Monday’s ride started like every Monday ride: I meant to leave the house by 7:45am but it was 7:51 by the time I was on my bike. I rode west and then south and then west and then south along the Maryland Avenue cycletrack, ringing my bell and saying good morning to the many pedestrians waiting for places to open between 25th Street and North Avenue. I waited at the red at North, got passed by another cyclist when the light turned green. I rang my bell and shouted “ON YOUR LEFT” in my passive aggressive attempt to get other people on bikes to let me know when they’re about to pass me.
I rolled across up and then down the bridge over I83, and did a quick calculation–can I make it through the green at Oliver, or at least through the red that lets people turning from the west side through but keeps the drivers coming from the I83 exit ramp on their own red? I could make it if I pedaled harder, so I did, and then I was on the uphill across Mount Royal, Preston, Biddle, Chase–it’s two way there all of a sudden, make a note of it, cars will be coming from that side, too.
It’s downhill next, past where City Fit used to be, where City Cafe used to be. Will anyone pay the big prices at the new place that has a dress code I can’t meet? Now I’m in the Baltimore School for the Arts dropoff traffic, dinging my bell at the kids riding their skateboards in the bike lane and saying good morning to kids waiting at the crosswalks.
I wait for the red at Monument Street and turn there, up past what is now called the Maryland Center for History and Culture, down to Howard Street, across the light rail tracks and up the hill by the self-storage place. I take a left on Eutaw and get in line with the cars at the red before it’s all downhill to Lombard. I take the lane to avoid the rippled asphalt just before Franklin, wait at a red light, and then another.
And then I’m almost to Lexington Market and I see a car in the far lane headed north start to drive across the lanes. The driver is making a u-turn and it is all happening so fast and he sees me, right? How could he not see me? And he is headed straight for me and I don’t have time to stop or start, only time to scream at the top of my lungs, WHAT ARE YOU DOING??? And he stops, a foot from running into my gut, our timing both all wrong and just right enough that our days will go on as normal, once I catch my breath.
I am shaking and pedaling and I start to cry. It is scary, the part where the cars come toward you. We are stopped at the red light together. The driver’s face is blank as I turn to him, tears in my eyes, “That was so scary. So scary. That was so scary.” I say it over and over again as I wait for the light to turn green, and then it does, and he takes a right and I go straight, a right on Lombard, just a few blocks to the bike racks. I lock up, call the ladyfriend, tell her I just need to hear her voice.
And then I shake it off, walk and wait for the shuttle, back to work, teach, meet, teach, teach, back on the shuttle, back on my bike, riding all the way home. When a left turning car cuts me off at North Avenue I barely notice. I expect that, am used to slowing down and assuming that the drivers heading south when I’m heading north will not see me. I do not experience it as a near-miss because it is the same near-miss that happens every day.
I have been riding my bike on the street with cars for over a decade. I know what can happen with those cars and their drivers. I’ve been doored, I’ve been hit from behind, and my dad was killed by a driver when he was out for a walk. When I got cancer, people said things to me like, “You just never know what can happen–you could be hit by a truck!” I never understood how this was soothing, as I had not been hit by a truck but rather by my own cells growing and refusing to stop. I think they meant, live in the moment! We are all dying! Something like that. And when I would say, “I know, my dad was hit by a truck and killed,” well, that’s a conversation stopper right there.
And yet through it all I keep riding my bike, because I love riding my bike. I love saying hello to the streets and the city in the morning, and feeling my body let go of the day on the way home. What we do with our fear is so personal, and what I do with mine is look at it, take it slow, use my outside voice, and just keep riding.