Thursday was my birthday, my first one without an expected text from my dad telling me how proud he was of me and suggesting that maybe my 41st birthday ought better be thought as the start of my 42nd year. Coming into the day fresh off his memorial service in Boise didn’t make that any easier: I am acutely aware that he is gone and not coming back, and that’s still really, really sad. But then I woke up Thursday morning feeling celebratory–I’m alive, it’s great to be alive, I’m living an incredibly lucky life, and I wouldn’t change mine for anybody else’s, no way, no how. That’s a pretty great feeling, one worth celebrating by going out to breakfast with a friend, picking up a fresh flower gift from the local florist, writing a little about my dad, and then taking a bike ride.
I wasn’t sure the bike ride was going to squeak in. It was all dark, gloomy rainskies, and the weather promised thunderstorms erupting at any moment. Never start a ride in the rain, he’d say, but it wasn’t raining, so I headed out for a short turn about town. I made a first stop in the old neighborhood to pick up some mail, including a birthday card with a crispy $20 in it, courtesy of my aunts, Eileen and Jan. They’ve been sending that card for 41 years now, and it still makes me feel cozy inside to get it. I then headed up Old York Road, past corner after corner that has seen a recent shooting. There’ve been 124 murders in the city so far this year, and I doubt a day goes by without somebody getting shot. Yes, let’s ban the assault-style weapons, but in my fantasy world we’d go back in time and have never invented the gun at all. The root causes of violence are intense and deep, but the gun thing makes it so we barely have time to breathe in the direction of real change, we’re so busy staunching the blood.
I took a left on Ready Lane, an alleyway that leads to Greenmount Avenue (“new” York Road) and then crossed over to Old East Coldspring. Wow, way, WAY different from Old York over here. These two sides of Greenmount never fail to stop me in my tracks, making so materially real so immediately the stakes of racialized development, disinvestment, hyperpolicing, and maldistribution of wealth. You have to zig zag across Greenmount and Old York from 33rd Street on to get it, but you’ll get it right away. Outrageous inequalities, all shoved up against each other. I rode those few blocks on Old East Coldspring till I hit the Guilford Reservoir, where I did a couple laps–check out this view! I can’t imagine it over on Old York, not in a heartbeat. Over there, folks are getting their water cut off–different relationship to the city water system.
After my laps I headed down through Guilford on my way to Mount Vernon to meet N. and R. for a birthday toast. I was rolling fast down Greenway and pulled up a bit to check out what was being delivered from the back of a pick up truck into one of those mansions. No kidding–they were getting a couple of big safes, the kinds you see in cartoons that you push out a window and on to some unsuspecting person below and they get squished and their legs stick out comically. Ah, I though, good, these folks will have somewhere to stash their giant cache of diamonds when the next Baltimore Riot breaks out! Sigh. And then I continued on my way, down the hill, over to Charles, over to Maryland to Cathedral to Center Street where the sewer pipes are on the outside and everything smells just a little bit like sewage. Perfect spot for a glass of sparkling wine and a fancy cheese plate with my dear friend. Best birthday ever, again.