Empty Lot and Row Houses at W. Fairmount Avenue and S. Payson Street

Picture of an empty lot in the foreground with row houses in the background. The sky is bright blue and dotted with clouds. On the left is a street light with flags reading "Grace Medical Center" on one side and "CARE BRAVELY" on the other side.

It’s spring break, and Monday’s weather felt like it. I spent my morning reading in bed before hopping online to email students reminders to turn in work and answer some other work-related emails before heading to Mount Vernon for a panel discussion about Baltimore for UMBC’s Alternative Spring Break (ASB) program. Ok, so far it’s not sounding like a break, but I knew an out-to-lunch-alone and a solo bike ride were on the other side of things, so even the work felt like a celebration.

And the panel discussion wasn’t work at all. ASB brings students together for spring break to do a deep dive on issues in the city, and everyone there wanted to talk about Baltimore, which is my favorite thing to do. I talked a lot about how much you can learn from walking, biking, and taking the bus around the city, and then after a long lunch with my favorite sandwich in Baltimore, I was off to do what I suggested.

My bike ride started from Mount Vernon, up the hill past MICA and west through Bolton Hill and then just zigged and zagged around West Baltimore with the vague idea of making it over to Lipps Lane, my favorite name of a street when I first moved here and rode my bike to and from UMBC before I got too scared of cars to do Wilkens and Caton Avenues anymore.

The sun was out, cool breeze blowing, and it felt like everybody in the city was out on their stoops, playing music, dealing cards, washing cars, playing basketball. The city’s coming out of hibernation, and I’m happy to say me too. It was all how-you-doin’s, and I got some good advice (put it in a lower gear to get up that hill!) that was preferable to last Friday’s observation from a driver that I “ride [my] bike like a little bitch.” I told the students that my best advice for getting to know your new neighbors is to say how you doin’ and give a nod to people you pass, but that sometimes what you get back isn’t quite what you’d hoped. 99% of the time you’ll get a a how you doin’ back, and it’s worth the occasional dickwad response.

I snapped this picture where I dead ended into Grace Medical Center, part of Bon Secours. Care Bravely, the flag waved, and I thought about what the staff inside have seen in the past two years, what they continue to see as COVID hasn’t gone anywhere and Baltimore’s gun violence is just off the charts. Baltimore is a complicated place, which is partly why the discussion for ASB kept coming back to reminders to all of us to listen, to be open to holding contradictory stories, and to remember that there are many different lives being lived here, even if we all call it Baltimore.

I thought about that last part as I made my way back north to North Avenue and rode around the mansions of Reservoir Hill and Bolton Hill. Just a mile south or west and the neighborhoods looked so different–so many vacant homes, burned-out homes, so few trees, so much friendliness. It’s complicated. On a bike you can see just how swiftly this city of neighborhoods, and even blocks, changes. And as I reminded students and myself that morning, the wealth of some neighborhoods is contingent on the poverty of others. We are all tied together, even if some of us can afford not to notice.

A few more zigs and zags and I was on Druid Hill, taking the lane to MLK to grab the protected bike lane on Centre Street, a quick stop to lift weights at the gym because it’s spring break and I can spend it thinking about my body more than my mind, and then past the city’s prison industrial complex, over the Jones Falls Expressway that cut the city in two, and up the hill to home. It’s complicated, and my bike never lets me forget that.

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