Crushed Safety Cone at MLK and Lombard

A picture of a sidewalk with a crushed safety cone in the foreground, cars parked along the curb, a parking meter pay station, and in the distance, buildings in downtown Baltimore.

Monday’s plan was to ride my bike to my surgical oncology follow up at 8:30am and then, after what would likely be a 15 minute appointment, take a ride around east Baltimore for an hour or two, a stop for coffee and reading, then back home for a day of meetings on the internet. But when I looked out the window at 7:22am, snow, and it was stuck to the roads.

I don’t ride my bike in those conditions, so my plan was scrapped. I threw on some clothes, ran to the bus stop, realized I couldn’t make the buses connect in time to get there, so got off before the Red made the turn to downtown and then scurried as fast as I could the mile east to the hospital. And then I walked home, trying to make it as fun as a bike ride and totally failing at that. By the time I got home my legs were so cold they burned and, pardon the TMI, my nipples were so frozen they hurt for like two hours. Ugh. But that’s February.

By Monday afternoon the sun had erased the snow, so I took my bike to work on Tuesday morning. It was really cold, but not as cold as I expected it to be. I took my regular route until I hit Franklin, where a whole block was tied off with police yellow tape. I took a right on Franklin, a left on Greene, and took the whole lane to try and stay safe with all those morning rush hour drivers around me, frustrated by having to go around. If I think about what I’m doing when I’m riding in that kind of car traffic, I can’t do it. It’s too scary. So I didn’t think about it, continued my ride down Greene, a right on Lombard, and thought about it as I was locking up my bike. Phew.

I did my busy day at work and then it was time to reverse things. The sky was blue, the sun was out, temps were in the 30s. It was a really beautiful February day. I got on the shuttle, said as much to the driver. He agreed. I mentioned how cold it was that morning, and he just said, “That’s in the past. Gotta keep looking forward.” As much as I like thinking about how we do and don’t reckon with the past, he is also right. Gotta look forward.

I snapped this picture looking forward as I walked east on Lombard back to the bike rack. I wondered how that safety cone got so smushed, and if its smushed-ness means it doesn’t do its work anymore. I wondered if the new safety cone looks over there and sees its fate. I noticed the wall to my left, old, full of holes as plants make their way through it in the spring. I said how-you-doing to the person walking the other way, smelled the food truck that’s always parked there, said how-you-doing to the hospital worker having a cigarette next to the bike rack. A car drove up, asked for directions to the main entrance, she gave them.

A guy ambled by, pulled his own pack of cigarettes out of his pocket, nodded at the smoker with a smile. They’re in it together. He nodded at me, I said how-you-doing. He pointed at my bike, “Good exercise.” I agreed, told him how cheap parking and gas are, too. He laughed, paused, we both were game for a little more. So we chatted for just a couple of minutes, realized we both love Ken Burns films, and then wished each other a good day as I got on the bike to ride up the hill to home as he headed up Lombard Street.

As I pedaled uphill I thought about all of these tiny exchanges with strangers I get to have because I am not locked inside a car and I’m always saying how-you-doing. It’s an acknowledgment that I see you, you see me, we are both here. It is such a small thing, but it makes up the richness of my daily life, it is why I like living in cities. This is the stuff I missed most of all during pandemic lockdowns, these anonymous but shared intimacies. I’m lucky to get to start and end most days with these hellos.

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