Charlcote House at Charlcote Place & Greenway

Charlcote House at Charlcote Place & Greenway

I can’t tell if this stay-at-home thing is getting to feel normal. I’m not gripped with fear and panic like I was three weeks ago, but I still can’t look more than a few days ahead. I’ve got to snap out of that at some point, because this isn’t only a present disaster. It’s a past disaster–we see that in the disproportionate rate of death facing communities long marginalized from access to the things that make your immune system strong: access to primary health care and nourishing food, time for sleep, and the financial ability to actually stay at home.

And it’s a future disaster–the economies of our nation, states, and localities are all going bust, and austerity politics that were already in play are going to come on again in full force. And that austerity will hit the same communities dying right now even harder. I’m not sure what to “do” about any of those things, but we are all going to have to find our lever to push in a collective effort to resist what’s coming.

We talked about this in my first online class on Tuesday as we worked through the introduction to Roderick Ferguson’s book, We Demand. I’d meant for us to read the whole thing, but then the libraries closed (thank goodness!), and the best I could do was type out the intro for students who didn’t have the book. Alas. We learned what we could from the intro–important stuff about how student activists have made change, how institutions domesticate that change, how institutions can’t love you back so you’ve got to figure out what you want from them and make demands. What demands would you make? I asked. We had a good discussion, and again I was grateful for University of Maryland, Blackboard Collaborate for the chance to talk in person with students who could make it.

After the next class, I was beat. Teaching online is a different kind of exhausting, and I took a long break to eat lunch and stare at my phone before responding to emails and setting up this and that for later this week.

I ended my day with a four mile run. I have long enjoyed getting on a street on my bicycle and following it to the very end, just to see what’s there. Sometimes what’s there is a bummer. I remember taking an Ocean View Lane in Mandeville, Louisiana once, and it ended…at a golf course. But you can’t know that unless you bike all the way to the end. It also prepares you for heartbreak, to learn not to trust the streets. I remember a particularly grueling climb on my bike tour of the Adirondacks a few years ago. We passed a street called “Summit,” and I watched my fellow riders exhale. I didn’t trust the street name so was much more prepared for the rest of the climb.

Tuesday’s run took me up Barclay Street, zig zagging to stay as close to Greenmount Avenue without running on Greenmount Avenue as possible. The Guilford neighborhood has effectively walled itself off from it’s neighbors to the east, and I wanted to pay attention to what it felt like jusssst on the west side of the street, and how it might change once I got up past Cold Spring.

Sunday’s run was brutally hard, but Tuesday’s was easier–that’s just how runs are sometimes. I got in my groove as I ran north and then jogged east or west to stay west of Greenmount–not always easy to do. Guilford’s not the same kind of grid as the rest of the city. I passed lush green lawns advertising their recent pesticide applications, some bee-friendly, so many tulips, and houses that feel so out of place with the Baltimore I’m usually in. Mansions everywhere. These people are having such a different stay at home experience than the vast majority of the city.

I stopped for a quick breather 3 miles in to snap this picture of what I now know is the Charlcote House. When your house has a name, you know you’re in a different Baltimore. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places, one of two houses in Maryland designed entirely by John Russell Pope, a renowned architect. I didn’t see that when I snapped this picture; I just saw a mansion on a hill that was walled off not just from its neighbors to the east, but from the rest of the mansions. I was just a couple miles from home, but I was in the suburbs.

The house was built for a guy named James Swan Frick. The third floor is all rooms for servants, a dividing line down the middle to separate white and Black workers. The house was built in 1914-1915, the legacies of slavery given way to the legacies of Jim Crow, the legacies of racism shaping the present and it’s own legacies for the future as premature death hits Black people so much harder than white people, again and again and again.

And then I ran down Greenway and out of this neighborhood. Once I got to Sherwood Gardens there were so many runners and dog walkers that I basically had to take the middle of the street to keep my distance. So much space up there, so little room. I finished my four miles, walked the rest of the way home, sat on the porch, and said my hellos to the neighbors. A porch is such a luxury all the time, and especially right now.

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