Home Authors Posts by Cameron Albert-Deitch

Cameron Albert-Deitch

33 POSTS 0 COMMENTS

Interview: Charles Halford of ‘Constantine’

Charles Halford, fresh off his high-visibility role as serial killer Reggie Ledoux in True Detective, is back as Chas Chandler in NBC’s new drama Constantine, based on DC Comics’ Hellblazer series. The show is filmed in Atlanta, and late this summer, we chatted with the co-star about life in “The Hollywood of the South.”

Charles Halford
Charles Halford

Photograph by Marie Westbrook

Do you guys explore the city much on your off-time, or are you mostly confined to the set?
I try to get out and take in some of the local haunts. I have a lighter schedule than Matt [Ryan], who plays Constantine, so I find myself trying to check out some of the hotspots from time to time.

What have your favorites been?
I’m a bit of a craft beer guy, so I’ve stopped at the Brick Store Pub over in Decatur, I’ve stopped in at Max Lager’s downtown, enjoyed that. We’ve frequented the Bookhouse up near Midtown. I’m still grasping all of the little areas, but we’ve been around, and so far I haven’t found a place that I don’t like.

How long are you going to be in Atlanta?
I think we’re scheduled up until December, potentially longer if the show gets picked up for more episodes. We’re in our first season – they’ve ordered 13 total – but that could balloon into a full season if everybody likes what we’re doing.

What are your thoughts about living here in Atlanta vs. living in L.A., where you’re usually located?
There are a lot of similarities. There’s a lot of entertainment here, and it’s a big city. The traffic is very similar! [Laughs] They’re both kind of transplant cities. I don’t think “Hollywood South” –which I’ve heard tossed around–is inappropriate. Obviously one marked difference is the weather. The giant afternoon summer thunderstorms are something a bit new. But the nightlife’s here, and I think the food might actually have a leg up. I don’t know if there’s a lot of authentic California cuisine, whereas there is authentic Southern cuisine. You have craftsmen and artists, and outside of the weather, it feels pretty similar. It’s an older city, and I think that’s the thing I noticed initially when I came down. The city has so much history in American culture. Even the lay of the land, and I might be wrong, but I assume when I’m driving down some of these roads that these were just old horse trails that have been paved over. The city was built around a very old time, and that’s something that I look forward to, when I have some time, getting into the historical aspects of it, because that’s the kind of stuff that really fascinates me. In California, you’ve got pretty much the 1900s and even then, it really doesn’t start booming out there until entertainment started coming out of there in the 1920s. So far, I’ve really enjoyed my time down here, and I’ve met really good people. I guess the one downside that I’ve heard is that I’m missing out on a lot of excellent food, being vegan, but I’ve actually been really impressed with how accommodating it’s been. When we were down here shooting the pilot in March, I was a little bit worried. I was like, “I can’t eat any more mall falafel!” [Laughs] But since I’ve been down here, I’ve actually found that most restaurants have an option, and I’ve found a couple of really good little—I’m still looking for one, if you’ve got any suggestions for vegan restaurants, send them my way! Café Sunflower has been good, Mellow Mushroom really treated me right when I went in there with some good vegan options, and R. Thomas was a place that I found–that’s just an interesting, cool little find, I found that during the pilot and I was just like, “This is a good spot.” So yeah, it’s been a fun ride, and with any luck, we’ll be spending a couple more years down here.

Does Matt Ryan get any attention for sharing a name with the Atlanta Falcons quarterback?
I’m sure he will. Like I said, he’s got a really busy schedule, so I don’t think he’s had to deal with too many dinner reservations. But we always joke about it! [Laughs]

How did you get involved with Constantine?
It was basically like any other audition. I’m a really tall guy– I’m like six-six–so it’s rare that you see them specifically looking for really tall people for series regulars. It was basically just an audition, and they were looking for my height, and I went in and apparently did a good enough job for them to hire me. You audition, you have maybe a day of chemistry tests, and then you go in and read for the network. That’s the big scary audition, when you’ve got like 20 people . . .  judging you. [Laughs] But it worked out, so I’m happy to be a part of it.

The other notable very large man you played recently was Reggie Ledoux on True Detective, and he was so physically intimidating and downright scary. Do you think that performance helped you land this brawnier role?
I think where it helped me the most was that it was such a high-profile show, you know? And the timing was just right. Reggie Ledoux was a big deal in pop culture right about the time that I was going to the network for this. That’s just really fortunate, that it worked out, but I do think that obviously being involved in such a high profile show helped give the network and studio confidence in my ability to carry my weight on this one. Reggie’s so out there, and while Chas is big and brawny, he’s a bit of a gentle giant. He’s definitely not a crazy person, so I get to go the other way. [Laughs]

How does working on an HBO contained miniseries like True Detective differ from a network serialized show like Constantine?
True Detective was a lot like a feature film. Cary Fukunaga, who directed it, came from feature films. Matthew [McConaughey] and Woody [Harrelson], with the exception of Cheers back from Woody’s career, they’re both very much feature film actors. And Nic Pizzolatto, who wrote it, was new to television in general–so it was wide open for him. So we took a lot of time. They spent something like six months shooting eight episodes, and we’re shooting an episode in like eight days. The workload is a lot different–well, the workload is roughly the same, but we don’t have the luxury of time that they had on that. And for me, it’s different because with True Detective, I was only in New Orleans for about 10 days, and obviously I’m down here for anywhere from four to eight months if things go well. So that’s very different–moving into a new city and all.

You appeared in a couple episodes of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., so I’m also curious as to the difference between working in the Marvel and DC Comics worlds.
Marvel is very . . . well, they’re just very strict with the information that gets out there. Obviously that television show is part of this multi-billion dollar film franchise that they have going on, so that’s really the only difference. Shooting a television show is shooting a television show. The facilities are different, the characters are very different. Constantine’s a much darker property–we probably shed more blood in five minutes of Constantine than the entire property of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. So the content’s a little bit different, but more or less, the job is the same.

On a more personal note, you played a scene against Sir Anthony Hopkins in The World’s Fastest Indian. What sort of tips do you pick up from working with a guy like that?
A lot. That was actually a really educational day–and it was only a day. I was young, it had to have been maybe the sixth thing or so that I’ve ever done, and I was meeting Anthony Hopkins and had the pleasure of working across from him. He was just such a stellar person. He was so gracious and kind, and he had time for everybody on set. I was lucky enough to be working the last week of that shoot, and he took everybody out from the crew and cast to this awesome dinner at the end of it. We were all certainly appreciative of him and he made sure to reciprocate that. So it’s not surprising that he’s had the career that he’s had, and that he was knighted at one point. He’s just a really solid guy. And he does his work. You’d think that after so many years, he’d just be able to show up and be an awesome actor. But he’s diligent in his work. When he would walk from his chair to in front of the camera, there was very little marked difference – he just had such composure. I was taking notes the whole time, and I feel really fortunate to have worked with him.

Going back to the fact that you’re a really big guy—you’re also vegan. Are people ever surprised?
Oh yeah. They call me “the Brontosaurus” on set, it’s kind of fun. I think people expect you to like a big steak or something when you’re large, but it’s nothing so strange. I guess the strangest thing is when people worry about it a lot more than I do when we’re going out to eat. I can always find a salad or something, but a lot of people go, “Oh man, we gotta make sure they have food for Charlie,” and I’m like, “Guys, I’ve been doing this for long enough. It’s fine.” I’m there for the company, the food will be there, and if I need to eat some tofu when I get home, that’s fine. [Laughs]

Is it a dietary thing, or is it more philosophical? Or do you just not like the taste of meat?
I think it just works for me. I’m not necessarily the type to try to change anybody else’s diets. I got into vegetarianism very young–I was probably like 13 or something when I decided I didn’t want to eat meat anymore–so at this point, 20-plus years later, I’ve kind of gone through all the phases of it. Early on, I was back and forth between vegan and vegetarianism. Initially, it was all activism and animal rights and changing the world, and then I went back to being vegetarian because the animal rights thing kind of got out of control, but then it was a health issue. I was a really unhealthy vegetarian, so I decided to reduce those unhealthy fats. So I’ve been through all the paces, and at this point, it’s a personal choice that worked for me. I think anybody should listen to their body, and fortunately for me, my body and mind agree on my diet. It’s a win-win.

In Constantine, your character’s name is Chas, which in this case is not short for Charles, but it often is. Have you ever had the nickname Chas?
Yeah, I’ve had people call me Chas before. It makes it easy on set–they can pretty much call me whatever, character name or my name, and they know who they’re getting. What’s funny, on the same note, is that character from the comics is named Frank Chandler, and they just call him Chas Chandler after Jimmy Hendrix’s road manager. So it’s funny–my name is a nickname for my character’s name, which is totally off-base because his name is Frank in the comics. [Laughs] So that’s a little bit of trivia.

There was a Constantine movie in 2005 that was technically based on the Hellblazer comics, but didn’t mirror the comics particularly closely. How faithful is the TV show to the source material?
I think we stick a lot truer to it. My character specifically is a lot more like Chas Chandler in the comics–and I never saw the film, and when I got this, I didn’t bother to see it because what’s the point? But I think the changes the film made to Chas, to my understanding, involved a different last name and he’s sort of eager to be a protégé or student of Constantine, whereas Chas in the comic books is John’s oldest, best friend and a contemporary of his. They’re about the same age and they’ve been through a lot together. We’re doing a very faithful adaptation in my opinion, and I’m a fan of the comic books. I think we’re doing a really faithful adaptation of the Hellblazer series.

So your Chas is more of a partner than a sidekick?
Yeah. Well, he’s a partner and a sidekick. I mean, the show’s called Constantine for a reason. I’m definitely in the mix more, but it’s one of those things where John’s going to do his thing, and if John needs my help, I’ve obviously been around and I know how to help him. I don’t know that Chas from the show would want to be involved with any fighting if it weren’t for the fact that his best friend was involved in demon fighting. [Laughs] He goes along with it because that’s what a good friend does, and he’d do anything to help him out.

One of the little tidbits that have been dropped so far is that Chas has particularly powerful survival skills that might be supernatural. How hard of a man to kill is he?
I think you’ll find early on–as early as the first episode–that very bad things can happen to Chas and he can just walk away from them. They’re things that would typically kill any other human being, and that will all get explained through the course of the show, but yeah. He can pretty much survive just about anything at this point. In the comics, John protected Chas and kept him out of the really heavy stuff, but in this one, we’ve sort of taken the opposite approach where Chas is right in the thick of it and he’s going to take the punches if it means saving John, or if it means helping John in some way. He’s been gifted with this ability to take a good beating.

‘Constantine,’ filmed entirely in Atlanta, debuts this week

St. Constantine of Kiev died in 1159, and his will stipulated that his corpse be fed to dogs. It can’t be a coincidence that “1159” is the code on production signs for NBC’s drama Constantine, based on DC Comics’ Hellblazer series and filmed entirely in Atlanta.

Evidently NBC hopes demons are the new zombies. Here’s what you need to know about the show, which debuts October 24: Demon hunter John Constantine thought his soul was damned, but a series of supernatural threats offers a chance at redemption and shoves him back to the front lines. The titular role is played by Welsh actor Matt Ryan—not to be confused with the Falcons quarterback. We wondered if the former Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior star was able to use the name to his advantage while here. “He’s got a really busy schedule, so I don’t think he’s had to deal with too many dinner reservations,” says costar Charles Halford (True Detective), who plays Constantine’s best friend, Chas Chandler. “But we always joke about it.”

This article original appeared in the October 2014 issue with the headline “Raising Hell.”

Cramming for the Midterms: Michelle Nunn vs. David Perdue

One of the country’s most closely watched Senate races pits Democrat Michelle Nunn against Republican David Perdue. Both bill themselves as Washington outsiders. How else are they alike—or different?

Born
Nunn: Macon, Georgia; 1966
Perdue: Macon, Georgia; 1946

Family
Nunn: Husband Ron Martin Jr., who works in real estate; children Vinson (11) and Elizabeth (9)
Perdue: Wife Bonnie, a former teacher; sons David III and Blake; grandchildren David IV (3), Hudson (3), and Jack (8 months)

Political Legacy
Nunn: Daughter of former U.S. senator Sam Nunn
Perdue: First cousin of former Georgia governor Sonny Perdue

Religion
Nunn: Methodist
Perdue: Methodist

C-Level Resume Highlight(s)
Nunn: CEO of George H.W. Bush’s nonprofit Points of Light
Perdue: Former CEO of Reebok, Pillowtex, and Dollar General

Previous Elected Office Held
Nunn: None
Perdue: Class president in 9th, 10th, and 11th grades at Northside High School in Warner Robins

Prestigious Appointments
Nunn: Named by President George W. Bush in 2006 to serve on the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation
Perdue: Named to the Georgia Ports Authority board by then-governor Sonny Perdue

Best Twitter Dis (to date)
Nunn: “Our new ad explains how David Perdue’s ‘real world’ doesn’t include you.”
Perdue: “R/T if you agree we don’t need a Senator who would describe his/herself as Obama’s and Reid’s ‘best friend.’ ”

Awkward Compensation History
Nunn: Cut jobs following the 2007 merger of HandsOn Network and Points of Light. Her salary increased from $120,000 to $250,000 (though it was still less than the $325,000 per year made by her predecessor, Robert Goodwin).
Perdue: Resigned as CEO of Pillowtex in March 2003 after seven months on the job (and $1.7 million in earnings). Four months later, Pillowtex shut down, causing almost 8,000 job losses nationwide.

Georgia Endorsements
Nunn: Current or former mayors Kasim Reed, Andrew Young, and Shirley Franklin; congressman John Lewis; former governor Zell Miller; former senator Max Cleland
Perdue: Former governor Sonny Perdue (duh), Atlantan and 2012 presidential candidate Herman Cain

Rural Outreach
Nunn: A leaked strategy memo detailed plans to create postcards “that incorporate Michelle and her family in rural settings with rural-oriented imagery.”
Perdue: For campaign ads, he’s awkwardly posed in a field, wearing a denim jacket

Polling data
Nunn: As of August, chances of winning as predicted by: Washington Post Election Lab, 16%; WSB-TV poll, 47%; Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight, 25%
Perdue: Washington Post, 84%; WSB-TV, 40%; FiveThirtyEight, 75%

Personal Contributions to Campaign
Nunn: $5K as of June 30
Perdue: $3.1 million as of July 2

This article originally appeared in our October 2014 issue under the headline “Face Off.”

 

Q&A: Rep. Hank Johnson on ending police militarization

Hank Johnson may have been best known as one of two Buddhists in the House (the other being Hawaii’s Colleen Hanabusa). But the lawmaker, who has served Georgia’s 4th congressional district since 2007, has set his sights on reforming the Department of Defense’s 1033 Program, the mechanism through which local law enforcement agencies can request and obtain military surplus equipment. The program entered the national spotlight by way of events in Ferguson, Missouri where police countered protesters with massive armored trucks, M4 carbine rifles, body armor, and uniforms based on a U.S. Marine Corps camouflage pattern. We talked to the veteran Democrat about how he began his crusade to demilitarize police forces, and the reaction he has received post-Ferguson.

How long has the bill been in the works, and what first gave you the idea to craft it?
I first got interested in militarization in law enforcement after a Christmas parade [in Georgia] last year that I marched in. I happened to be marching behind the vehicle that the mayor was seated in, and it was a great, big piece of military equipment, and it was a very small municipality. As I walked in back of the equipment, it was so massive I was in awe of it. I couldn’t see over the top or sides, I couldn’t see anything–just a great, big, hulking piece of metal. I asked my staff to look into how that equipment was acquired, so they started looking at it and we stumbled across the 1033 program. We did an op-ed with a gentleman by the name of Michael Shank, which appeared in USA Today back in March, and it was around that time that we started drafting the legislation. It took us up to the point of shortly before we recessed for the August break–it was at that point that we finally had it in such a shape that we were ready to file it–but we decided to wait until the Congress was back in session instead of filing in the last couple days so that, quite frankly, we’d get the most attention paid to it. And then little did we know that we’d see the 1033 program on display in Ferguson, Missouri. Since that time, we’ve fine-tuned the legislation that we had ready to file–we’ve perfected it.

What’s changed since the draft you almost filed before the August break?
We’ve gotten a couple of Republicans to give us their insight, and based on their insights, we incorporated those into the bill to make it more palatable. One was the issue of aircrafts, because the original bill prohibited the transfer through the 1033 program of aircrafts, so we fine-tuned that to eliminate certain aircrafts from the prohibition. We heard from another Republican lawmaker about the accountability portion of the bill, and we changed it to reflect that particular congressman’s suggestion. It had to do with the banning of a law enforcement agency from receiving 1033 surplus equipment if it could not account for equipment that it has already received.

I wanted to ask specifically about issues like aircrafts–why limit the transfers of vehicles or non-lethal items? The bill mentions Long Range Acoustic Devices, for example.
Yeah, stun grenades, silencers, those are not typical tools that local law enforcement uses. If they feel the need to have that type of equipment, they can always purchase it through their regular process, where a law enforcement agency would have a portion of the municipal or county budget. You have the purchase of that equipment being overseen by the governmental agency that oversees the police department–as opposed to the 1033 program, which allows the law enforcement agency to petition directly to the Department of Defense for the property to be transferred, free, as surplus property. The citizens are stuck with the repair bills and the maintenance costs, and also, what do we do when we want to dispose of this property because we find it is no longer suitable for our purposes? So to prevent this kind of weaponry from falling into the wrong civilian hands, this is why this legislation is so important.

The understanding that I have of the current 1033 program is that if precincts aren’t using equipment, they can return that equipment to the 1033 catalog.
There’s no requirement now that they do so. Under the legislation, that would be their sole option in terms of disposal of the property. It would prohibit the sale at a public auction of this military-grade weaponry.

Is there any sort of incentive included for police departments to return certain types of equipment that they already have?
No, there’s no such incentives–but that’s a thought. First suggestion that I’ve heard. We’ll give that some thought. And by the way, if we incorporate that into the bill, that was something that I came up with independently. [Laughs]

A lot of police departments try to justify their ownership of certain types of military equipment by claiming deterrence. Many say they’re just adding tools to their protect-and-serve arsenal–options to have just in case. Are those pieces of equipment acceptable under either of those definitions?
I think that if citizens, through their local governing authority that they have elected, approve of the purchase of this kind of equipment based on a need that the local law enforcement agency provides to them, that’s their choice. They can order the equipment, take possession, and be on the hook for the cost of maintenance, repairs, and all of the things that come with the acquisition of the equipment. But for the law enforcement itself, without any input from the governing authority, to petition directly to the DoD for surplus military-grade weaponry and then take possession of it, and then the citizens are strapped with the cost of maintaining the equipment, and then the local government authority declaring the equipment to be surplus and then selling it out on the open market for pennies to the highest bidder, and that equipment then ending up in the hands of perhaps those who we would not want to have it, that process is what I’m trying to make sure that we don’t allow to happen.

You’re calling for a stop to military surplus in police departments. Is there anything you think police should start doing to be more effective?
I do believe that the Ferguson event shows why it’s so important for law enforcement agencies to not have equipment that they’re not trained on. Ferguson showed us such a situation where this equipment, which is being acquired for the public safety, actually creates an unsafe situation. The use of that equipment in Ferguson actually was like pouring gasoline on a fire. First, you have citizens coming out–they’re angry, they’re upset, and they’re protesting what they feel to be an unjustified homicide. They go around and protest, and they are met with a militarized police response that then inflames the situation even more. That is why the state of Missouri police agency was ordered to take over from the city of Ferguson, and they restored order, but we see how a police overreaction can actually be harmful to the community. It’s a two-edged sword when you have that equipment, if you’re not trained on how to operate it.

Has it been easy or difficult to get other congressmen to sign on?
I think that there’s a great deal of thought still going into it by various offices. We’ve received a number of offices that looked again at the proposed legislation and decided, “Okay, well, yeah, we do want to get involved now that we’ve seen the results of militarization.” There has been more support manifested for the bill and more interest for supporting the bill.

So what’s next?
I’ve been in conversations with ranking member Adam Smith [the Democrat who represents Washington’s 9th District] on the House Armed Services Committee about requesting a hearing before the committee on the 1033 program. If we get to have a hearing, that’ll be fine, but we will also be filing the legislation as we return to session. And we’ll continue to try to get more co-sponsors and try to build up momentum for the bill to have a committee hearing, and then be brought to the full floor for a vote.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?
This is not an anti-law enforcement piece of legislation. I’m pro-law enforcement, always have been and always will be. I think that law enforcement [agencies are] the best judge of what they need to do their jobs to protect and serve the people. However, they should not have the ability to acquire certain equipment for free and then strap the citizens with first, the heavy-handed use of the equipment, and then the cost of repairing and maintaining the equipment. That’s like putting an Uzi in the hands of a nine-year-old child. The girl was not strong enough–she was incapable of controlling the weaponry – and the result was a tragedy. We really want to prevent tragedies like that from occurring on the streets of America.

Report: Georgia ranks 50 for unemployment

The United States Bureau of Labor has released its unemployment report for July, and it’s not good news for Georgia. The state has a preliminary unemployment rate of 7.8, second-to-last in the country (only leading Mississippi’s 8.0) and significantly above the national average of 6.2. The list includes the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

There is some good news, though: Georgia is one of the 30 states with “statistically significant” increases in employment over the past calendar year, with 70,200 more people employed in July 2014 than July 2013. The unemployment rate is also down from the 8.2 rate it saw at the end of 2013.

However, other states have improved significantly more. The 2013 year-end report showed Georgia in a tie with New Jersey and Tennessee at 41,  meaning that the Peach State has since been leapfrogged by seven other states (nine including New Jersey and Tennessee).

North Dakota currently has the best unemployment rate in the country at 2.8, and it’s not even close: Nebraska and Utah tied for second with 3.6.

The Places with the Worst Employment Rates, July 2014

Mississippi,  8.0%
Georgia,  7.8%
Rhode Island,  7.7%
Nevada,  7.7%
Michigan,  7.7%
Kentucky,  7.4%
District of Columbia,  7.4%
California,  7.4%
Tennessee, 7.1%
Arizona,  7.0%
Alabama, 7.0%

Infographic of the Day: How liberal is Atlanta?

Politics can be a touchy subject in Atlanta, a city long known as a blue dot in a solidly red state. It can be so touchy that some people don’t even want to talk about it, which can make it difficult to figure out just how blue the city is compared to the rest of the country. Thanks to a forthcoming study in American Political Science Review, we now know: Atlanta is the 22nd most liberal city in the country, right between Newark and Miami.

The data comes from research by MIT’s Chris Warshaw and UCLA’s Chris Tausanovitch, who aggregated survey responses into ideological scores for every American city with more than 100,000 residents (the chart below narrows the list to those over 250,000). There’s definitely some survey bias—researchers asked more about energy and conservation, for example, than other pressing issues like education or income inequality—but the results still seem to confirm the widely-held impression that big cities tend to lean left. As Warshaw noted to us in an email, “As you might expect, most cities tend to be more liberal than the average person since conservatives tend to live in suburbs and rural areas. That’s why most cities are negative (i.e., liberal) on our scale.” A score of 0 represents the average ideology nationwide.

Out of the 67 cities listed, 11 were marked as conservative, led by Mesa, Arizona. One city is completely neutral—Fort Worth, Texas—leaving 55 cities as decidedly liberal (led by San Francisco, to nobody’s surprise).

liberal

Infographic of the Day: Guess how hot Atlanta will get by 2100?

It’s a hot one today–with a smog alert, to boot. Especially after a few unseasonably (and gloriously) cool days, maybe now is the time to stay inside and check out this “1001 Blistering Future Summers” interactive from New Jersey-based news and research nonprofit Climate Central.

Type your city into the search box to see its projected average summer temperatures in 2100–and a location that currently showcases that climate. Here’s a game: Enter the name of your city, then type in the comparison it gives, and so on until the map runs out of suggestions. The map is limited to the lower 48 states, but eventually, it runs out of American examples–the country just doesn’t get that hot right now. Instead, the interactive compares those hottest American cities to Kuwait City, Kuwait – which has a stunning average summer temperature of 114.08 degrees Fahrenheit.

If you don’t have the time or inclination to play with the interactive tool yourself, here’s what you need to know about Atlanta, which currently boasts an average summer temperature of 87.64 degrees. By the year 2100 (when we’ll be part of the megalopolis known as Char-Lanta), the temperature will be 96.69 degrees–or about as hot as Pharr, Texas. I’ve been told that Atlanta magazine has a policy against using the term “Hotlanta” in articles or headlines. But according to my editor, “This is the one instance in which it seems permissible.”

No, you can’t ride the Atlanta Streetcar. But you can look at these sneak peek photos.

The Atlanta Streetcar is delayed—again. While it looked like the $100 million project might be up and rolling in late summer, the new target date is November. After ballooning budget issues and multiple delays setting the schedule back over a year, the on-road testing on the cars is scheduled to start within the next few weeks. If you do spot a car quietly zipping down the track, it will be empty. There will be about two months of testing before any passengers are aboard.

“The first time we go through, will be literally at walking speeds at midnight so we don’t interact with anybody,” said Sharon Gavin, Atlanta Streetcar’s communications director.  “But then we’ll start those cars out there operating with traffic, to give traffic an opportunity to learn how to behave around streetcars and to get our operators used to Atlanta traffic.” The precautionary steps might be wise—after all, when Houston re-introduced streetcars a decade ago, collisions were so common that the trolley was dubbed the Wham Bam Tram.  The streetcar operators here will try to prevent those issues by never going faster than the speed of traffic. “We have to remain grouped along with traffic patterns so it can be predictable,” Gavin said. “So that drivers know how streetcars are going to operate.”

Last Thursday, Atlanta Streetcar invited media to check out the cars, so we headed over for some early access (no, unfortunately, we didn’t get to ride it). The turnout was sparse–we spotted only a couple other outlets while there–but the mood in the Auburn Avenue trolley shed seemed upbeat. Check out the above photos to see what we can expect when we finally get to ride the 2.7 mile light-rail loop.

There’s even more on the Atlanta Streetcar—including a map of the route—in this piece from our August 2014 issue (which went to the printer just days before the latest delays were announced).

The Braves released new stadium renderings, none of which are official

It’s been a busy season for the Atlanta Braves and their future home in Cobb County. The past few weeks have seen heavy machinery on the ground, and last night, the development team for the $400 million mixed-use complex was formally announced. Today, new images of the stadium were released–and although we have to admit that a few of them are rather stunning, it’s important to realize that nothing pictured is official.

“Anything can still change since the design is still in progress,” Braves director of public relations Beth Marshall wrote in an email to Atlanta magazine. “All things in these graphics were placeholders.”

The graphics were created by the project’s master planner, the Jerde Partnership, for a Developments of Regional Impact (DRI) submission to the state of Georgia. “These illustrations accompanied the public hearing and were created to show scale of elements on the site,” Marshall wrote. “Architectural drawings reflective of the actual look of the development will be released at a later date.”

Some of the new images are rather humdrum. The street-view images, for example, mostly show the streets surrounding the stadium. But the ones that really grab our attention involve the large swimming pool beyond the right-center bleachers, which we hope appears in the later architectural drawings. Perhaps it could be a more down-to-earth version of the pool at the Miami Marlins stadium. More importantly, the pool would be a great new home run target for Freddie Freeman and company.

We tested the ATLtransit trip planning service. It was not exactly a success.

It’s no secret Atlanta lacks functional regional transit. As veteran transportation reporter Doug Monroe wrote in a 2012 Atlanta magazine analysis of the history behind our transportation woes, “at the heart of the rot eating at metro Atlanta is the Mother of All Mistakes: the failure to extend MARTA into the suburbs.” Indeed, MARTA is limited to the city of Atlanta and Fulton and DeKalb counties; traveling farther requires cobbling trips together on a host of smaller systems, each with its own unwieldy ticketing and scheduling vagaries.

This month’s launch of ATLtransit, an itinerary-planning website, was a step—albeit a small one—in the right direction. The website is a pilot project of (acronym alert!) MARTA, GRTA (the Georgia Regional Transit Authority), CCT (Cobb Community Transit), GCT (Gwinnett County Transit), Xpress, and the ARC (Atlanta Regional Commission). It’s an information portal, meaning it doesn’t address the underlying problems—but it does make navigating the multiple transit systems easier. In theory at least.

My task, following only ATLtransit itineraries: to start at my home in Roswell, find my way east to Gwinnett, cross back west to Cobb, and return home again. Maybe grab some food on the way or check out the new Braves stadium site—just like anybody without a car might do once the stadium opens. It all sounds so easy.

MARTA doesn’t serve large swaths of the suburbs, but the Doraville station serves as a main hub for connecting service to the Gwinnett County Transit bus system.


Tuesday night: Preparation
I quickly learn that ATLtransit’s mapping system gets finicky when identifying start and end points: If you want to visit the Atlanta magazine offices, for example, you can’t type “260 Peachtree Street.” Only “260 Peachtree Street NE” will do. It also doesn’t support multi-leg journeys, meaning I have to create three separate itineraries. The lack of a mobile app is glaring: Trips must be planned in advance, and if your plans change, it’s impossible to adapt on the go. Rather than storing your travel schedule in your phone, you have to resort to memory—or old-school printouts. The printer-friendly schedules are marginally useful—step-by-step instructions list which trains or buses to take and when—but while my computer screen shows a map of my route, my printouts are text-only. I print a few mapscreenshots, just in case.

To go east from Roswell toward Gwinnett, I’ll have to take the MARTA Red Line south to Lindbergh before taking the Gold Line northeast to Doraville. And, of course, because MARTA doesn’t service Gwinnett County, I’ll have to use the GCT bus system from there. Getting to Cobb looks even worse: I’ll have to take the Gold Line into Atlanta, only to catch a CCT bus right back out of the city. Getting home will require taking that same bus south before riding MARTA all the way north. The three maps, if superimposed, might resemble wheel spokes: Everything is predicated upon entering the city, only to leave it at a different angle.

Cost so far: N/A

Time spent on the road: N/A

 

ATLtransit’s best suggestion for getting from Cobb County to Sandy Springs.
Does this look efficient to you?

 

Wednesday morning: North Springs to Gwinnett County
I start at the northernmost point on MARTA’s Red Line at around 11, heading for the Bleu House Cafe in Norcross. By 11:30, I’m at the MARTA Doraville station. I look down at my printout, which tells me to take the Gwinnett 10a bus toward Sugarloaf Mills at 11:35. The sign on the bus waiting at the stop says 10b. I cheerfully wave that bus goodbye, expecting the 10a to pull up right behind it. It will take another hour for the 10a to finally arrive. Apparently, the two take very similar routes—and either would have passed by my Buford Highway and South Cemetery Street stop.

Around noon, the Gwinnett No. 35 bus, which has been waiting longer to leave than I have, finally drives off. The driver flashes me a thumbs up as he passes by; I can only assume my need for encouragement was quite visible. A few minutes later, a man approaches. “Excuse me. Are you waiting for the 10?” “Yes,” I reply. He pauses. “Is it on the way?” he asks, in a tone that indicates a negative answer might be a very real possibility. A few minutes later, the man is gone.

By 12:25, I regret not keeping a count of buses—MARTA and GCT alike—that have come through since my arrival. I’m sure the number would be staggering. At 12:26, I think: Maybe I should live-tweet this. At 12:27: No, live-tweeting is tacky.

When the bus pulls up at 12:30, a sizeable crowd is clamoring to get in. None of our Breeze card transfers are being accepted—the reader continually flashes red and displays the word “INSIGNIFICANT”–but that doesn’t stop us from boarding. My theory: We have waited so long that our transfers have expired. One man looks concerned. “They’ve all been doing that,” the driver tells him. “I think something’s wrong with MARTA.”

The bus drops me on Buford Highway, and I walk a quarter mile uphill to the restaurant. I learn firsthand why Buford Highway has helped Atlanta become one of the most dangerous cities for pedestrians in the country; it has perilously few crosswalks, forcing me to jaywalk and almost get hit by a car.

Cost so far: $5.00

Time spent: Two hours

 

A stop at this cafe in Norcross provided an exceedingly delightful respite from my own personal public transit hell. I recommend the praline brownies, in particular.

 

Wednesday afternoon: Gwinnett County to Cobb County
I eat a quick lunch and emerge from the Bleu House Cafe at 1:40, only half an hour behind schedule. The steps on my ATLtransit printouts will remain the same even if the times are different, but I have no idea when the next bus will arrive. In the mid-afternoon Georgia heat, this is important; even more so when the bus stop is nothing but a roadside post stuck in the ground.

Over the next 30 minutes, I start to wonder if I’ll sit on the grass here long enough to need sunscreen. I dream of marching into the used car lot next door, buying a car, and driving off. I am a fool, I realize, for not convincing a friend to spend the day with me.

The GCT 10a bus pulls up at 2:10 and takes me back to the Doraville station. The southbound MARTA train to Arts Center is drama-free, and I wait for another No. 10 bus—this time, from Cobb Community Transit. It appears the vast majority of people there are waiting for the same bus, because when we board, it’s packed. My phone dies somewhere on the way to the new Braves stadium site, taking my clock, music, and Google Maps fallback with it. In a moment of confusion, I miss my stop. I’m suddenly grateful for the maps I printed the day before.

I get out and backtrack, walking almost a mile down Cobb Parkway sidewalks to finally reach the stadium site. I circle, watching the heavy machinery. A lot of work will be done in the coming years to replace this field of dirt and grass with a somewhat more organized one. I snap pictures before walking to a mercifully covered bus stop. My water bottle is empty, and I’m pouring sweat. It’s time to go home.

Later, I consider the reality of getting to the new Braves stadium via Cobb transit, which currently doesn’t operate on Sundays. Details on the planned “circulator” bus system servicing the new ballpark may honestly make or break my opinion on the stadium move.

Cost so far: $12:50

Time spent: Probably somewhere around five and a half hours

 

The future home of the Atlanta Braves!

 

Wednesday evening: Cobb County to North Springs
By this point, I don’t need my ATLtransit printout. I take the No. 10 CCT bus back to the MARTA Arts Center station and a Red Line train up to North Springs. A stranger’s phone reads 5:25. I have traveled for six and a half hours, an estimated three and a half of those on buses and trains. According to Google Maps, taking a car would have saved me two and a half of those hours (although, of course, it can’t account for potential accidents on Cobb Parkway or snarls on the Connector).

I have also spent a total of $17.50. I type my itinerary into a fuel cost calculator and determine that driving a 2010 Honda Civic, gas would have cost me $4.99.

I blame the ATLtransit itinerary for the hour I spent waiting at the Doraville station, and it’s only due to the maps I printed that it didn’t cost me even more time. The website is a good concept with horrible execution (not unlike metro Atlanta’s transit as a whole). Clunky and obsolete isn’t a good feel for a brand new program, and the mapping system pales in comparison to Google’s gold standard. The About page reads, “This pilot project is a first step, designed to gather research and feedback from the public about what information and resources are most useful to transit riders.” I hope my experiences help. There won’t be an overhaul of the entire transit system anytime soon, so in lieu of that, a legitimately useful information portal unifying the metro Atlanta providers would be nice. One with a mobile app would be even nicer.

Of course, my test was an exercise in hypotheticals. I often have access to a car. Those who rely solely on public transportation experience this level of frustration daily. I feel as though I’ve taken enough trains and buses for a month—but if you happen to live and work near one of MARTA’s limited routes like I do, taking a straight shot down one of the rail lines definitely beats sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic. So, while I might be done with Cobb and Gwinnett buses for a while, I’m not done with you, MARTA. Not yet.

Follow Us

67,223FansLike
126,739FollowersFollow
493,957FollowersFollow