Wednesday promised to be hot and windy, so perfect conditions for a bike ride, I guess. I woke up feeling just so sad. There’s so much sadness right now, and it hits me in unpredictable waves. I had to give a presentation at noon, so I just hoped I’d get all my tears out by then so I could talk with a solid voice for an hour to UMBC colleagues and students. I managed to do that, and, as always, spending an hour with smart people talking about smart things lifted my mood, in spite of the nerves that preceded it. I hardly ever get nervous about anything, so even that part was surprising.
I never feel like I have to get to the bottom of my sadness. It’s one of the human emotions I feel, and like all human emotions, it’s temporary. It’ll pass. But I’m pretty sure this sadness was rooted in what the world looks like. And also getting that ping from MyChart about my upcoming MRI. Breast cancer increasingly feels in the rear view, but coming up on scans and appointments it comes right back into focus. I know what it’s like to have a screening test turn your whole life upside down, and those feelings are sometimes so very fresh. In two weeks I’ll know if I have another six months to live like I don’t have cancer. Fingers crossed.
By the time I was heading out on my bike cancer had gone back to the other side of my brain and I was in a much better mood. We had a great conversation at the noon event, and I was off to exchange Colson Whitehead novels with E. We agreed it was a rough day for a bike ride, but better than waiting to ride in thunderstorms, that Whitehead is an amazing writer, and that doing neighborly things like exchanging books is something that feels really good right now.
I took my book, got back on my bike, and headed downtown to check out the state of our boarded-up city.
It’s still boarded up, of course, though the boarded up Starbucks on Paca Street is open, an incongruous announcement on a giant banner over what is now entirely encased in plywood. We are really messing around with what OPEN means these days, aren’t we?
I next headed over to tour the parking lots at our sports stadiums to see if the military was staging for something. They weren’t, only the Salvation Army truck announcing its COVID RELIEF in the lot between the football and baseball stadiums. I saw pictures of National Guard trucks parked in Remington earlier this week. They weren’t there as a military force, the mayor said, but to transport police. We’ve got some different ideas about what “military force” means, I guess.
I next rode toward the casino to see what’s happening in that ghost town. I snapped this picture of the sign for TOP GOLF COMING SOON because wow, it’s probably not coming soon anymore. It said it was coming soon in 2018, so it’s not just the shutdown that is making it not come soon (though they just closed on this land in March–feels grotesque to spend money on it now, but when has that ever stopped anybody?). I wonder how much of the economic collapse will be blamed on the pandemic, even as the organized abandonment of neighborhoods and people has much, much deeper roots.
I’m not saying Top Golf is somehow a sign of economic growth. It’s not. Standing on that corner looking left I see the giant sports stadiums that mark one kind of investment. Looking right I see the casino and its empty promises of education funding, built on the backs of taxpayers in the form of TIFs and old school pocket-picking. Straight ahead and behind me I see the empty lots and overgrowth of what used to be, of manufacturing gone, of abandonment to make way for Top Golf, which isn’t here anyway.
The global pandemic is highlighting so much, but most of it was already here, and the despair is just deepening for some while others fill their greedy hands with the remnants of the social wage.
I got back on my bike and headed home, noting the boarded up stores, saying how-you-doin’ to people hanging on stoops and outside stores because it’s summertime and that’s what we do, giving the death stare to the cops blocking the box at a busy intersection while slipping through the gap between them, pedal, pedal, pedal. The wind gusts hit just as I was making the last uphills. Easiest gear and it felt like I wasn’t moving, the wind whipping my bare legs with sand and glass until they felt pinpricked all over. A cyclist passed me slowly and said, “I was doing fine until the wind!” Me too, in some ways. How are you? I’m fine. Fine. Everything is fine. And then I was home and in the shower, scrubbing off the sweat, sunscreen, and road debris, grateful, as always, for my bicycle.