I smiled at the concierge as
I stepped boldly out into the crisp, clear evening air, double
doors swinging quickly shut behind me and locking instantly
into place. At least I felt bold - a young suburbanite embarking
on his first nighttime run alone through downtown and midtown
was a truly beautiful September evening, the kind you can
really only experience in the Deep South, and really only
appreciate if you’ve lived several years out west in America’s
dustbowl. The air is cool and clean, yet still fragrant with
the musky smells of the long, moist, hot summer. Each breath
relaxes you a little more as Mother Nature seems to say, "It’s
okay, if you get tired, baby, you can just lie down and sleep
out here tonight - I’ll look out for you." Maybe that’s
why we have so many homeless in Atlanta. The air here is thick
with aromatic life, and it just feels like the world is on
your side, that everything is going to be okay.
Within five minutes I am past
the stark downtown thoroughfares and safely moving through
the more residential neighborhoods of midtown, which borders
the park on three sides. The fourth side conjoins the botanical
gardens, and you don’t want to go there at night. Midtown,
on the other hand, possesses a quaint and friendly beauty,
a hodge-podge of architectural styles from different eras
living in a harmony that reflects the racial complexity of
Atlanta itself. Never before have I lived in a place so ethnically
diverse, a place segregated by income rather than race. Atlanta
is a money town. This town judges you less by the color of
your skin than by the make and model of your automobile.
I glide past two Range Rovers
and a BMW 7-Series, keeping a steady pace on the hills, starting
to sweat a little now, starting to feel the run. I feel good.
As I race past the Cape Cods, the Arts and Crafts, the Victorians
and the occasional Contemporary, I begin to feel like this
neighborhood is mine. Only once in awhile do I pass someone
else on the street; most people are inside with their kin,
sheltering from the first autumn chill, unwinding from the
day’s work. This sidewalk is mine, these old-growth Oak trees
are mine, I own this street, I own this town, I own the night!
Suddenly two dogs appear on my
left, moving swiftly along beside me, not hurrying, just pacing
me. I calmly glance around. No one. As we pass through the
cool arc of a streetlamp, their mottled fur punctuates their
lack of dog tags.
I’m suddenly not feeling so bold.
I knew I should have brought my cell phone. I try to relax.
I know they can smell fear. I concentrate on my breathing
pattern, and on keeping a steady pace, remembering never to
make eye contact. I pretend I don’t notice them as I make
a right on Charles Allen, keeping to the left side of the
road. They stay with me - behind for a few moments, but now
they’re back on my flank, just running alongside, like we’re
all old pals. Suddenly one of them cuts directly across my
path, and my heart asks permission to explode, but I just
keep moving, never breaking stride, following him only with
my eyes, staying on task, pretending to be oblivious to them
both. His friend follows, and a moment later they are charging
around someone’s front lawn across the street, silently investigating
some invisible prey, briefly wrestling each other, and then
I am past them.
I don’t look back as I make a
right onto Eighth, focusing on my pace. Eighth is a long,
slow, steep grind, and I like to keep it steady. After a block
I think I’ve lost them, and my mind relaxes a notch. But suddenly
they are back, over to my left on the sidewalk, as I stick
to the street. Now we blow past a man getting out of his Mercedes
who glares at me in the dim light as if to say, "Get
those dogs on a leash." I feel like Buffy the Vampire
Slayer, not wanting to involve this innocent bystander in
what could get truly ugly. He has no idea that I am running
with wild dogs. He just got out of his safe
car, paused to glare at me condescendingly as if he knew
that I drive a Honda, and has no idea how close he came to
being mauled before he could make it inside of his safe,
expensive house. I wonder how often all of us are in the
presence of true evil, yet are completely unaware.
I’ve been watching way too much
Buffy – we were not in the presence of true evil. Certainly
these ruffians might be vicious, and quite possibly carrying
rabies, but they weren’t hell hounds sent from beyond the
grave by the Dark Master – such evil does not exist. I’ve
always had a dramatic imagination, and I actually start smiling
as I begin to really feel the hill in my thighs. These dogs
aren’t going to hurt me – if that was the plan, I would be
hurt already. We are just fellow runners, out exercising our
legs on a beautiful September evening made for running.
And the night is ours!
My posse and I crest the hill
and make a left on Myrtle, grateful for the gentle down slope
(at least I am grateful) as I start to work my way back home.
Somewhere around 1st Street the boys slip off into
the night from whence they came. One minute we are together,
running in perfect tandem, and the next I am alone.
Back in the building I get on
the elevator, and one of my neighbors slips in behind me,
giving me a start. He looks like he’s been working out, so
I say, "Nice night for a run." I smile.
He looks back at me and says,
"Yeah, something really weird happened to me out there."
"Really," I say, my
ears perking up. "What was that?"
Two dogs appear on my left,
moving swiftly along beside me…
"Well," he says, sweat
running down his temples, "I was running along down toward
the park, and I kind of bumped this real old guy."
"Yeah," he continues,
"He was a black guy. Old black guy, and I just knocked
him over a little bit, by mistake."
… we have so many homeless
"Knocked him over a little
bit?" I ask, trying to remember the last time I ran into
"Yeah," he pushes on,
"The guy turns around and says, ‘Hey, white boy.’ So
I just stop, turn around and yell ‘Fuck you, you fuckin’
…such evil does not exist…
I say nothing; I feel suddenly
tired, and depressed.
"Yeah," he goes on,
"Probably some homeless guy." He smiles wistfully,
considering what he is saying, "I was thinking about
getting my baseball bat and going back down there."
… in the presence of true
I can’t seem to speak. I slink
silently down the long, dingy hallway. I am full of shame.
Midtown, on the other hand,
possesses a quaint and friendly beauty, a hodge-podge of architectural
styles from different eras living in a harmony that reflects
the racial complexity of Atlanta itself.
I lock the door behind me. I
have to get up and check it twice before I finally slip into
a cold, restless sleep.
Email Shawn at: Chaos@hybridmagazine.com