The Zero Mile Post marked the meeting of two railway lines and possibly the beginning of the city of Atlanta. Zero Mile is a series of fictionalized stories based on real life in Atlanta, Georgia.
By Nicki Salcedo, contributor
When you sit on the swing in the Old Fourth Ward Park, you are in the shadow of a construction crane. It looms like an alien obelisk over the city, over my children as they play.
I pass another crane where Decatur and Avondale meet. It is red. It is 20 stories tall. I feel like a child when I see it. I’ve always loved cranes.
During high school when other kids snuck out to smoke cigarettes and have sex and drink beer, we parked my car at the highest point of Kensington Road to watch the crane at night. My best friend and I. We agreed that the best thing in the world was watching the world be built. The crane brought grey slabs of concrete with horizontal windows. It was a prison. I imagined it a castle.
The crane eventually disappeared. Sometimes when I am rushing around town, I find myself on Memorial Drive. If the sun hits my eyes just right, I see the memory of it. Not everyone loves a crane. Not everyone loves change. I do.
There were 16,500 new apartments added to Atlanta in the past two years. What if some of these apartments housed more than one person and maybe some pets? How many of them bike? How many of them eat a vegan diet? How many have come from other lands? How many like yoga at dusk? Is it too many people? I don’t believe that.
The place where you sit did not exist 20 years ago. Are you sorry for that progress? You are the beneficiary of a million years of civilization evolving. You are also one of those humans crowding the city, making the crane necessary and inevitable.
My sisters started high school in the 8th grade. They were called Subbies, short for Sub-Freshmen. Soon students overcrowded the high school. By the time I came along, there was a junior high for the 8th and 9th grade. Things had changed. I didn’t have the same high school experience as my sisters. I wasn’t called a Subbie. And yet I survived. And yet I persisted.
My kid’s school district will soon change. I’ve heard the moaning and wailing. I should have a stronger opinion because we will be affected. In fact, my child will be impacted the most. (Note I didn’t say suffer.) I listen, and I don’t complain. Two miles from my school is a school where all the kids don’t have winter coats. They don’t have enough books. They don’t always have food at home. These are things I’d like to change.
I’m curious to meet someone whose life has never changed. That would mean never getting a new phone or a new car. It would mean keeping your hair styled the way it was when you were 15 years old. It would mean you would still be sneaking out at night, even though you are 30, to have sad sex and drink bad beer and smoke cigarettes that made you feel hollow of life, but full of smoke. Why change?
That crane is a reminder that I don’t have to stay the same. I can’t stay the same. It’s not an option. The world pulls me along when I lag. The crane reminds me that if things change, I have to figure out how to make the transition pleasant.
I have to be honest. I don’t like people. I don’t like crowds. Big populations often mean people feel more isolated than they would in quiet empty hamlets. Is that the thing we are afraid of? Not the change, but being lost. Being forgotten.
I love trees. I literally hug trees. The city gave me grief over a rotting tree in my front yard when I wanted to take it down. It was dead. It was struck by lightning several times. Eventually, the fire chief said it had to go the third time it lost a branch long enough to block the entire street and take out two power lines.
The same city then decimated acres of tree cover without approval from the public. Do I like it? No. But I see what they do in the city government. I watch. I vote. The crane reminds me of what we are willing to kill and what we are willing to see grow. That’s life in the city.
The swing in the Old Fourth Ward Park is shaped like a flying saucer. It can easily hold four kids or an adult and kid. It doesn’t work like the swings of my childhood. By goodness, it is different. New, strange, but not bad. I’ve felt my eyes close and begged for sleep as my kids pushed me on the swing under the crane. I see another crane closer to North Avenue, down the street in the distance.
They don’t want me to call the area “Old” any more. It’s now “Historic.” Even the past can’t stay the same. I rest on the swing. I let my kids rock me to sleep. It is a nice change. I yearn for it.
Nicki Salcedo knows the loops and the backroads of Atlanta. She is a novelist, blogger and working mom. Zero Mile stories will appear on the Atlanta Loop on Wednesdays.