Originally created 02/24/02

Traffic myths keep visitors out of Atlanta



Everything is funny as long as it is happening to someone else.

- Will Rogers

What's the quickest way to get sympathy around here?

Tell people you have to drive to downtown Atlanta during the morning or afternoon rush hour.

I had a meeting there last week, and when I told friends where I would be, they gave me that sympathetic pat on the shoulder you get before heading to the hospital for surgery.

An usher at church offered to put me on the prayer list.

I caught my wife quietly rechecking insurance papers.

And family members wrung their hands and generally tried to talk me out of the trip.

This is always hard for them because most of my family lives in Atlanta.

Now you have to understand, Atlanta is the city in which I grew up, the city where I learned to drive.

"It's changed," my relatives said ominously over the phone.

I asked for advice.

"Don't know," they answered mysteriously. "Haven't been downtown in years."

They have, however, been on the interstates going on vacations or to an occasional Braves game, and they're convinced that the roads have become lawless strips where drug-crazed loonies circle the city looking for trouble.

If they can't find any, they'll play tag with the hundreds of 18-wheel, semi drivers, who are apparently required to drive through the metro Atlanta area before heading on to their destinations.

"Whatever you do," my advisers warned, "be sure to listen to the radio to find out where the wrecks are."

This I did.

Now I know why everyone in Atlanta is scared to death of traffic.

Atlanta radio stations target their most captive audience - the morning and afternoon commuter. They do this by giving them a steady stream of commercials interrupted only by breathless aerial descriptions of horrendous traffic tie-ups.

These bottlenecks are reported with the strident passion usually reserved for dam breaks or dirigible explosions.

Only in Atlanta could commuting sound so heroic.

Too avoid complications, I drove straight into the city from the east.

What I found was just a longer version of Augusta's Washington Road. There was traffic, but it was tolerable.

I found all the streets where I had left them years before, and I parked in a lot where I first began leaving my car when a Georgian was in the White House.

I got out and stretched, and wondered.

I wondered how many people are afraid to visit the South's largest city simply because someone frightened them.

I wondered about all the silly precautions I had taken, only to find them unnecessary.

And I wondered what I was going to do for the next few hours.

When you leave home in the middle of the night to make a three-hour drive, the entertainment options at 6:15 a.m. are limited.

Reach Bill Kirby at (706) 823-3344 or bkirby@augustachronicle.com.