Yesterday I had a rather eye-opening experience...
I was home doing some work when I got a call from my neighbor Whitney, the woman whose dog I dogsat two weeks ago. She and her husband were out and realized they wouldn't be able to be back for a while, and meanwhile poor Harpua really needed to be let out. Could I walk her? I said OK and was told the location of the hidden housekey.
So I go upstairs, get the dog, and head to Woodruff Park, which is pretty much always the first stop on any dog walk, because it's the nearest greenspace where they can pee.
Now before I go on, an important bit of info for those who don't know this town: Woodruff Park is right smack in the middle of Downtown Atlanta and is best known for being home to a large number of panhandlers, homeless men, drifters, and mental cases, plus a smattering of office workers and dogwalkers who attempt to use the park despite the presence of the large number of people who make doing so undesirable. Basically, if you go to Woodruff Park, you have to accept that there are guys lying all over the place sleeping, some with their shirts off, some stinking of alcohol, some passed out, some arguing, and lots of guys who are going to ask you for money or say lewd things.
I enter the park and as usual, take the dog to an area that is free of, well, people. I don't want to go anywhere near guys sleeping or anybody who might ask me for money or whatever. So once Harpua pees, I go to the center of the park where there's space for her to run around but nobody for her to bother or who would bother us. Not that Harpua minds people -- in fact she LOVES people, all people, and doesn't care anything about their race, status, mental state, as long as they're not abusing her or something.
So there I am, sitting at the base of a flagpole, when up come this guy, who looks like he's a homeless drifter. "Beautiful dog! Is that an Irish Setter?" I'm friendly and say that no, it's a Golden Retriever. He nods and pets her, then walks on. Despite my ever-present paranoia about "innocent" conversations with indigents turning into scams or dangerous situations, this particular guy didn't bother me. He had a good vibe about him and very unusually (for Atlanta) is white -- and honestly I'm sure I'm racist on some level. Anyway, the guy comes back and says something else about the dog, then is like, "Hey, want to sit down? You can have my chair and I'll walk the dog!" I said no, I can't just hand off the dog, but he was really insistent on being friendly, so when he waved under some trees and said to join him and his friend, I said OK. (Now mind you, this is not a big park and when I say "under the trees" I don't mean huge trees that are hidden. This is all right out in the open on Peachtree Street, so it was all very safe.)
To make a long story short, I wound up going over and meeting Rick, the first guy, and his friend Jesse. I hung out with them for probably 30 minutes, talking about all kinds of things. Rick had just arrived in Atlanta and Jesse, a black man with yellow eyes, had been showing him around, including showing him the "city under the city," a.k.a. the viaduct system on the south side of Downtown. They were both really affable and we talked about a lot of common stuff, like the suburbs, people's paranoia about crime, how you an get to know people in the city, and even how to eat lobster. Both of them had traveled a fair bit and had some perspective on the city. Rick was sooooo nice to Harpua too. He got up TWICE to refill his water bottle so he could give her water. Harpua lapped it right up and had a new special friend.
Meanwhile at one point I saw this guy nearby, lying on the grass with his shirt off, kind of waving to the dog, so I brought her over. Normally I wouldn't do that, but I was thinking maybe I had been wrong. Well, this guy on the grass obviously had some major health issues, like his voice was almost gone, but he loved dogs. He asked about some missing fur on Harpua's leg and then told me all about a pit bull he had that got some sort fo skin disease. He was realy happy to get to pet the dog, which makes sense because if you're homeless, it's pretty rare you're going to have a pet.
So at the end of all this, I was happy to have found people in that park who had no interest in hitting me up for money, scamming me, or being disgusting -- which given my many years living here and observing, is what I'd expect of people. My NATURAL inclination is to be nice to people and talk to strangers, which I do, but in this area, SO often that leads to trouble, because people are up to something. (Example, people start out with an innocent comment and then hit you up for money, or start some sob story, or start following you.) These people yesterday weren't "up to something," they were just being honestly friendly and being nice to a dog. I think next time I take a dog to that park I will be on the look-out for people who want to see the dog, instead of assuming I should stay away from everybody.