Looking Out Over the Water at Fort McHenry

A cloudy gray sky is the backdrop to calm blue-gray waters. There's a barge floating in the middle of the picture. The foreground is asphalt and a bit of grass.

I am easily sold things. If there’s a membership, I’ll probably join, and I’m currently earning points in so many “rewards” programs I can’t believe there’s anywhere left to sell my personal information. I spend a lot of time scrolling through different social media platforms, and I am absolutely cognizant of how many ads I’m seeing, that I am the profit generator for the platform, and that no matter my critical thinking skills, the press of resisting advertising all day every day is rough, especially for me, a person prone to be upsold.

The latest ad following me everywhere was asking me to be a research subject for an eye tracking study for something to do with Facebook. Two hours, $150 in gift cards, sure, why not. I gave in, signed up, and Monday’s ride took me straight downtown for my session. I didn’t have a work meeting until 3:00pm that day, so I figured I’d use it as an opportunity to get a story and then spend my morning riding around town.

The study itself was me in a VR headset making different facial expressions while the thing kept track of my eye movements. Some of the requests were really hard. Open your eyes wide without moving your forehead? Um, ok. Squint but without closing your eyes? I can do that, but once you’ve told me not to close my eyes I’m much more attuned to keeping my eyes a little open than I am to the squint. There were other parts, too, but by the time we were done, my eyes hurt and I mostly just wished I hadn’t tightened the VR thing like it was a bike helmet. I think I still have the giant red marks on my head from the thing.

And then it was over, and they said I’d hear about my $150 in a couple of weeks. I’ve heard that one before, but I’ll watch my email for it, I guess.

It was a chilly morning and I had left my gloves at home in a display of weather-hubris usually reserved for college kids who seem able to wander campus in shorts, sandals, and a sweatshirt in February. I got on my bike and headed toward Federal Hill, tucking my hands in my armpits at the suddenly rare red lights and stop signs. I went around the harbor, up that steep street by the park, over, and east. I hopped off to walk around the tree trimming near Grindall Street and then pedaled up Fort Avenue to Fort McHenry.

I did a couple laps around the park, stopping just once to snap this picture. It was so calm and beautiful and downright placid on a chilly and gray Monday morning. Baltimore is so beautiful in so many complicated ways, and that I can just hop on my bike and be at this view in 30 minutes is a gift. I wasn’t the only one there–I rang my bell as I passed a couple of walker and joggers, and rang it more to cut through the three sections occupied by geese. Geese are terrifying, so I slowed down, ding-ding-dinged, and then sped off so they couldn’t chase me.

I took the long way home, zigging and zagging through the newer developments in Locust Point. I rolled my eyes at the Trump MAGA flag on one house. At the bottom it read, “Make America Florida,” which yuck, but also, lolls. When I see flags like that I immediately experience them as hostile threats to queer people, immigrants, Black people, people who don’t want to get COVID, women, the list goes on. What must it be like to live by that, day in and day out? Do the homophobes feel the same way, living in my neighborhood full of Pride flags? It’s not the same thing, not at all, and I made a mental note to get the ladyfriend to install our flagpole so we can put up the new Pride flag at our house.

And then I was back at the Inner Harbor, marveling at the new Rash Field, zipping around and up and over to Fallsway and Guilford and back home. I worked up a sweat out there, and the instant I stopped riding I was freezing cold, so I spent my lunch hour on the heated pad on the couch, covered in cats, shivering until my bones warmed up again and I could get back to work. I can’t believe I live a life that let me have that kind of Monday morning. I’m such a lucky duck.

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