Thursday’s bike ride took me out in the city’s first Code Red Heat Alert day of the summer. Code Red means it’s going to be really, really hot, and you should probably just stay inside in a place with some ac. It also means that if you use less energy you get credits on your utility bill, so I was pretty excited to spend the day in somebody else’s air conditioning while the nickels rolled in at home. Sure, paying you to not use energy when you need it the most is sort of a scam to cover over weak infrastructure, but I’m a sucker.
The temperatures have dropped again, spring break is over, and most of today was spent being a grading machine after yesterday was a wash–thanks, food poisoning! None of that meant I didn’t get to ride the Surly one last time before heading back to classes. I took her out for an afternoon ride around Waverly, running errands and remembering how important it is to remember gloves, and then out for a second ride, a short one down to Station North for the opening reception of the Open Walls Baltimore (OWB) project’s second year of events. OWB is a giant art project in the Station North neighborhood of Baltimore, which was designated an Arts & Entertainment district in 2002. That designation means tax benefits for redevelopment that targets artists, and tax breaks for artists who choose to live in these districts. The designation encourages new people to move into neighborhoods that are seen to be struggling due to a lack of residents, or, at least, a certain kind of resident. The arts district is great for tons of people–for artists, small business owners, and anyone who wants to see a vibrant creative scene get nourished in their city. And of course it has its problems–housing designated for artists is another kind of segregation, and isn’t that what we don’t want? And there’s the fear of gentrification–who wants to keep renting to non-artists when the real money’s in redeveloping and calling it “artist’s housing”? As the neighborhood becomes a site of value, property taxes also go up, and folks who have owned and lived in the neighborhood for a long time can find themselves priced out of their own homes. Like anything, it’s always more complicated than just saying YAY! ART! Same goes for OWB. It is a wonderful project that brings street artists from all over the world to paint ridiculously wonderful murals on some of our many, many empty walls. Who wouldn’t be excited by that? Well, there’s the part where murals and street art have become the sign of a blighted neighborhood; others argue that the project should employ some of the many Baltimore-based street artists who certainly have their own stories to tell on these walls of ours. Or maybe murals should be designed with community input–we’re the ones who move among them, after all. And then there’s the part where this year’s selection of 14 murals includes only one painted by women. One. In 2014. Wow. Now, it is certainly true that Station North Arts and Entertainment supports many women and trans artists in other ways through funding projects in the city, but OWB is what they’re known for, and that other support doesn’t change the fact that only one mural–and these things are huge and permanent–will be painted by women. The art world has a long history of just this sort of thing–check out these folks for evidence and some good history of this persistent problem. Tonight’s bike ride took me to the artistic intervention by the collective Greenpants. They projected their short video on the wall of the building that held the OWB reception, and it was howlingly good–funny, on point, and drawing attention to a thing we’re not supposed to notice–that yes, it’s all men, again. I watched a few rounds, chatted with the crowd, and then got back on my bike and headed up the hill to home, glad to live in a city that has such art, and such critical artists, and is willing to have these conversations. Now if they could just turn the heat on.
It was cold and rainy yesterday and dark and cloudy this morning, but by the time I got on the Surly the sun was out, the sky was blue, and it felt like springtime. I zoomed down the hill and around the side of downtown Baltimore for a quick swim in the pool before heading the other way and up to Locust Point for some treats. It had been almost a week since I did this typical ride and it felt like home, the same row houses and red lights and intersections where cars tend to just run right on through the crosswalks so you have to be extra careful, even when you’ve got the green. It’s nice to get to know a place, but it’s also nice to just know one, and Baltimore’s a good one. Continue reading
I unexpectedly had the afternoon free, so I decided to spend it out on my bicycle, an excellent idea until after a delicious brunch that made me want to get straight back into bed with my cats and a book. S. said I could do that, after my bike ride, and she was right, so I pedaled east of Greenmount to see if I could get lost. It didn’t take long, because I don’t spend that much time in Northeast Baltimore. Continue reading
I spend a lot of time riding up and down Fallsway. It’s like St. Charles in New Orleans–I know every bump and crack and bus stop and crosswalk likely to be overrun by cars unwilling to stop before pulling through to make their rights on red. The blocks change quickly here, and I always wonder how the tourists who booked their hotels in “Harbor East” feel when they see they are sharing their neighborhood with a literal prison industrial complex, a police garage, the biggest post office ever, and a number of homeless services centers; something tells me that part isn’t making it into the ads. Cities never represent themselves in any complexity, because that doesn’t pay. Continue reading
It has suddenly turned cold in Baltimore, so I bundled up a little extra as I took my bike out to ride to campus for an afternoon “party” with the Dean and some new colleagues. The fancy fleece jacket kept me warm, but the headwind was strong enough to keep me pedaling, even on the big downhills. Sigh. Fortunately, I was in a chipper mood, so pedal, pedal, pedal I did, and it felt good. I wonder if I’ll ever get over the pleasure of the rhythmic round-and-round of the bicycle–let’s hope not. The commute now feels like it comes in four parts: down the hill, taking a right/going west, the uphilly part, and Arbutus. I snapped this picture as I took the soft left onto Lipps from Hollins. I’m guessing that used to be a brick wall, and now it’s just the remnants of one, but the leftover bits do look like a train, which is what I think is painted on here. There are so many scenes like this all over town, helped along by the seemingly endless remainders that make up Baltimore City and its canvases. But this is a pretty face to paint on the block after block after block of crumbled, abandoned, blighted, burned, and decaying homes and businesses that make up that 9.2 miles ride. But really, sometimes, what are you going to do? Gotta put some beauty in here.
I had one morning meeting up on campus and nothing else on my schedule, so I figured it was high time I take the bike on the commute. I left myself two hours to go the ten miles, fully expecting to get lost/get a flat/get so tired I’d have to walk. Well, I did get lost, but I’ve been memorizing streets on my drive over the past couple weeks for just this event, so I knew Saratoga crossed Monroe, and once I was on Monroe I could follow the same route I take in the car. Voila! Continue reading