"What do you mean, the morning? I'm doing it now."
"But it's 8 p.m. You can't do that run now."
"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.
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.