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DC AIDS Ride 4: Ride 14: Washington DC to Annapolis, MD

Ride 14: Washington DC to Annapolis, MD Sunday, June 6 Distance: 77 miles

I've decided that SUVs and 90% of their drivers piss me off.

Today was an impressive sounding feat: a bike ride between the capital of the country and the capital of the state of Maryland.

I didn't start the day on as high a note as I had hoped.

Last night was my first concert with the Lesbian and Gay Chours of Washington, during which we celebrated the 15th anniversary of the group. It was a fun evening charged with all sorts of rainbowy and pridey things which, in small doses, are actually a somewhat refreshing break from my usually bilious self. The program was full of songs saying things like "We're Wonderful" and "I'm Sick Of Wearing A Mask". There was plenty of multilculturalism, singing Central American songs written by teenagers to Brahmsian lieds to South African freedom hymns to Russian songs about birds to spirituals to both religious and secular songs (one of them about desert roses) in Hebrew.

However, the evening ended a tad sadly, as Charles once again brought up the subject of my making last minute changes to our plans. On Friday, I called him mid-afternoonish and left a message on his machine mentioning that I had realized there was much that I had to get finished on Saturday morning before I had to show up for dress rehearsal at 2 PM. I needed to get the proper shirt for the performance, I needed to get a new seatpost for my bike (I learned on Thursday that the darn thing was too short and was already too far out for safety), I needed to install and test the new seatpost on the cycle, I needed to wash my riding gear and get rid of all the accumulated salt.

So I told him I would not be able to spend the night, and that I would call him as soon as I got home so that we could put together evening plans to replace our original idea of going to Baltimore. We met for dinner that night, and went dancing at Remington's, and all night he seemed out of it, like there was some kind of weird vibe. I asked him if he was doing okay a couple of times, both times he said he was. I took his word for it.

After the concert last night, he approached me after he had said he was leaving and asked if we could talk for a second. I braced myself for a bombshell. We had a discussion about how I once again changed plans at the last minute and whether or not I was losing interest in dating him and things on that general tangent. Then a conversation (mostly me) about how this riding thing is really important to me right now, and he assuring me that he's proud of that and doesn't have a problem with it and that weekdays are just not good meeting times and weekends are taken up with riding so See you in July?

We reached some kind of unspecified compromise, some soft-level agreement but I'm still unclear as to what we decided. The fact that we were sitting off to the side past where everyone was congregated for the post-concert reception didn't make having the conversation very easy. I'm still trying to get a hold of him--his voice mail has become one of those friends one might like seeing every once in a while but not on a daily basis. I think the main problem, as I was telling my friend Erica, is that Charles and I are too much alike--we both analyze things to death. We look for clues where there are none and are so intent on protecting ourselves from being hurt that we try to preempt heartache by resorting to brinksmanship.

In any event, Sunday started with me ready to go ahead of schedule, all psyched, my bike in good shape, my gear clean, new biking shoes, and me at the mall well ahead of the starting time. Chip, Brian, Jeff and Jamie were there, and it was good to see them although I'm still sensing vibes. Or maybe just distance. Or maybe just me looking for clues. In any event, I got a good start with the head pack, and we pedaled of towards Anacostia. Anacostia is in the easternmost section of the District and it is most commonly thought of as The Place Where The Bad Things Happen--every large city has at least one of these areas of town where white people tell white people to not be at after nightfall. As such, Anacostia joins the Florida Avenue, New York Avenue, U-street-past-14th-street and Capitol Hill near the Barracks corridors as one of those areas. Geographically detached from the rest of the district by the Anacostia river, the section of town (also referred to as Ward 7) has earned a reputation as being crime-ridden, drug-infested and generally dangerous. I must admit that I had never been in Anacostia until yesterday and would probably have never gone through it had I not been with a big group of bikers.

I must admit that my expectations, as usual when it comes to this, had been highly overblown. Rather than the crack-vial-infested-gun-happy ghetto I had expected (an unhealthy by-product of lingering racist tendencies I'm trying to stamp out and of too many gangsta movies) I saw a number of neighborhoods trying to live healthy, happy lives in an end of town that is usually either neglected or treated as a dumping ground for socially undesirable projects such as prisons and waste treatment plans. Not to gloss over the problems of endemic crime and violent drug warfare, but Anacostia has a history of community activism that is admirable. Heavily populated in the early 19th century by manumitted slaves and black Americans who had to buy their own freedom, Anacostia seemed a hotbed of progressive thinking. Private initiatives led by black business owners provided affordable, decent housing to people being displaced from downtown in any one of many "alley cleanups" sponsored by the DC government, which sought to reduce the number of people living in slums near the Mall. With this new base of landowners in Anacostia, the community could raise money through ownership taxes to build a school for the neighborhood kids, which would have been forced otherwise to go to the only other school for black children in the District, downtown and very hard to reach from across the river.

Anacostia (and anything east of the river, for that matter) is neglected (as crime-ridden areas that are also predominantly populated by black residents often are) both by the police and by the city. For example, when one looks at a Metro map one sees that the only line that is not complete is the Green line, one that starts in, surprise, Ward 8, and that goes trough, surprise, Northeast Washington north of U-street through Mount Pleasant--another "dangerous, crime-ridden" area, this time populated by Latinos.

We passed Anacostia (and I'm sure I'll write more about Anacostia in the future) and ended up in the easternmost confines of the District. Massachussets Avenue climbs up a relatively steep hill and offers a view of the District unlike others in town given the city's height restrictions.

The ride leader, Dennis (otherwise known as Amphbia Spice)), seems to have an affinity to very heavy traffic, so our ride took us on major thoroughfares. When riding with 50 other people, traffic is really not a horrible thing, as cars seem to move out of the way. However, I was not looking forward to the prospect of returning way at the tail of the pack on my own. If anything, the traffic and the tales of underbridge trolls emerging in Anacostia after nightfall would prove to be a powerful incentive to keep up with the pack. The roads themselves were windy, crossing rivers on pretty bridges, taking us through suburbia and ruralia.

Somewhere near Riva, MD, Brian Thompson had an accident--his bike caught in a monster-sized rain gutter, and he was propelled over his bike and onto the road. His helmet saved him from a potentially nasty head injury. He got out of oit only with scratches and road rash, nothing broken or sprained. His bike wasn't so lucky.

We reached Annapolis at around 12:30. I was in the middle of the pack, for the first time in my riding experience. Lunch was wonderful, and sitting there in the harbor watching Navy men and women in sharp Sunday dress as we took over a plaza in our sweaty biking gear was fun.

The return trip started with Jeff, Chip and Jamie, but by mile 7 or 8 of the return trip they had already left me behind. I took my time and just biked on my own for most of the way back. At the next-to-last pit stop I teamed up with another rider named Bobby, and he and I rode back to DC.

As predicted, traffic is much worse when one is riding with only one other person. And I do not know whether it was just that we were riding on very busy roads or if it was a function of the area through which we were riding, but car drivers were particularly aggressive. Besides the needless honking and the kids trying to scare us by yelling out the windows, it was just busy. The most notorious transgressors were SUV-driving asses. For some reason, these people need to defy fundamental physics and need to occupy the same space I'm occupying it at whatever time I'm doing it. My mission now becomes clear...