Archive for the ‘Maryland trips’ Category

Starting in the northern tip of Virginia near Winchester VA there is a stretch of the Shenandoah / Cumberland valley where you can pass through four states (Virginia / West Virginia / Maryland / Pennsylvania) in a forty mile stretch.     In modern terminology this would be described as part of “the I-81 corridor.”

A few months ago on another trip I flew over this area while flying westward on Southwest Airlines from Baltimore on a clear day.  Most mountainous land seen from the air has the shape of crumpled paper.   Instead, the Shenandoah Valley area looked of long lines of distinct sharp ridges lined up in a northeast / southwest direction.  Within these ridges the land looks (and is) comparatively flat.

The Shenandoah / Cumberland valley was a big deal in the American Civil War, where Southern armies marched north to try and conquer Yankee territory.   Both Gettysburg and Antietam are right around here.

This is an area frequently on the news because it is a notably Trump supporting region within an easy drive of Washington DC.  Media can come out and see what the other America is thinking and still get back to D.C. in time for cocktails.  Much of this region has been economically left behind.

Maybe my readers will remember my trip here two years ago, when I bicycled north starting in Winchester VA.   This trip I wanted to push further north into Pennsylvania.

It took a little less than six hours to drive our Prius from Chapel Hill NC to the Walmart on the south side of Hagerstown MD.   Once again I assumed that Walmart did not mind me parking here for twenty-four hours.   I pulled the Bike Friday out of the trunk next to someone’s religiously labelled minivan.

 

My self-appointed mission was to bicycle to Shippensburg PA, spend the night and ride back the next day, using a different route each way.

 

Hagerstown (population 40,000) greets a visitor like me with the kind of early twentieth century houses that North Carolina lacks.  I love this look.  This was not a wealthy neighborhood.   Most of Hagerstown looks somewhat run down.

 

 

I continued on, cycling straight north through both sides of downtown.

Out of town US11 is wide enough for pleasant cycling.

Contrary to popular notion the Mason-Dixon Line refers to the border between Pennsylvania and Maryland.   When I crossed there were no special signs or businesses that made issue of this line.

 

Eventually I did see some signage.   Some of these signs were over twenty miles into Pennsylvania.   Every commercial sign I saw about Mason-Dixon was in Pennsylvania, including the one with a rebel flag.

 

 

 

For a time a was able to find a parallel route off the busy US11.    The countryside was beautiful.

On station wagon trips as a child, my mother told us to look at Pennsylvania barns, that they were bigger and stronger than the houses that accompanied them.   She was right.  North Carolina does not have barns like this.

 

 

I have been trying to get to Chambersburg PA (population 21,000) for quite a while.   I am not a particular Civil War buff.  I am more attracted to Chambersburg because I thought its  architecture would look exotically Yankee and it is an easy drive from North Carolina.  During the Civil War General Lee’s army used Chambersburg’s accessibility for other ends.  There is no point in romanticizing this conflict.  My great and great-great grandparent’s cause was wrong.  Chambersburg PA was raided and occupied by Southern forces three times.  The third time the town was burned mostly to the ground.   Free African-American citizens of the town were abducted and murdered.    As a result, for a time the Union used a battle cry “Remember Chambersburg.”

About Chambersburg today, whoever wrote the Wikipedia page about Chambersburg and its surrounding Franklin County said the following.  (Note my previous comment on what an easy drive it is to Chambersburg for journalists like New York Times conservative columnist David Brooks!)

From Wikipedia:

Journalist David Brooks in 2001 used Chambersburg and Franklin County to typify Republican “Red America.” According to Brooks, there is little obvious income inequality and people don’t define their place in society by their income level. They value the work ethic and are anti-union, anti-welfare, pro-free market, and religious social conservatives.

The joke that Pennsylvanians tell about their state is that it has Philadelphia on one end, Pittsburgh on the other, and Alabama in the middle. Franklin County is in the Alabama part . . . . The local culture owes more to Nashville, Houston, and Daytona than to Washington, Philadelphia, or New York . . .

The conservatism I found in Franklin County is not an ideological or a reactionary conservatism. It is a temperamental conservatism. People place tremendous value on being agreeable, civil, and kind . . . They value continuity and revere the past.[75]

I am not sure I agree.  Note this was written in 2001.   Is Trump “agreeable, civil, and kind?”

I biked into Chambersburg late in the afternoon.

 

 

Chambersburg did seem a pleasant place.  It has a small college Wilson College.  For various reasons I decided to continue on thirteen more miles to the next town, Shippensburg PA.

Like Chambersburg, Shippensburg PA looks on the surface like the quintessential American small town.

 

Shippensburg (population 5,500) is home of Shippensburg University, a public university that is part of the Penn State system.   There is a Quality Inn chain hotel right in the center of downtown.   The front desk staff was quite cordial and fascinated with my bike ride.   I checked in and changed clothes.

In a college town there are usually lots of places to eat; not so much here.   The hotel restaurant seemed the best place to eat.  I sat at the bar.   The menu was very old school: choice of meat with two sides.   I got salmon with mashed potatoes and broccoli.   It was quite delicious.  There were five or six mostly older men eating alone at the bar, sitting one or two seats apart.   None of us talked to each other, which did not really bother me.   We did all talk to the bartender.   She said she was from Philadelphia.

 

 

At the free breakfast the next morning it was NOT Fox News on the wall, it was the local station.   Still, one cannot escape this man.

 

Once back on the road the morning light was lovely as I bicycled first through Shippensburg and then back south towards Chambersburg, this time on back country roads.

 

 

 

 

I made it back into Chambersburg.

The rest of the ride back to my car was uneventful but pleasant.   On the outskirts of Hagerstown I passed new multi-family housing being built, even though one mile away Hagerstown clearly has a dearth of housing waiting to be used.   In many parts of American, people want to live in NEW housing, damn the older neighborhoods.   Slash and burn urbanism.

 

I bicycled back through Hagerstown MD which was a couple of miles before arriving to my car at the Walmart.  I wanted to get a Subway sandwich to eat in the car while driving home on I-81.    I needed to get back to Chapel Hill NC by 6:30 PM (for a dinner engagement!).   In an older neighborhood of Hagerstown I lucked into Hartle’s Subs.  (The Best Since 1955!). Was the sandwich better than Subway?  Absolutely, it was really good.  On the other hand, Subway does not have Fox News playing on the wall.

In my final stretch before the Walmart I passed through other, nicer, areas of Hagerstown I had not previously seen.   Hagerstown has a lovely City Park.   It has a neighborhood on the top of a ridge with nicely restored older homes.

 

My car was still there at the Walmart.   I arrived back home in Chapel Hill NC about 6:00 PM.

On this six day jaunt myself and two friends managed to visit Richmond, Baltimore, Lancaster and Philadelphia all in a six day bicycle trip.    This trip put our relationship with our work life in focus.   Careerwise the three of us have completely different work situations.  Lyman, an architect, is proud to say he is retired.   Myself, I work,  but as little as possible.   I do not use that that R word, so I prefer to say I am head a of a small shipping company, working with my son Jack.  The Don is semi-retired, and Jack is in charge of the family business now.   I do take multiple phone calls from Jack every day.

My friend Connie is a lawyer working in Florida.  He has a big job, a partner in a law firm.     Connie would have the biggest work-related struggles on this trip.   Could he do a bike trip and still keep up with his important corporate clients?

 

Air fares to Richmond VA were quite low and Richmond is just less than three hours north on my drive up from North Carolina.  With two bicycles on the back of my Honda I picked up my two friends at the Richmond airport.    Lyman had flown in from Austin TX with his folding Bike Friday in a suitcase.   Connie had met Lyman connecting in Atlanta and they both arrived Richmond early afternoon on the same Southwest Airlines flight.   They had clearly started partying on the plane.   For a late lunch I drove them over to En Su Boca on the fringes of the Fan District in Richmond.

 

Following the plans I had made, after lunch we drove three hours up to Baltimore and stayed in a downtown Baltimore Embassy Suites.   We would leave my car in Baltimore for five  days.   I love Baltimore.   Red brick houses with white stone steps.

We set out by bicycle the next morning.   Putting our bicycles together and strapping all our gear on the back, we biked a few blocks west to a stop of the Baltimore Lightrail, for a fifteen mile train ride north.   We could just wheel the bicycles on the train.

We had considerable issues making the ticket machines work properly.

 

 

 

On the train on this Sunday morning we met interesting people.   This woman was traveling to a crab festival where she was doing volunteer work.

photo by Lyman Labry

 

We got off at the end of the line in the north Baltimore suburb of Hunt Valley.    From there we would only need to bicycle about a mile or two to the start of the North Central / York County rail trail, which runs forty-one miles straight north, all the way to York, PA.

The weather was overcast, chilly and damp.

 

 

It was only predicted ten percent chance of rain but it rained anyway for at least two hours.   We had raincoats but still got wet and the bicycles were filthy.

 

We stopped for lunch at a pizza place.  The countryside was beautiful.   There were lots of hills but our path plowed right though them.

The trail passes through Howard Tunnel, in use since 1838, the second oldest rail tunnel in the U.S.

photo by Lyman Labry

 

 

 

 

The trail deposited us right into the middle of York PA.

We had booked a downtown Airbnb;  the downtown hotel I had stayed at in previous trips to York was closed for renovations.    York is a fading factory town.   Does it have any pizzazz left?

Small breweries now seem a key part in the revitalization of American downtowns.   York’s Gift Horse Brewing Company was in a small storefront but with a big selection, including some really creative ales.   We all three had a vanilla pumpkin porter.    The owner and brewer was staffing the bar.

Across the street is Rockfish Public House.  I did not have big expectations about the food but it was about the only restaurant choice in downtown York on a Sunday night.   But it was quite good, some of the best seafood I have had in a while.  We split an order of mussels then got a fish entree each.

 

Walking back to the Airbnb, I noticed that York continues a trend I have seen all over America.  The newest looking and and probably largest building in downtown York is a combination jail and courthouse.   Depressing.

 

It was cold walking in the dark.   Our Airbnb was the rear of the ground floor on the row house in the center.

 

I know Connie likes to wake up early.   At about 6:15 AM he was hard at work on legal documents.

At about 8:30 AM he was still hard at work.   His ability to focus is impressive.

We prepared to push off.    Our destination this day would be Lancaster PA.  In the backyard of our Airbnb in York Connie was doing some warmup exercises.

We biked through York.    I like coming here because it looks so different from North Carolina.

 

Once out of town it was pleasant cycling over rolling hills, on a lightly trafficked highway with a wide shoulder.

Connie commented that he did not realize how big the Susquehanna River is.

Soon after crossing the river Connie ran over a large screw which not only gave him a flat, but pretty much destroyed the tire.   You could see a flathead screw sticking out!   We always carry spare tubes and a pump but were not prepared for the failure of the tire itself.

 

Connie has done a lot of bicycle touring, he knew what he was doing.

photo by Lyman Labry

Luckily we were able to triage the tire enough that we could bicycle four miles to a bike shop.   The staff at Trek Bicycle Lancaster were quite gregarious and we ended up buying all sorts of stuff!

 

John Dunkle has been my friend for thirty years.   Our children grew up together in Carrboro/Chapel Hill.  We have always played music together.   In the last five years he has returned to his hometown of Lancaster PA.   His profession is home renovation, and he and wife Suzanne purchased a large house just outside of town.  They have fixed it up and run part of it as an Airbnb.   We arrived in the afternoon just in time to avoid the rain, and circled around to the back entrance.

 

 

John and I played some music, he showed me some of the new songs he has written.  In his early sixties he is at the top of his musical game.    He use to be just a harmonica player.  The singing and the guitar and the songwriting have all come in the last ten years.    

 

 

 

That evening after dinner John walked us around the older inner city part of Lancaster.   He plays in several music groups and has connected with the arts community in Lancaster.  Lancaster Marionette Theater had no show that evening when we walked by.  John told us he had gone to high school with the puppeteer.   John explained that the theater is on the ground floor,  the puppeteer’s mother (and the ticket taker) lives on the second floor, and the puppeteer lives on the third floor.   John called the puppeteer on his cell phone.  The guy sheepishly waved at the four of us down at street level.

 

 

 

I had not seen it when the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman wrote a long article back in July 2018 about Lancaster, how it is an example of a fading factory town coming together and bipartisanly picking itself up by its bootstraps, much more than have nearby and similar sized York, Harrisburg, or Reading.    Lancaster encourages things like the Marionette Theater.  Energetic people like John Dunkle are moving here.  Things do seem to be happening. I would add that one key advantage is that Lancaster is on a main Amtrak line; it has about ten direct trains daily to Philadelphia and New York City.

We now had two days to bicycle the eighty miles from Lancaster to Philadelphia.  Connie was up early doing legal work on his computer.   John and Suzanne fixed us a nice breakfast before we pushed off.   Pretty much this whole day was through Amish and Mennonite country, lovely farm vistas.

 

 

 

photo by Lyman Labry

We passed by an apparent Amish school.   There were no cars parked here but school was in session.  Everybody including the teachers apparently got there on foot or by bicycle.

 

We passed through various small towns.

Biking into Coatesville we first biked past a huge steel works which looks mostly abandoned.      We all separately came to the same conclusion: “Deer Hunter.”

 

It was lunchtime, we had been bicycling all morning and we really needed to sit down and eat.   The population of Coatesville looks poor,  mostly African-American and Hispanic.   Restaurants all seemed take-out only.    We finally found a place that let us set up camp in the back.     We had extremely low expectations but the chicken and/or ham sandwiches were quite good, sort of one’s ideal Subway sandwich, in a store that looked vaguely Hispanic.

 

 

 

Connie had several important sounding work phone calls, he walked around on the sidewalk in front of our take-out joint, talking legalese.

 

After a few more miles of cycling, we spent that night at a Holiday Inn Express in the center of a complex of huge parking lots and strip malls in Exton PA.   Walmart was nearby.   Luckily there was a chain tap room and restaurant next door, within walking distance.    I took Lyman’s picture as we left to go eat.

 

The cycling the next day was almost entirely on flat paved rail trails.   Coming from several different points, the last thirty or forty miles into Philadelphia from the west is one of my favorite urban bicycling situations in America.    From Exton we first cycled on the Chester Valley Trail for about twelve miles.

 

We then cut through some neighborhoods.

We cycled across Valley Forge National Historical Park, on narrow bike paths.

 

I now realize why General Washington camped out in Valley Forge: it does not look like a valley at all, rather it is the highest point in the area, one that would be militarily advantageous.  About the time the three of us biked to the top of the hill, Connie received an important work phone call from, I kid you not, Sao Paulo, Brazil.     Lyman and I stood around and enjoyed the view while Connie took his call.

The Valley Forge park overlooks the Schuylkill River.    There is a beautiful new bicycle / rail trail bridge across that river.

 

From this point the Schuylkill River Trail goes nineteen miles along the Schuylkill River, all the way to Center City Philadelphia.   There is no car traffic and it is a near-perfect paved path.

 

Philadelphia has great restaurants.   As we got into the city we pulled off the trail and found a noodle place, run almost entirely by one Japanese-looking guy.

The bike path delivered us right into the city.   To get to our Airbnb in the Spring Garden neighborhood we got off the bike path where it runs by the big art museum.

That evening we walked from our Airbnb to our friends Colleen and Dev’s home, carrying bottles of wine as gifts for our hosts.   Philadelphia is a sea of row houses.

 

 

 

Colleen and Dev have moved to one of these Philadelphia row houses from Durham NC just in the past year after Dev got a really good job in the New Jersey suburbs.  They cooked us an amazing meal.

 

The neighborhood has all sorts of walkable places, including an Irish bar called The Black Taxi about fifty feet away.    After dinner we walked over for a nightcap.

 

The next morning we bicycled the mile or two from our Airbnb to 30th Street Station, for the Amtrak back to Baltimore.    Out of about fifteen trains a day in the Northeast Corridor, only two or three allow a standard bicycle loose and unboxed.   The art deco station is beautiful.

 

photo by Lyman Labry

 

 

The train to Baltimore took a little more than an hour.

We bicycled the two or three miles from Baltimore Penn Station to my parked car.

 

We put all the bicycles on and in my car and drove three hours south to Richmond VA, getting to Richmond about lunchtime.   Connie was flying home that afternoon; his job needed attention.

Lyman and I spent the night at an Airbnb in the Fan District of Richmond.   We bicycled around the next morning before both heading home.

Monument Avenue in Richmond is a beautiful street, late nineteenth century design, major monuments every few blocks.   Some monuments are more offensive than others. This is General Lee.

 

The Jefferson Davis monument is positively unforgivable in the modern era.   I find it offensive.

 

 

Richmond has miles of row houses.

 

It has a state capital building designed by Thomas Jefferson.

Lyman had been told to look for this in Richmond, a unique inner city overpass in Shockoe Bottom,  where four modes of transportation cross at the same place, a canal, two railroads, two highways, and a pedestrian path.

 

 

 

 

 

About two years ago I read the 2007 book Deer Hunting with Jesus by columnist Joe Bageant.   Joe grew up poor white working class in Winchester, Virginia.   His book is about rediscovering Winchester after living elsewhere.   While Joe’s politics, at least on the economic front, are quite leftist, ten years ago he described how cultural cluelessness by liberal Democrats left his friends and family in Winchester nowhere to turn but to Republicans.   The book talked a lot about the pugilistic worldview of the Scots-Irish who have been in Winchester for over two hundred years.  Joe essentially predicted the arrival of Donald Trump.

Winchester (population 27,000) is the northernmost city in Virginia, about eighty miles northwest of Washington DC.   Winchester is at the northern end of the Shenandoah Valley, which today might also be called the I-81 Corridor.   I had been intrigued because north from Winchester I-81 passes through four states (Virginia / West Virginia / Maryland / Pennsylvania) in less than sixty miles.   Because of its Mason-Dixon Line location, significant Civil War battles, including Antietam and Gettysburg, happened in this area.    I decided to drive up there, park the car, and bicycle around the area for three days.

Donald Trump is connected to this area in other ways.   During the recent campaign the national media was always looking to explain the attraction of this seemingly buffoonish candidate.  During last year’s presidential campaign, when the media wanted to interview Trump voters, they drove to the easiest part of Red America to get to from Washington DC; the northern I-81 Corridor.   I heard all sorts of interviews of folks in this area during the recent campaign.  And even though the election is over, Trump still campaigns here.  Last Sunday, the same day I crossed over by bicycle into Pennsylvania, President Trump was speaking to a rally of his “base” just seventy miles further up I-81, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

I was further influenced by books I have read about Virginia politics.   Winchester was the hometown of Harry Byrd Sr., a virulent racist who was obsessed with balance budgets.  He led the Byrd Organization, a political machine that ruled Virginia for forty years.  He had national influence as well.  From Wikipedia: Byrd served as Virginia’s governor from 1925 until 1929, then represented the Commonwealth as a United States Senator from 1933 until 1965. He came to lead the “conservative coalition” in the United States Senate, and opposed President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, largely blocking most liberal legislation after 1937.   

To check it out I drove four and a half hours north from Chapel Hill and parked our Honda in the lot of a Walmart on the south side of Winchester.   I pulled the Surley bicycle out and pedaled off, heading north.   It was already two in the afternoon.   My destination for the evening was Hagerstown, Maryland, about forty-eight miles north.   I would have to cross the Panhandle of West Virginia to get there.

Winchester (founded around 1759) seems Southern in attitude but looks somewhat Northern architecturally.   Houses are close together in the older part of town.   There is nothing very hip about this place.

 

 

 

 

 

Oh yeah, the other famous person from Winchester is country singer Patsy Cline.   I go to pieces. Crazy.

 

I would have a chance to see more of Winchester two days later on my return.   Going north on the “old road” US-11 that parallels I-81, the three lane road was a reasonably safe cycle and had lots of fun things to look at.  The West Virginia state line is just ten miles north.

 

There are lot of public displays of patriotism around here.

 

 

Twenty-five miles north of Winchester is Martinsburg, WV, population 18,000.   It used to be a big B&O railroad town.   The population in 1930 was almost the same as it is now.

 

 

 

 

 

While the older parts of Martinsburg look gritty, it is “only” seventy-eight miles from Washington DC.   The DC sprawl seems to be creeping up here.  Martinsburg is the end of the line for MARC commuter trains that go all the way to Washington DC.  All along this bike ride I saw new housing going up, especially near Interstate Highway interchanges.

 

From Martinsburg it is was another twenty something miles up US-11 to Hagerstown, crossing the state line into Maryland about halfway there.

I am currently watching my son and a some of my friend’s offspring move to Durham NC; they all want the urban experience; live in a city where they can walk places.   But Durham does not really have many older dense residential areas like row houses.    If only it could all be transported to Hagerstown MD (population 40,000), where there are miles of older homes, probably available for a pittance.

 

 

 

 

I found a room for only sixty-eight dollars plus tax in a fairly nice 1980’s looking hotel, not actually downtown but within a short bike ride.   There are really only three decent looking restaurants downtown,  all on the same block.   One is a German place that has been there for years, with waitresses in fraulein outfits.   I ate instead two doors down at a place called 28 South where the food just OK, but the bartenders were friendly.

Next to my hotel in Hagerstown this piece of commercial modernism is essentially unused.  I am probably the only person who worries that this may be torn down soon.

 

The next day, for the first half of the day, I biked a big loop up into Pennsylvania.  The state line was about ten miles north.    Most people forget that the Mason-Dixon Line is mostly the Maryland-Pennsylvania border.   This auto auction was in Pennsylvania.

I did see a few Trump signs still around.  This guy built his own private monument; Trump must have answered his prayers.   Around the other side of his house, there was a No Trespassing sign saying:  Intruders Would Be Shot.

 

I bicycled through two pretty Pennsylvania towns, Greencastle and Waynesboro.    Compared to small North Carolina towns of similar size, these two towns seem so much more sturdily built,  probably because 100 years ago they were relatively more prosperous.

 

 

The countryside was beautiful.

 

 

I looped back to Hagerstown for a late brunch at a place next door to the restaurant I had eaten in the previous night.    Their version of eggs sardou.

 

Believe it or not, there really are liberals around here, because outside the restaurant an anti-global warming demonstration came marching down the principal street of Hagerstown

In walked outside to take pictures.

 

The other two guys at the bar were perfectly nice about it, but one shook his head and said that with all the problems so apparent in a town like this, global warming seemed a problem far away.

The majority of people I had seen in the past two days were white, overweight, and unhealthy looking.   Maybe it was a coincidence but the demonstrators looked healthier than the general public.

On that same vein, at that same restaurant was this special on the bar menu:

 

The rest of the afternoon was weaving through pleasant country roads towards my night’s destination of Shepherdstown, on the Potomac River that divides West Virginia and Maryland.  I passed by Antietam National Battlefield.   I had toured that battlefield by bicycle several years ago so this time I stopped only briefly.  22,000 Americans were slaughtered at Antietam on one day in 1862.  Unlike today, the military then was organized by groups that started in geographical locations, so one served with men from one’s home town.   Several hundred men from one particular Philadelphia neighborhood died together in about ten minutes.   The terrain here was steep small hills.

 

I spent this night in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, home of Shepherdstown University, a West Virginia state university.   All over America college towns just look more prosperous.  At this point on the trip I had bicycled through about fifteen small towns.   The downtowns of almost every one of those towns had looked commercially vacant, with poor looking people standing around.   Shepherdstown looked very different.   It had an elitist Main Street with gift shops and expensive restaurants.

 

Continuing to notice the red/blue divide, while the expensive restaurants looked a little stuffy, Blue Moon Cafe reminded me of Durham or Chapel Hill.   It was the first place I had visited in two days that had an obviously counterculture staff.   You could really feel the difference.   One review on Yelp viciously criticized Blue Moon for being full of “hippies.”    But it was relaxed and comfortable, at least for me.  I got their version of eggplant parmesan.

 

 

The next day I left early with about forty miles to get back to my car at the Walmart in Winchester.  For the first fourteen miles I cycled on the C&O Canal towpath, a beautiful trail that parallels the Potomac River.

 

I had been hoping to find somewhere to eat breakfast.   Even after I left the trail and climbed a big hill there was nowhere.  Finally about 10:00 AM  I stumbled on this place like the Holy Grail.

Since I am now over sixty, when I am on the road I start to feel camaraderie with other men of a similar or older age, regardless of their backgrounds or political beliefs.   Three old guys were sitting at a booth in the Mountain View Diner, loudly praising Trump but I could not get close enough to hear all the details of what they were saying.

After breakfast the scenery was again beautiful.

 

 

Back in Winchester I was able to see their downtown.   They have done an unusually good job of closing it off to traffic and making it a pedestrian mall.    At lunchtime on a Monday it had lots of people eating outside.

Back in the Walmart parking lot our car was still there.   I was home in Chapel Hill in time for dinner.

Everbody saw Baltimore all over the news in early May.   Rioting, looting, and general mayhem seemed to be everywhere.   Was Baltimore really in flames, or was this just a lot of media coverage about a serious problem, but only in a small part of the city?   Since Baltimore is my favorite close by big city, and I figured they needed the business, I drove up on a Saturday.

Assuming no major traffic tieups getting around Washington, you can get to the southern end of Baltimore in a little over five hours.  This time I chose to leave the car in a supermarket parking lot, near the suburb of Riviera Beach.    The south side of Baltimore has always been the less trendy side; the rich blue bloods mostly live on the north side.   Riviera Beach sounded exotic, but turned out to be the kind of working class white neighborhood where people drove pickup trucks and rode Harleys.   One assumes people moved here from inner city Baltimore in droves when these houses were built in the nineteen forties and fifties.  I ate lunch in the Burger King there.  There were lots of elderly people.

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Bicycling out of Riviera Beach, after passing other suburbs like Pasadena, I biked through several miles of decaying chemical plants, waste dumps, junkyards, and brownfields.    Looking over the industrial squalor, one can finally see the tall buildings of downtown off in the distance.   The city started suddenly; dense row houses appear immediately beside what looked like a refinery when I glided into the somewhat rough neighborhood of Curtis Bay; which I think is inside the city limits.   This ILA bar could have come from a scene from The Wire.

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Bicycling into Baltimore proper from the south is a little tricky; you have to cross several bridges before plunging into the narrow streets of row houses in yuppified Federal Hill.   All of a sudden it is hipster central.

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Like New Orleans and shotgun houses, Baltimore built itself with an urban self confidence of its own architectural style.   While not as beautiful as New Orleans, and maybe not beautiful at all, streets of row houses in Baltimore show a singular style as they repeat themselves across neighborhoods of all social classes.  Neighborhoods like this stretch for many miles.

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I stopped at Porter’s in Federal Hill for a beer, and looked up places to stay on my cellphone.  As expected, prices were really low; like $ 89.00 for a four star hotel.  I checked in, then biked off to look at more of the city.    On a beautiful late spring day, everything at least looked normal; crowds of people around Inner Harbor.

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That afternoon, and the next day, I bicycled around many parts of Baltimore.  I knew I could not go everywhere.  Like just about every city in America, there are many parts of Baltimore that would be dangerous for someone like me to visit on a bicycle.   I had to keep my cycling to those gentrified parts of town where I felt safe.  Unlike Chapel Hill, it was encouraging to see a large percentage of apparently middle and upper class African Americans, doing everything everyone else was doing, including having a drink on a sidewalk cafe Saturday afternoon, or doing brunch on Sunday morning.    In comparison, Chapel Hill publicly shows much less of the diversity we would like to pride ourselves on.

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That evening, at a small Italian restaurant near my hotel, I was only one of two parties eating that night.   One of two elderly ladies eating near me complained that the “national media” had ruined Baltimore’s reputation.   She said that she had lived in the same area her whole life, including during the 1968 riots.  She said those 1968 riots were essentially all over the city, while the current the current riots were only in a 1 – 2 block area;  a part of town that few other residents visit.  Everybody I talked to bitched about the recent 10:00 PM curfew, which was, thankfully, over.  I took this to heart, because I know every city in America has some neighborhood that outsiders are scared to visit.    This is a huge problem, and maybe Baltimore’s riots will inspire the nation to action.   But Baltimore’s hotels and restaurants, far from where the rioting happened, should not have to bear this burden on their own.

Baltimore has several handsome areas that are fun to visit.  On Sunday morning, I bicycled through office buildings and row houses for over six miles to the neighborhood of Hampden, near Johns Hopkins University.   Compared to the restaurant the night before, this was even more hipster.   By the time I left the place at about ten thirty in the morning, there were people waiting on the sidewalk for a table.

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I bicycled all over several other parts of the city, including Bolton Hill, which I had never visited before, and which was gracious looking and almost too well preserved and wealthy looking.  I also realized that this area is a mere few blocks from where the rioting occurred in Sandtown.

Eventually I worked my way south towards downtown, then across some bridges, for the ride back towards the car parked in a supermarket lot near Riviera Beach.