“Maybe just stick to the main streets sweetie instead of biking further in these neighborhoods. We’re an open-air community, and it’s been that way ever since I grew up here [in Upton/Sandtown] right by that corner over there.”
~Woman working at the Avenue Bakery
The Zombie Prom Bike Party took a more westerly route through the city. As usual we left St. Mary’s Park in Seton Hill at 6:30pm and made our way north up McCulloh Street before going down N Fulton Ave through Penn North neighborhood. I was very pleased with the biking route, because of how intentional it was for cyclists to bike through different neighborhoods that aren’t frequented as often. We wound our way through the residential neighborhoods around Sandtown on Baker Street, N Bentalou Street, and W Lafayette Street. I just loved the humid, sweaty air permeating the open-air communities of west Baltimore row-homes basked in a golden setting sun as a few hundred cyclists dressed as zombies rode through the streets.
We stopped for a bit at Harlem Park before continuing southwards down S Calhoun Street and S Monroe Street before ending up at the Baltimore Community Toolbank (1224 Wicomico Street). Honestly, it felt more like an adventure than previous bike rides because we were riding on streets that so many people caution against riding. I definitely would not feel safe riding the same route back home at night, but during the day I feel more than comfortable in my own skin traversing those streets. Most of the neighborhoods of Sandtown-Winchester, Harlem Park, Poppleton, and Mont Clare are predominantly black neighborhoods with higher crime, more police presence, and lower-income.
Many people with whom I interact are afraid to venture into these neighborhoods because they fear what can happen there. But during this ride, in the throng of a few hundred cyclists I high-fived and waved at the residents who took a few minutes off from their porch and stoop time to cheer us. We would cheer back, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that this goodwill could definitely grow into something more sustainable and positive. Of course the ride had its exciting moment, such as when a suspect in a car sped away from a police officer in pursuit and clipped two cyclists.
A week later I decided to make good on my personal initiative to explore more neighborhoods, and I biked through Pennsylvania Ave. At some point I met an old man from Trinidad who was playing the steel drums on his porch. I spent a solid five minutes hanging out next to him in silence as I closed my eyes and imagined that I was on the humid paths of some village in Trinidad hearing the vibrant tones of some calypso medley. I stumbled upon a thrift shop run out of a row home on Pennsylvania Ave after it changes from Reisterstown Road. It was very dark, and the clothes were moth-eaten and old, but it felt like I was in one of the old thrift shops of Kampala, Uganda again. Wanting to find out some more information, I stopped by the Avenue Bakery where I learned about the Pennsylvania Avenue Heritage Trail that details famous African-American landmarks in the Penn North neighborhood.
Pennsylvania Avenue Heritage Trail
1. Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Maryland
2. The Lillie Carooll Jackson Museum
3. Douglas Memorial Community Church
4. Elks Lodge
5. Moorish Keyhole Houses
6. Booker T. Washington Middle School 130
7. Bethel AME Church
8. Union Baptist Church
9. Sharp Street Memorial Church
10. Henry Highland Garnet School/Thurgood Marshall's Elementary School/PS 103
11. The Royal Theatre Marqeuu Monument
12. Billie Holiday Plaza
13. Macedonia Baptist Church
14. The Comedy Club
15. Trinity Baptist Church
17. Ideal Savings and Loan
18. Baltimore Masjid
19. Thurgood Marshall's Childhood Home
10. Romare Bearden Mural
I have just started to piece together a small stories woven from a much larger narrative that makes up Baltimore. The facets, quirks, and beliefs change from person to person faster than the disparate neighborhoods. Sometimes when I feel non-Baltimoreans talk about Baltimore, they tend to generalize it as if it can be categorized by one set of experiences. But Baltimore comprises so much more than just the sum of its parts, but of the stories bought on corner stores, shared on evening stoops, and lived in midnight rides.