Monday was Memorial Day, and instead of hanging out with family in Michigan as planned, the ladyfriend and I were home in Baltimore, as usual. I’m still at home almost all the time. I go out every day for some exercise and sunshine, and once every ten days or so I go to the grocery store, but otherwise my life is completely home and online.
I am incredibly lucky to have a home that is safe, to have work I can do from here, and a porch to sit on and chat with neighbors. My ladyfriend can work from home too, and she’s upstairs and I’m downstairs, so we also still get time alone. We both need that, and we are just plain lucky to have the space to allow it. I never ever lose sight of this incredible good fortune, and I know things can change on a dime. Sudden family deaths and surprise cancer diagnoses teach you some things you’d rather not know but that come in handy–take nothing for granted, and be grateful when the going’s good.
Most of my exercise has been running. I’ve been studiously following my half marathon training program, and that has meant a lot of running, and a lot of recovery. That has also meant less time on my bike. The real change, though, is not being able to go anywhere. I used to be guaranteed a bike ride almost everyday, but now, all my incidental movement has vanished, replaced by purely intentional movement. I miss the everyday movement of my body, from the bike rides to the pacing in the classroom, from walking to the grocery for a few things to climbing the stairs to my office. There’s much to miss, and I live a life of such bounty in comparison, and yet. This is one of my losses.
So, I decided to spend part of Monday on my bicycle to work out the kinks from Sunday’s long run (ten miles!) and see how and if people were celebrating the holiday outside.
I headed down the hill on empty streets. I saw a few pedestrians walking, and there were a couple of cars, but it mostly felt like I was alone in the universe. Sometimes I like that feeling; not so much, these days. I took the Fallsway cycletrack, took note of the boarded-up windows at the Weinberg Housing and Resource Center where Fallsway meets Centre. Starting April 24, the people who used to rely on this place for emergency shelter have been moved into hotels. A global pandemic, and people get their own space, for a minute.
I rode by St. Vincent’s, the attached park surprisingly empty, a left on Baltimore Street, the first right I could make into Jonestown toward Little Italy. Bank Street is still blocked off, so I took my left on Eastern, a right, and left, a right, a right again to zip around Harbor Point, where runners are in the bike lane, so bikers are in the car lane. I rolled down toward Fells Point and got off my bike to walk, because I hate riding over Belgian block. If you really want to slow car traffic down here, close the street. No one needs to drive on Thames Street.
But I digress. It was such a perfect spring afternoon. The sun was out, the sky was perfectly blue, and it was still cool. Lots of folks were doing exactly what I was doing.
Were they wearing masks? No. the security guards were, and I had my gaiter to pull up over my face when I passed close by people, but mostly folks were keeping their distance, faces uncovered. That’s what people have been told to do, but as I made my way east I thought about how many social media pictures I’d see later decrying irresponsible mask-less people, blaming them for our ever-escalating death toll.
Yes, we should wear masks. Of course. And if I look at where the outbreaks are, they are in enclosed spaces where people are crowded together. They are in nursing homes and care facilities, meatpacking plants, prisons, shelters. I might catch it from someone walking by me on the sidewalk, but the risk is actually really low, from what I’ve seen. Wearing a mask inside is absolutely essential, but sitting outside, spaced away from others, in the sunshine? I’m not convinced that the maskless person doing that is the problem.
The bigger problem is expecting individuals to solve this global pandemic. We can’t do it. All the masks in the world won’t help if we don’t have a social safety net that makes limiting travel and keeping distance something people can do even if they aren’t part of the economic elite like I am. People are itching to go back to work because they need to. People are scared of losing their homes, their businesses, they are scared of starving. We are in an absolute catastrophe, and it is not because joggers aren’t wearing masks–though of course they should if they can’t keep their distance. But it is about more than that.
Donald Trump was in Baltimore for Memorial Day. If you squint at the picture I posted here, you can see a boat tied up to the dock. Turns out it was one of those Trumper yachts, flying a bunch of MAGA flags. The people on it were drinking beer, making conversation with folks on the pier about what a nice day it was, how they were from out of town, whatever.
Their hero refuses to wear a mask. He’s tweeting about “Obamagate” or something when almost 100,000 people have died, and millions upon millions have lost their jobs. Here’s your $1,200, see you when the pandemic ends. I wish that guy wasn’t in charge, but I’m under no illusion that if someone else was in that spot the state would actually be providing the care necessary to decrease unnecessary premature deaths. The state has long been perfectly happy to sacrifice the many for the few.
The state won’t save us. It never has. But that doesn’t mean our salvation is going to come when people put on masks. We should absolutely wear masks–again, don’t get me wrong. Wear the mask. But it isn’t enough. People will die, and if it’s not from COVID-19, it’ll be from all the ways racism combines with power to put so many people at the risk of premature death, every day, before, during, and, if we get there, after this pandemic.
So that’s what I thought about as I got back on my bike and headed north, weaving my way west toward home. I passed people cleaning their cars, hanging out on stoops, racing dirt bikes, doing all the summer things people do. There’s a lot going on at once, even when it feels like there’s only one thing happening. It was a beautiful day for a bike ride.