I’ve been riding a bike around all summer, because at least I can create a breeze on my bike, unlike running, which just sucks (for me–I’m a heat sensitive bird). Most of my rides have been to and around the park, to some weird fitness class and back, or to meet a friend for a treat outside somewhere. Thursday’s ride, though, took me downtown to the med center’s abundant bike racks so I could lock up and grab the campus shuttle back to UMBC. It was my first regular ol’ commute in over a year and a half. It was also the first cool-ish not-so-humid day in a minute, and it all felt amazing.
I’m back teaching on campus full time. Wednesday I met 80+ students across three classes. The icebreaker was the same each time: Tell us something boring about yourself. Each student told me something not at all boring about themselves, and I related to each and every one in some way. On the first day of class I want to say hey, I see you, you see me, we’re in this together, and it’s great and exhausting. I haven’t been around so many people in a long, long time, especially not in a way that required my interaction. When I got home that evening I was catatonic. I spend so much time alone in my own head, which I love, and now here I am, about to have to share my headspace with all these new people all the time, and we could still give each other covid. It was a lot.
And it was all worth it. I deeply value being in a classroom with students. On a personal level, it’s a lot of fun and the best job out there. I get to talk about interesting things with interesting people and get paid for it. On a structural level, I think face to face education matters, that what we do here matters. I can do it online, and I’ll do it that way if public health officials think I should, but I don’t want to. It’s not the same, the virtual world, for me, or for a lot of my students. My institution has a vaccine mandate and a mask mandate, and I hope they work to keep us all healthy. I worry, and I move forward through the worry. We all have different risk analyses; mine tell me it’s worth the risk for me to do this thing right now. It is not worth the risk for everyone, and we need to keep being flexible.
I drove to campus on Wednesday because the ladyfriend was working from home, and there were tornados in the forecast–not great conditions for anybody, but definitely not for being on a bike. Thursday was like the old days, rolling down the hill on my bike, shaking an angry fist at cars in the bus lane, ringing the heck out of my bell at pedestrians staring at their phones as the wandered off curbs. It felt so good to be doing this normal-ish thing in a normal-ish way, locking up, tracking the shuttle bus with the app, flashing my ID.
It was one person to a seat, everybody in masks, the driver behind a plastic curtain. It’s hard to know what these things do, but the hope is with enough layers of measures, we can keep the virus out. We zoomed to campus. I got off the bus early, talked to a friend on the phone, waved to some students, dropped in on some colleagues to say hi. We had a great event with students, all of us availing ourselves of the individually wrapped snacks from our distanced chairs.
And then I was back on the shuttle with riders I haven’t seen in many months. We’re still here! I thought to myself. What a relief. I got off the shuttle on MLK, walked back to my bike, and road over to and up Paca. I haven’t been up that street in a minute, and wow, there is stuff going on. I’m glad I’ll get to stare at it and think about it a few times a week going forward. It just felt so good to stretch my legs in these different neighborhoods, say my how-you-doings. I stopped halfway home, had a quick beer at an outside table in the shade with the work wife. It was a little bit chilly, and I was over the fucking moon, pardon my language. I cannot find the words to express what it feels like to be back in my body and city and work and life like this. The world is literally and figuratively on fire, and it is also true that there are moments of joy. I’m still here. Hope it lasts.
And then I put on my blinky safety vest and rode home in the twilight, blissed out on cool air, stopping to say hi to friends eating outside a restaurant along the bike path, waving to everyone I passed because more than anything I have missed anonymous sociality. I like living in a world with other people and sharing it with them. More, please.