A Baltimore nonprofit, Bikemore, recently started a “Two-wheel Tuesday” campaign that counts the number of cyclists commuting every Tuesday. For a number of reasons, I’ve never been counted even though I ride in a couple times a week.
I’m offended by this, because I want to count. Don’t I get a merit badge?
I probably don’t deserve one. My first bike to work day ever was in May 2007, when I got spirited and rode to Washingtonian as an intern. I started on the capital crescent trail from the Palisades, then jumped on M Street in Georgetown during rush hour and very nearly died of sheer panic. When I was taking a sink shower in an office bathroom on 18th and L 20 minutes later, I decided biking to work just wasn’t for me.
Six years (and a number of successful PA bike rides, some of which were to work) after, it took me five months to ride my bike in Baltimore City. Baltimore’s bike lanes are kind of a laugh—they run for five blocks, then move to the other side of the street, cut through busy parking lots or just run out and become bus stops—and I was still new to the geography and the (literal) street culture. It took a few missed Saturday buses for me to ride my bike up Calvert St. to a healthcare clinic in the not-the-nicest neighborhood two miles away.
(I would suggest that every person in a city make their first urban bike ride early on a Saturday or Sunday morning. It will fool you into thinking it’s easy.)
I kept at it not to save the planet, but because it’s faster, more direct, and because I feel alive and regenerated. A ride from my neighborhood to East Baltimore requires Alastair Moody-esque vigilance and an acceptance potential violence, but it wakes me up from the stupor of city life and office work.
On Wednesday, a UPS driver told me to be careful for “the fools out here” from a window two feet over me. Last year, a Baltimore cafeteria worker laughed heartily with me as I waited in a line of cars at a stop light. “That’s one way to save gas!” he said. In spring, during the protests and riots against police brutality, someone from the third floor of the same jail called out as I passed that Black Lives Matter. These are words and voices I might never have heard otherwise. By comparison, everyone on a shuttle is as lively as a pickle floating around a bus-shaped mason jar.
May I remember that next time I’m biking sweatily up a hill that smells as much like sewer trash as it does like rosemary, in this heavy August heat.