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
Every good adventure starts in the Atlanta airport. The floor of the international terminal reflected moving people and shadows. Mandy walked into the Jackson side of the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. She picked up her pace so she wouldn’t seem too Southern. Light bounce off the floor and the perfect cleanliness distracted her. It was January, just after the presidential inauguration. We should all move to Canada, her friends had joked. Maybe it would’ve been funny if any of them had ever been to Canada.
Mandy had been to Niagara Falls when she was too young to remember. There were photos of the trip that she’d memorized. Enough to create false memories.
I stood near the edge. My coat was red. The cold spray of water made me squint and cry. I was afraid of Canada when I was six.
She was going to Canada, but only for the weekend. Her passport would expire at the end of the year. It was an empty book. Mandy had no stamps to show for the past nine years, two months, and twenty-seven days. Dumb American. She hadn’t left the country since college, but she’d been all over the U.S. That’s why she loved living in Atlanta. It felt center. She could get to anywhere in the world from her home.
Mandy hustled through the travelers to the airport train. She heard the memory of her mother telling her to hurry up and the ghost hand of her father pulling her on board just as the doors of the train slid shut. She’d been raised in this airport. She’d been a traveler as a child. She stood on the train like a surfer or a pirate with sea legs.
You are now approaching Concourse A. The color coded maps and signs in this vehicle match the station colors. Please move to the center of the vehicle and away from the doors.
She missed the automated directions from her youth. The new instructions on the plane train were slightly more human and less memorable. As she exited the train, she couldn’t remember what she’d been told.
Gate D15. The worn floors of Concourse D reflected nothing. If you’ve been in the Atlanta airport enough times, you can tell where you are by the sound of your feet on the floor. There was a click-clack on Concourse T. Step-shuffle on Concourse A. By the time you got to D, all the shoes clomped like steel-toe boots. Oh, Atlanta. Always moving. Never changing. Evolving in imperceptible ways like the voice on the train.
She entered the plane slowly plodding forward with the plane zombies. She was stuck in the back because of her last minute decision to leave America and go to Canada. Just for the weekend. Seat 36 B. Like a good and sturdy bra. The man at the window looked like Santa Claus. He had a barrel belly and a white beard. The woman on the aisle looked like Morticia Adams with willowy black hair and skeletal hands and a quick smile that touched her eyes as Mandy approached.
The woman stepped into the aisle so Mandy could take the dreaded deli seat. Sandwich meat. Santa said his name which Mandy promptly forgot. Stuck between two talkers. It would be okay. Sometimes she liked talking to strangers better than she liked talking to her friends.
“Is Canada home?” the woman asked.
“I’m from Atlanta,” Mandy said.
“Nice airport,” the lady added.
For many people, that was all they ever saw. The reflection of the floor, the sound of feet, the ticket counter, a train ride under the airport, a mechanical voice to guide them, baggage claim, and a city famous for being the end. Terminus. Zero Mile Post. Thrasherville and Marthasville. A city that thinks a lot about ashes because of all the flames. The airport is all some people ever saw.
ATL to YYZ. Atlanta to Toronto. Then YYZ to ATL.
We should all move to Canada. Should we forsake America? Maybe we should stay.
The plane took flight and the ground dropped away.
Mandy tracked the city as it disappeared. Downtown, Midtown, Buckhead, Perimeter. That was the city if you measured it from South to North. She hadn’t wasted a decade not traveling. She’d learned the quiet Atlanta places, the live lit spots, the running trails where she always ran with a friend. She’d go to Canada for three days. Then she’d be back. She’d learned that the map of Atlanta had fewer straight lines now than it did when she was a kid.
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.