The Grump on Charity Cycling

September 21st, 2008 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

Who hasn’t known the emotional discomfort or even dread of gift wrap, Tupperware, candy bars, and in recent years, the charity rides and walks? Neighbors, coworkers, relatives, church members, and kids you’ve never seen all have good causes. Maybe Girl Scouts seeded this weedy ground with their cookies  (hey, I’ve been known to eat a Thin Mint, or a dozen).jr_cookiebiz.jpg

When the good cause wears the loud, heavy chains of guilt, compulsion and expectation, most of us cringe. Daughter Cassandra’s school sold great gift wrap at very high prices and bought school stuff. You know it’s the mom who stands bald faced before one coworker after another, holding the order form with many empty lines.

We did end runs with our kids’ schools. I refused to have my guys walk around bothering neighbors and maybe putting themselves at risk peddling crap for fund raisers. We’d do the cowardly but efficient and emotionally unburdened writing of a check to the school instead. Sometimes though, I’d had to face people I knew well or a little with their charity or good-cause clipboard.

When Walk for This and That and The Other became as common as sports pages above the urinals, I learned to transfer my school skills. I’d agree to support the charity directly by writing a check to it, but not pledging for the chest-thumping, righteous ride or walk. We give to churches, politicians, Project Bread, the UU Service Committee and on and on, but I don’t do pledges for chums.

Today was a ruined ride for me. As a serious and regular cyclist, I was crushed to find that the Hub on Wheels ride around Boston has been co-opted with the pretense of charity.  It’s tough for me. I have already pushed for Boston newish bike czarina, Nicole Freedman to re-start the Tour de Graves. Went on maybe six of those tours and dragged my non-cycle-loving wife on one, which she to enjoyed. They were for a cause too — the $10 or $15 registration fee went directly to support upkeep of the city’s historic burying grounds. There were no pledges from startled coworkers and no charity infrastructure bled the proceeds in costs. Also, some company invariably paid for t-shirts so you gave a little, got a little,  and no neighbors were shamed in the process.

Yet, the yuppie types love this charity ride/walk/run shtick. Particularly the competitive and comparative types, the literal ones, want to pile up the pledges and just feel super swell about themselves.hubonweels3.jpg

From a distance, I can believe two things. First, these good causes would not get this level of donation without the special event, that is, they are effective. Second, that really shouldn’t be the case; if the charities are worthy, a word to the wise and generous should be more than sufficient to fill the bank account. This modern ritual in which you can cast all etiquette and kindness aside to hassle people you know little or well is a cruel one.

Generosity for its sake is not the way of the new, devolved Hub on Wheels, nor of the nation right now. For today’s ride, for example, the original idea was to get more folk involved in cycling, particularly as our mayor is a bike convert. It’s good for the environment, reduced noise and pollution, blah blah. Plus, thousands of Bostonians would grok cycling and each other.

Those weren’t sufficient reasons for someone. The goofed up particulars ended up:

  • A base $45 registration fee whether  you wanted the 10, 30 or 50 mile version.
  • A charity aim to buy computers and related stuff for BPS in tough times.
  •  “A $250 pledge commitment is strongly encouraged—think of it as just $25 from ten friends.”
  • Join one of 11 featured corporate teams for tchotchkes or other small bribes.
  • Bike jerseys and similar fancy prices on a competitive basis for the highest fund raisers.

So fostering cycling and the bonhomie of the big ride went under the wheels. I’d like to think I’d be the kind of person whom the HoW folks would want to participate. In fact, they allege that you don’t have to annoy people you know for pledges, just pay the $45 ($55 by event day).

Instead, what they wanted was an event, a mega-event that they could say more than justified itself. You can measure the good in hundreds of thousands of dollars.

More than one person has accused me of being cynical. My cynicism today involves thinking that the obvious purposes of promoting cycling in a city that could benefit hugely from fewer cars on the road and more butts in saddles instead of SUV seats is vastly more important. All that got lost today.

I walked to church from JP to Brookline, about 3.5 miles. Clumps of four to 60 cyclists passed, apparently on their way to Forest Hills Cemetery. I saw the routing signs there yesterday, returning from my own long bike ride.

The schools will benefit, even after expenses. I remain a cyclist and think less kindly about mixing messages. Yeah, yeah, it’s possible to do both at the same time, but honestly, the environment, exercise, and trying to shift to a cycling culture are important. Self-satisfaction by charity fund-riders is not so significant.


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