A Mortal Fear of Walk-a-Thons

On the way to the Muse and the Marketplace conference a couple of Sundays ago, turning onto Beacon Street, I ran into a river of pedestrians aiming west-bound toward Coolidge Corner. Pink, yellow, and baby blue t-shirts. Walk for Hunger, the white badges said.

Of course, I thought. Early May in Boston. Walk-a-thon season is upon us. Police barricades. Cops at every intersection with reversible Walk/Go signs. “You guys are doing great!” volunteers yell through megaphones. Water tables. Motivational posters: Let’s Put Our Best Foot Forward to Defeat Hunger!

A little short of breath, I gripped the handlebars tighter. Get me out of here, a voice inside said. I slipped feet into toe clips and sprinted away from Beacon Street.

I’m not sure when my fear of walk-a-thons started. Since Andrea and I moved back to Boston in ’96, the number of charity walks seems to have proliferated year-on-year, so now it’s a fair guess that one or more will uncoil its strangling grip on any Saturday or Sunday from late April through the end of October. Hunger. Breast Cancer. Disaster Relief. Multiple Myeloma.

It’s the unpredictability that gets me. Many routes in and around Boston share common motifs, but the organizers seem to prefer their own twist. Will the Mass Ave bridge between M.I.T. and Back Bay be shut down? If the route extends along the Charles, which side will be affected? When is the crowd likely to taper? The reality is, we have no idea.

Of course I feel guilty about my walk-a-thon aversion. Who wouldn’t? All those well-meaning people raising money for hunger and cancer? Only a misanthrope could have a problem with that, right?

As an only child, I was never much of a joiner, or a crowd guy. I’ve always been claustrophobic. The mass of humanity thing evokes an invading army. I’ve never been much into militarism either. At summer camp I opted out of Color War when I could, preferring to read a book. Foster’s reading a book again. Kid’s a Communist.

I was on two wheels that Sunday, not four, thank goodness. Angling back to the Esplanade bike path, it was a simple matter to bypass the whole mess and emerge unscathed at the Public Garden. Those who had chosen to drive were less fortunate. Beacon and Arlington near Boston Common looked like a used car lot. Drivers consulted GoogleMaps. Some flicked half-smoked cigarettes on the pavement. Others honked pointlessly. I swerved through a column of walkers and continued on the sidewalk down Arlington to the Park Plaza. Ten minutes late. No problemo.

So, here I am, a solidly middle-aged guy with a wife and two teenagers and a walk-a-thon phobia. There must be others out there like me. Maybe it’s time that we organize our own sit-in? Walk-out? Moment of silence? That’s it. I like the sound of that.

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