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 sometimes fictionalized and sometimes real stories based on life in Atlanta, Georgia.
By Nicki Salcedo, contributor
I take MARTA across Atlanta. I’m not a daily traveler anymore, but I ride the train often. I’ve been on MARTA my whole life to get downtown or to the airport. When I was pregnant, driving became difficult. I was morning-noon-night sick for nine months. I kept a Kroger grocery bag in my lap as I drove just in case, because driving made the queasiness worse. MARTA has been good to me over the years.
I’ve walked the distance to The Ted and the old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium from the Georgia State Station. I’ve walked to Oakland Cemetery from King Memorial. I’ve taken the CNN and Vine City stops to get to the Dome. I’ve gotten off at the North Avenue Station to meet my mom for lunch. My kids like to get to the High Museum by train. We are members of the museum, and we have MARTA Breeze cards.
Our favorite time of year is Labor Day weekend. Between the Decatur Book Festival and big football games, the trains are packed. We ride MARTA to Peachtree Center for DragonCon. It is the best time to hug a Stormtrooper or Klingon on public transit. I don’t recommend it other times of the year.
One year I suggested driving to DragonCon, and my kids freaked out.
“Mom, we have to take the train. We don’t ride MARTA enough!”
Apparently, my kids know the train better than some people do.
Of course we like the train, you say. We are an intown, Black-ish family. We should, after all, feel safe. We belong. It’s true. I’ve been on the white trains. MARTA is better.
I’ve taken the Tube from Heathrow Airport to Knightsbridge. There was not a brown person on the journey. I felt people watching me. By the end of my trip I was covered in soot. And yet I still love London and the Underground. Should I condemn the whole transit system or city because of the snobs and dirt on the train?
In Boston, I took the T. There was a bus from Brookline to Cambridge. I felt people watching me. Heaven forbid you ride the train in the white parts of town. They’ll make sure you feel uncomfortable. I don’t worry about it. I like seeing different parts of the city. The parts tourists refuse to see.
I’ve taken the Metro in Paris. I’m proud that I even attempted that spaghetti mess of a transit system. A guy tried to masturbate himself on my friend. I’m not going to judge all of Paris based on him. C’est le vie. I still remember the pale beacon of the Sacré-Cœur in the distance. I do not judge the beauty of France based on one misfit on the train. I would take the Metro again. I keep my eyes open to the world. I want to be a part of society and not apart from it.
Some cities have transit down to an art form. New York City’s Subway. The L in Chicago. Washington, D.C.’s Metro. I am grateful for these trains when I am away from Atlanta. These trains are integrated. These trains aren’t a social experiment. These are smart travelers and real commuters. People take the train to get to work. Or get to fun.
MARTA’s problem isn’t poor people or rich people or inner city versus the suburbs. MARTA has served millions of Atlanta who crave convenience, affordable transportation, or care about the environment. Some people find traffic stressful and riding MARTA is a pleasure. Some people would rather not rage or complain. Some would rather read a book as they travel. What thugs. What hoodlums.
If you are traveling at the right time of day, you will see hordes of private school kids, in uniform, flooding the platform. Oh, the horror. Young people learning the value of self-resiliency. I wish one of those kids would write about their MARTA experiences.
There was a blind man who fell onto the MARTA tracks. Two people came to his aid. One was black and the other white. That matters to some people. I bet it didn’t matter to the man they helped. Some people are content with the shades of gray. Others will always look for divisions.
I try not to make assumptions about people based on their appearances. I won’t tell you what the girl looked like who gave up her seat for me on the train. Yes, I was heavy with child. No, she didn’t fit the image of whatever you think a good Samaritan looks like.
Another day, I couldn’t find a seat. I held the railing as the train headed east. A man entered the train with his bike. He smelled and looked like he’d been working outside all day. He did a double take when he saw my belly.
“Damn! I wish I was a rich white business man in a suit,” he said. He eyed the occupants of the car. The professional men shifted uncomfortably as the man raised his voice.
“My mother trained me right,” he added. “If I had a seat, I would’ve given it to you.”
“I know,” I said. I couldn’t help but laugh. “You have good manners. But I’m fine.”
“Fine or not, they should offer you a seat.”
“Then I wouldn’t be talking to you!” It was his turn to laugh.
You don’t have to be the same as someone to make a connection on the train. To compliment someone’s hair. To make a space so they can sit. You could, believe it or not, share a MARTA ride with a car full of strangers and find it peaceful.
Some will ride MARTA from the far reaches of Cumming, Georgia and venture into Downtown Atlanta. I don’t judge them. I have friends in Cumming and East Point and Indian Creek. I have all different kinds of friends who aren’t afraid of the train, who enjoy the connection they feel to the people and the city as the city speeds by.
I’ve been on that train. I’ve felt tired and dazed and longing for my destination. Sometimes the airport. Sometimes home. Sometimes toward a date with a Vulcan. I can’t be the only person who’s sat on the MARTA train and felt it was saving my life. I can’t be the only one who feels like a kid when the world speeds by. I can’t be the only one who loves the world through the windows of the train. I can’t be the only one.
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.