Looking East Past a Blighted Factory at West Lafayette & Spedden

Looking East Past a Blighted Factory at West Lafayette & SpeddenFinally, a dry day without ice on the roads, plenty of sunshine, nowhere to be, and no cold or flu dogging me! Oh, it was good to be back on the bike. It took about two minutes flying down the hill on Maryland Avenue to get that smile on my face I get when I feel at home and most myself–when I’m on my bike headed nowhere in particular. After a brief stop to pick up this week’s coffee I decided to go left instead of right and was quickly tracing new streets in West Baltimore. I haven’t made the ride out to UMBC in quite awhile, so I usually find myself heading east instead of west. This isn’t a mistake; the construction of MLK and the JFX cut down the contact zones between West Baltimore and the rest of the city, which just means there are more barriers for easy pedestrian and bike (and even car) crossing between the two, what with all the one ways and long stretches without a place to turn. Once you get to West Baltimore you can see how this has affected neighborhoods when there’s no Canton or Fells Point or Patterson Park anchoring the neighborhood. Hint: It looks like a war zone over here, and in some sense it is. This is a part of the city that has been absolutely ravaged by the flight of capital that followed the white folks who kept moving west out of the city, by the drug war that decimated the human capital of the place, and by the flight of industry with the decline of that economy once wars stopped propping up industries in this place, having moved the money-making elsewhere. I’m sure there are better and more complex explanations of how West Baltimore became West Baltimore, and the ride made me want to learn some more of them, because biking feeds curiosity and vice versa, and biking through these neighborhoods makes it impossible not to see something has gone terribly wrong (or right, depending on your perspective) here. I snapped this photo looking back over a bridge I’d just pedaled across. The building is an abandoned factory, ringed by trash heaps topped with old mattresses and boasting some impressive flora sprouting from the seams of windows, doors, and roofs. You can’t quite see it in this picture, but there’s a billboard in the distance advertising the Boy Scouts, and I thought to myself, yes, join the scouts or the after-school program or the Police Athletics League, but let’s not think that’s going to fix things, especially when every part of the built environment screams abandonment. And then I got back on my bike and pedaled around aimlessly, saying my how you doin’s and getting them back, stopping to get a closer look at that parking lot full of trucks and that smokestack next to the tree covered in birds and the park filled with what looked like giant Lincoln Logs and the vast fields of school after school after school and then I was back at Druid Hill Park, taking a familiar turn around the reservoir before heading back home. More, please.

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