Monument Between Ramsey & Ashton Streets in Carrollton Ridge

Monument with a soldier and eagle on a post that reads DEVOTION against a blue sky with puffy clouds. Streets are on either side, and a burned-out red brick building is in the background.

Tuesday’s bike ride took me first to get a haircut and then wherever I felt like going, because I had an afternoon free of meetings and assignments to grade weren’t coming in until midnight. Academics often complain about their jobs, which I totally get because complaining about work is a birthright no matter where you work or what you do. That said, that I could grab a few hours on a random Tuesday to do whatever I wanted to do? Yeah, most jobs don’t let you have that much control over your time. But don’t tell anyone I said this job is actually pretty cushy in terms of control over your own time, especially not after the year we all just had.

But anyway, this was my Tuesday afternoon, and I spent it tooling around west Baltimore. I hadn’t been over here in a minute, partly because it is still kind of hard to get to safely on a bicycle. I appreciate the new Mount Royal bike lane, though on this day it was mostly for delivery trucks, unfortunately. The way I83 and MLK split the city in two makes it feel like a different world, even though where I snapped this picture was maybe four miles from where I live.

It also feels like a different world from where I live because it literally is. My neighborhood is abuzz about cicadas, for example, but I saw few signs of them on my ride. They’ll be everywhere, sure, but they live on tree roots, and when neighborhoods don’t have a lot of trees, they don’t have a lot tree roots, or a lot of cicadas. The asphalt is a mess almost everywhere I ride in the city, but that’s especially true in neighborhoods where people generally have fewer resources. Roland Park gets its street redone three times because they don’t like to shape of their bike lane, but that’s not going to happen on Payson Street or West Pratt. There are so many crumbling houses over here, trees growing through collapsed roofs, wooden braces holding up buildings on all sides.

None of this is accidental. That some neighborhoods have plenty–of people, resources, shade, groceries, etc.–and other don’t is because of their relationships to each other. My wealth is dependent on the extraction of wealth from others. It is all so far in the background for some of us that we can forget–that’s how we know we’re rich, I think. The people who make decisions about what Baltimore “needs” and have the massive resources of the state to distribute are rarely from the neighborhoods I biked through on Tuesday. They are from the neighborhoods I ran through this morning–Guilford and Roland Park. If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu, and they make it so hard to get to the table.

I thought about this as I rode around, and I thought about how quickly one can imagine the place they are in is the place everyone is in. I love riding a bike around because it keeps me from thinking there’s anything universal about my particular block, and reminds me that my block looks like it does because other blocks look like they do.

I also spent time saying my how-you-doings and good mornings, waving to folks sitting outside on stoops and in lawn chairs across the street where there was more shade. Sitting outside and talking to neighbors is something every neighborhood shares–and if they don’t, bummer for them. People are living their lives wherever they are and whatever their neighborhoods look like. I have so missed this kind of anonymous sociality during quarantine, and biking is a great way to get some of it back.

I snapped this particular picture just before I turned around to head home. I’ve taken this picture before, even blogged about it, probably, but it struck me today, this little sliver of park and public memory to war or soldiers, I’m not sure, stuck in the middle of this neighborhood that I’m guessing looked different when they put this here. I wonder what a monument to what has happened here would look like, if the neighbors got to decide what went in the baby park. Devotion to what, exactly?

And then I rode home, a quick stop at the giant hole on Baltimore Street near Biopark. A friend said they were finally building “something” there, and I wanted to see what it was. A big ol’ open parking lot you can’t enter is what they built there. Sigh. I zig zagged north and east, north and east, and north to home. More bike rides, please.

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