road Warriors, feature a tiger-striped print, an elastic waistband, and greater freedom of movement. It's this freedom that saved Bare River on June 23rd, 1990.
Mike Von Haig, who has been the mayor of Bare River since 1986, recalls the day with precision.
"They'd been warning of floods all week," he said. "The damn river was surging over its banks. We thought we might get wiped clean off of the face of the earth. And so we had all of these sand bags the national guard delivered. But there just wasn't enough bodies to put the sandbags where they needed to go. This was before the days of Tim Tebow, so we didn't think to kneel down or nothing. We needed a miracle, and John Elway wasn't on city council."
A miracle is exactly what the citizens — almost all of them Broncos fans due to geographic proximity — got that day. It turned out that because the nearby Bare River (where the town gets its name) was already flooding over the highway a few miles west of town, traffic had to be diverted through Main Street. One of the vehicles passing through that day was a truck carrying a full load of Zubaz pants — all of them in orange, white, and blue.
What happened next can only be described by Von Haig as fortuitous.
"This truck was going real fast and it lost its breaks. It didn't stop until the driver swerved to avoid hitting some guy's labrador retriever and crashed sideways right into City Hall. It came right through the city clerk's office as we were drinking coffee and spilled the whole damn lot of the Zubaz pants all over us. It was a damn meteor shower of orange and blue. That's when it came to me: the Zubaz pants were the key to saving the town."
What Von Haig realized is that he didn't need more bodies, he needed to give the bodies he had more flexibility.
"If you've ever lifted a sandbag, you know what I'm talking about," he said. "We'd been trying to move the sandbags wearing tight Wrangler jeans. Look, I've got nothing against Wrangler. Hell, I've been to my share of rodeos. Those drugstore cowboys like the way it makes their packages bulge. But for moving sandbags, you've got to be able to squat and move your ass."
Von Haig called his fellow councilman Joe Hawk. They immediately began distributing the Zubaz to as many people as they could find. Hawk recalled the bizarre scene:
"I thought the mayor was crazy. We had all of these guys dropping trou and pulling on the Zubaz. I think some of the old women in town thought we were gonna have some sort of zebra orgy or something. That's when I also discovered a lot of guys in town liked going commando. Well, to each their own. In Wyoming, it's pretty much live and let live, you understand. There's this rugged individualism that runs through the place. I guess it extends to everyone's Johnson, too."
It was just the sort of spirit the town needed, however. Before afternoon came, dozens and dozens of Bare River's citizens were stooping and bending and carrying the sandbags to the edge of town to construct a series of dikes to prevent the river from spilling over. Hawk, now retired and tending bar in one of Bare River's twenty-seven bars and saloons, said the Zubaz pants weren't just a symbol of efficiency, they were the very essence of community pride.
"I'll tell you something," he said. "We all felt like Denver Broncos that day. The Zubaz pants and every orange and blue stripe running down our backside told us were were part of something bigger than ourselves. That river wasn't going to defeat us. Mike pretended he was Karl Mecklenburg. I was Steve Atwater. It can get pretty emotional when you feel like you've got Broncos Country behind you."
Two days later, the river swelled over its banks, but the dikes held firm. The town was safe.
"Not a drop of water got to us," said Von Haig. "Unless you count the hippies pissing next to the Chamber of Commerce on their way to the mountains to those find mushrooms they liked so much."
Another week later, the Bare River City Council passed a resolution declaring that all future meetings of the city council would be conducted wearing Zubaz pants. This resolution still applies today. Von Haig, for instance, still wears the same Zubaz pants he wore on that fateful day so many years ago.
"They're pretty worn out," he said. "If you've seen assless chaps, you know what I'm talking about."
The town also holds an annual Zubaz festival, which includes hot-oil wrestling for women in Zubaz bikinis and a hot wings eating competition in which the competitors must wear nothing more than Zubaz pants. "It can get a little sticky and messy," Hawk admits.
There's also a bronze statue next to city hall of the famous labrador retriever who ran out in front of the Zubaz truck so long ago. "After the year 2000, everyone started calling the bronze 'Griese,'" said Von Haig.
Leroy Douglas, a teacher of Statistics at the local Bare River High School, still finds the legend of the Zubaz pants hard to believe. "I've not lived here my whole life like everyone else," he said. "But, I think what we are seeing here is cognitive bias. The mayor and the residents of Bare River are just applying some supernatural explantion — the spilled truck, the fact that the Zubaz pants were orange and blue — to the historical narrative. Sometimes things really are just a coincidence."
Don't tell this to Von Haig.
"That's a load of crap," said Von Haig, who owns more than a dozen pair of the colorful pants. "I was there. I was in the thick of it. I saw good men, guys I grew up with, face down in the muck. The Zubaz pants were the only thing flexible enough to let them get back up. And besides, that river hasn't flooded once since we started wearing these things [Zubaz]."
And what does Von Haig think about the idea that Zubaz pants may be coming back into style?
"You've got to be kidding me. In Bare River, Wyoming, they never went out of style. It's only now you guys idiots are figuring it out."
Hawk, who thinks the town should change its name to Zubaz, put it simply: "We've seen a lot of booms and busts around here, but he Denver Broncos and Zubaz pants are forever. They are eternal."