Keisha was dancing in the middle of the intersection of Edgewood Avenue and Hilliard Street at 6:30 in the morning. Her palms were raised to the sky and her eyes were closed, she was swinging her hips and shaking her head with a cast of pure bliss. Keisha is so happy when she's high. She is unrecognizable when she's not. Keisha did not have her whore clothes on. She had on a church lady blue dress and white tennies and clean pink socks. I passed her in the intersection and she opened her eyes wide and smiled, "Mornin', baby doll." Keisha had a cross drawn on the palm of her left hand with a date written below. She waved it like a prize. I said good morning, as always. Keisha is not her name, it's just my name for her. I've made up names for the Edgewood Avenue regulars I see every day riding my bicycle to work. Keisha is Keisha because I heard a radio story once with an earnest young white woman interviewing an older black lady junkie at a shelter. She said, "Keisha, do you know why you keep going back to using and selling drugs?" Keisha said, "Yeah. I just want what I want when I want it."
I don't know why I finally started riding my bicycle to work. I thought about riding my bicycle to work for years and didn't do it. I'd even pack my bag and put air in the tires, but when the alarm went off a little early I'd say, "fuck that." What I want in the morning is a cup of coffee and a cigarette, preferably two. For years, I drove three traffic-plagued miles and parked in an expensive parking deck, walked across the pedestrian tube, rode down the escalator and up the elevator and paid for a damn gym membership. I frequently spouted off about how the streets of downtown Atlanta had all the soul of a mall parking lot. I slandered my city's streets when my own feet never touched them, all the while getting fat and angry. I had what the Edgewood Avenue folks call a "crossed condition." A crossed condition is getting stuck in a way that works against you. Everybody has some kind of crossed condition. A bad one can kill you.
After the first time I rode down Edgewood Avenue to work, I went every way to avoid it. All kinds of people are hanging around down there before 7 in the morning. Eagle's Nest Ministries gives away a free breakfast, so 20 people will be lined up with 20 more shuffling that way. They move slowly. They have limps and hospital bands and no where to be. Of all the ways to get to downtown from Grant Park, Edgewood Avenue is the creepiest. I kept coming back to Edgewood because those creepy people were genuinely happy to see me in the morning. I like them. I'm afraid of them, but I like them.
Mind you, I am my own kind of weirdo. I'm a 5'2" fortysomething white woman and I only wear dresses and skirts. My red bicycle has a wicker basket on the front with a red and pink felt flower with green leaves and a yellow jewel in the center that I made myself. My bell is a little Asian tea pot. I like to ride in flip-flops even though your toes get really dirty. I wore a helmet for awhile, but I forgot to put it on one day and never remembered to put it on again. I always have a big stupid grin on my face because riding my bicycle makes me happy. Every day, it makes me happy.
I say good morning to anyone who makes eye contact with me. My good mornings start with people who wait for the bus by my house, then the guy that opens the Intown Market and the MARTA bus drivers at the MLK station. I'm proud to report that the roofers on Hilliard Street are keeping the wolf-whistle alive and well. After them, it's the guys that work the hotel loading docks, Sysco truck drivers and parking lot attendants. I am most impressed with the Edgewood Avenue folks. A woman who slept under the interstate, who is standing in line for a hand-out breakfast, has a smile and a good morning for me when you people who sleep in beds and drive cars are mean as hell in the morning.
I trust in the safety of motion. I try to never come to a full stop down there ever since I got kissed. The kisser is harmless, he's just gross. I was trapped by a bus turning left and he was in the crosswalk. There was no where to go. He came toward me with open bear arms and love in his eyes. He reached down and hugged me. His double chin brushed my cheek and he planted a wet whisker smooch on my neck. He smelled like beer, stale sweat and peanut butter. He squeezed me and said, "It's so good to see you, baby doll." I smelled like peanut butter when I got home.