Wearing my "No artificial fibers will ever touch this body" cotton T-shirt, a pair of cotton shorts (without padded ass) and white cotton tennis shoes, I pedaled out of the Houston Astrodome with the Rider No. 3 sticker that’s still on my helmet. Along with hundreds of others, I began a four-day, 350-mile bike ride to Dallas to raise money for Dallas AIDS organizations.
Seeing all the serious riders around me, I thought, "What the hell did you get yourself into?" What I got myself into was some of the most fun I’ve ever had, even though that first year I had to "sag in" twice.
On day three of the Houston-to-Dallas AIDS ride, I completed only 85 of the 105 miles scheduled. But training is cumulative, and the next year, following the same route, I not only completed the 100-mile day, I finished in the top one-third of riders. (But honestly, as proud of how well I was riding that year, the slower riders were more fun.) Sometimes I kept pace with other cyclists. Sometimes I rode at my own speed. But throughout the ride, all the friends I have lost to AIDS were with me.
At age 23, Tommy Tanenhaus was then the youngest person to ever contract a rare cancer called Kaposi’s Sarcoma. In 1981, he was written up in medical journals and was patient No. 25 on the National Institute of Health’s list. Tommy died the month they named the disease AIDS. A few weeks later, Emory University awarded him his M.D., even though he died a few weeks before completing medical school. I still miss him.
Jon Benov was my first partner, and we remained close friends after we broke up. I introduced him to his second partner, Luis. They were together 11 years before Jon died of AIDS.
One afternoon before he died, Jon and I were lying in his hospital bed and, while lapsing in and out of consciousness, he said to me very seriously, "Promise me you’ll help me with three things for Luis."
"Of course, Jon. What are they?" I said.
"First, there’s some insurance money. I want you to invest it for Luis so he’ll have some money. I don’t want him to just spend it," he said. I promised I would help Luis, who is still notoriously terrible about managing money.
"Second, I want Luis to be happy," he said. I told him that was a good wish, but then he thought about it. "But not too happy, at least not right away."
"What’s the third wish, Jon?" I said.
"I don’t want Luis to buy any more sweaters at Neiman Marcus," he said. But I knew that wish would be impossible to keep.
As I rode in those early AIDS rides, Jon was always sitting on my shoulder, and I still have custody of Luis.
More recently I had lost John Thomas. I remember one time when he brought me into his office. I was vice president of the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance and lost an election to be president. John reminded me that the vice president of the organization had never been elected president. He lost when he ran. Bill Hunt lost when he ran. Now I was in their company, and I left his office proud. Thanks, John. I miss you.
Michael Osborne battled AIDS for years. Although CMV took his sight, he learned to travel with a guide dog. He loved going to the Olympics and went to the Sydney games as his sight was failing. He became a champion for the blind and traveled to Great Britain to testify for the rights of the handicapped. If Michael could do that, I figured I could do a little bike ride.
At the Dallas Voice we’ve lost too many people to AIDS. Tim Self was the first. He was our first full-time sales manager. I think he increased ad revenue for the paper simply with his sweet smile. I was in the office turning in the monthly column I wrote at the time when Tim came back from the doctor with a diagnosis of AIDS. He lived only a few more months.
Don Ritz founded the paper with Robert Moore. Don helped establish accounting and finance principles that put the paper on a steady footing. Although Don retired because of his HIV in 1998 and died in 2001, his guidance and nurturing is still felt at the Dallas Voice.
And Dennis Vercher, our editor for over 20 years. OK, here’s the dirt on Dennis: Thursday is production day. As deadlines approach, he writes directly into the final document that goes to the printer rather than into a Word document to be saved and imported. At midnight, his computer crashes, and he starts over. At 1 a.m., I run across the street to 7-11 to pick up five types of chocolate for him (none with peanut butter). It keeps him going. I notice he’s in his office shaking. I get a sweatshirt I keep on my chair to keep him warm. He refuses it. Always. At 2 a.m., maybe 3 a.m., the paper goes to the printer.
After 20 years battling HIV, Dennis died of AIDS in 2006.
So each time I rode in the Lone Star Ride, I sent out my simple fundraising letter: "AIDS. Need money. Don’t make me nag. Won’t be pretty."
And I raised my money and pedaled my ass off and thought about friends I’ve lost. I don’t know how many. I stopped counting years ago when I was cleaning out my address book and had to remove more than 50 names.
This year, I’m unable to ride because of Yom Kippur, but I’m donating to Dallas Voice’s team and cheering on the sidelines. And remembering my friends.
The Lone Star Ride Journal will appear weekly in Dallas Voice through Sept. 25, the Friday preceding the Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS on Sept. 26-27. For more information on Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS, or to donate to Team Dallas Voice, a Team Dallas Voice member or any other rider or team, go online to LoneStarRide.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 7, 2009.