I've started riding my bike again. A few years ago I rode a lot. I loved to get up early in the morning and ride. When I rode I also wrote stories and emails and essays in my head, over and again, up one hill and down another. I pedaled through paragraphs.
A lot of this blog has been about the best work of Dr. Alonso. I’m working through a series about making a better school system for the next generation of students. His early ideas are at the core of that work. I remember riding my bike and racing home to email him about one thing or another. It was maybe 2012. We were arguing about a lot of things back then. I’d come home, click out of my biking cleats, plop down in my chair, and fire off an email to AAA, as he was known. His reply would soon come back.
I stopped riding for a lot of reasons. My kids’ schedules are now a blur and require a different kind of riding. They swim every day. They are doing internships at JHU. They are in camp at Center Stage. They are baking and baking and baking (more on this in a bit), which requires multiple trips to the grocery store each day. All this means I’m riding all right—riding my car.
The other reason I stopped riding was the death, the murder, of Thomas Palermo. Palermo, you might recall, was killed by then Episcopal Bishop Heather Cook. He went out one afternoon for a ride on his bike. I remember that day well. Saturday, December 27th. I rode my own bike that morning. The weather was spring-like, surprisingly beautiful, the kind of day that you’d ride your bike, enjoy the breeze and the sun, and then go home to your family to feel and give the holiday love. Palermo went for a ride and never came back. Cook crashed into him and then drove away. She was drunk. She was texting. None of this behavior was new to her. In this particular case, it wasn’t just the Catholic Church that was keeping secrets from the public.
Cook is in jail now. Hopefully for her full term, which isn’t long enough. Thomas Palermo won’t come back. That haunted me. Some time after his death, supporters and loved ones stationed a ghost bike at the spot where Cook killed him. Flowers and love notes were laid nearby. This kind of spontaneous memorializing isn’t all that new for Baltimore, of course: candle- and balloon-gardens mark spots around the city where murders have occurred. I see these too often. They surround my schools. I feel them. But I remain distant from them. For the most part though, even though these killings resonate with me, even though three Afya alum have been killed over the past couple of years, even through all of this, for the most part I have the very strong conviction that it’s not likely that I’ll be a homicide victim. Not long ago I heard David Simon, the creator of The Wire, say that a white man in Baltimore City has about the same chance of being killed as a white man in Iowa. That seems about right to me and in a weird and strange sort of way it’s comforting as far as this sort of comfort goes.
Riding by a ghost bike is not comforting. Seeing that bike made me want to go home and be with my kids, my girls. I couldn’t get the thought out of my head that if Thomas Palermo could go out one day, on his bike, and not come back home, then the very same thing could happen to me. And so I stopped riding.
But now, several years later, I’m back on the bike. Why? Lots of reasons, I’d say. Part of it is defiance. Bombers try and blow up the Boston Marathon. The runners keep running. Proudly. With determination. Defiantly. On some level, you have to respond to violence and terror with stubbornness and confidence, right?
There are other things. My oldest child, Abby, is learning to drive. I’m a passenger on her educational journey. I slap the Rookie Driver magnet on the back of the car. I hold on tight. I coach. I guide. “Ten-and-two,” I say, “ten-and-two.” My life is in her hands. I’m good with this. But it did begin to feel, after spending hours with her behind the wheel, that if I could ride along-side my daughter, if I could, essentially, surrender myself to her fledgling skills, then I could also get back on the bike.
And then there’s the feeling, for me, that comes from riding, then energy, the ideas. When I ride, I write.
I do want to finish the Clear, Build, Hold series about education in the city. I will finish this series! I’m right there at the end of this thinking, which of course means it’s the beginning of the work. And yet today that’s not on the front burner. I have something else on my mind. This makes me smile in a way, as one of my core beliefs about the school system is that it needs, we need, to pick a few ideas, develop them comprehensively, clear out space for them, and then implement and sustain them over to time. Essentially we need to concentrate our efforts and be consistent.
And here I am writing a series about what’s most important and now I’m switching topics. So it goes. Yesterday I had a great retreat with my governing board. It was smart and energizing. At one point someone asked a question about the overwhelming amount of work that was planned for the coming year. Later that day I emailed back and forth with a principal friend. He’s doing phenomenally challenging work with his school and others, something I’ll come back to as a key strategy in the future of the school system. After a few back-and-forths he said: stop overwhelming me!
We live in overwhelming times. We can either flee or fight. We can watch or we can ride.
So here’s an idea, the real topic of this week’s blog: My three girls—Abby, Kacey, and Eliza—have started a business this summer. It’s call Scott’s Sweet’s. Together they bake cookies and pies and cakes and puddings and cinnamon rolls. You order, they bake. The idea for the business came from a desperate place. My girl Kacey would often bake during the school year at a tremendous rate, to the point where on a given weekend we’d have a pie or two, a dozen cookies, and something else sweet stocked up in our kitchen by Sunday night.
What’s the saying when you get older? Everything in moderation and when you age past 40 exercise more and eat even less? Well, let me tell you: it ain’t easy eating less when your kitchen is stock full of home-cooked goodness.
So my wife Kate came up with a plan. To the girls, she said, bake what you want but it can’t stay in this house! Thus, Scott’s Sweets was born. It’s an enterprising adventure, a not-for-profit exercise in baking madness that brings joy to our house, and hopefully others, prevents excessive caloric intake—you can’t eat what’s sold to someone else—and is teaching our children a baker’s dozen different lessons about business, about marketing, about baking, about making something you yourself love into something that others can benefit from.
This idea needs to be expanded, will be expanded. Sometime in the fall, after the dust and rush from starting school settles, I’m going to work with my girls, and others, to create a summer camp for next year. We’re going to bring girls from around the city together so that they, too, can make things, create things, and learn how to market and sell their products. We’re going to create creativity in the summer time, in Baltimore City. And I’ll still be riding my bike. Stay tuned!
A final comment today. I’m going away in a few weeks. The kids will swim in the state swim meet and then we’re heading north for vacation. Prior to that I do hope to continue and maybe even finish the series on making a better school system.
I also plan to live-blog, or something like that, about the solar eclipse that’s coming on August 21st. My girls and Kate and I are driving down to North Carolina to be in the path of totality of the eclipse. Sounds like we’re going to have to drive about 20 hours in two days for an event that lasts just a few minutes. I’ll blog to pass the time. Hope you don’t mind.