It’s been a tough couple of weeks. I remember that it was hard to come back from sabbatical the last time I had one 7 years ago. I tried to get all my ducks in a row before the semester started and to do lots of deep breathing to help ease the transition back to the whirlwind of the semester. But the first few weeks were, nevertheless, a solid wallop to the head.
I don’t remember being so damn busy all the time. But those who know me well attest to the fact that my “busy-ness” doesn’t seem much different from how things usually seem to be in my corner of the gym. Everything is going fine, but I’m really tired. Over the past week, I was either teaching or in meetings on campus every day, getting up at 5:30 or so on teaching days to do the prep that I couldn’t do the day before, & staying up to answer email & hit “like” buttons on FB before hitting the sack somewhere between 11 and midnight.
Today, on a Saturday, I had to help lead a field trip for first-year students I’ll be teaching in the spring. I was not excited about the prospect of having to be at school, again, at 9:30 am to lead a group of grumpy, sleepy first-year students on a 2-mile walk through north Baltimore neighborhoods most of them couldn’t care less about.
But it ended up being fun. And interesting. And I was reminded that I really love being around these young people.
Our “urban hike” first took us through Guilford, the swanky neighborhood that lies immediately south of Loyola’s campus, sandwiched between Loyola and Johns Hopkins’ north Baltimore campus. I often drive through this neighborhood, probably a couple times every week, but have never walked it. I was amazed to find that there were enormous estates– gated, meticulously landscaped mansions–that I had driven by multiple times each week that I’d never noticed before. They were set that far back from the road. And this is a neigborhood that’s nestled in the middle of the city!
I always knew you had to get out of your car to appreciate urban areas, but was reminded that this is true for non-urban places as well.
Sherwood Gardens is a 6-acre park sitting smack in the middle of the Guilford neighborhood. Even though it is only 3 blocks from campus, I have never visited this place in my 15 years teaching at Loyola. Shame on me! It’s supposed to be most beautiful in spring, when the 80,000 (yes, that’s 4 zeroes) tulips planted by the neighborhood every year burst into bloom. (The neighborhood website has pictures of the show.) But it was plenty beautiful today. I will have to come back here when I have a few hours to kill on campus. Can’t imagine a better place to get some reading– or grading– done.
It’s a beautiful neighborhood. But it is also a troubling one. My co-leader on the trip, computer science prof Dawn Lawrie, is also my teaching partner in the Messina program, which has pairs of profs both teach and advise a group of first-year students over their first two semesters at Loyola. Before we embarked on our hike, she showed our students a map showing Baltimore’s de facto, neighborhood-by-neighborhood segregation correlated to housing prices, and today she explained that neighborhoods like Guilford actively excluded non-Christians and non-whites from Guilford through discriminatory lending practices and real estate covenants. She also pointed out how Guilford made many of their streets one-way– all streets leading out of, not into, the neighborhood.
On our walk, we saw one street that used to connect to York Road, a major north-south thoroughfare in Baltimore (and a dividing line between “white/rich” and “black/poor”) neighborhoods. The street has been turned into a dead end, with about 10 feet of “sidewalk”between the end of the street and York Road. I wish I’d thought to take a picture of this, but you’ll have to satisfy yourself with this Google Maps view:
I thought it was especially appropriate that the neighborhood had erected brick columns on either side of the dead end to frame a false entranceway into the neighborhood (This is an entrance! But you cannot come in! Gracious Southern hospitality epitomized.)
We then walked down York Rd., which turns into Greenmount Avenue, a street known for crime and drug activity as you keep going south toward downtown. We turned off before that, though, in the Waverly neighborhood. This was our destination: the Saturday farmer’s market, which runs year-round, rain or shine.
I did not take any pictures of the market today– too caught up with talking with Dawn and the students to adequately document the goings-on– but these images I slurped off the web are pretty consistent with what it looked like today:
Most of the students didn’t buy anything. I heard later that some headed straight for Chipotle a few blocks away. But, whatever. My market bag was full of good things: maifun mushrooms, Jerusalem artichokes, some luscious peaches, green beans, pattypan squash, fuzzy little okra.
Dawn had arranged for our students to get transit cards, and we’d informed them how to take the city bus back to campus. At the bus stop, I encountered a couple of my students. These two let me take their picture:
The free Collegetown Shuttle showed up before the city bus, and we decided free was best. But we got on the wrong bus!
Before we knew it, we were careening east, instead of north. I talked to the bus driver and found that the particular bus we’d gotten on did not actually go to Loyola. Whoops! But I’d discovered our error in time. (Professor or savior? You pick.) We got off at Morgan State U and waited just a few minutes for the city bus that dropped us off right in front of the Loyola science building, where we’d started our hike this morning. (Whew! I’ve never seen Baltimore transit work so efficiently, but I didn’t say anything to the students. They’ll realize I’m no savior soon enough.)
It was fun talking to the students and getting to know them a little better. Dawn is teaching them all about robotics this semester, and I’ll be teaching them about how to analyze literature in the spring. I began the day dreading having to go to work, but left campus excited about having these kids in class next semester. Which, I suppose, is why we do things like these Saturday field trips at Loyola.
But I did reward myself for working on a Saturday. Instead of working this afternoon like I’d planned, I went shopping. For work shoes, but for shoes, nevertheless. I bought three pairs. I really need all of them, yes I do.