Saturday was the perfect day for a long bike ride around Baltimore. The heat dome lifted just enough to make it feel like it might be ok out there, so I slathered on the sunscreen, filled up the big water bottle, and headed south, no real plan in mind. I decided to head east, and made my turn on the Biddle Street bike lane. This one’s not protected, and parts of it put you in a ditch, but hey, it’s something.
I rode east past closed schools and shuttered rec centers, waving my hellos to the people fanning themselves on stoops or selling snoballs from card tables set up on sidewalks or slowly making their way across the street with wet towels on their heads. It was still really hot out there.
As I pedaled I wondered where the kids who might be at the rec center are hanging out these days and what they’ll do in the fall when school buildings stay closed. The have to stay closed like this–it’s a global health pandemic–but it is also catastrophic that they are closed. It feels so desperate, knowing how many services these places provide that they just can’t provide anymore. I hate the word “pivot” at this point, but goddess bless all the people pivoting to make sure kids still get lunch even when school lunch is canceled. The amount of work people are doing right now is astonishing.
The bike lane ends at Milton, so I took a right and headed south. These parts of east Baltimore bear all the signs of organized abandonment, and then suddenly everything changes. It is something I think you have to ride a bike to really get, how quickly the signs of capital abandonment give way to capital accumulation. It is so shocking, and it never gets less shocking to me.
I hit Baltimore Street and Patterson Park and took a left, a right on Linwood, and I saw red paint covering the street. It was hard to read from street level itself, but I hopped off my bike and moved to the sidewalk to get a better view. BLACK LIVES MATTER. Indeed. I remember when residents painted this on the street overnight. I love it. It is an important symbolic statement, and I’m glad it is there.
At the same time it felt so incongruous given the first part of my bike ride, through neighborhoods that feel like no, Black lives don’t really matter. Symbolic actions are so important, and they can be done quickly and relatively easily. No one thinks that paint in the street is enough. The paint doesn’t materialize the changes necessary to literally make Black Lives Matter.
As Lawrence Brown would say, Black neighborhoods need to matter. (His book is forthcoming–I can’t wait to read it.)
I continued my ride south and east, eventually dodging traffic on Haven to Boston Street where I noticed a new Sprouts grocery store had opened across the street from the Harris Teeter and Target stores in the Canton Crossing mall. A grocery store across from a grocery store (just down the street from another grocery store if you want to pull the Canton Safeway into the conversation) when so much of east Baltimore above Baltimore Street doesn’t have easy access to anything like this grocery bounty.
I rode home slowly but surely, the heat feeling hotter as I pedaled uphill, hoping to get caught at a red light so I could get off my bike and gulp water for 60 seconds. (I know, stop when you want to, you don’t need a red light, but I am who I am.) I finally got stopped at the light at Chase and Aisquith and started my gulping. A guy leaned over from his stoop: “You need that water!” I sure do, I said. “Me too, it’s hot out here.” Indeed. And then the light was green and I didn’t catch another red all the way home. I’m so, so glad I get to ride a bicycle in this city.
I came across Chicago’s BLM street mural on my long run this weekend. Apartment buildings with boarded up windows on the same block, shops with boarded up windows around the corner. A grocery store opened up in December of last year, the first in the neighborhood in NINE YEARS. And you say Black Lives Matter?