It’s spring break, and Monday’s weather felt like it. I spent my morning reading in bed before hopping online to email students reminders to turn in work and answer some other work-related emails before heading to Mount Vernon for a panel discussion about Baltimore for UMBC’s Alternative Spring Break (ASB) program. Ok, so far it’s not sounding like a break, but I knew an out-to-lunch-alone and a solo bike ride were on the other side of things, so even the work felt like a celebration.Continue reading
Tuesday was unusually warm, a balmy 41 degrees, so I knocked off work a bit early to take a bike ride in the sunshine they said we wouldn’t get. I headed west this time, and then south, heading toward Stricker Street to pay my respects to the three firefighters who died when the house at 205 Stricker Street collapsed on them. A fourth firefighter was injured, though he appears to be recovering. Pictures of these firefighters are all over the news, and they are devastating. So young, such smiles, so many people who loved them, killed doing a job that is entirely about helping protect others. Flags at half mast, a long line of fellow firefighters accompanying them from shock trauma to the medical examiner’s office, so many tributes pouring in from all over. It is just so sad.Continue reading
I wasn’t really feeling a bike ride yesterday, but I knew I’d feel better and sleep better if I got outside, even though it was a gazillion degrees and swampy out there. I was right. I headed down the hill and west and then up the hill again to Bolton Hill. I have some friends thinking about moving there, and I wanted to see how long it would take me to get there if they end up doing that. An important part of any moving calculus: how long will it take Kate to get there on her bike? For this one, about 17 minutes.Continue reading
In truly thrilling news, my sister got a bicycle! I remember trying to get her on my old cruiser bike in New Orleans ten years ago, and she started panicking with fear after less than two revolutions of the pedal. Much like our dad bailed on teaching us to drive after one or both of us freaked out, I took the bikes back in and we moved around New Orleans on foot instead.Continue reading
I took a bike ride on Friday, heading over to Bolton Hill to peek through the window and say hi to S., who has been on total lockdown and under the weather for nearly two weeks. She also promised a lot of good looking flower trees–my favorite spring treat–in exchange, and I was not disappointed. I also got to use the protected bike lane along Mount Royal Avenue for the first time. It’s great that it’s there, but it’s so short. Alas.
After I left S.’s place, I made a quick stop at the hardware store–it was closed–and then rode around West Baltimore for a bit. Because I haven’t been riding much other than to go to and from work, I hadn’t been over here in quite awhile. The quick changes of Baltimore neighborhoods are especially stark in Bolton Hill, where a few blocks later you are in Marble Hill, and then you’re in West Baltimore, one of the most disenfranchised parts of the city. I can’t describe the shift, but trust me–it is profound, and dissonant.
I rode around with no real destination, taking turns when I wanted to, looking to see if I could see what COVID-19 looks like here, but it just looked like a spring Friday afternoon–flower trees like the ones in this picture blooming, people out strolling, small crowds near the doors of corner stores, people sitting on their stoops. I said my how you doin’s, got the nods back, and one guy yelled after me, “Hey, is it bike party?” I yelled back, “Personal bike party! Just me on my bike!” White people riding bikes over here likely mostly only happens when it’s Bike Party.
I remembered my first bike ride to the Poe House in southwest Baltimore. I couldn’t find it and just kept pedaling up and down the blocks until a guy yelled out, “It’s right over there, end of the block.” No reason I’d be there other than that. Racial and class segregation is real here, and if you don’t see it, you aren’t looking.
My next trip outside was my long run on Sunday–a whole six miles. My habit is to start my run going uphill to save the downhill for the second half of the run, so I’m often running up into Guilford and Roland Park. These neighborhoods are on another planet from where I was biking on Friday. Mansions, expansive lawns tended by people who don’t live here, tidy private gardens, street names like “Greenway,” “Rugby,” and “Tuscany,” it’s hard to believe I’m just a few miles from home.
I took this picture of flowering trees as I ran down Blythewood to see where it ended:
The background for this tree is so different than the one in my other picture. What COVID-19 means up here is so different from what it means over there. A virus doesn’t discriminate, but people do, and some of us have roomy homes to shelter in, big yards to exercise in, ways to safely and comfortably be outside, access to health care that sets us up to survive the virus better than others. A six mile circuit from my house will swing me through 20 years of life expectancy. That was true before this virus, and I fear it will be true after, if we don’t use this crisis to make a different world. I know others plan to use this crisis for an even greater consolidation of wealth.
Today Governor Hogan declared a stay-at-home order. I can still run and ride my bike alone, so I’ll still be out there. And I am exceedingly aware of the privilege I have for my worry to be whether or not I can do those things. Figuring out how to pay rent, how to get groceries when you aren’t supposed to take public transit, how to teach kids while working from home yourself, how to take care of oneself when sickness hits…staying at home means such different things to people, and remembering that will hopefully help us help each other in the ways we need to be helped. So many cracks to fall through right now, we have to step lightly.
It had been far too long since I got a ride in that took me on streets I don’t know well to nowhere in particular. Those are the rides that help me feel most like myself, and without them, I was starting to feel not quite at home with myself. Friday afternoon found me with some unexpected time to myself, so I headed west to see what I might see.
Tuesday’s ride took me over to Bolton Hill for a morning meeting, and with nothing on the calendar until an afternoon meeting downtown, I got to spend a couple of hours tooling around West Baltimore on my bicycle. I started by heading west on Mosher and decided I’d ride that street until it ended. But then I ran into a small park that I couldn’t bike through, so I went around on Mason Street, then McMechen, then back the other way on Eutaw and then zipped through an alley and over on Madison before going the wrong way down Mosher for a block (sorry, everybody) until I could head west on it again. Bolton Hill has itself blocked off from the rest of West Baltimore by some pretty heavy street-level infrastructure.
Friday was a hard day. Alton Sterling was shot and killed by police while selling CDs outside a convenience store. Philando Castile was shot at a traffic stop, his girlfriend filming as her 4 year old child sat in the back seat. These were the latest two in a year that has already seen over 500 people shot and killed by police officers. And then shots rang out in Dallas, more people dead, more lives plunged into the heavy ocean waves of despair. Layers upon layers of loss, each one all about politics, and also about the individuals with lives cut short, the people who loved them left, after the cameras turn off, with the void of death. It’s so very permanent, and the grief will never ever fully subside. It is so, so sad, and angering, and it makes me want to melt down all the guns and freeze time until we can figure out how to uproot what Judith Butler calls schematic racism: the settled notion that all Black people are a threat and all white people need constant police protection from them. There’s a lot of other stuff we need to do, too, but that’s what was on my mind as I headed out on a bike ride on Friday.
It was another beautiful late winter day in Baltimore, sun shining and just a little bit warm, so I treated myself to a bike ride to campus. I had plenty of time, so after wooshing down the hill and taking a right and then a left through Bolton Hill, I followed some new streets through West Baltimore as I vaguely angled toward Arbutus. I was stopped at the light at Lafayette and Argyle, I think, and watched a little police profiling go down. Continue reading
We had another unseasonably warm day today, at least in my estimation, so after a busy morning, I hopped on my bike and headed to campus to take advantage of what they keep telling me is one of the last few warm days before winter really gets here. I flew down the hill and then made the Park Avenue climb to Lafayette and took my left. It’s amazing how quickly the neighborhoods change along this street. Once you cross Eutaw Place, for example, it’s like you’ve entered a different universe. On the ride back I was struck by how once I left Marble Hill for Bolton Hill, the asphalt turned that smooth black of brand new road. When Crossing Pennsylvania Avenue into West Baltimore is even more pronounced. All of a sudden the trees disappear, as does the stately red brick, replaced by row after row of abandoned row house. I snapped this picture of a row house at Lafayette and Fremont (which is not the same as Fulton–I made that mistake once, and it took me a looong time to correct it). This empty side suggests another row house used to be cuddled up next to it, those patches maybe marking windows, or just the shared walls. Off in the distance more and more of these vacants line up, but some of them are redone and occupied. How hard it must be to share the neighborhood with these, and the empty lots filled with crumbled buildings and trash that dot the neighborhood. So often when I’m riding around Baltimore I wonder, where did everybody go? I know, I know, the suburbs, but where did everybody go, and what are we going to do with all these empty and decaying blighted properties? I continued my ride, and when I got to Arbutus, just a couple miles further, I was reminded again of how many different cities are all butted up against each other in this place, some of them just ghosts.