On Saturday morning I packed the Brompton into its suitcase, headed to the airport (thanks for the ride, ladyfriend!), and flew to Detroit for a few days of bicycling and learning about how another postindustrial city is doing its public memory. It’s pretty much a dream vacation for me–bikes, cities, history, bikes, waterfronts, history, beer in the afternoon–magic. I spent my Sunday getting my bearings. I first walked around in circles for almost a full half hour before finding my way to the coffee shop and bakery that was two blocks away. Then I went a couple miles out of my way trying to find my first stop: the Detroit Historical Society. Eventually I found it, and I locked up Brompty to a well-designed bike rack, and headed inside.
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.
Summer is actually, finally, for real here, and that meant a sweaty ride down the hill and up again over to Federal Hill, making sure to take a hit of water at every red light. It’s no joke, riding on hills in this heat, so if you’re out there, do not forget the water. Or the sunscreen. Seriously, people–bring your supplies with you, and get a rack so you don’t have to lug a bag around on your back. Alright, enough preaching. Continue reading
Friday morning was so, so much rain, pouring out of the sky, waking up the cats, and actually necessitating the closing of two whole windows in order to keep the bed and the record player dry–we’ve got our priorities in line over here. I had the luxury of hibernating inside, so I did that until the rain stopped, the clouds cleared out, and it was all blue sky and clean air, our city given a good shower to rinse off our pretend summer from the previous week. Yep, time for a bike ride. I started up the hill for a lunch date with myself and then back down, the vague idea that I could maybe get an ice cream cone in Canton and still make it back to Harbor East for Godzilla–these are the hard choices of the first day of summer vacation. And then I remembered I am a member at the Reginald Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture–why not stop on my way and see what’s new? Continue reading
My coupon was about to expire, so I took my Tuesday afternoon self down to the Sports Legends Museum at Camden Yards and locked my bike up to the new bike racks they’ve installed by the baseball stadium as a way to encourage me to “Go Green.” I wonder if there are folks who ride a bike because it’s “green” rather than because it’s fun, cheap, easier than driving and parking, faster than the bus, or any of the reasons I ride a bike. I remember when I quit smoking–I suddenly cared deeply about the deep imbrication of tobacco production with the growth of southern plantation slavery, but that’s certainly not why I quit smoking. But hey, anything that gets you off the smokes and on the bike will make you a happier camper, in my opinion. Continue reading
After a morning finishing one book, starting another, and sending some emails I should have sent months ago it was time to get back on the bike and pedal around in a surprisingly beautiful day. I headed down the hill to the Inner Harbor with an eye toward redeeming a coupon for a trip through the historic ships parked there. Well, that coupon expired in May, so I decided to just wander around to see what I could see. First stop: Harborplace. I’ve never been in there, because why, but today I decided to go check out the McCormick Spice store. Continue reading
I didn’t think I would get to ride a bike this week, but guess what? Denver has bike share! For the relatively low price of $8, I could ride all day long, as long as I checked a bike in every 30 minutes. No problem, I thought, especially since there was a station right outside my hotel. Turns out the software running the kiosks was broken, so the bike was free for 30 minutes, and I used all of then tracing downtown’s bike lanes. I have to admit the place felt kind of empty, that ghost town feel of downtown Hartf ord or Oakland or Boise, but immediately that just felt like free roads to pedal. The place is flat and easy to ride, and the skyline is that mix of modern block skyscrapers and red brick boxes–a lovely combination. I had a vague memory of passing a bikeshare station on yesterday’s ride to the airport, so I retraced those steps, vaguely, until I saw this art installation I rememebered that centered me back where I was. I noticed it because the storage container’s been used in new artistical ways lately, in NYC and Brooklyn, especially, and in New Orleans as a possible new housing design. To me these massive crates feel like temporary, like a fix that means to break down and leave folks homeless again, so it isn’t really art, except it is. It depends who’s looking I suppose. Me, I pedaled back downtown, hoping my gut would lead me back to the bikeshare station I knew was still working. It did, and I docked the bike and spent the rest of my day on foot, passing through the classical architecture of the state and city capitals and the ultramodern art musuem and the simply wonderful history museum before walking back to the hotel where work belonged. It was a perfect day to explore a new city by bike and by foot, and it was absolutely my pleasure.