... and any other outdoor locale where people who are out of practice at traversing any kind of distance under their own steam may congregate. No, malls do not count.
The Atlanta BeltLine is kind of awesome. Originally the 1999 master's thesis of then-Georgia Tech student Ryan Gravel (who personifies making dreams a reality, let's be honest), the 22-mile urban redevelopment project will eventually circle metro Atlanta, linking 45 in-town neighborhoods via multi-use trails, transit and parks. Eleven miles' worth are already completed and in use, with recent tree plantings now vying with condos for coveted spots lining the trails.
Really, really popular.
To the point where, sometimes, it feels like half the city is walking, biking, skating or jogging from the park to Ponce City Market. I live in Midtown, so I use the BeltLine a fair amount, and recently I've begun to realize that these hordes of people, while overwhelming en masse, actually fall into several clearly defined categories. In case you haven't yet jostled your way to PCM's Tuesday night farmers market or taken your life into your hands crossing Monroe to reach the BeltLine entrance, I've outlined these categories here for you so there will be no surprises. You're welcome.
The Professional Runner
Did you feel like going for an easy jog? HA! The Professional Runner says there is no such thing as an easy jog. Or an easy jogger. If you aren't here to walk, you should be running. He spits on your ponderous, treacly steps; your gasping breaths; your hole-y T-shirt; your beat-up gym shoes. The Professional Runner (who takes measured breaths which align with his goal time) only wears the latest in matching, sponsor-emblazoned gear, and shoes which are aerodynamically designed from Organically Harvested angels' wings to ensure he never actually has to touch the ground. He sneers as he passes and watches you struggle to untangle your non-Bluetooth headphones attached with wires — wires, for God's sake! — to your cell phone. In comparison to the Professional Runner, you are a lumbering Luddite.
THE SPEEDING BICYCLIST
The Speeding Bicyclist is a blur of motion that you may only notice from the backdraft once they've passed you. Unless you had the misfortune of stepping out to pass someone without checking behind you, in which case you may only notice your broken arm. (Please note: The Speeding Bicyclist is very different from the Polite Bicyclist, who obeys traffic and pedestrian rights-of-way and rules of the road, uses proper hand signals, and verbally indicates when they're approaching or passing you.)
The Distracted Parent
Toddlers are like small drunk people. There is no way to anticipate what they will do next, especially in public. The Distracted Parent of said toddler may be on his phone, or talking to another Distracted Parent, or hunting in her Kate Spade diaper bag for the box of organic toddler biscuits, but he's definitely not paying enough attention to foresee and prevent the inevitable Toddler Chaos. She's also not holding the hand of her free-range toddler, who is equipped to move both blindingly fast and with snail-like slowness, depending on the velocity needed to coordinate the proper intercept trajectory with the next Speeding Cyclist or Professional Runner on the path.
The Entitled Threesome
This is a group of people who have Clearly Been Raised in a Barn and were Never Taught How to Properly Share a Sidewalk. It's usually three, as that seems to be the limit of people they can put shoulder-to-shoulder in a phalanx-like formation and still remain unaware that they're blocking all other traffic (their mothers would be ashamed of them). The Entitled Threesome links arms and strings out across the path like a kickline of Rockettes, and blocks attempted passing more effectively than a NASCAR driver. They will also be offended if you get stuck directly behind them waiting for oncoming traffic to ease up, as you are entirely too close and clearly have no sense of other people's personal space.
The Oblivious Dogwalker on Her Phone [The RETRACTable Leash Version]
You're moving along the BeltLine, minding your own business, and in front of you there appears a small dog trotting next to his owner's ankles. His owner is on her phone, and looking off into the distance at the vista of the Atlanta skyline (which is quite lovely). You move out to the left and begin to pass them — when suddenly, with no warning whatsoever, the dog spots a squirrel and shoots across the path, stretching his Retractable Leash of Death out in front of you like a land mine tripline in a jungle war zone! You must hurdle this leash, and dozens of others like it, as they appear, as if you were an Olympic sprinter. Take it in stride as part of your relaxing stroll on the BeltLine. (Do not worry, the Oblivious Dogwalker has not noticed that her dog and his retractable leash are wreaking havoc with others. She's on her phone and mentally disconnecting from the cares of the day. This is her Personal Time, after all!)
The adorable couple
This pair is romantically meandering their way through life, and across your path. The Adorable Couple has no set destination with this walk; they are just out to hold hands or clasp waists and fly in the face of conventional wisdom that walking in tandem is hard if you're not of similar height and stride. This makes them uncertain of the true perimeter of their Couple Bubble, so they tend to leave an extra buffer of unnecessary space on all sides. This also means that, in a 30-foot span of trail, they could ping-pong from one side to the other, investigate the middle of the path, or beeline over to look at a really romantic view of the skyline, heedless of you or a Speeding Bicyclist.
And then there are the rest of us.
We're the worst, because we've probably all fallen into one of the above categories at some point ... but human beings are not the most self-aware folks, so we probably didn't even notice. (We're all probably terrible drivers as well.)
So next time you're out on the BeltLine, just keep other people in mind, be aware of your space, and try to practice a little more polite sharing.
Your mother would be proud.
Internet Trolls, please take note: Don't get your knickers in a twist. This is all in good fun, and clearly not everyone on the BeltLine falls into one of these categories. I actually love the fact that so many Atlantans are attempting to get outside and do something with their families and friends. I just wish that they would do it with a little more sharing and a little less obstacle course.