(Author's note: This column was originally conceived of and most of it written several weeks ago. As fate would have it, last Thursday as I was finalizing this piece, I, like most of you, saw the horrific events on I-85 on the news. Due to the nature of this column and the subject material involved, a decision was made by The Covington News staff and myself to wait to publish the piece. So now here it is. Hope you enjoy!)
So I had to go up to the big city for this thing a few weeks back. I had to be there by 8:30 in the morning, preferably, but no later than 9. I think it was technically considered Sandy Springs, but it doesn't really matter. Regardless of whether it's Sandy Springs, Roswell, Dunwoody, Decatur, or whatever, to me - it's all just Atlanta. Terminus. Marthasville. The Big City. The ATL.
Based on my recollection, I'd only been to Atlanta once in the last couple of years. I don't think I'd even been west of Rockdale Co. during that time. And after studying up on it, I'm pretty sure it's been over a decade since I had to make the trek up there in the morning rush hour traffic. God willing, it'll be, at a minimum, another decade before I do so again.
I had to really build myself up for this thing. For weeks in advance it loomed ever so large on the horizon. I'd find myself talking to someone or doing something and all the sudden it would jump into my mind like a flash - "You've got to drive to Atlanta in rush hour traffic here soon! You sure you're up for this?" I never really was...
But that day came. I set my alarm for 5:15; I was up at 4:47. I was proud of myself because I had fixed up the coffee machine the night before and set it for in the morning. I already had my clothes laid out, too. I was on it! After doing my morning rituals, I was out the door around 6:20. I made a quick pit stop to get a biscuit and found myself getting on I-20 at 6:28.
Things were good at first. Newton County, naturally, was a breeze. Rockdale was too for the most part. The trouble started a little ways past Sigman Rd. By the time I got to DeKalb Co., it was a hot mess.
Back in the day, I always knew that traffic would start to get sideways once you started approaching the perimeter. But not anymore. Well before you even think about getting to Panola or Evans Mill, it's just a complete catastrophe. A total traffic nightmare. I think it took me almost 15 minutes just to get from Lithonia to 285. By this point, I was starting to sweat my timeline. I was hoping against hope that things would get better on "the loop." LOL, right?
Interstate 285 is where dreams go to die, dear readers, and I'm not being hyperbolic here. A band that I was in back in the day, The Cool Swap, actually had a song entitled, "It's a Jungle, Man; 285 - Can U Dig It?" No, I can't. And I never will. If there is a hell on earth, I think it just may be "The Perimeter."
The trouble started almost immediately. In the past, I could always count on merging into this abomination with relative ease. That's no longer the case. I really had to earn it. For the most part I was going anywhere from 2 to 8 miles an hour unless I was completely stopped, except for those unexplained moments where it would completely open up to about 45 mph or so for about 300 yards until you had to slam on the brakes again.
I saw some interesting things and made some fairly poignant observations during the almost 45 minutes that I had to ride the lightning.
I pulled up next to a fella, dressed to the nines in a high dollar suit and driving a luxury sedan that might have cost more than the house I live in, who was obviously having a heavy, heated discussion on his cell phone. He was talking with his hands like crazy and looked to be almost in tears. I have no idea whether it was work or home related. "This poor, pitiful [expletive deleted]," I thought to myself. "Not only does he have to deal with this ungodly traffic, but he's having to also deal with whatever else was going on, too." And even though he looked like the type of person I'd probably personally despise and someone who may well make more in a couple of months than I do in a year, I felt a profound sense of sadness for him. I even said a prayer for him as I drove by.
A little later on, and I had a different experience. I came up from behind and saw a truck that had a Putnam Co. tag. I'd seen a lot of Dekalb, Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale tags, but hadn't seen such an outlier yet. My curiosity was immediately piqued and I was hoping I'd get the opportunity to peer over and see who this Putnam Co. pick-up truck driver was. By the way, I was still paying attention to the road, for your information. Sure enough, it was kind of a country-lookin' fella who was white-knucklin' it and had this look on his face that was equal parts fear, aggravation and disdain. I wished him good luck as I rode by.
And by the way, pretty much everybody out there was on their phone. A fair number of folks were talking on them, most were texting. Lord help us all...
Well, I made it on time. So that was good. But that afternoon, right around 4:30, I had to go home.
The trouble, again, began almost immediately. They were doing work on the road that would take me back to the exit that I came in on. After sitting at the same light for three changes, and seeing all these people going down the road I was on, I decided to just go for it. "I pretty much know where 285 is; I'll be able to figure it out," I thought to myself. What a fool I was. Over 20 minutes later and I finally found my way back to that infernal interstate.
As was the case in the morning commute, I had my car radio set to WSB because when you go to Atlanta you have to have it on WSB 750 AM. Though, like most people, I imagine, I was actually listening to the FM station, 95.5. It seems like it's basically an unwritten law that you have to do that, at least it is for those of us who only do rush hour commutes once a decade.
I always get such a kick out of the traffic reporters' heavy use of adjectives, descriptions, and metaphors. It's kind of reminiscent of an edition of "Marshall's Music Minute," in a different context. "It's stacked and packed up on the north-side connector." Or, "It's totally jammed at Spaghetti Junction." "The outer loop is a parking lot, people, but it's just a tap of the brakes on the west freeway." Usually I get a kick out of all of this, but I wasn't feeling it when I was in the midst of it. "Smiling Mark McKay," I thought to myself, "I bet that no-account SOB is smiling at all us peons and pissants who are dealing with this cruel and unusual punishment while he's up in his helicopter counting all his money."
The rest of drive back was hellish.
The kicker, though, is this: I had to do it all again the next day.
So especially in light of recent events, I'll have to say it again - God Bless these people who have to drive to Atlanta on a regular basis. Bless your hearts, and we're all pulling for you.