Monday, March 2, 2009

In Atlanta

"Sir, that run is for the morning."

"What do you mean, the morning? I'm doing it now."

"But it's 8 p.m. You can't do that run now."

"Why not?"

"Sir, that's a morning run."

"I won't get lost in the dark. There's only one turn."

"Umm. . . . it's not safe."


"It's a morning run."


I had this conversation with the front desk clerk at the Ritz-Carleton Hotel in Atlanta early last week when I arrived on business at 8 p.m. Since I was leaving at 7 o'clock the next morning, I asked the clerk if she could suggest a 3-mile run I might do.

She showed me a route on a downtown map that took me from Peachtree Street, where the Ritz is, over to Centennial Park and back. Basically the directions were to run down the street, make a left, and then come back. Then this very nice clerk in effect forbade me to do it when I said I was going to do the run immediately.

I knew whereof she spoke. I have stayed on Peachtree Street in downtown Atlanta before, a few years ago. As in many American cities, the homeless are everywhere.

Homeless people don't bother me. But it is not safe to run in the dark in an unfamiliar area with no good alternative route in mind should problems develop.

So I went at 5:30 in the morning instead.

It was a memorable run. There is no better way to see a new city than to run in its downtown when there is no traffic on the streets to slow you down.

It was dark, and cool. Peachtree Street was well lit, and I ran from the Ritz past the Westin to International Boulevard, where I turned left and ran down a hill. Atlanta is hilly. (Right: Down a hill from Peachtree Street in Atlanta you come across Centennial Park in the bottom of a hollow.)

I passed well-lit hotels and empty parking lots. I ran by a tiny park where stood a bronze statue of a man extending his open arms in greeting, and stopped momentarily to shake his right hand.

Lights blazed all around me as I came into the square occupied by Centennial Olympic Park, commemorating Atlanta's hosting of the 1996 Olympics. It's an odd shaped park, sort of like a big checkmark plunked down upon the downtown streets that border on the Georgia Aquarium, the Coke Pavilion and Georgia State University.

I ran into the park and stood briefly in the middle of it, looking up all around me at the sea of lights I was at the bottom of. Tall buildings past the expanse of the park surrounded me, and on all sides of the park there were tall, lit columns on its borders.

Circling the outside of the park, I ran by a few homeless people on the move in the chill of the early morning air. The sky was starting to brighten with dawn as two runners went by me at a brisk clip. As sometimes happens when serious male runners pass by each other, neither runner acknowledged my presence as they ran right past me.

Having completed my trip around the circumference of the park, I eschewed running up International Boulevard again and struck off into the maze of tiny streets that slants off the park at a diagonal. I figured I'd hit Peachtree Street eventually.

I ran by a small theater on Luckie Street, then a 24-hour diner. Yes! I had brought some money.

Inside was the entire on-duty contingent of the Georgia State Campus Police apparently, taking advantage of the restaurant's warmth on a cold morning, and its ambiance. Dispensing coffee and easy banter was a stunning redhead, who poured me a cup to go.

Slowed by my sloshing, capped container, I loped easily to Woodruff Park on Peachtree Street, near where a Marta stop is. I slowed to a walk and perambulated around that park. Regaining Peachtree Street from Peachtree Center Avenue, which involved climbing another hill, I came back into the Ritz lobby feeling great after a 40-minute jog.

The rest of the day was anticlimactic after this delightful run. At 7 a.m. I drove up to Dawsonville (apparently the birthplace of NASCAR) for a deposition, and then returned to the Atlanta airport for a flight home. Dawsonville is in the mountains of northern Georgia so the car trip was pretty, but the running trip through Centennial Park in the early morning was magical.

I just wish my RBF friend Akshaye in Atlanta could have done the run with me. Next time when I have more time!


Road Warrior said...

Ha! I've been there with Atlanta. Centennial Park is beautiful, but, you're right, not a great place at night. That said, on a non-summer day, there's no better place to be.

ShirleyPerly said...

Kids are getting snatched walking to/from school in broad daylight in my area and runners, particularly females, are advised never to run alone. Glad you were able to at least get your run in during your visit.

Christie said...

That was the quickest trip ever. I had no idea that Atlanta had become so dangerous. I have family down there, but they're not the type to be out and about at night.

jeanne said...

hey peter, do you want to meet up with danielle before the national half? lemme know! thanks!

Sunshine said...

Seven people were held up at gunpoint in MPLS yesterday. Lots of needy muggers out there.

Thanks for taking us on your run.
Charming park. Lovely picture!

Rainmaker said...

Very solid story. However, I would guess that a story involving you sprinting away from attempted muggers would probably have been an awesome blog post. Just sayin'...

Kelly said...

What a random conversation to have. I'm so envious of guys... I think the fear-factor of running alone in a strange city is far less. Maybe someday...

Just_because_today said...

Great post. I love running in new places, that is my standard question when I check in..."where is the best way to get a few miles in". Sad that there are so many homeless in our cities.

akshaye said...

Ah Peter.. I wish I had known! I work for Georgia State and know exactly what your loop was. Next time for sure!

Anne said...

Wait - you ran back with a cup of coffee in your hand?! That take skillz. I'm glad you heeded the clerk's advice. I once ran in San Jose and strayed beyond where the hotel staff had suggested and straight into the section of the city they warned me against. A scarey encounter with a mysterious man ensued and resulted in one of the best speed workouts I've had in years.

Petraruns said...

I love running when I travel but you do point out one of the concerns I don't like to think about - safety.. I've never really had any major scares but have had a few unprompted speed workouts when running through Lincoln's scuzzier areas on evening runs. It's sad but you do have to bear it in mind...

Looks so pretty though! I would have found it hard to pass up the eggs, bacon and pancakes in the diner...