I felt lost. I was just east of Piedmont Park, browsing at Intown Bicycles, where the merchandise filled the floors, walls and, seemingly, the ceiling. I'd just found my apartment, not far away on Piedmont Avenue. Now I needed transportation to work. But the one I wanted — the 2011 Jamis "Beatnik" model, flat bars, flip/flop rear wheel, olive — wasn't among the several dozen bikes on display.
"It's your lucky day," said Intown's Tim Browne, the part-time artist and full-time bicyclist. "We have one left in back that's olive. But it's a 55." He was referring to the bike's height, how close it would be to my naughty bits when I stood. The store's owner, Mike Goodman, sized me up. He's owned a bike shop in Midtown since 1982. He's been assembling bikes since he went to school in Athens in the '70s. The man knows whether a bike fits you, and you it.
"Here's the problem," Mike said, motioning from my hips up. "Here you're a 55. But here ... " — he looked forlornly at my basset hound legs — " ... you're a 53."
This was my first major setback as I planned my move to Atlanta from Dallas, where I'd spent the past 23 years. It's frightening leaving a place you've been that long. No matter that people told me, "Atlanta is just like Dallas, except with trees." A city shapes you. You get used to its small pleasures. You learn to put up with its maddening faults. The comedian Patton Oswalt once told a crowd in Austin (imagine Portland with cowboy boots) that they shouldn't move after living there because they'll just be confused by other cities. "You mean I can't buy a sandwich with a song?" the displaced Austinite would say. "You mean I can't elect a hacky-sack mayor?"
"Can we at least try?" I asked Mike. He saw the desperation in my eyes. He went to find a 55 I could straddle to test. Meanwhile, Tim told me about riding bikes in Atlanta.
"Oh, yeah, I've been hit by cars a lot," he said, smiling. He described in detail drivers who don't signal their turns, who honk, who don't like sharing the road with cyclists.
I didn't want to hear that. Part of coming to a city is creating the new you. This me was going to give up his car, take MARTA, ride his bike to work, and use Zipcars when needed. Never mind that people told me Atlanta isn't a walkable town. I'm not yet ready to start getting angry at the city. That will come. Right now, I need to see the city like you see someone on a first date. It's all about hope. Everything is before us.
I'm sure the disillusion will come. Already I know what things about Atlanta will grate on me, and thus make me rail online and in print: the public education mess, stagnant urban planning, the Dunwoody-based newspaper concern, and so on. But right now I only want to focus on the good I've seen: sublime dinner and cocktails in Decatur, Music Midtown at Piedmont Park, joggers downtown at daybreak.
Mike rolled a 55 to me. I threw my left stump over the top tube. It fit just to the base of my jeans. It wasn't molesting me, but it was getting friendly. Wide-eyed, I stared at Mike and Tim. I'm not yet strong enough for rejection.
Mike smiled. "It's close. I'm sure you'll make it work."