I love Baltimore. I cannot stop myself from going back . While it is certainly not New Orleans, it has some of the quirky city flavor of that more southern city, and it is a whole lot closer to where I live. On an unusually cool Sunday in July, I biked the forty- five miles from downtown Washington D.C. to Baltimore, leaving Washington at lunchtime on my new Surly Long Haul Trucker. Late that afternoon, I glided into the neighborhood of Federal Hill. I quickly found a bar. Baltimore is a great sports town, and everyone was cheering the Orioles game against Oakland. I had a Smithwick’s Ale for six dollars, although everyone else seemed to be drinking Miller Lite.
I had left downtown Chapel Hill at seven that morning with a Starbucks decaf and an oatmeal. I had not yet decided on a destination. Heading north on I-85 in the Honda with my bike in the trunk, I decided to drive to downtown D.C., but where to go from there? I have ridden through much of D.C. many times. However, I have never cycled north of the prosperous Embassy Row area, heading into Chevy Chase and Bethesda. Most addresses we read in D.C. say something Northwest, as in 1580 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W. But looking at the map, unless I cycled all the the way to Frederick, Maryland, I did not see any great destination to spend the night. Not that I have ever been there, but who really wants to spend the night in a chain hotel on the highway in Gaithersburg?
So I chose to bicycle another direction, through the part of Washington that I have also rarely visited, heading northeast. I parked the car in the Washington Union Station garage, put the wheels on the bike, and headed out Rhode Island Avenue N.E. Traffic was relatively light on a Sunday afternoon. The destination was Baltimore, forty five miles away.
Once I left Union Station, for the next ten or fifteen miles, I hardly ever saw a Caucasian face. While there are some dicey areas just a few blocks north of the Station, with crowds hanging around liquor stores, things mostly looked pretty conventional, just no white people. Crossing the Maryland line, the city transitioned into suburbia, but the color line remained. Older suburbs transitioned into tract mini-mansions, but still mostly black. I passed a picnic given by a fire department.
On a trail that passed through a public park, I saw two men’s adult softball games. The four teams all had uniforms, clearly in some kind of league. I had not remembered African Americans being passionate about baseball. Getting closer, I realized they were all speaking Spanish. These guys must be Dominican or something. But still all black!
Suburban neighborhoods looked very conventional.
I finally have Google Maps for bicycle operating correctly on my I-Phone, and it plotted a route through both neighborhoods, parks, and industrial areas, on bike paths, residential streets, and country roads.
Suburban sprawl is not equidistant and uniform. As in Greensboro, Raleigh, and many many other cities, race effects sprawl. Baltimore does not sprawl off much towards the south side or west sides, which are traditionally the poorer sides. From the south, there are small farms with horses only seven or eight miles from dense row housing of Baltimore. Just before the city starts, there is a squeezed tangle of waterways and freeways. All of a sudden you are there, red brick row houses with white stone steps.
After my beer, I booked a room on my cell phone at a low cost hotel in Mount Vernon. This neighborhood was where the wealthy lived in the eighteen fifties, about a mile uphill from the touristy downtown area around the Inner Harbor. I had a good but overpriced Italian dinner in the same Mount Vernon area.
The next day, on a Monday morning, I rode a similar route back to Washington. I did mess up once in south Baltimore where I found myself on some kind of freeway. It was scary for a moment, but I diverted onto Old Annapolis Road. I passed a crab shack, wishing it was lunchtime.
I later passed by the University of Maryland in College Park, and biked into the Union Station parking garage about two that afternoon. I was sweaty, but I got out of town to beat the rush hour traffic. I had dinner that night at home in Chapel Hill.