I’ve been spending a lot of time looking down lately. Classes started last week, and I have been busily prepping classes and fretting about prepping classes. If you live on social media, which I do, you’d think a semester of remote learning for college students was the end of the world, especially for professors. For me, it’s just what we’ve got to do for public health, and let’s all do our best to make the best of it. Look around, read the room: it’s fine. (Except when it’s not–access issues have never felt more urgent, but that’s another blog post.) That doesn’t mean I wasn’t wringing my hands the last couple weeks, but now that the semester is underway, I’m just trying to get in a rhythm and swing of things.
All that looking down at my own immediate work has kept me from looking up, from the seat of my bicycle. I’ve missed it. I had a long task list on Tuesday, and once I finished up my planned work I had a couple hours free and decided to head out on the bike with no real plan, even though the sky looked like it was about to erupt. My weather app promised no rain, so when it started drizzling later in my ride my first thought was, this weather app sucks. My second thought was, what, you can’t look at the sky and know what’s going to happen? Are you really going to let apps track everything for you from now on?
But I digress. My ride started at my alley, where I saw E. and two of his kids on their bikes. We waved hello and were going to chat, but the kids were having none of it, one screaming NO! at the top of her lungs over and over. Kids are really good at expressing their boundaries. E. and I shrugged our shoulders and waved goodbye.
I headed south and then east and then south and east until I was at the dead end of Chase Street. I took a right on Linwood and followed it to the end. I like rides like this, because you can see how neighborhoods change along a single street, and the changes are so intense going north/south in East Baltimore. The Hopkins megacampus in what they are trying to get us to call Eager Park is such an anomaly. I’ve been riding through there for nine years, and the layers of change are intense, and I know I’m late to that one. When the flood or the storm or the pandemic is over a long haul and not a single event, it’s harder to see if you don’t keep looking.
I rode past so many vacant homes, some being demolished, some held up by wooden bracing. People used to live here. People still live here. This is so much organized abandonment. And then I crossed Baltimore Street, and everything was different. Once I made it to the park it was all dog parks, tennis courts, greenery, and the vacant houses weren’t literally falling in on themselves. We are talking about a ride of no more than a few miles, but it’s like riding in two entirely different cities.
I hit Boston Street and then turned around to head north, hoping to beat whatever big rains were threatening. I rode up Lakewood to the park and snapped this picture of some of the art lining Eastern Avenue right now, beautiful reminders that Black Lives Matter, and they more than simply matter. Park staff removed some of these paintings, but they are back now, thank goodness.
I rode through the park to Gough Street and thought about the symbolism of the art there, and the Black Lives Matter paint that is wearing off of Linwood. I love this art. I think it is important. And I’ve said this before, but this is what was running through me yesterday: we’ve got to make Black neighborhoods matter, and not just symbolically, but materially. North of Baltimore Street doesn’t look like it does by accident. There are no easy answers, of course, but it has something to do with developing neighborhoods without displacement of people, as they’ve done in Eager Park and are about to do in Perkins Homes, which I rode through on my way back west. Lawrence Brown’s book is available for preorder, so I guess that’s my next stop.
I finally hit President Street and made my way north, pedaling as hard as I could to escape the storms that didn’t come this time around. It’s good to be back out on my bike, looking up and out.