Atlanta traffic pits drunk high school student vs. MARTA

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A crash knocked down a utility pole in front of Georgia Piedmont Technical College in DeKalb County on Monday. (JOHN SPINK / JSPINK@AJC.COM)

I don’t believe in fate, but sometimes it seems like mysterious, unknown forces are trying to impede all forward progress.

Monday morning, DeKalb police identified one of fate’s minions as an intoxicated 19-year-old high school student who’d knocked a utility pole and power lines across the busy street I was driving on. The student, charged with DUI, was not seriously injured, police said.

The wreck knocked out power to nearby Georgia Piedmont Technical College and caused a traffic kerfuffle not seen in Atlanta since several minutes earlier. The delay gave me time to ponder life’s complexities. How many old high school students are there in Georgia?

The answer: At least 13,581 were 20 or older in the 2015-16 school year, says AJC data specialist Jennifer Peebles.

How many are drunk? That information is not tracked, currently.

My traffic nightmare had began much earlier.

I awoke, as usual, brimming with ideas, enthusiasm and a careless disregard for grammar. My 15-mile ride to the AJC offices in Dunwoody takes about 50 minutes, on average, thanks to hordes of inconsiderate drivers trying to use I-285 at the same time as me.

About halfway to work I hit the 20-minute mark of my journey. I was out of coffee and, as I took my foot off the brake and inched the car forward another few feet, I felt a growing sense of dread.

I went down the pre-work checklist.

Wallet? On the car seat next to me. Sitting on it for an hour makes the backside uncomfortably numb.

Phone? Playing the audiobook “Infinite Jest,” which sounds like it could be about Atlanta traffic but is not.

Lunch? Next to my wallet. I wouldn’t starve to death, probably.

Laptop? It was on my kitchen table! Could I go to work without it? My ability to “look busy” is the stuff of office legend, but pulling it off without a working computer would be a challenge.

I had to turn around.

I could see a highway exit in the distance. It was LaVista Road. I quickly did the math. It would probably take another five minutes to travel the mile or so to where I could turn around, then it would take at least another 15 minutes to get home. Then I would try again. Getting to work would only take 90 minutes or so if things broke my way. Not bad, I thought, and pondered using the emergency lane to scoot ahead.

It took five minutes to get to LaVista and another five just to get up the exit ramp. By the time I made it home, I was seriously pondering “working from home,” but I had a meeting to attend. I grabbed the laptop and soldiered on.

A phone app told me traffic was worse than usual on the interstate so I began navigating surface streets. I was taking in the majestic beauty of the Clarkston area when traffic ground to a halt.

Police cars sped around me and blocked off the road. Smarter drivers than me quickly turned around, but I was trapped. Some people were so desperate to get moving they turned off into a college parking lot. When I got to where I could turn, I did the same. Maybe there was a secret passage through the campus to an unblocked street!?

Optimism is rarely rewarded.

As I turned into the parking lot, some of the cars that first attempted to Lewis and Clark the path to freedom began returning.

There was no escape.

While cruising the parking lot, I saw some Dumpsters and drove around them to explore every option. I saw a short curb and a short patch of grass that led to another road. The Subaru I was in had all-wheel drive. Surely it could make it, right?

I did the math again. An arrest might take hours. Best not to risk it.

I turned around and drove towards the logjam of cars I’d just left. I rolled down the window and asked a motorcycle cop what was going on.

“Road’s closed!” he said.

Thanks for the insight, pal.

I looked at the clock. I’d been on the road 90 minutes and I was less than five miles from home. Time for a tactical retreat.

The next day at work, a co-worker told asked me why I didn’t take MARTA. It is not quick, they said, but you can read a book and relax.

Wednesday evening another co-worker was trapped on a MARTA train in a tunnel. The train didn’t have lights, air conditioning or working doors. After an hour, frustrated riders forced open the doors, walked down the dark tunnel on a narrow ledge and emerged from the ground in Midtown like destitute mole people.

I’ll take my chances on the street, thank you.


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