Intro to a story:
The one day in Atlanta’s rainiest summer ever when Sharon left the rain gear hanging in the living room. The one morning there wasn’t any coffee. Of course, it had been sunny and beautiful this morning, fooling her into thinking the city could go one goddam day without a downpour.
She crested the little hill where Boulevard passed under the road and the train tracks, then shifted up and let the bike’s momentum carry her down the long, low hill all the way to the Krog Tunnel. To her left were the other two lanes of DeKalb Avenue, the middle lane going her way now that it was afternoon, and beyond that, the half-gentrified ghetto that was the Old Fourth Ward. The other bike commuters called the middle lane the “suicide lane,” which Sharon thought was funny because it implied that riding or even driving in the other two lanes of DeKalb wasn’t begging for death.
To her right was the row of pylons for the MARTA, which as if on cue clattered overhead, and beyond that, the great freight train yards that unloaded shipping containers filled up by Chinese slaves and dumped onto Wal-Mart shelves by American ones. She wanted to be a pussy, she could have stopped at Five Points or even Georgia State and walked the bike onto the MARTA, stayed mostly dry, but it was her night for the kids, and this would be the only chance she had for a workout. She noticed that half the pylons, despite their recent coat of anti-graffiti paint, already had tags on them: she smiled and craned her neck to see past the next one–
She slammed on the brakes so hard she could feel the bike fishtail and the rear wheel lift up. She felt her molars grind together as she kept it under control by brute force; she ended up at a standstill, her front wheel half an inch behind the bumper of the last in the long, stationary line of idling cars stretching all the way to Krog. Stupid, stupid, stupid: you never lose focus on DeKalb, you want to live to spend the evening trying to get your kids to enjoy salad and math instead of the candy and TV Joey feeds them, all without badmouthing him.
She rocked the bike back and forth, got it in a lower gear, peeled left around the car, drifted slowly down in between the two lanes of stopped cars, trying not to feel smug. Ahead of her on the left was what in a couple of months would be the entrance to the Beltline: she could make it ninety percent of the way home on a dedicated cycle path, and not a moment too–
Stupid! Looking the other way this time, not watching DeKalb’s thousands of potholes. Eyes on the road. Sooner or later, the city would come along and cover them with a giant steel plate, Atlanta’s real trademark, which would be just as good for her tires as the pothole.
Halfway down the hill, she could see why all the cars were stopped: the light at Krog was out. A big lady cop was in the intersection, no rain gear on her either, using gloves with reflective stripes to wave traffic around the accident in the right lane just past Krog.
Suddenly, the sky lit up as a huge bolt of lightning struck across the sky ahead of her. Sharon only had time to count to “one” before the thunder ripped across the world, as tangible as it was audible. The heavens opened up with a nearly solid wall of rain, and now Sharon figured nobody in the cars resented her.
The fourth or fifth car back from Krog, a grey BMW with a Braves sticker, had a little boy Morgan’s age in the passenger seat. He waved out the window at her; she smiled, keeping both hands on the handlebars where they belonged. Something about his face struck her, though: he was crying? Maybe he was missing his cartoons.
She got to the front of the line. The soaked cop grinned, pointed at her, waved her through. Sharon put her legs into gear as she blazed the intersection, with just enough time for a quick glance into the artsy graffiti around the mouth of the tunnel under the tracks. Then she pushed herself past the accident, back into the right lane, and up the steep part of the hill on the other side toward Moreland and a healthy vegetarian dinner with her babies.
Almost there, trying to keep some momentum in clothes so wet they felt like armor, and then the BMW blew by her, nearly taking her out and sending a sheet of water over her. She thought she saw the boy’s face and somehow knew that he was desperate. But the back of the BMW had a piece of wet cardboard where the license plate should be, with Tag Applied For scrawled on it in black marker. Fucking Georgia.