As I'm sure you've heard, City Paper is winding down after 40 years of weekly publication. It's such a bummer in so many ways, a sign of times I don't always like very much. On a personal note, it means just a couple more columns before I'm off field tripping in obscurity. As commenter once tweeted at me upon seeing another column, "Who cares what some dyke does with her time off?" Good question, sir, good question. City Paper or not, I can tell you right now: I'll be on a field trip every day, on my bicycle.
Riding a bike means you start every day with a bike ride, breeze on your face, how-you-doings in your mouth as you greet your neighbors. I showed a new colleague how to commute down to our shuttle bus by bike, and he said it was like riding with Pee Wee Herman as I dinged my bell incessantly and yelled hellos to everyone I passed as we flew down the glorious Maryland Avenue cycletrack. DING-DING-DING LOOK AT ME I'M PART OF THE WORLLLLD! I would not trade that morning for sitting in my car honking impatiently for anything.
And if I'm being real, most of my field trips these days are the rides to and from work. I have a full time job, and getting to it takes at least an hour each day, so that's mostly what I'm doing on my bike. It is almost always the best part of my day, but there are some things that make it terrible, and before I leave my regular writing gig here, I want to tell you about them.
First, the streets. Drivers know how terrible the asphalt is on some of Baltimore's streets, but imagine riding it on two wheels, bump bump bumping into potholes, around storm grates designed to catch our wheels and toss us forward, and over the ripples left behind by trucks grinding their way on streets not designed for them. The safest spots for cyclists are often in the gutters, and that's where all the trash is. It's not a good feeling, psychologically, but more than that it's a safety hazard.
Second, the pedestrians. I love pedestrians, and when I'm not on my bike, I am one. I know how we do things—we stare at our phones, we cross against the lights, we stop suddenly in the middle of the street, we step off the curb to get a car's width jump on the crossing. I call this "radical pedestrianing"—in a world built for cars, walking where and when you want is its own politics. Imagine if we built the world to ensure that everyone could walk safely to and from school, work, or wherever, at any time of the day or night. That would be a world I'd want to live in. It sure isn't the one I live in now.
All that said, my bike rides sometimes feel like that old video game Paper Boy where your mission was to dodge people darting out unexpectedly from all corners. It's not easy. In my world pedestrians would look up and wait for the light if there are cars coming. Guess I'm not as radical as I thought I was.
Third, and most aggravating, are drivers. Once you are in a car you seem to think you are all alone in the world, and everything else is just keeping you from getting where you need to go. Stop signs are mere suggestions. There's one on Guilford just before the school administration building when you are heading south that I think drivers have just stopped seeing altogether. I know this about that stop sign and so I slow and wait there every morning, but I shouldn't have to do that to keep myself from getting hit by bus drivers and police—the most likely culprits. Please stop pulling through the crosswalk before you make that right on red. It is really dangerous, and for the bicyclists and walkers around you, it's terrifying. Peek in your rear view mirror before you swing open your door—we might be right there, and you don't want to hit us. You really don't.
Or at least I think drivers don't want to hit us. If you hit someone on a bike or on foot with your car, you will likely cause incredible damage. You might even kill us. Chances are you'll get away with it. The guy who drove his truck into my dad when he was out for a walk got I think a $1000 fine. I think that's what it was, but I can't really remember. I can't even remember the name of the man who killed him, I can't hold on to it, even though I've been told a hundred times. It's too much to look at, this part where he is out there driving likely the same Ford F-150 while I spend my days never getting to see my dad again. And every time I see a Ford F-150 I can't believe the size of its grill, how it just ran right into my dad, his last words, "Noooooo….." That's what I remember—not the driver's name.
That's my life, but I imagine his isn't as easy as I sometimes fear it is. He has to live knowing that he ended another human's life. He had to see it, had to watch as my dad's sister attempted to breathe life into him, had to know that whatever he'd just done—glanced at his cell phone, failed to look left then right then left again, didn't take the minute to wipe the fog off his windshield—meant ripples of grief for so many people. He has to live with that. I can't imagine that's easy. There's no justice when someone kills with a car, but that doesn't mean there's no justice.
I've made a pretty good case here, I'm afraid, for NOT riding a bicycle. But here's the thing: Every day since I started riding a bike is better than the days before I rode. I'll keep riding as safely as I can, a field trip every day, ding ding ding. See you out there.