Center West at Schroeder & W. Fayette

Center West at Schroeder & W. Fayette

Monday was a windy mess, but I was frustrated and full of feelings, so I headed out on my bike anyway. After ice, wind is probably my least favorite weather condition on a bicycle, because a big gust can push me off center, and it just doesn’t feel safe. I only had a couple of those moments on this ride, so I call it a win.

I headed downtown with no real destination, and I ended up on my regular bike commute. I don’t do that commute anymore, and it looks increasingly like it will be many, many months before I do it again. I spent some time last week weeping about that. I miss being in classrooms with students. It’s hard to think about not being in classrooms with them again for a year. This week I feel better about that, not because anything has changed, but because no feelings are permanent.

I don’t exactly miss my commute. I’d spend three hours a day biking and bussing to work, and it has been interesting to have that time back. I’d rather commute to work than have to stay home, but getting so many hours back in my week has been interesting. It does mean, though, that I’m on my bike much less than usual. I bike every day to get places, and when there’s nowhere to go, well, I tend not to go anywhere.

As I continued down the hill and west in the empty bus/bike lane on Lombard I wondered if maybe I could catch C. at home. She lives in the Hollins Market area, and I guessed (correctly) that she was home. She came out onto her stoop for a chat, and it was such a relief to see her live and in person. We’re both still here. I’d usually see her on the bus to work a few times a week, but without that, we just pass each other on Twitter. It’s not the same, and it’s not enough. I know people worry we’ll do all our work and learning online after this, because it’s cheaper. It’s not, and everyone wants to be back with each other in person when it’s safe. I might be wrong about this, but I think the market for learning together with other human beings in the flesh isn’t actually going anywhere.

C. and I shared our stories, such as they are when every day is the same, and then I headed north and west. I snapped this picture at the corner of Schroeder and Fayette Street. Luxury apartments across the street from not-so-luxury homes, only a block or two away from cleared lots and boarded-up vacant homes. This neighborhood is complicated.

I remember when I first moved to New Orleans, the year after the levees broke when hurricane Katrina blew through. So much of the city looked like the storm had just hit. And then New Orleanians explained to me that much of the mess had been there long before the storm. Displacement wasn’t new in 2006. This was an extreme and latest version, but the roots were much deeper than any single storm.

As I rode around West Baltimore, zig zagging my way north, I wondered what people five or ten years from now would see here. Would they see the abandonment of neighborhoods in the economic collapse brought on by 2020’s global pandemic? Would the part where those luxury apartments are mostly empty shells be blamed on this? How about the part where local shops are boarded up and closed, row homes crumbling, lots empty? Will they understand that this storm is just the latest to hit neighborhoods long besieged?

This pandemic has me feeling caught in an eternal present. This bike ride helped me remember that even if I can’t imagine much future right now, the past is still here, and it’s shaping what the groundhog day is like for each of us. We might be living through the same thing, but the experience of that living is so, so different for each of us, depending on where we started.

I finally zigged and zagged back to the bike lanes on Mount Royal and Maryland Avenue. I pedaled uphill against the wind, grateful, again, for my bicycle.

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