Monday, July 14, 2003

how I get to work

How I get to work

It takes me 45 minutes to get from the front door of my house to the building on West Peachtree Street roofed with slate from Margaret Mitchell’s childhood home.

I walk down the decaying concrete stairs of our place on Austin Street, shaded by big trees and with steep little lawns covered in vines. The sidewalk here is old octagonal pavers broken and crumbling. Three houses down though I am walking through Inman Park, and I walk uphill through this park all the way to the train station.

There are parts of the park where you wouldn’t know you were in the city at all. The park is almost always a little overgrown and very weedy, and I love that. The clipped and uniformly manicured look of Boston’s parks bothered me a little. But here there always seems to be grass six or seven inches high, uneven, bumpy, full of wild strawberries and different sorts of clover and dark blue five o’clocks and other little weedy flowers. There are tall trees scattered around with big spreading branches but lots of open field space too. The park between my house and the train station used to be two full city blocks, but all the houses were knocked down to make this public space. It makes me happy to see all the old stone and concrete staircases that used to lead to someone’s front porch still in place, now just stairs to open play space. That’s my definition of magic. Once there was a house here. You would walk up these steps and into someone’s living room. Now, the steps are still here, but…nothing. It all changed because people decided they wanted a park instead.

As I walk through the park in the morning there are joggers and dog-walkers out. It’s too early yet for the very modern playground halfway through my trip to be occupied yet, but sometimes in the afternoon I see kids there.

After three blocks through the park on a very pleasant curving paved path, I get to the MARTA station. I try and call it just “the train”, but at our house we still are stuck in Boston mode and call it the “T” too often. It’s not the “T”. It’s dirtier and more expensive and irregular than the T, but it’s what we’ve got.

MARTA stations outside the downtown area are uniformly brown-red brick structures with dark terracotta hexagon tiles paving the floors. They have big open breezeway structures to try and let the damp still Atlanta air move through them, and while the brick and tiles might look organic in another setting, the overall shape of the building lends them to nothing but bare functionality. Horizontal lines in darker brick on the outside of the buildings are done for the smallest touch of style the city could afford, and the brickwork on the inside walks is varied only for increased stability, bricks every other row turned with their short sides to the viewer.

The MARTA trains themselves are from the same era as the DC Metro system. They are off white with lines of faded red, yellow and blue running midway across the whole length of train, which is always many cars linked together (vs. a one or two car train system).

When I say the MARTA is dirty, I mean it. The DC Metro (which made the horrible mistake once of installing some cloth seats) is cleaner than the MARTA. Somehow the Boston T manages with its chrome fixtures to maintain an illusion of not being as dirty as it must really be with tens of thousands of people riding its trains every day. But MARTA made the decision to have tread carpeting on the floors of their cars, and a bigger error could not have been made. The carpets, once orange, are now threadbare in great patches, as well as ground in with a decade’s worth of dirt, soot, bubblegum blackened and smoothed into dark black smears, and god knows what else causes *that* stain. Foam grips were also put on the metal side bars, but I always hang onto the metal part; the foam grips have aged about as well as the carpet. At least the seats are solid plastic, shiny and unable to absorb the passing dust of the passenger’s bottoms.

A high tide mark of human oil and sweat and various greases mark the walls of Five Points station where people have leaned against the poured concrete walls. While passing attempts at public art have been made in different stations, the art all needs a good cleaning as well. I change from the East line to the North line at five points. Actually, this goes without saying as Five Points is the only switching station, and the main hub.

It takes me ten minutes to walk from my house to the Inman Park Station, five minutes worth of ride to the Five Points Station, and twenty minutes to ride from Five Points to the Arts Center Station. Then there’s another five minute walk to my office door. This means it takes 15 or 20 minutes longer to ride the train to work rather than drive, double the time. I’m going to stick with it anyway. Atlanta has some of the worst air in the nation, doubtless because the transit system is so bad. But the transit system would be better if more people rode it, creating a vicious cycle.

So I’m trying to help break the cycle. I'm going to keep riding the train, even though it costs more money, is kind of gross, and makes me wake up 15 minutes earlier. I believe in public transportation, because I have seen the trains work Up North, and I know it’s possible that MARTA could be so much more than it is today.

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