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.
I’ve been working and working and working lately, totally overwhelmed by work. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been riding my bike, but it does mean I’ve largely been riding to work, to meetings, to acupuncture appointments, and to dinner and drinks and play when I can sneak it in. Grades are in for the spring semester, though, and summer school doesn’t start until Wednesday, so by Saturday afternoon I started to feel the loosening of vacation and a glimpse or two of the me that emerges when I have time to get just a little bit bored. And today the rain let up and the winds died down, and I got to take a bike ride just to see what I might see.
I had a day with no deadlines on Tuesday, a rare one in the past month. That meant I got to spend my morning finishing up a task I’d been avoiding for a few weeks, and then I hopped on the bike and headed south and east to complete one of those tasks I am middle class enough to do: register for TSA Pre Check so I can be one of those people I have been sneering at for the past couple of years who bypass the serfs on their way to the front of the airport security line.
It was a shockingly beautiful day, and I spent much of it on my bike, skirt waving and bare arms under a sunny sky. For the first time in a very, very long time I was on my bike with nowhere in particular to go. My first stop was in Station North for a long overdue lunch with R. We parted ways in the early afternoon, and I headed down the hill, taking the first left I could from Guilford past Mount Royal, on Biddle Street, to snake my way south and east, south and east to see the sights of east Baltimore on a perfect day. Continue reading
Saturday was picture-perfect, and I spent the latter part of it on the bike with O., who brought a map to lead us on a tour of trees in northwest Baltimore. O. is a smarty pants artist, really clever and creative, and she’s doing a project you’ll just have to wait to find out about, but let me give you this hint: the tree canopy varies neighborhood by neighborhood, block by block, and trees take an awfully long time to grow, so you can bet something fishy’s been going on for an awfully long time. We said our how you doin’s as we biked around Middle East, Butcher’s Hill, Patterson Park, and other neighborhoods, stopping at tree after tree, talking about how grant money let’s some people profit from the misery of others and can create perverse incentives to keep that misery going; whether or not you can escape the narrowed vision of being born rich; what happens when we aestheticize blight; how that one patch of green in an alley in Middle East could feel so peaceful; if seeing that cute little groundhog meant winter was really, truly, finally over; and, among other things, how proud we are of quitting smoking, because that was pretty much the hardest thing ever, on a personal level. Addiction must be experienced to be understood, and it is outside of all your rational arguments, choices, ideas for solving it. I snapped this picture as we rode through Old Town Mall, bustling, in parts, on this perfect Saturday. Most of it, though, looks like Night of the Comet, many years on, including this storefront with a tree growing out of the window. I wonder if McHenry Row will be the next generation’s Old Town Mall, or if we fancy today’s development is immune to the total disinvestment that leaves places like this in its wake. And then we parted ways as I took my left to home and she kept up the hill, both of us, I think, feeling very fortunate that we get to see this hard city together.
Friday’s ride took me down the hill early to meet D. for coffee and a planning session for an independent study we’re working on together. We got to talking about how it feels to walk around Baltimore, what we so on foot that we don’t see in a car, and how at odds our rhetoric about movin’ on up is with the streets between here and there. And then we walked, me pushing my bike, east on North Avenue to the Great Blacks in Wax museum, where we wondered at the juxtaposition of Dred Scott and George Washington, the Middle Passage and Ancient Egypt and FUBU, and what the lawn jockeys were doing standing with Henry “Box” Brown. We parted ways a couple of hours later, her for a walk back west, and me for a ride downtown and east so I could clear my brain with fries and some college basketball. I zig zagged my way and found myself in the East Baltimore of the Hopkins redevelopment–Middle East. This area changes every day, it seems, but also nothing ever seems to change, except on this day, when the vacant homes were fenced off. I snapped this picture of a block filled with the brick piles of demolition, a last row of houses still standing. The pile smelled of the must that is in the very cells of some of these neighborhoods, and it held the signs of life still lived there–curtains, mattresses, kids’ toys, broken chairs. Rising behind them is the new development–a glass cube ready to hold students and young professionals who can walk to their new community garden guarded over by police lights and visit the corner store with a security guard standing on the store’s corner. I took a slow tour of the few blocks and thought to myself, “Hey, Re/Development, your bones are showing.” And then it was Butcher’s Hill and down the hill to Boston Street and a whole different world. Baltimore, you sure don’t hide your shit.
Last week was so busy busy with so many late nights due to campus events and baseball that I just didn’t have time to ride my bike for anything but transportation. I can’t remember the last time I just rode around aimlessly, and after waking up tired and sickly and leaving the house without enough clothing for the cooler weather, I didn’t think I’d be taking that sort of ride today either. I headed down to the coffee shop to meet V. for a quick grading session before heading the rest of the way downtown to stop at the gym. Continue reading