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
Canada, of course, was better than the U.S. in every possible way except the weather. Mandy’s bones constricted against the wintery chill. The unchanging gray of the February skies reminded her that the grass was not always greener on the other side of the border.
The woman, Nancy, who sat next to Mandy on the flight to Toronto had insisted that Mandy take her contact information in case there were any issues at the hotel. The woman included her phone number and home address. During the flight Mandy discovered that the man on one side of her was married to the lady on the other. They kept the seat between them in case the plane wasn’t full. They didn’t know that planes were always full these days.
“I’d hate for you to be stuck in a strange city with no one to call,” Nancy said.
Mandy had her friend Dev who was getting married. It was unlikely that she’d need to call him before the wedding. She had the wedding info and hotel confirmed. She couldn’t imagine calling the stranger, Nancy, no matter how nice she seemed. The husband, Jon, gazed out the window with a smile while Nancy chatted. They looked like yin and yang. One willowy with onyx hair and the other with white wires on his head and a soft round belly.
Mandy was pretty sure that they were ax murderers. Didn’t all Canadians own an ax?
“We go to bed around 10 o’clock. We’ll leave the door unlocked just in case so you can just come in. The guest bedroom is on the first floor at the end of the hall.”
Mandy knew about Southern hospitality and Minnesota nice. This was the extreme. She tried to have faith in people, but she crumpled up the address when she got to her hotel in Toronto. It was only when she was on her way back to Atlanta that she wondered if she was rude for not calling. Exhausted from the wedding and anxious to see the football game, the weekend had been a blur. How did you thank people for kindness you didn’t take? For putting their faith in you?
** ** **
Mandy rushed from her flight to the nearest restaurant in the Atlanta airport. There was no time to get home before the game, and she wasn’t going to miss it. Travelers congregated at the bar between flights. Rolling suitcases crowded the aisles. The bartender navigated the throng of people with a stoic face and steady hand. Beer on draught. Beer on draught. Mandy ordered McCallan’s 12 because she didn’t like beer and more than four ounces of alcohol seemed excessive.
“I know a lot about football,” the man next to her said. He leaned toward her. “Do not let Ben Affleck’s nanny or Vladimir Putin borrow your Super Bowl rings.”
“That sounds like advice for other things, not football,” she replied. She knew a lot about football.
She was superstitious, and still unlucky. There was a Falcon’s jersey in her bag that she debated wearing. It brought her luck during the NFC championship game. She decided to pull it on over her turtleneck forgetting her fortune rarely repeated itself in predictable ways. It was sporadic.
“It’s all political. Football. Baseball. You name it. Sports are politics.” He sat back in his seat. “My team’s the Jets.”
“Are you pulling for the Patriots then?” she joked.
“Hell, no,” the man said. Instead of launching into a tirade about limp balls or cheating or Leonardo DiCaprio’s ex-girlfriend he added, “They’re smug. Too smug.”
She tried to be reasonable and polite even though her entire heart and breath belonged to the Falcons. Her father had been a New England fan back when he worked at Yale.
“Atlanta has been surprising everyone all season. That’s something. No politics. Just football and getting the job done. The Patriots have a strong team and a quarterback who takes the game seriously. Should be a good game,” she said.
“The Pats are a bunch of pretty boys.”
Mandy knew football, and she knew pretty. She could have mentioned Julio Jones’ smile and how he made everything in the universe right with his perfectly chiseled cheekbones even though it had nothing to do with football and everything to do with good genes.
The whisky appeared in front of her as music began to play. A hush fell over the restaurant, but the song was “America, the Beautiful” and not the “Star-Spangled Banner.”
Three women made a strange symmetry on the patriotic stage. The tall one in the middle wore black pinstripes. The two women on the sides wore all black. They were striking in stature and ambiguous of race. Some would lament that they didn’t represent America. Mandy thought that they were the product of it. Sea to shining sea. And crown thy good with brotherhood, and sisterhood.
That was a nice touch.
Mandy could rush to her friend’s house and catch the last half of the game with her crew. She’d never watched the Super Bowl alone in her life. But she didn’t want to miss a single moment.
On the television, a man took the stage and started to sing. He was good, with a nice voice. Mandy missed the ambiguity of the trio. The camera panned into the audience to reminded people that football players married supermodels and not scientists. It was all about politics and money and beauty, and despite it all she still loved football win or lose.
She was going to be that woman in the airport bar watching the Falcons with tears in her eyes. She hated that her superstitions never yield the proper outcomes. She felt a lifetime of pride and joy, hope and disappointment bubble up inside her. She’d be that person crying over football before the game even started.
“Don’t be nervous. My team is the Jets. First and last Super Bowl before you were born. I know about heartache. The Falcons are my team now. I’ve been in Atlanta 20 years.”
So they parried questions back and forth throughout the game.
How old were you when you saw your first football game ever?
Who was your first favorite team?
Who is your favorite Falcons quarterback?
What jerseys do you own?
Her jersey was old. She liked the double eights on the front and Gonzalez across her shoulders. No shame in loving a team year after year. Her favorite quarterback was still Vick. She loved that NFC championship game against the Vikings all those years ago. That was her happiest memory.
The game continued to flash on the screen, by the 3rd quarter she and the man were silent.
At the end of the game, her heart was beaten, broken, despairing. It hurt having faith in something you had no control over. The man gave her a quick pat on the back. His New York accent suddenly very pronounced.
“Let me tell you something. If New England is so great, why do half of them live in Atlanta?” He laughed.
She had at least two different neighbors from Connecticut. For a brief moment she felt better. Why was she grieving over football? It was in her blood. She wished she could thank the team. She wished she could tell the people who worked behind the scenes that she was grateful. If she could meet every usher, every person in marketing, she would say “Thank you.” It was a fun and painful ride. It was a difficult moment to think that she’d rather be a loser in the Super Bowl than not go at all.
She wandered toward baggage claim. Her feet plodded like a soldier through mud. The floors had lost their sheen. Faith in football seemed like a silly thing. Faith was often misplaced. Mandy reached into her pocket and found a crumpled piece of paper. She would leave it there until next season to see what sort of luck it would bring.
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.