Checking Out Velocipedes at the Maryland Historical Society on Monument & Par

Checking Out Velocipedes at the Maryland Historical Society on Monument & ParThursday’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.

Looking West from the Patterson Park Pagoda

Looking West from the Patterson Park PagodaI woke up early, drank a quick coffee and ate a quick piece of toast, and then hopped on my bike for a quick ride from Butcher’s Hill to Fort McHenry to meet up with the rest of the (relatively) early risers for this year’s Defender’s Day historical bicycle tour with Baltimore Heritage. I got to do part of the narrating this year, and we had A. along to change flat tires, something he is really good at. I talked about what started the war, when we started memorializing it, why we memorialize some parts and not others, and E. talked about how privateers are just pirates with government contracts, why you might not want to build row houses out of wood, and the other forts in the city that aren’t Fort McHenry. Continue reading

Wall of White Men at 11 & 1/2 West Chase Street

Wall of White Men at 11 & 1/2 West Chase StreetIt was time to bid vacation a mini-farewell and get back to work today, so that’s what I did, most of it from the comfort of my air conditioned apartment, because that’s just the kind of lucky duck I am. But then it was time to get out, and I hopped on the bike and headed to Federal Hill to meet A. for gossip and work–reading for her, administrative this and thats for me. The ride was hot and sweaty and pedestrians seemed to have it out for me, stepping off the curb and right into my path more than once. I used my outside voice to encourage their sharing with me the Inner Harbor loop and thought to myself, everyone needs to learn how to share, not just the drivers. A couple hours of work later and I was headed back toward Mount Vernon for a meeting at the offices of Baltimore Heritage. I love this group, and I mean love. Continue reading

View Across St. Mary’s Park in Seton Hill in West Baltimore

Friday’s ride took me down to the Maryland Historical Society for the second annual Bmore Historic conference. MdHS is in Mt. Vernon, and I just can’t imagine driving there, even if there aren’t bike racks right in front. I zipped down the hill in the cool morning air, getting joined by another conference attendee and passed by a bike commuter who really should have alerted me to his presence, seeing as how there was barely room for me. We have to share our roads, people, and that means we have to communicate with each other about what we’re doing because I cannot read your mind, nor do I have eyes in the back of my head. Ahem. Continue reading

Battle Monument at Calvert & Fayette

Today was bike tour day, so I woke up early, kinda nervous, and reviewed my notes for our six-stop tour of historic War of 1812 sites in the city before bringing Brompty downstairs for a good ride over to our starting point at Riverside Park, one of the oldest parks in Baltimore. A small group gathered, and we made our way over to Sharp-Leadenhall, where I talked about the history of African Americans in the early Republic, and especially in this neighborhood, the oldest African American neighborhood in the city. Continue reading

Wooden House at Wolfe & Aliceanna

As you might know if you read this blog, I love riding my bike, and I also love local history, so you can imagine my glee when E. asked if I’d like to help lead a bicycle tour of historic War of 1812 sites in Baltimore in September. Um, yes! My not-so-secret desire is to someday be a park ranger, so it seems like bicycle tour guide can only be good experience for a late-in-life career change. Continue reading

The Old Mechanic Theater Near Charles Center in Downtown Baltimore

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Friday’s ride took me out in impressive heat to tag along with E. and C. for a test ride of Baltimore Heritage and Bikemore’s new urban renewal history-by-bike tour. E. and C. are just my kind of nerds, proven again as we all donned our helmets and took the lane on a pedal from Mount Vernon Square down to Shot Tower, over through the squares of the business district, over to Lexington Market, and up to State Center at Eutaw and Lafayette where I got to learn more about the building that reduced me to tears trying to find a way in. I learned a ton, and you will too if youtake the ride on a hopefully cooler day in late August. A couple of highlights for me: urban renewal projects often had their roots in much, much earlier urban planner fantasy worlds, but now federal funds were available to make them come true, which also helps explain some of the truly outsized results~see, for example, the ginormous main post office in what was to have been the Shot Tower industrial park. I also learned about Brutalist architecture, and what happens when money dries up before the building’s done~hint: now it really is just stacks of concrete. I took this picture at Mechanic Center, of the old Mechanic Theater that will soon be torn down. Rumor was Mr. Mechanic bought out all the old theaters and closed them to direct traffic to his place, but it wasn’t quite so planned as all that. When he couldn’t fit a helicopter on stage for Miss Saigon he had his own comeuppance, and the Hippodrome was born. Or something like that. His theater is on its way down to make room for another round of development as the city continues to try to figure out how to rebirth itself. Hopefully it will leave at least traces of its past, as in the last round that kept buildings like the ones in the background of this picture. The other thing I learned is something it’s hard not to know if you bike around this town and pay a teensy bit of attention. Urban renewal was also about renforcing and enabling even more impressive forms of racial segregation. I thought about that at our most bustling stop on the tour: the transit station at Howard & Lex. There are lots of calls to revitalize the Westside, but to these eyes it looks pretty vital, the street full of people, but maybe not the sort of people city planners want bustling around the city center. This stuff has long, old roots, and the drug war is an old, old alibi. I don’t think we’ll solve the heroin and cocaine problem in this city by building a Superblock over there. But I digress. It was a great tour that taught me whole bunch of new stuff I need to learn about. And old stuff, like bring a lot more water than you think you need on a day as hot as this one, and yes, sunscreen works.