charity

No day but today: Please, please, please support my Ride for AIDS.

I remember things.

Weird things, sometimes: License plate numbers that aren't my own. What we ate the night my parents announced they were divorcing. (Pot roast.) My very first phone number, from our house in Overland Park. The names of the alphabetical streets, in order, near our house in Prairie Village. (Alhambra, Buena Vista, Catalina, Delmar, El Monte, Fontana, Granada.)

Other things aren't as weird, like my favorite chocolate-chip cookie recipe. Or my Ride for AIDS training route: turn by turn, sight by sight. Committed to memory from day one.

The route: with my eyes closed.

We roll out of Winnemac Park's eastern lot, a swarm of bees in helmets and cycling shoes, up Damen, past the No. 1 hand car wash in Chicago until Damen curves around the factory. Up Ravenswood to Peterson, then a diagonal jaunt up Ridge past African shops and a coin-operated laundry that's never open when we ride past. It's a long, bumpy stretch of road.

East on Howard to Custer; shabby West Rogers Park apartments turn to little shops and modest Evanston homes, then we turn on Main Street then head up Hinman toward the Northwestern campus. The grass is so green.

The Baha'i Temple gleams white in the creeping daylight. "All are welcome."

My pace group has usually left me by this point, and I'm alone on Sheridan Road, waving at runners, smiling at dogs walking their owners, stealing glimpses of the lake as I make my through Wilmette, Kenilworth and Winnetka.

Tower Road becomes Old Green Bay Road becomes Scott Avenue, which leads back to Sheridan. I pass the gates of Ravinia, careen at 25 miles an hour through a ravine where the temperature drops at least 5 degrees, a blessing.

Sheridan becomes St. John, and I'm in Highland Park. People are just finishing their first coffee of the morning at the sidewalk café, and I'm already 20 miles in.

A pit stop at Moraine Park, to refill water bottles and kvetch about the heat.

On longer rides, the route forges farther north, to Old Elm Road. West to Everett. To St. Mary's. Then north, north — the roads lose their names and become numbers, north to Lambs Farm, or beyond, past Six Flags to our final turnaround at a park in Gurnee, where I'd never even been in a car until that day.

It's comforting to remember things. The fluidity of the route, not needing my cue sheet, just feeling the road underneath me — that's comforting.

 

It's here.

Every Saturday morning since April 7, I've been preparing. Actually, since January 11 — when I took the leap and signed up — I've been working my way up to this: 200 miles in two days, back to back. Next weekend, July 14 and 15. Evanston to Elkhorn…and back.

While constructing this map in my mind's eye, in my muscles' memory, I've been building strength. Getting in shape. And learning turn by turn, pedal stroke by pedal stroke, exactly the impact I'm making.

I don't have HIV/AIDS.

Until I joined the ride, I didn't know anyone with HIV/AIDS. Hell, until this year, Jonathan Larson had taught me, seated in velvet-covered seats at the Nederlander Theatre — through songs and a beautiful transvestite named Angel — everything I knew about it.

I still don't know much. I decided to do this ride to get in shape. To prove to myself that I could train for something.

I started out raising money because I had to, and because I could. My network is huge; I had no problem raising the $1,000 minimum. But then I met other riders who are living with HIV or AIDS. Riders who have lost loved ones or family members. Riders who spend their lives in Chicago communities where HIV/AIDS is a reality.

Everyone rides for their own reasons, but personal pride and proving something to myself won't be what ultimately pushes me through those 200 miles next week.

We abandon our familiar training route next Saturday, and I'm guessing my body will go into autopilot after the first 50 miles…I'm not expecting to remember that turn-by-turn. But I'll commit one more thing to memory: the feeling that every inch of ground I cover, and every dime in my fundraising account, is actually making a difference.

The call to action

Guys, I don't actually ask you for much more than comments and attention here, but if you aren't one of the 51 amazing people who have already donated to my ride, please consider throwing a few dollars my way. I'm less than $600 from my $3,000 goal! I've looked at my site stats. (Obsessively.) If even a fraction of you act on this, I will meet my goal and then some.

I promise TPAN will know what to do with the funds.

And if you don't have the cash to spare — trust me, I get that — then please share this post with someone who does. Or a lot of people. Your generosity will not be forgotten.

Give: bit.ly/paige-rides-for-aids

Just give.

I went to the Social Media Club holiday party last night. The Tribune Company hosted a couple hundred of us in a private event space adjacent to the tower, and the event was catered by Wow Bao, Domino's Pizza and Roti. Bartenders were fixing four signature cocktails — two "Sugar," two "Spice" — and a photographer meandered through the crowd snapping candids that will be all over the Internet by lunchtime.There was a toy drive. I forgot about it.

When I got off the train at Ogilvie, I had 15 minutes to walk a mile and a half to Michigan Avenue. I hate being late. As I salmoned up the sidewalk on Wacker Drive, against the current of commuters headed back to their quiet suburban lives, I nearly knocked a woman over just for standing too far back at a perpendicular crosswalk. I mumbled an apology and rushed on. At Dearborn and Wacker, I saw a homeless woman shaking a plastic cup, shivering even in yesterday's subtropical temperatures. And I thought, I am not this person. I am not the kind of person who lets the holidays' hustle and bustle get the best of her. I never carry money, but I had an apple leftover from lunch that I never ate. So I gave it to her. That woman clearly needed a snack more than I did, and she'd never have known — or cared — that it was an organic Honeycrisp.

I say that not to call attention to how charitable and delicious a person I am. I say it because I never really realized how fantastic it feels to give. I looked her in the eye and apologized for not having money, then held out the Ziploc bag and asked if she wanted a snack. It looked like I'd made her day. And if that's all it takes…

The panel on sending followers into a "tizzy" was still raging, but after tipsifying on free drinks and gorging on catered snacks, I left the event early to head north for the Wilco concert with Tim. And beyond the tinny Christmas music playing through my headphones, I heard someone else's as I hurried down the long staircase to the Red Line.

A string bean of a black man, wearing sunglasses and a Santa hat, was singing "White Christmas." His voice carried over the rumble of the southbound train, and he stopped only briefly to peer down the tunnel for the northbound's light, and thank me after I dropped a dollar into his guitar case. I leaned against a concrete support and danced as he played. I'm always so surprised at the talent that never even makes it above ground. Most people walked right past him, but between songs, he addressed the station like a captive, enraptured audience. He talked about Christmas not just being about the presents, about swallowing our pride and giving to those in need. He wasn't just a busker; he was a preacher. His next song was about remembering others during Christmas:

"What did you get last Christmas? Did it make you feel good in your heart?"

Today, Tim and I are going to Target to shop for a little girl I "adopted" for a benefit for the Marcy-Newberry Association. She's only a year old and already has to depend on charity for gifts on Christmas. I don't have a lot of money right now — okay, I'm totally in the red — but with that song in my heart, a little extra crimson on the balance sheet just matters a little less.

Just…give.