It had been far too long since I got a ride in that took me on streets I don’t know well to nowhere in particular. Those are the rides that help me feel most like myself, and without them, I was starting to feel not quite at home with myself. Friday afternoon found me with some unexpected time to myself, so I headed west to see what I might see.
My first year in Baltimore I rode to work out in the county with some regularity. I followed the first route the googleymaps suggested–south then west and west and west, then south and west again. When I ride out there now I head south and then west on a very different route, one that’s shorter and more bike-friendly, but sometimes I miss the long ride on Lafayette heading out of Bolton Hill, zig-zagging through Upton, Harlem Park, and Midtown Edmondson that I used to make more regularly. The ride’s better, though, when it doesn’t end at work.
And on this day it didn’t. I rode out Lafayette, crossing through Bolton Hill and Marble Hill before taking a left at Carrollton, just past Lafayette Square Park. Folks were out enjoying the unseasonably warm day and its clear blue skies. I said my how-you-doings, got them returned, and settled in. I expected to eventually cross over the Highway to Nowhere, but when I rolled up to it on Stricker Street I could hardly believe my eyes: the bike/pedestrian trail they’ve been building there was done, open, baby grasses and new trees framing a smooth black asphalt ribbon where we can safely ride our bicycles. What a most excellent surprise treat! I hopped on, rode to the end at Fulton, and felt nothing but gratitude for these few hours in this beautiful part of the city.
And then I headed back north, making sure to take streets I couldn’t remember taking, waving hello, dodging cars and pedestrians and the squirrels that are all one track mind right about now. I headed back east on Riggs with the vague idea of going home when all of a sudden I was at the Western District Police Station. It has gone through a fancy redesign to the tune of $4.5 million, a public-private partnership headed up by Scott Plank and his War Horse Cities development firm; their signs are all over the Hollins Market neighborhood in Southwest Baltimore these days.
I took my bike up and sat on one of the benches in the new open area in front of the place. There’s a small fountain, some plants, and words like “rebirth,” “community,” “respect,” and “empowerment” etched into the cement. It was an odd feeling, sitting in what felt like a meditation garden outside a site of so much pain and violence, the signs of disinvestment surrounding this fancy new building. “Welcome to Our New Western District Police Station,” the banner outside reads. I wonder what it feels like to be the “you” of this “us.”
I sat and watched and thought and then rode back home. It’s maybe a mile from this spot to Bolton Hill, a neighborhood that has all the signs of being much better resourced than this one–and that’s an understatement. The inequities are shocking, even on a bike ride as short as this one. I needed the reminder that there are many, many different realities in Baltimore, many different lives being lived with completely different views. That’s much too easy to forget.