“Don’t ride the MARTA,” I was warned. MARTA is a form of public transportation that runs under the muddy waters and hard pan clay of Atlanta, Georgia. It is a beast of its own.
In the depth of a subway, such at Gotham, one may be overwhelmed with the alien and horrific conditions of travel. Hot tubes, noise, the many bodies crushing and mushing about, especially during the peak travel hours to and from work in the day.
The system in Gotham is old. Boston claims that the reason the trains are rusty and the conditions terrible are that it is the oldest system in the nation, as if nothing was updated or could be updated since the Olden Dayes. And, perhaps they are right. The system is old and I am sure that in some tunnel down down to the bottom dwells the Deep Ones, CHUD, or Mole People. Nevertheless, the Gotham system moves over a million bodies a day (perhaps more), Boston, Chicago, Baltimore, Washington D.C., and a number of other cities. This has not been without historic or current issues. Many in the political system are certain that mass transportation will turn us into Communists, while others deep in the pocket of the auto industry eschew all alternatives to private car ownership and 16 lanes of dead stop traffic that make a 8 mile commute into a 2 hour ordeal.
While we complain about our current state of movement in some cities, it has gotten better for the most part. Gotham won back the subways from a frightful period in the City’s history when everything smelled of piss and there was but crime and fear. Those dank dark deadly days were pushed back by some effort by the Mass Transit System. While some bemoan the loss of “street art,” anyone who has owned something that has been “tagged” thinks otherwise of this unwelcome decoration, no matter how bubbly the letters spelling out “KUDA97” were.
Mass transportation is something that the United States of America has had an unwilling and uncomfortable relationship with. At least in the northern areas of the Union mass transportation, often called “Public Transportation” is common and has been part of the fabric of the urban experience since way back. Cities have had subways, trams, and buses, and even those that degraded their subway systems with budget cuts, removed trams in favour of buses, still offer their population some manner of movement without the need to own a car or use it on a daily basis.
Then there is Atlanta.
By day the MARTA is described by many as an open air insane asylum. In dusk and dark it is a dangerous haven of rapists and thieves. I was warned by the hotel staff. I was warned by friends. I was warned by random and anonymous Trip Advisory or Travelpedia writers who had their own horror stories of MARTA.
Years ago there was a video of a young girl assaulting an elderly lady. I am told these videos of fights and mayhem are common.
The MARTA is indeed a sight. I was positioned by the Five Points Station. I am told that the lines make little sense and go but in two directions; north and south, east and west. They lead not quite outside the city and connect to buses that then lumber at a low speed out into the suburbs and wastelands of Atlanta.
The Mayor had all the public housing* torn down, a local resident told me over lunch (*These are known as “The Projects” or called “PJ’s” in many areas, and in British English would be “Council Housing”). It appears the mayor by removing the public housing sent people out into the countryside to cash in vouchers also called Section 8. This in many ways did not solve the issue of poverty, or the social issues that American Poor people have, but pushed these people out into the hinterlands even farther away from potential jobs or the needed services that an elderly or unstable population require. It also makes these people more reliant on the public transportation, and by reputation and actual danger, the only people who use the system. “The only people who use the MARTA are those who don’t own cars or have too many DWI’s to drive,” he exclaimed. “Unlike New York [City] where all types of people, rich, poor, middle class all ride together, here it is concentrated poverty.” This was clear from the look of the Five Points station, and the sound and smells, seemed to indicate this.
The building of the Five Points is constructed entirely to produce the most immaculately intense sensation of being in some prison camp. I can see no other interpretation to this neo-brutalist structure. Entirely poured from concrete, the many levels and decks of the structure that extend out appear at first to be large if ugly public spaces, however, they are locked off by gates and tall fences. An angry building, it could have only been built by people who hated those who may one day use that system and access this building. Several large X blocks appear as tank traps. These may be also seen outside of old Nazi pill boxes or anywhere mechanized armies clash. Here, they only complete the Fuckyouatude of the building.
Around the station are the hallmarks of poverty. The chicken eateries, the beer places, the faceless features made to house nobody and to which an army of amputees, losers, and drug addicts seem to cluster. This is not a center of transportation as much as it is a place of stagnation.
When we hear of the war on poverty, it is perhaps not so much a war to end poverty, if the MARTA is anything to go by, it is a declared war on poor people. Should I return to Atlanta, I will avoid this system… and, if the locals need be listed to… so should you. That is sad because our greatest cities, and those of the civilized world, need a strong and integrated system of transportation, public or not.
Editor’s Note: For a great song about Atlanta click HERE. Apparently this blogger missed the water tasting like cherry wine.