I rode my bike a lot last week–it’s how I get around 90% of the time–but I didn’t write, giving my typing hands a rest. I saw some good stuff while off the blog: another round of snow, the first crocuses of this slow-in-coming spring, suburban potholes being paved over and city potholes growing wide enough to see the brick of past roads showing through, and, on Saturday, another debate tournament. It was spitting rain when I got up that morning, a little more when I got on the bike to head to Carver High for my first high school competition. Continue reading
The temperatures have dropped again, spring break is over, and most of today was spent being a grading machine after yesterday was a wash–thanks, food poisoning! None of that meant I didn’t get to ride the Surly one last time before heading back to classes. I took her out for an afternoon ride around Waverly, running errands and remembering how important it is to remember gloves, and then out for a second ride, a short one down to Station North for the opening reception of the Open Walls Baltimore (OWB) project’s second year of events. OWB is a giant art project in the Station North neighborhood of Baltimore, which was designated an Arts & Entertainment district in 2002. That designation means tax benefits for redevelopment that targets artists, and tax breaks for artists who choose to live in these districts. The designation encourages new people to move into neighborhoods that are seen to be struggling due to a lack of residents, or, at least, a certain kind of resident. The arts district is great for tons of people–for artists, small business owners, and anyone who wants to see a vibrant creative scene get nourished in their city. And of course it has its problems–housing designated for artists is another kind of segregation, and isn’t that what we don’t want? And there’s the fear of gentrification–who wants to keep renting to non-artists when the real money’s in redeveloping and calling it “artist’s housing”? As the neighborhood becomes a site of value, property taxes also go up, and folks who have owned and lived in the neighborhood for a long time can find themselves priced out of their own homes. Like anything, it’s always more complicated than just saying YAY! ART! Same goes for OWB. It is a wonderful project that brings street artists from all over the world to paint ridiculously wonderful murals on some of our many, many empty walls. Who wouldn’t be excited by that? Well, there’s the part where murals and street art have become the sign of a blighted neighborhood; others argue that the project should employ some of the many Baltimore-based street artists who certainly have their own stories to tell on these walls of ours. Or maybe murals should be designed with community input–we’re the ones who move among them, after all. And then there’s the part where this year’s selection of 14 murals includes only one painted by women. One. In 2014. Wow. Now, it is certainly true that Station North Arts and Entertainment supports many women and trans artists in other ways through funding projects in the city, but OWB is what they’re known for, and that other support doesn’t change the fact that only one mural–and these things are huge and permanent–will be painted by women. The art world has a long history of just this sort of thing–check out these folks for evidence and some good history of this persistent problem. Tonight’s bike ride took me to the artistic intervention by the collective Greenpants. They projected their short video on the wall of the building that held the OWB reception, and it was howlingly good–funny, on point, and drawing attention to a thing we’re not supposed to notice–that yes, it’s all men, again. I watched a few rounds, chatted with the crowd, and then got back on my bike and headed up the hill to home, glad to live in a city that has such art, and such critical artists, and is willing to have these conversations. Now if they could just turn the heat on.
Friday’s ride took me down the hill early to meet D. for coffee and a planning session for an independent study we’re working on together. We got to talking about how it feels to walk around Baltimore, what we so on foot that we don’t see in a car, and how at odds our rhetoric about movin’ on up is with the streets between here and there. And then we walked, me pushing my bike, east on North Avenue to the Great Blacks in Wax museum, where we wondered at the juxtaposition of Dred Scott and George Washington, the Middle Passage and Ancient Egypt and FUBU, and what the lawn jockeys were doing standing with Henry “Box” Brown. We parted ways a couple of hours later, her for a walk back west, and me for a ride downtown and east so I could clear my brain with fries and some college basketball. I zig zagged my way and found myself in the East Baltimore of the Hopkins redevelopment–Middle East. This area changes every day, it seems, but also nothing ever seems to change, except on this day, when the vacant homes were fenced off. I snapped this picture of a block filled with the brick piles of demolition, a last row of houses still standing. The pile smelled of the must that is in the very cells of some of these neighborhoods, and it held the signs of life still lived there–curtains, mattresses, kids’ toys, broken chairs. Rising behind them is the new development–a glass cube ready to hold students and young professionals who can walk to their new community garden guarded over by police lights and visit the corner store with a security guard standing on the store’s corner. I took a slow tour of the few blocks and thought to myself, “Hey, Re/Development, your bones are showing.” And then it was Butcher’s Hill and down the hill to Boston Street and a whole different world. Baltimore, you sure don’t hide your shit.
Wednesday’s ride took me down the hill to meet O. and R. for a much-needed work session, which mostly took the form of catching up, because we hadn’t seen each other in over a week. And then S. met us for a conversation about what it was like in the 1970s when she moved to Baltimore: being gay was considered “bourgeois decadence,” people lived in communes until they didn’t, and love was in the air. Continue reading
It was a gloriously sunny and balmy 38 degree Tuesday following another winter storm that shut down the city on Monday, and I got to spend it on my bike instead of in the classroom or my office. Weather de damned, it’s SPRING BREAK! After a leisurely morning reading in bed, I headed over to Federal Hill for a massage and a haircut, because why not? The ride was bracing, but it felt good to be out and about, tossing out cheery how-you-doin’s and taking lanes before circling the harbor and heading back up and over for that little bit if suburbs-in-the-city called McHenry Row. I chatted with J. at the Haircuttery about who would ever choose to live there, above the glorified strip mall, and we agreed we were fortunate not to have paid the DC rents that probably make that place seem affordable. And then it was back on the bike for a ride up to Hampden to meet S. for beer. I got sidetracked by school pick-up traffic, wondered why we can’t even collectively share the getting-to-school part of life, got huffy about the President Street bike lane, and then stopped to look up at the bird’s nest in a still-bare tree against the sky, the brick of Shot Tower above it all. So, so pretty, Baltimore. Thank you for giving me so many places to ride around, and a week off to remember where I like to go. Now if we can just get spring to hang on for a minute.
I got up ridiculously early on Saturday morning, excitedly so, because on Saturday I got to ride my bike over to West Baltimore to judge an elementary and middle school debate tournament. It was pretty much all of my nerd dreams come true–and then I was issued my badge and that was all she wrote. After our Official Training, which consisted of a review of the rules and a reminder that we’re judging 4th graders so let’s leave the Mean Girl shit at home, we were left to wander the halls and wait for all the teams to check in and all the fruit snacks to be eaten before we started. Continue reading
Friday was the last day at school before spring break, and oh my, did that put me in a good mood. I dressed for spring on the bottom and winter on top, and rode to the station with chilly legs and a sweaty back–oh well, what are you gonna do? It was a quick zip around campus for errands and one last meeting, and then I was zipping back to the station to meet the train for a much-needed break from all this commuting nonsense. I took my left onto the outer circle and ran into another Brompton, this one ridden by A., who teaches in the Information Systems department. Continue reading