Whenever I talk to someone in the suburbs of Atlanta about my commute to work using our public transportation system the usual first response is: “Why in the world would you do that to yourself?” Let’s be honest, MARTA has a bad reputation. I’m not that surprised really. I’ve had some interesting and fun experiences. I’ve seen the same panhandler use multiple stories as to why he’s broke and needs a hand out. I’ve heard a loud woman explain to no one in particular that “Touchdown” is her husband and no other woman is gonna take him away. I’ve been manipulated into “buying” a breeze card that didn’t actually have any money on it. As all these seemingly abnormally moments happen on the train and bus to and from work I’ve also been able to experience a simpler life. I’ve been able to connect to a city that I never thought I would love. Atlanta is very much an amazing city. People are starting to acknowledge and appreciate this more than ever. Not just the hipster coffee and vinyl loving scene that is found in places like Little 5 or Grant Park. It’s also the music at venues like Variety Playhouse, Vinyl, or Piedmont Park with Music Midtown. It’s the professional sports with the Falcons, Braves, even the Hawks somehow made the playoffs.
MARTA helps me to enjoy the city that much more than spending time hating traffic or the gas pump. I started taking MARTA out of necessity. My wife and I had one car with two jobs a half hour apart. I found that I could walk 12 minutes to a train transfer to a bus and get dropped off at the front door of my job. I then began to see the people around me as coconspirators for a better world. Maybe some of them take MARTA out of necessity too, they don’t have a car, it’s cheaper than paying for parking, whatever reason they might give. This transportation system has given me perspective and enjoyment in my routine. I need to plan ahead more now, leaving almost an hour early instead of half an hour but the sounds of the train and the “stop requested” bus signal are gentle reminders that I have come a long way since small town Michigan. I don’t always take MARTA anymore, sometimes I need to drive to multiple locations for my job so a car is a luxury I’m grateful to have available to me. When the snow storm hit Atlanta this past January and February, the highways might have shut down but the train got me to where I needed to be.
Often I ride very late at night. While some caution this decision what I see on the bus and train are mostly working folks trying to make it. People in server uniforms or nursing scrubs. I see people rising above a struggle to survive, never allowing the lack of a vehicle (a tragedy for some) to be an issue. It’s sad to me that this public service has such a bad reputation that some suburb folks look down upon people for riding it, or will only struggle through it on route to a Braves game or another large event in the city. MARTA is a gateway to connection, it’s a way of experiencing the city through old eyes realizing you might not know it as well as you think. Thank you MARTA, thank you to the drivers who never receive enough credit and the unseen thankless workers who keep it moving. Thank you for allowing me to change my opinion of urban living and begin to love a city. Thank you for giving me an opportunity to continue at my job when I didn’t have another way of getting there. Thank you for being a wonderful reflection of a city I love. To the people who think it’s not for them give it a try with an open mind and connect with the city and it’s people. ATL, I love you.