It was my birthday last Thursday, and I was a bit apprehensive about it, my first without my dad. Firsts are tricky, or so I’ve heard, so I didn’t make any big plans for the day in case what I wanted to do was sit in bed and cry. That’s not what I wanted to do, waking up in a celebratory mood instead. I decided to keep it going on Friday with another vacation day, this time for a bike ride. I set out without a real plan, except a vague desire to collect my free Birthday Burger at Red Robin down in Canton. I zig zagged my way there, got a burger that I ended up paying for–don’t worry, the free one’s on my card for later this week–and then decided on a whim to bike over to Dundalk. Getting there’s a bit of a pain–Holabird Avenue’s not exactly bike-friendly–but once you’re there it’s a dream of wide bike lanes and quiet streets. I made my way slowly over there and took the lane on Holabird to avoid that close-call feeling as cars imagine they can pass you even when they can’t. I went past the Amazon warehouse where all the magic happens, noted its ample bike parking and wondered if the company doesn’t have the clout to get a bike lane in front, and talked my way through the truck traffic before making my right on Dundalk Avenue.
I followed it straight down to the end, past the brick homes that all look alike, the McDonald’s where I first seriously considered getting a McBreakfast in the afternoon, and kept going as Dundalk turned into Turner Station, former home of Henrietta Lacks and an African American community dating back to 1888. I rode through all the tiny streets, said my hellos to the kids gathered in yards on their own bikes, snapped a few pictures of their community garden, hunched under the giant power transmission towers, and felt the summer sweat pour out of me. It was fantastic. I ended up on Liberty Parkway, and since I’d never ridden on this street, I decided to ride to the end, until I took an unplanned left turn into a new development that looked like it might get me up close and personal with the old water tower and smokestack in the distance. That street did a turn past brick and aluminum siding clad homes already decked out for the 4th of July and then circled back to Liberty. This is as close as I could get to those bits of the past looming over the present, but if I’d had more water with me, I might have climbed through a backyard or two to see what the Dundalk teens are leaving at the foot of this thing these days. Instead I took Liberty until it hit Dundalk and rode that bike lane all the way to Eastern where I took the lane again amid some noisy drivers for the ride back through Greektown, through Highlandtown, and back home via East Baltimore.
I stopped there for some more water–if I don’t know how long I’ll be out I really need to start bringing enough water to be out for a very long time, but that’s another story. This EBDI district is still under construction, but standing outside that 7-11 for 15 minutes chugging water, it felt like a serious transition has been made. It’s all suits and heels marching up and down these streets, new people calling this place home now. A sign outside one of the buildings quoted George Washington Carver: “Since new developments are the products of a creative mind, we must therefore stimulate and encourage that type of mind in every way possible.” Below that: “Forest City-New East Baltimore Partnership Expresses Its Gratitude And Respect to the Men and Women Whose Talents Are Invested in This Building and Honors the Generations of East Baltimore Families Whose Legacies Serve As Its Foundation.” Talk about a strange framing of the removal of African American communities following decades of disinvestment to make way for Johns Hopkins. That’s hardly new development, as a quick survey of the history of Turner Station will tell you. A couple last miles later and I was home again, sucking down water in preparation for the next summer ride.