Red-Gold Tree Near the UMMC Commercial Ambulance Bay

A street with a car and ambulance parked to the right, a walled-off sidewalk to the left. There's a big orange tree at the end of the block on the left. In the background is UMMC Commercial Ambulance parking.

This week was mostly the same ride down and up the hill to my favorite bike racks–the ones just left of the University of Maryland Medical Center Shock Trauma/ER entry doors. I have been parking here for years, and I have my preferred U–one of the two closest to the building, the right side so I can swing my bike around to face out and still have access to my bag on my rear rack. I pull up, grab my spot, lock my bike, take off anything that can be taken off, toss those things in my bag, unzip the back flap of my bag, make it into a backpack, hoist it on, and head east on Lombard to my bus stop at Greene Street.

We all have our daily routines like this. This routine is absolutely central to my life, but nobody knows or cares about the details of it but me–as it should be. Lots of things are like this, but this week I thought about how intimately I know the stretches of asphalt and intersections in my three and a half mile each way daily commute, and how many lives are lived in different ways on those stretches. I say my hellos, yell my “COMING THROUGH!!!s, wave to the guy who works at the hospital who bike commutes in all seasons and arrives around the same time I do. When I don’t see him for awhile, I start wondering about him. And then he’ll ride down Greene as I’m waiting for the bus or is locking up at one of the other rows of racks and we wave at each other, comment on the weather, and go about our days. The woman who is often smoking a cigarette, surrounded by bags of possessions and sitting on the ledge by the rack in the late afternoons hasn’t been there in a couple weeks, but I am pretty sure she’ll be back. She has been smoking there since I’ve been biking, and we have our regular hellos as I reverse my morning lock-up routine. I love living in a city for precisely these anonymous intimacies.

My ride home always starts north on Redwood past the ambulance bays, a right at the T, another left out to Baltimore Street for a right, a left, a right, a left, a right, a left, a right, a left, and a final left into my alley. And for weeks now, that right brings me to this absolutely perfect tree. It’s been trapped behind construction stuff for awhile, but look at it–still glowing into December, showing off multiple shades of red and orange, a secret treat back here with all the ambulances and private vehicles and fencing. I am grateful for the tree and a life that lets me end my work day by pedaling past this beauty.

But I don’t always see the tree. I have to remind myself to look up and pay attention. I have to remind myself that where and how I look determines what I see. What I saw this week was this tree, the ripples of asphalt at Franklin, the floodlights and street cops by the new Lexington Market, and construction equipment parked in the Maryland Avenue cycletrack. Stories behind each of these things, stories I know because I just keep riding up and down these streets. Thank you, bicycle.

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