I woke up early Wednesday morning, to NPR just before 6am, like I do most mornings. The news reported Baltimore’s Confederate monuments had been removed overnight. I was sure I was dreaming. Baltimore’s been trying to get rid of those things almost as long as they’ve been here. And even when Baltimore decides to do things, it’s never efficient about it. City bureaucracies aren’t meant to be fast, and ours certainly exceeds expectations in this regard. But it was true–at long last these particular markers of white supremacist intimidation were gone. Huzzah!
Sunday was another shockingly beautiful day in Baltimore, and we had an outdoor wedding to attend down in Fells Point, on Ravens game day. This is just the sort of thing that would throw my parking-averse self into a frenzy days in advance, worrying where we were going to put the car, how much parking would cost, when we’d have to leave to find a spot–not to brag, but I can really worry about this sort of thing. But the ladyfriend and I both have bikes, so we put on our formal wear–me, a dress and heels, her slacks and a vest and a tie and some snazzy wingtips–and jammed some lights and a safety vest in a bag for the ride home, and headed down the hill to watch L. and T. tie the knot. Actually, they did so awhile ago in Australia, but they wanted to throw a show for the rest of us, and they couldn’t have picked a more beautiful day to do so. Continue reading
This weekend was the Star Spangled Celebration, Baltimore’s party in honor of the bicentennial of the Battle of Baltimore near the end of the War of 1812. Francis Scott Key wrote the lyrics to the Star Spangled Banner that night (or inspired by that night), and even though it didn’t become the national anthem until 1931, you’d think the way we’ve been acting these days that the country was founded that very night by this very song. I’ve been super interested in how we remember this unmemorable war since I started biking out to Chalmette National Battlefield, where they act like the war was the birth of a happy multiracial country just because Creole folks fought alongside Jean Lafitte (not just a pirate–a slave trader, but they always leave that part out) at the Battle of Orleans. Then I got to Baltimore, where the Battle of Orleans is a footnote and the whole war is about this one battle and the flag and the song. Continue reading
Thursday’s ride took me down to the Maryland Historical Society (MdHS) for what is basically my wet dream: a party celebrating Baltimore’s bicycling history, brought to us by Baltimore Heritage, the MdHS, and the International Cycling History Conference. I zipped down the hill, and P. caught up to me at the light a block north of Preston. I asked her where she was going–she said she was going where I was going. I guess I’m fairly predictable when it comes to bikes and histories and things. We rolled up to the event, locked our bikes, and headed in to catch the last minutes of the vintage bicycle display. It was all high-wheeled death-defying velocipedes and old steel kids bikes and all manner of cycling enthusiasts, from the tweed-clad Victorian players to the single-speed hipsters to the family commuters, and we all milled about, chatting about whether we’d like to climb on the penny farthings or not (I was in the “no” camp, surprisingly) until it was time for the group ride with our fearless nerd leader, Eli Pousson of Baltimore Heritage. He led at least 50 of us up the hill and to the left to visit the original home of the very first bicycling club in Baltimore, over in Reservoir Hill. The velocipedes were a total hit with folks on the street, and the rest of us were mere background. Our next stop was Druid Hill Park, which apparently has been a great place to ride in circles for a very, very long time. I was riding with Bikemore President Chris Merriam who got his own looks for towing a trailer behind his bicycle. We were stopped at a light on a downhill, and one of those velocipedes was wobbling toward us. “I need a strong shoulder, Chris, a strong shoulder,” I heard, as he reached down from high above to grab Chris for a stop. A grab and then they both went down in what felt to me like slow motion, Chris falling into the web of the big wheel’s spokes. See? ALL bikes need brakes, and then I thought about the matching rhetoric against the death machine velocipedes and today’s single-speed demons–the more things change. Chris and I peeled off from the group after this, him heading home and me to a fountain soda and some minutes outside, by myself. Out was a perfect bike evening, even if I couldn’t hang with the group ride for long. I’m glad we were all there, and that the fight for bike rights to the road continues, 150+ years after the introduction of the first two-wheeler in Baltimore.
I spent most of Wednesday in the car, driving from site to site along the Harriet Tubman Byway, trading off between the excellent audiotour (it didn’t go off the rails with reconciliation rhetoric until three stops from the Delaware border) and the rental car’s satellite radio–a Springsteen-only station? Be still my roadtrip heart! It was a dreary rainy day, and I was all complicated feelings and quiet as I passed through the heart of Caroline County’s Underground Railroad territory and the place where the Still’s had to decide which children to leave in slavery because they couldn’t all make it to freedom at the same time. I drove to the Choptank River, the site of Tubman’s first escape, but I had to pass a house draped in Confederate flags to get there. I learned about the Caroline County Courthouse where slave auctions were held, and just down the block, the local jail’s intake center. The sign out front told the story of voting for a state constitutional amendment banning slavery, since the Emancipation Proclamation didn’t apply to Union states. Apparently Caroline County voters protested their disenfranchisement, claiming their votes against the amendment were destroyed. Voter disenfranchisement, right. I got lost over and over again, because there aren’t a lot of signs out here, and I wonder the backstory, what kinds of resistances have been thrown up at every stage of remembrance. And then I made it to stop 31, Adkins Arboretum. Oh, it was worth the trip, a walk through an upland forest and an audiotour that described the role the natural environment played in enabling and hindering flights to freedom. Each track trailed off with different names of freedom seekers, and I wanted to know them all. William Still kept a book of all who passed through his Philadelphia office. Two of them turned out to be the brothers his parents had had to leave behind. They’d been sold to Kentucky, but 27 years later, they were free, too. The sun had come out, and it was hot and sticky and the bugs, oh the bugs. In a car you. Don’t feel it. It’s different on a bike, too. Today was a good day to take a bit, slow down, walk, and listen.
I got up early, hitched a ride to the train station to the airport to a bus and another bus and then finally I picked up a rental car for his week’s summer trip along the Harriet Tubman Byway along the Eastern Shore. And of course I brought my bike with me. Today’s ride started from the Dorchester County Visitor Center. I eschewed the one or so mile path that goes between the center and the one giant golf spa resort hotel in town and went for a ride through town instead. The woman gave me excellent directions and three different maps, but I got so caught up in her use of the highlighter to show me where I should go, and where I shouldn’t go, no matter what, that I failed to pay attention to the first direction. I took a left instead of a right and got myself lost–I take after my dad that way. Continue reading
Friday was busy with appointments and last minute preparation for an art show in Rockville, but N. got me out on the bike with a set of clues that led me down to the Baltimore Museum of Industry, where she got me a membership for my birthday last week. That’s a really, really good present for a girl like me. It was a quick ride down to the pedestrian-packed ring around the harbor–that’s just going to get better or worse, depending on your perspective. I got off the bike to squeeze past the guys laying new concrete around a fire hydrant–that concrete had a message written into it by the time I rode back–and then dodged the grates and cars on Key Highway. I signaled and took my left into the museum’s parking lot and joined two other bikes on the rack. I love it when I’m not the only bike! I was ostensibly there for the Antietam Banjo Association conference, but they turned out to be reservation-only. I didn’t have one, so I spent my time checking out the banjo exhibit instead. Turns out the first mentions of the banjo in the U.S. were in advertisements seeking the capture of enslaved people who had escaped to freedom. The instrument was used mostly by African Americans before being used in blackface minstrelsy shows. Eventually white people played them without the blackface, and they became the sterotypical instrument of choice for poor white Southerners and Appalachians. Totally interesting, and I carried that story of movement, appropriation, and the politics of cultural life with me as I wandered through the rest of the museum, past the linotype machine and the Wall of Firsts (Baltimore is home to some pretty great firsts) and the canning displays and this spice grinder used to make Old Bay. Industrial museums are an odd form of nostalgia. And then it was time to get back up the hill, so I was on my way, joining the traffic and regretting the choice to not let N. put sunscreen on my back. I have to get over how little I like that smell and feel, because it’s all sun from here on out.