Atlanta’s Ice Cataclysm (Take 2)

Sturm und Drang on Atlanta’s Public Train System…Bad Day For Weather and Music

It’s nice to witness a feel-good story once in a while, firsthand, without the petty buffering of the news media dancing it across the television, getting in the way, numbing all the visceral emotion that travels in lockstep with being an actual eyewitness. But if the news media had reported the story, the headline would’ve certainly been something to the effect of, “Pile of Anonymous Puke on Marta Train Brings Disgusted Passengers Closer Together.”  It was a headline I could see in my head and pretty much smell at the same time. I’m normally not a public transportation user, not for any particular reason except that Atlanta’s rail system (Marta) is a little oversimplified. One track goes up and down. One track goes left and right. It is slightly more accurate than the public catapult the city employed before the rail lines went in. But, like the catapult, if you happen to be heading to a destination on the train’s trajectory, hop on and enjoy yourself. There is usually some form of strange entertainment afoot. Be it doomsday enthusiasts, would-be hip hop artists, white nomads reading aloud from disintegrating copies of Nietzsche or people selling Grey Goose for a third of the price, there is something for everyone.

In this case, when I stepped on the train, one whiff suggested the county morgue had relocated to Car #3, westbound, as the doors closed behind me and I tried to both get away from the smell and find a seat. Duped by some strange power of convection within the train’s air system, I ended up walking in the direction of the offense, until a kind old woman stopped me and said, “You don’t want to go over there.”

She was right. The back two rows of the car were empty. It seemed someone had gotten sick in the corner and then fled. People got on and off the train-car as we hit our stops and a strong camaraderie built up between those who knew and others who were well on their way to the empty seats to hastily throw themselves into the mess. With jokes and warnings, we, the occupants of Car #3 of the public transit system, built an atmosphere of amity and goodwill, collectively warning newcomers on the train to stay away from that “fucking nasty puke-filled seat, over there, now,” because someone must’ve “been getting DOWN, boy,” or sitting next to some “ugly ass mofo,” or “been eating at my baby’s momma’s house.” There was a sudden battle of the one-liners. Some people were clever, a few vulgar, and as usual one opportunist cropped up. A fellow started trying to charge a dollar per warning, reasoning that he had saved the would-be “vomit-slider” ten dollars for a dry cleaning bill, but he was undercut by about a dozen others willing to do the job for free, which was the same problem the Joad family had in “The Grapes of Wrath” in a way, so don’t let it be said that nothing can be learned on public transportation.

I settled back after a few minutes, opened up the newspaper I had brought more to hide behind than to read, and flipped through.  I was on my way to pick up my car from the night before since I had gone drinking, gambling that the second winter storm in three weeks was going to sweep in and out of Atlanta like a ghost, betting that the governing officials were making too big a deal out of this one because they got caught with their pants down the last time around, with the abandoned highways looking like something out of Stephen King’s “The Stand.” But in fact my car started to get buried pretty quick in slush and I figured I’d jump on the train, stay off the roads, and play it safe. Atlanta drivers are generally not known for calm reactions to precipitation, particularly the freezing kind.

“You mean to tell me that the ice usually in my freezer is now outside all over the CE-ment?” someone might say. The reasoning, then, is to drive faster than normal so the kinetic energy from the tires actually heats up the ground underneath and melts the ice under the wheels. This ends up being a bad idea, and you’ve got a nice little arrangement of cars pointing every which way along the side of the road.

Flipping through the newspaper I was at least relieved not to be living in West Virginia, where another toxic spill of “coal slurry” has washed into a river. I’m not sure what “slurry” is but it doesn’t sound good, although it is said to have a strong licorice smell. This one was from a plant owned by Patriot Coal. The one last month was from a concern called Freedom Industries. I smirked at the jingo monikers, but had to admit they will come in handy when the Public Relations people are spurred into action. The commercials will run up and down prime time, with a deep, movie-trailer narration. “Freedom Industries and Patriot Coal spilled some ‘MCHM’ into the Elk River and Kanawha River, respectively. We apologize. But you know what happens when you mix freedom and patriots and water? You get Freedom Water. Mmm, mmm. Taste that freedom. Taste that patriotism. Tastes like licorice candy. Don’t let the environmentalist crooks take the freedom out of your water. Don’t let them take the patriotism out of your faucets and taps. Without water you die. Without freedom, you die. Without freedom water, well you just do the math.”

Good point, I thought. The whole thing had put me in the mood for some licorice flavored Sambuca. Or Anisette. Or Fernet. Basically I just wanted a drink and damn if I wasn’t going to get it.  What was next, whistleblowers trying to take the licorice out of my booze (which wouldn’t be a big deal now that I thought about it) or worse, try to take the alcohol out of my licorice? (Now that is unacceptable.)

My car sat, unharmed, un-towed, un-dismantled, or ‘mantled,’ maybe. No, not the right word. My car was alright, anyway, from the night before, so I ducked into the bar to finish reading the paper and have something licorice flavored. Not only had it not been a good week for the environment, it had been a bad week for music too. A man named Universal Knowledge Allah, (what was with the names?) age 36, had stolen a five million dollar violin, a rare Stradivarius. That’s like stealing a portable mansion. Mr. Allah, or Universal, probably figured a five MILLION dollar violin would be pretty easy to fence. There is probably a ton of them on the market, laying around old music stores and high school band rooms, and plenty of people willing to just fork over seven figures for a hot fiddle. Most likely Universal Knowledge will be found guilty when he goes to trial, and might I suggest as part of the stipulations of his sentence he must change his name to Limited Brain-Function Quasimodo. The weirdness continued, as I read about one of Japan’s most beloved symphonic composers, all the more remarkable because he was deaf, Mamoru Samuragochi, who after composing some of the most beloved Japanese symphonic music, turned out not to be a composer at all, or deaf, for that matter. He had hired a ghostwriter to write his songs for him and apparently threw in the deaf hoax because of his admiration for Beethoven, which seemed to me to be an even more tedious undertaking than pretending to write symphonies. If he liked Beethoven so much he could’ve just walked around with big ruffled shirts and plus fours instead of having to play deaf, which may have been his undoing. You can get someone else to write symphonies all day long, but apparently somebody suspected Mr. Samuragochi was being less than forthcoming about his hearing when one of his peers spotted him walking down the road and said, “Hey Mamoru,” and he turned and said, “Hey yourself.”

More Alembics to come.