And now for a guest post from the world of pedestrians! I stayed off my bike today, and off the wet roads. The sun finally came out in the late afternoon giving the sky an odd glowing feel. I am staying in the Marigny this month, so when S. invited me over for dinner at her place in the Treme I told her to just pick me up on her dog walk, and we would walk back to her place. Dinner was good and the lazy conversation better and then it was time to head home, and I had to walk. Gasp. After assuring S. that I did indeed know how to walk, I headed over to and down Esplanade. I walked by a mass of flowers that smelled downright sultry before stopping in the minimart that had a whole different kind of sultry going on. I picked up a candy bar and a bar of soap and waited on line as a guy bought vodka and mixers while two young men nervously fidgeted behind him, following the guy’s drunken orders, “or I’ll drink that whole bottle by myself, if you can’t carry it.” All kinds of exchanges happening out there tonight. I wandered down Frenchman, listening to the music and smelling the smoke, stopping to take a picture of this tiny post-it note on the pizza place’s door. When I was moving into the neighborhood I looked around–minimart, coffee shoppe, pizza–ok, that’s pretty much everything I need. But no pizza! I’ve ridden by this door dozens of times, but on a bike you are moving way too fast to read it. Apparently, this company still has some rental goods inside there. D’oh! Looks like there’s no pizza for me on this corner any time soon. That walk was short but highly pleasurable–sometimes it’s good to just slow your roll.
So I’m stuck in a rainstorm after a most lovely sunny ride to brunch with E. and then along the new Broad Street bike lane to the Gentilly bike lane and then back. Oh, do I love a new bike lane! Broad’s is super-wide and the asphalt isn’t piled with loose gravel and sticks yet, and in the whole ride, only one car was parked in it. For the commuter cyclist, that’s just heaven. And connection between Orleans, Broad, and Gentilly? Be still my heart! I thought I would make it back to the Quarter for women’s World Cup soccer before the rains, but alas, it wasn’t to be. But I needed a ride, and I got one, and there’s a dry spot under this church overhang and 504 Fashion just across the street and eventually I will just wade out into it, but for now I will stand here and mop off, composing another love letter to another bike lane.
If I had gotten out of bed at a reasonable hour I maybe would have gotten a good ride in–which I really, really need–but I was too busy reading about somebody else going for a walk in Baltimore (wow, that’s not how I saw those streets) and the new local paper (Jesus Christ, Frederick County-really?) that by the time I was ready to leave the house, the rain had started again. Bah. I was in my car, craigslist-dealing this, picking up S. at the airport (thank goodness S. is home again!) Until it was time to ride over to the Rusty Nail for another session with New Orleans Ladies Arm Wrestling. I wasn’t much in the mood for crowds, but I knew I would see most of my friends there, and it was raising money for BreakOUT!, one of those groups just plain doing good stuff. I snapped this picture of a bout and also of other people taking pictures of the bout. NOLAW is getting to be the kind of thing that you’ll want pictures of. That’s mine, and I need a much, much longer bike ride to say more than that; I’m not myself without my miles. Tomorrow, tomorrow.
Warning: this blog will expose some of my latent angry lesbian feminist tendencies. I spent most of my day inside, cursing the vicious rains that are keeping me off my bike. Damn you, Nature! But it is what it is, and I managed to get quite a bit of work done, so, meh, good for me. I was working on my Introduction to Gender and Women’s syllabus for the fall semester, so that’s where my head was at when I headed out for the Britney Spears/Nicki Minag Femme Fatale 2011 tour at New Orleans Arena. I have liked Brtiney since she was a little girl. I wrote my master’s exams to her second album on repeat. I showed clips of Crossroads in my first Intro to Women’s Studies course in 2002; it really does offer a rare representation of class politics, plus, when Brit sings “I Love Rock and Roll,” well, um, I just really like that part. Every semester I talk to students about this quandary, where women’s sexual power and pleasure is an essential feminst right and fight, but also the way that the narrowing of women’s power to the sexual realm is dangerous, especially for women who have long been imagined as always already hypersexual. So, I ask my students, is Britney (or Nicki or Beyonce or Lady Gaga) a feminist figure, or is she just playing up to old damaging tropes of women’s sexual availabilty? Thing is, it’s both and neither and all of that. Nothing is either revolutionary or not, subversive or not. It depends on who’s doing the looking, what the one being looked at is putting on display, where it’s happening. It depends on the rhetorical situation. Tonight, watching so many women hobbling in heels they couldn’t trust and wearing skirts they couldn’t sit in, it just didn’t seem like the kind of feminism I want us to be fighting for, even if Britney’s show is all about her “power” as a femme fatale. It seemed like feminism as just another consumer choice, and it reminded me of this sign outside a Domino’s I passed as I pushed my bike through the rush hour crowds, America’s legends reduced to pizza with ham and pineapple on top, politics reduced to what you buy or wear. And that’s not even to touch the weird Orientalism, the “sexy” prisoner/guard motif, how we all know nobody’s actually making music but we don’t say anything, the endless dance fighting, white versus black, good versus evil, and so on. But that’s just how I read it tonight–we’ll see what I think about it in the morning. What I am sure of is that the bike is the way to get to a giant show. from the grossly underused rack and whizzing by all those suckers sitting in their cars in traffic. Ride a bike, people!
I swear, you go out of town for a week, and they’ve added something else to the ever-expanding empire of the World War II museum downtown. After a day spent dodging rain, writing emails, and looking work in the face, I hopped on my bike and headed Uptown to meet A., C., and L. for dinner at the Ethipian place. On a similar ride last month I noticed the new “preservation pavillion” added to the complex–a big glass box of a building where some kind of ship or somesuch is being rehabbed. Today I noticed folks moving things into the Soda Shop, another nostalgic addition. I wonder if the audience for this museum will persist, if the nostalgia can be inherited on down the line, or if we’ll have a giant museum to remember our war in Iraq, a special building just for the Navy Seals who took down Osama bin Laden, a retro coffee shoppe serving Grande Light Mocha Frappucinnos. This museum is a huge tourist draw aside from just being an exercise in collective memory, which means there’s the money and the will to build, build, build. I wish we could extend that will to the neighborhoods of New Orleans, an exercise in collective memories of Fazendeville or the 7th Ward or West Baltimore. But those aren’t memories, they’re living communities, but I wish we could have the will to build there too. I continued my ride Uptown, then back downtown throught the Bywater, and home again. It’s good to be home.
I flew back to New Orleans today after a week setting up my new life in Baltimore. The weird thing about transitional periods is that the are, well, transitional. I’m in my second sublet of the summer–all my stuff is packed in boxes in my office that’s not really my office anymore–and I’m just here for three more weeks before I go back, and I really just want to get to riding those hills in Baltimore so I can get better at it, but I also don’t want to leave New Orleans. I mean, I know how to live in this town and how to bike around it, and it’s kind of scary to think about actually living in that sprawling metropolis! And the biking! I know these streets, all the cracks and traffic patterns and tendencies of cars and pedestrians, and I trust myself to ride in a straight line no matter where I’m riding, which means that I’m never really afraid. I snapped this picture while waiting for my turn at the light on St. Charles and Martin Luther King, watching the cars go by, listening to the streetcar come up behind me, avoiding joggers on the tracks. There’s a lot going on, but I am expecting all of it. I’m still not sure what to expect of Baltimore’s streets, and I’m both anxious to find out, and wanting to stay here, in my comfort zone. There will be a healthy amount of fear management in the next year. But not tonight. Tonight there was an easy pedal back downtown, an order of beignets, a good chat with my pops, and a walk along Frenchman, listening to the music start to pour out of the doors. Yeah, let’s try to stay in the present, but get in some longer rides to improve that cardiovascular fitness for the hills. It’s a balance.
So back when I thought I might be a runner before figuring out it hurt my shoulder (don’t ask), I followed that Couch to 5K program to the letter, and it worked. Where’s the training program for the ten mile communte through hills both ways? Because that’s what I need. J. drove me and the rental bike to campus today, I did a few paperwork things, and then it was time to practice the commute back to the city. It started with a 3/4 of a mile ride up the incline of the aptly-named Hilltop Circle and then a right on the busy Wilkens Avenue. That offered some downhill respite, thank goodness, until another slow climb up Caton Avenue, where the traffic scared the pants off me, and I actually got off the bike and walked–I’d rather be safe than sorry. And then all of the sudden I was at the head of the Gwynns Falls Parkway, no cars allowed! How wonderful! I happily pedaled along the paved trail, stopping to take pictures like this one, of green walls hiding water and falls. Is this part of my commute, really, I thought. Turns out, no, so I turned back and retraced my steps and was back on the road with cars speeding by as I huffed and puffed my way to North Avenue. One guy shouted from his stoop on Fulton that I would catch more of a breeze if I just pedaled faster. Excellent plan, sir, but not one I am yet able to follow. Pedal, pedal, pedal, buy a bottle of water from a guy on a corner–aid stations!–take a right, take another right, take a right, and I was back at the bike shoppe, returning my rental, rehydrating, and after all that, feeling surprisingly good. It took me forever, and ithe traffic got a little nuts at times, but I did it, and I can do it again. But I am going to need to be patient and to practice. Project, yay!
I spent most of my day on foot, running errands and killing time before J. picked me up to host me for my last couple of nights in Baltimore. My evening task? Get my rental bike from Charles Village to Linwood. Don’t mind if I do! As a biker of habit, I already have a preferred route to downtorn, so I pedaled down Guilford to Falls Road and then along whatever that street is, avoiding the steel plates. I took a left at the harbor and stopped at the Civil War Trail sign at Jones Falls. I think. I followed the signs to Fells Point, because everyone keeps telling me to go there, and they were right. I stopped along the way to read about Civil War history and the Katanya Massacre–the Poles are an impressive people–and then I was in Boston. Or Fells Point. I snapped this picture at the end of the pier, happy to have a view unimpeded by the Rusty Scupper, the Ritz Carleton development, and those dragon boats–an excellent reminder that Baltimore is still a working harbor for the military and industry. I was wilting, but there was Christopher, selling two bottles of water for a dollar, and I chugged them down in front of the building where apparently some bright minds dreamt up the television programme, Homicide. Maybe I should watch that. Anyway. Then it was time to ride in the general direction I thought I was going, and suddenly I was at Patterson Park, so I did a loop. My host lives just past the park, so I figured I would make it home if I just kept riding. Yeah, a rectangle has four sides, which means eight ways to be “just past the park,” and all I remembered was that I was looking for a street whose name had historical resonance that I found interesting–I need to write stuff down! I rode around hoping I’d find my bearings, eventually giving up and checking my smartyphone’s map. Yeah, it’s the other way. I pedaled slowly uphill till I made it to Potomac Street, took a right, and was home for the day. I have so much getting lost in my future. Lucky, lucky me.
I woke up this morning feeling like I’d been hit by a truck, or maybe thrown from my bike due to a pothole. Ugh. I am sore. But I want to explore Baltimore by bike, and I have no self-control, so after a leisurely brunch in Charles Village, I slowly pedaled my way down to the Inner Harbor where I decided to go ahead and join the Aquarium, envisioning a future where sometimes I ride my bike downtown and check out the jellyfish. I locked up to a rack and headed inside. The place was absolutely packed, and I was feeling a little scrambled-egg in the head, so I just tripped around, wondering why they have to make the jellyfish room feel like a gay dance club–is that what it takes to lure the Kids Today? After a silent promise to never return there on a Sunday afternoon, I pedaled over to the American Visionary Arts Museum to redeem my fast-expiring interwebz coupon. Other than the room of art inspired by bathroom humor, the place was amazing, especially the room filled with wind-up machines–come to town and we’ll go. I had a bowl of fruit and a mimosa in the restaurant before heading up Federal Hill for a view of the harbor. I snapped this picture before reading up; apparently, this is a massive earthwork built by Union soldiers after Benjamin Butler secured Baltimore for the North. In New Orleans, Benjamin Butler represents all the monarchical aspirations of the Yankees, but, as Ranger Davon Williams from Fort McHenry told me when I inquired about their baffling movie, every tells stories in their own way. I pedaled slowly uphill back to K. and N.’s, looking forward to putting some ice on some things and eating the blackberry cobbler they report is in the oven. They are the hosts with the most, for sure. I’m glad I just got back on the bike today.
So I’m one of those people who gets the credit card because of the points promotions and orders the Groupon for the furniture store in Baltimore when she knows she’ll be moving there in six months. That meant a ride to Belvedere Square today to spend that $200. I don’t know my way around, not at all, so I ended up on a busy street that I knew would take me generally in the right direction. Gears, people, I need more gears, and I need my bike seat back–the chafing!–but I happily made it in under thirty minutes. Short trips are best made by bike, no matter where you are. I am so going to be able to bike this town, and that feels so good. Oh, and the uphill on the way there meant flying downhill on the way home. After a stop at K. and N.’s for a futile wait on the new landlord, I was back on the bike for a trip to Red Emma’s and their veggie banh mi. I locked up my rental bike to this cool bike rack in the shape giant chain links. The problem with the artistic bike rack, though, is it often isn’t entirely functional, and this one suffers from that as well. U-lock and cable kept my bike safe, though, until my ride home. Pedal, pedal, pedal up Eager Street, and then I caught a pothole. Time slowed, long enough for me to think about how I almost fell, and then to feel myself falling, wondering why I couldn’t stop it. And my first crash in Baltimore is under my belt. I scrambled out of the street, let that driver who kindly asked know that I was ok, and got back on the bike to get home and scrub, scrub, scrub. I’ve got impressive bumps on elbows and knees, but the good part of falling on a bike is remembering that those small falls will happen, and they just aren’t that big of a deal–just get back on the bike, you’re ok. And you’ve got to learn your potholes. And now, more ibuprofen.