A one-block stretch of Clifton Boulevard on the eastern edge of Lakewood overflows with more than 2,000 revelers today for Dancin' in the Streets. As DJs blast techno, electronic, and house music onto the street, a carnival of beer trucks, dunking booths, tattoo artists, a mechanical bull, and Jello-O wrestling enlivens an adjoining parking lot all to raise cash for the AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland. A makeshift dance floor in the middle of the road serves as party central. "Everybody is socializing, kissing, hugging, seeing people they don't normally see through the course of the year," says organizer John Katsaros. "And catching a little buzz drinking, of course."
The 22-year-old gathering almost became history in 2004, when the Taskforce declared that the event had grown too expensive to stage at such venues as Tower City Amphitheater (which hosted most of this decade's gatherings). Last year, Katsaros, Club Cleveland bathhouse owner David Peifer, and former Taskforce spokeswoman Judy Price restored the bash to its mid-'80s roots as a simple street fair. But they still had a challenge to meet.
"AIDS benefits are not in-your-face as they used to be," says Katsaros. "I can remember the late '80s and early '90s, when so many people were afflicted, and you were watching people die like flies. Today, it's less obvious, with the new drugs. People don't look as symptomatic as they once did."
Still, the number of AIDS cases in Cuyahoga County continues to climb. With an average of 200 new diagnoses each year, more than 5,000 residents have been infected since the early '80s. At least 1,700 of them have died. And more than 30 percent of people with HIV don't even know they have it. "It's not about race, sexual orientation, or IV-drug use," says Earl Pike, the Taskforce's director. "I know the image of everybody looking sick is gone. But the reality is that AIDS in Cuyahoga County is gradually becoming more like that in the Third World."
Sun., Aug. 27, 1-10 p.m.