Firsthand - Atlanta Magazine


Thomas Lake wanders the city with notebook and pen


Stories 1 to 6 of 12

The Room that Makes the Trains Run

The nerve center of Atlanta’s electric rail system hides in an unmarked concrete building east of the city limits in DeKalb County, behind a fence topped with three strands of barbed wire. The outer gate opens only with an electronic key card, which also opens the building’s front door. To reach the control room, you pass another tall metal door marked with a sign that says This Door Must Be Locked at All Times. Cell phones are forbidden in the control room. Sunlight is scarce. The bosses of the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority want no distractions for the workers who on an average weekday keep 242,000 riders safe. The Rail Service Control Center runs nonstop, seven days a week, with nearly sixty workers in rotating shifts. They are the railroad equivalent of air traffic controllers. Before them, two Mosaic Display Boards dominate the room’s eastern wall. The boards resemble ... Read more

Pine Street Posse

Late in the spring, after the foreclosure, the Peachtree Pine homeless shelter Downtown was itself in danger of homelessness. Inside the brick walls, where 574 men sleep on an average night, the leaders prepared for a siege. They believed that the city’s most powerful forces were allied against them. Some of the leaders lived in the shelter. They had nowhere else to go. On a gray Tuesday morning, about twenty of these resident volunteers gathered in a second-floor conference room with their executive director, Anita Beaty, age sixty-eight, also known as Mama. She cleared her throat. Friends of the shelter form a “human lifeline” around the building as a symbol of their resolve. Mama You may have noticed that we’ve been visited by officers of many different, I guess, security entities, or police agencies, on fishing expeditions, as you all know. That’s what I call it, when they come here ... Read more

A Tea Party in Peachtree City

The president of the South Atlanta Tea Party is a gracious stay-at-home mother named Cindy Fallon, and a few weeks ago she was talking about taxes (especially their inverse variation with job-creating capital), Ponzi schemes (especially the federal government), and the proverbial toilet (toward which her three children’s proverbial futures are sliding). And that got her talking about angry carnivores. “I think it’s kinda like how the mother bears are all cuddly and fuzzy till you come after their young,” she said gently. “That’s how it is for us right now.” Us: a nonpartisan group of irate citizens, many of them never previously involved in politics, that the Economist recently called “America’s most vibrant political force.” About sixty of them gathered on a Thursday night in Peachtree City to extol the Constitution and gripe about healthcare. The median age was forty-six, or possibly fifty-one. The median race was white. The ... Read more

Bound by Silence

We couldn’t talk about the gun, the Ruger 9 mm fired in the dark at the university and then hidden where the police would not find it. We couldn’t talk about the bullets, at least six of them, flying at random through a crowd—one hitting a freshman on his third day of school, burning his right forearm like hot coals until he pulled it out and saved the evidence; another hitting a sophomore from Spelman College, piercing her chest, filling her lungs with blood, leaving her dying on the grass. We couldn’t talk about any of these things because there was still a trial on, the State of Georgia v. Devonni Benton, and we the jury had been forbidden by the judge from discussing the case until after the closing arguments and the final charge. And so we talked about squirrels. “Squirrels have invaded my house,” a female juror said. ... Read more

Broccoli Is for Parakeets

There is a hidden restaurant near the south end of Grant Park, in a tan-painted aluminum warehouse. No silverware, no tablecloths. If the place had a menu, it would feature colossal rats and quarter-inch crickets. In the kitchen one morning, a man stood over a red-stained cutting board, slicing beef from raw bones. He stacked the bones in a plastic tub. They would be served without fanfare or seasoning to a party of Asian small-clawed otters for purposes of dental hygiene. This is easier than brushing their teeth. The man with the knife was Rob Nehra, and otters are only a sideline. His first job is feeding the Zoo Atlanta kitchen’s most difficult customer: the giant panda. Hence his title—bamboo technician. Imagine living on plywood. Not many calories in plywood. You’d have to eat all day to survive. Pandas basically do this. They eat bamboo all day. So men like ... Read more

A Few Kind Words at the End

Sandon Jones went in the ground on a Wednesday morning, 141 days after his death. No friends or relatives attended his funeral. The ceremony lasted not quite two minutes and was shared with another man, whose coffin was placed in the same hole. Neither man received a headstone. “Spare me,” said the chaplain toward a chalky sky, through diagonal rain, by way of a eulogy, “that I may recover strength before I go hence and be no more.” Jones went hence in the spring at age forty-one on the floor of a rooming house on Cairo Street. It was heart disease. An investigator found insulin needles on the bed near the remains of his last meal, a 3 Musketeers bar. The citizens of Fulton County pay taxes for many reasons, and one of them is burying the poor. Sandon Jones stayed in the morgue for twenty weeks while an investigator ... Read more