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  • AIDS Ride Diary Part II
  • Hermann Hates Caffeine
  • Herman Hates Depression
  • Herman Hates Temping
  • Herman Hates Rude People
  • Herman Hates The Daily Routine
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    Blast Boston Bureau

    Last month I engaged in the silliest act for which I have ever received praise -- and I say that as someone who also does guerrilla theatre and juggles koosh balls. I rode my bike 250 miles, from Boston to New York, as part of one of the great AIDS Rides.

    You've probably heard of the AIDS Ride; there's currently five of them, in California, the Midwest, Florida, the mid-Atlantic seaboard, and the northeast. They include thousands of participants and raise millions of dollars, about half of which goes to local treatment and prevention centers and about half of which goes to "overhead costs," more than a few of which are somewhat dubious. They are probably the most ostentious and shamelessly commercial charity events to be organized since Live Aid. And they are wildly successful.

    So what motivated me to join such an epic, high-profile assault on a disease most commonly transmitted through sexual contact? Sex, of course.

    It was just over a year ago, and I was at a party with some friends. One of them was doing the 1996 Boston->New York AIDS Ride (yes, as part of that annoying trend towards computer-generated non-verbal typography, that little arrow is part of the ride's official title), and he was showing off his cast-iron quadriceps to a girl I secretly yearned for myself. "Just feel that," he boasted, hiking his shorts up and offering her a tan, sinewy thigh.

    "Wow," she said, squeezing. "Wow," I thought, watching. "I want my thighs squeezed like that."

    So it was that several months later, as I was sitting my indolent ass down in a coffeehouse and taking a big creamy slurp of the day's second latte, I noticed a cardboard cutout full of AIDS Ride brochures. Remembering the thigh-squeezing moment, I grabbed one and opened it. Inside were various abstractly horrifying statistics about the scourge of AIDS (over 300,000 deaths in the last 15 years; cases among women tripled in last ten years; and so on) and several pictures of smiling, attractive young men and women in bicycle helmets.

    I thought about my bike, and how much I loved riding it even though I never seemed to find the time; I thought about my dull life of ridiculously easy temp jobs and ridiculously insurmountable writing contests, and how I craved a genuine challenge to supplement my diet of flukes and busywork; I thought about my prematurely burnt- out ideals, and how I hadn't really done much of anything for any worthy cause since being run through the meat grinder of political correctness that is your basic liberal arts education; and I thought about that girl squeezing my friend's thigh. And I filled out the name-and-address card inside the brochure, clipped it, and mailed it off to a P.O. box in Boston.

    A few days later I got the reply:

    "Dear Friend," it began, "Thank you for requesting information on Boston->New York AIDS Ride 3 Presented by Tanqueray. For many people, the Ride will be a profound, life-changing experience."

    After further words of information and inspiration, the letter of greeting invited me to an orientation meeting the following week. "As a participant in Boston->New York AIDS Ride 3 Presented by Tanqueray, you're special to us and we'd love to have your spirit and enthusiasm with us!" Interesting, I thought; thanks to a truly remarkable syntactic contortion, I'm being invited to participate and already a participant in the same sentence. The letter concluded breathlessly with, "Your adventure begins when you send in your registration form. We promise you'll remember your achievement for the rest of your life!"

    A phone call to the AIDS Ride headquarters verified that I could in fact attend the orientation meeting without actually registering beforehand. My call was fielded by a smooth-voiced man whose guileless enthusiasm was a note-perfect live version of the greeting letter. "We look forward to welcoming you aboard!" he said.

    So on a Saturday morning in May, I found myself inside a church in Back Bay, watching a video full of more smiling, attractive young men and women in bicycle helmets, this time seen in living, breathing action riding, talking, celebrating, and all gushing to the camera about what a life-changing experience they were having. Their testimonials were set to gospelly pop music (Peter Gabriel, Hothouse Flowers) and slickly edited montages of past AIDS Rides.

    The video made it all look pretty much like summer camp, but afterward, the AIDS Ride representative hosting the orientation painted a far different picture. "The AIDS Ride is not for everyone," she told us earnestly. "For many of you, it will be the greatest challenge you will ever undertake. Some of you won't make it back." Well, OK, she didn't actually say that last part, but she certainly seemed as though she was about to at any moment. She was an oddly compelling cross between war-flick recruiting officer and Amway salesman. "Your country needs you, boys. Now get out there and start selling!" (She didn't say that, either, but I almost wish she had.)

    Of the 30 or so people in the room, roughly half of us, by show of hands, had not yet registered for the ride. By the end of the session, we were clambering over each other to get to the sign-up forms in the back of the room. The representative's presentation was a brilliant display of reverse psychology; by elaborating all the aspects of the Ride that made i t so seemingly "not for everyone," she made not signing up seem like a profound gesture of mediocrity, a gutless submission to our own shortcomings. We couldn't fill out those forms fast enough. The room took on the giddy atmosphere of self-congratulation; it was as if we had already completed the Ride, and the paperwork was some last formality standing between us and our laurel wreaths.

    In such an atmosphere it's quite easy to strike up conversations with total strangers, and I soon found myself having one with an attractive woman wearing bicycle shorts that showed off legs like marble columns. We quickly discovered that we both lived in the same neighborhood and agreed that we would make plans to do some training rides together. The Ride was boosting my social horizons already.

    The $45 registration was due on the spot, so I put it on my Visa. In return I got a t-shirt and a stack of literature to take home. I was on my way.

    To be continued... in the next issue of Blast.