“You’re the second person I’ve seen in the past ten minutes wearing a crown.” A gentleman on a bicycle made a bit of small talk as we both waited for the light to change at a busy Boston intersection. Considering I was straddling my single speed bike dressed as a Queen Bee, in just about full drag, it would’ve been impossible to not solicit a conversation.
I cordially responded, “I’m heading to Boston Bike Party, a monthly themed group ride through the city… this month’s theme is Queens.”
“Love it! Looks like you’re going to have a fun night.”
That was the plan.
I was initially on the fence about attending the party on wheels considering my end-of-week energy levels, but finally decided that I hadn’t participated in anything even remotely social in awhile. My only obligation for the evening was a 30 minute easy run with a few interspersed sprints, but after some pleading texts to my triathlon coach I was let off the hook for the night. Bike Party here I come!
I frantically rushed home to put together my ensemble.
I’ve always been fairly crafty and innovative when it comes to last-minute costuming–I would’ve been a great parent. Having a zest for drag and multiple plastic bins full of costumes from Halloweens of yore helps, too. Considering the theme of the Bike Party was an open-ended interpretation of “Queens”, I would’ve been remiss to not seize the opportunity to harness both my inner bee and my inner queen. (I have several bee tattoos.)
A woman pulled along side me and said, “Oh wow! We’ve been following you for awhile and we totally thought you were a girl! You look amazing!” Convincing from the back, perhaps; but with or without eye shadow there was little to no doubt regarding my gender from the front.
The bike party meet time was 7PM at Copley Square. I figured it would take me ten minutes to bike there. I had exactly 30 minutes to pull my single-speed out of the basement, check tire pressure, shower, shave, create my costume and prepare some sort of beverage for my water bottle. (It is a party after all.)
After ensuring my bike (a.k.a. My Pretty Pony) was road-ready, my first order of business was creating my Queen Bee bike helmet. (Safety first.) I secured bee antennas and a most fabulous queeny crown to my long-abandoned and now repurposed ski helmet. This went flawlessly. Before jumping in the shower I laid out my Queen Bee ensemble: shiny black tights, black body suit (with sleeves), black gel bra (gotta fill out that bodysuit), bee dress (with sewn in tu-tu), black leg warmers, a royal purple cape and finally black patent-leather Dansko’s which kind of resemble bee feet. Oh, and I went with a platinum blonde bob.
As someone who identifies as queer and gender-fluid, there is nothing more enjoyable, and freeing, than liberating the weighty shackles of the contemporary masculine paradigm. (While I initially elaborated on this sentiment in great detail, I’ll spare my menswear rant for a future essay.)
I showered and looked at the clock… “Shit! I have only 5 minutes to get there!”
I greatly underestimated the amount of time I needed to prepare for this event; but more so, I greatly over-estimated how soon Boston Bike Party would motivate to start the group ride.
My purple cape fabulously blowing into the wind, I began my journey up the Southwest Corridor as Queen of the Bees.
Only a few minutes into the ride I noticed my bike felt odd–almost like my brake pads were rubbing against the rims. I gingerly hopped off my bike to investigate the nuisance but everything checked out. A good spin of the wheels and nothing seemed to be misaligned. For some reason I had to use a lot of power to get going, like massive resistance–and then eventually everything was hunky-dory until I came to a stop and then it would happen again. Stupid vintage single-speed charm! This was the first sign that maybe this wasn’t going to be the feel-good ride I had planned.
I checked my phone and it was 7:20PM and I was still a bit out from the starting area. I was certain the party was rolling so I checked the Facebook event page on my iPhone and found the turn-by-turn instructions. After a 1/2 mile of searching the planned route for Bike Party, my fellow cyclists were not to be found. Sigh. All dressed up and nowhere to go. I biked around Southend a bit more hoping I would catch a glimpse of a bright flashy bike mob from a distance–but to no avail. It was now close to 8PM and despite wearing gloves I could feel my fingers starting to go numb.
Just as I was about to give-up and head back home I heard a random stranger call out to me, ostensibly gauging from my costume, “Hey! They just left! Head that way!”
Bike Party! Yes!
I wasted no time cutting down a side street to join the heart of the bike party.
It’s been awhile since I’ve been on a Boston Bike Party rendezvous, but it’s a lot of fun and people of all ages and walks of life attend, often in the hundreds, to roam about the city culminating at an after-partly destination. It’s very communal, relaxed and friendly. Several bikes pull substantial sound systems behind them with curated playlists embodying the theme of the ride. (In this case Queen was an obvious choice for many selections.) Despite the occasional (but brief) halt to traffic, drivers and pedestrians alike cheer and smile often yanking out their smart phones to capture the unexpected moment of hundreds of bikes filing down the street.
The ride itself plods along for 6 to 7 miles at such a slow momentum it’s almost difficult to stay upright on two wheels. Because my bike was giving me fits it made for some back-wrenching pedaling. Lots of slow starts and stops.
I have to say, people were digging my costume. A woman pulled along side me and said, “Oh wow! We’ve been following you for awhile and we totally thought you were a girl! You look amazing!” Convincing from the back, perhaps; but with or without eye shadow there was little to no doubt regarding my gender from the front. (I opted out of make-up for this ensemble.) Many other complements were given to my homage to Queens night, but it was starting to come with a price as the biting wind began to cut through the mesh sleeved bodysuit. The temperature was dropping and I could barely brake because I was losing sensation in my fingers. Among many misjudgments from the evening, I also underestimated how cold the ride was going to be. (For reference, my costume was essentially “it”.) I have no idea how it skipped my mind to bring hand-warmers considering all of my cold-weather outdoor runs this winter.
I pondered abandoning the ride right at the exact moment our stampede of bicycles fortuitously rolled right past a freaking REI. Hand warmers! I figured I would have time to run in, purchase hand warming devices, jump back on my bike and regroup.
Thankfully I had packed a water bottle filled with a margarita–if ever there was an appropriate time to imbibe on the T, this was it.
I made an abrupt u-turn and navigated a tricky intersection to pull into the REI parking lot. I opened the door and left my bike leaning in the front entrance–this was going to be quick. I proceeded directly to the check-out counter, momentarily forgetting I was dressed up as a Queen Bee, and exasperatedly asked two twenty-something women where I could find hand warmers. They giggled a bit and reached under the counter immediately granting my wish as if they were expecting me to rush in and ask this very question. I then explained, “ah yes, ahem… so I am on a large group ride…” and proceeded to stammer out what details I could muster out of my frazzled, frozen state.
“We are totally coming next month!,” they told me.
I burst out of REI like some bizarre costumed fellow that just robbed the place (on a bike). Annnnd then my cape got stuck in my bike’s back brake pads. “Are you fucking kidding me?!” I spastically jumped off my ride and while trying to free my cape my bike fell over and the chain popped off. Sigh.
Some guys passed me and asked if I needed any help, “No, but thanks for asking,” I grumbled.
I mounted my bike and headed back towards where I thought the route was supposed to go, but quickly realized I hadn’t studied the map well enough. Bike party was nowhere to be seen. I knew the party would eventually cross the Mass Ave bridge into Kendall Square (Cambridge) and so decided to cross the Charles in hopes to catch up. Apparently, I learned nothing from the beginning of the ride, i.e. there is no way possible that the group could’ve been anywhere near the Mass Ave bridge at the rate it was moving.
But hindsight is 20/20 and there I was crossing the river on a bicycle, on my own, in drag, on a Friday night and absolutely freezing. The antagonistic wind off of the Charles repeatedly whipped my cape into my face providing for some temporary warmth, but mostly just obstructed my vision making for an even more death-defying trek amongst the close quarters of whizzing cars and trucks. (Pro tip: just bike on the sidewalk on the Mass Ave bridge.)
I made it across and continued up Mass Ave before realizing I had biked way too far–I was almost at Central Square. “OK, get it together Queen Bee,” I pulled out my iPhone to try and figure things out. I checked the Facebook Event page but couldn’t find the after party destination information. No problem, I’ll just very slowly text my friend Aleta (Bike Party Co-Founder) with my frozen fingers. “Where… is… the… after… party..?”
Aaaaand just as I hit send my more-than-enough-charged iPhone died. Oh, Come on!
For some reason, even with a 75% charge, my crappy lemon of an iPhone will not operate below 34°F. At this point I was feeling pretty frustrated. Like a lost little kid, I listlessly biked around Kendall Square scouting for my peoples. I had a moment of presque vu that Boston Bike after-parties typically take place at a bar called Flat Top Johnny’s. If only I had some kind of hand held device with some kind of GPS mapping application.
I passed some hipster kids and asked if they knew where Flat Top Johnny’s was located, to which one of the guys said, “Oh I think it closed awhile back, but it’s up that way… take a right at the fork in the road.”
It was worth a shot and so I heeded the directions but half way into my Quixotic quest thought, “this is stupid,” turned around and opted to find the Kendall Square T stop and go home. It just so happened that on the way to the Red Line I did, in fact, randomly pass right by Flat Top Johnny’s, still open for business, but completely empty.
I hauled my bike down the stairs to the train platform and could sense some chuckles thrown in my direction; out of context my costume was probably less “amazing” and more weird and creepy. Thankfully I had packed a water bottle filled with a margarita–if ever there was an appropriate time to imbibe on the T, this was it.
The Red Line wasn’t too busy. Unfortunately by the time I transferred to the Orange line it was prime Friday night revelry. The train was packed. And there I was–just a Queen Bee in drag with a busted bike, frozen fingers and a sad margarita in a water bottle. My phone came back to life as I approached my stop so I was, at the very least, able to document the evening with a selfie.
Deflated, I carried my bike up the escalator and exited the T station. Straddling onto my bike I felt my phone vibrate–it was a text from Aleta:
The after party is at Flat Top Johnny’s!
Boston Bike Party
Meets every 2nd Friday of each month at Copley Square at 7PM. More info at bostonbikeparty.com.