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Atlanta: The City of Speed

Why are we in such a hurry?

I’ve been living here since 1985.  For me, Atlanta was the Land of Opportunity.  Originally from Germany, living in Columbia, South Carolina wasn’t helping my career, so I thought Atlanta would give me the opportunity to expand my horizon. 

I was right in one sense of the word, but with every good thing comes bad. 

Nothing is perfect.

While Atlanta gave me good things such as broader minds, more job and homeowner opportunities, it also gave me crowds, traffic and bad attitudes.  I tell people regularly “Atlanta makes us all freaks!”. 

In particular, the speed thing has really affected me.  I have never seen a place in such a hurry!  Everyone is hustling and bustling, madly rushing around like scattering ants.  And with that exasperation comes the bad attitudes.  Everyone is in such a hurry we have lost that kinder, gentler respect for each other.  Someone gets behind the wheel and is late for a meeting.  Guess what?  In Atlanta?  You’re only going to be even later, at least that’s what I’ve found.  After over 25 years of trying to adapt, to get quicker, to beat the crowds, I’ve actually found a niche that seems to work for me.  Maybe it’ll work for you!

Mentally, I’ve learned to hate simple pleasures such as grocery shopping, buying  gas, even going for my daily walk because of the traffic, mentalities behind the wheel and the speeds involved, so, it took a while, but I started doing things with a different attitude.  They may not work for you, but really and truly, it is all a mental thing.  Get it through your head first, and the rest will fall into place.

Interstate driving:  Very scary for some.  I’ve seen it, and I’ve heard it.  If it scares you, then you should avoid it at all costs.  If you can get where you’re going another way, do it, but if you have to get on, pay attention to some very basic rules and you’ll do just fine.

  • On the four-lane sections, large trucks are not allowed in the left two lanes, so stay in the two left lanes.  On three or two lanes, I ride in the center or right lane.  Faster traffic passes on the left.
  • Don’t feel like you have to speed just because everyone else is.  I find the speed limit, or four miles over, not only keeps me sane, but lowers my gas consumption, and that’s more money in my pocket!
  • Bumper to bumper traffic?  No problem.  Stay in your lane and move along.  If someone puts on a signal to change in front of you, give ‘em that space, it won’t make anything worse for you, and hopefully, if you pay it forward, at some point, when you need to change lanes, someone will let you in, too.
  • Semis are huge, very heavy metal boxes on wheels.  The thought of driving one of those here in Atlanta is a nightmare to me.  They’re about three times the length of a car (if not more), can’t maneuver or stop as easily as a car, and have very low and poor visibility.  Give them the space to change lanes.  The majority of truck drivers I’ve seen here adhere very well to the driving rules.  They signal.  We need to pay attention to that and allow them to change lanes.  If you see one trying to change into your lane, and there’s room, flash your lights to let him know he can safely change into your lane.  They will usually reward you by flashing theirs to you.  
  • Most importantly, remember this: those trucks are bringing you all the possessions you just can’t live without, don’t you want them to get there on time?

I’m often amused when I see  a car darting in and out of traffic, changing lanes, running red lights, etc.  Then I pull up to a stop light, right next to him. I look over and you can see the exasperation on his face.  Traffic is frustrating here, but it’s all about attitude.  If we could only all get behind the wheel and just calmly drive where ever it is we’re going.  Some of the other things I do:

  • Wait out high traffic times.  I try to avoid driving between 7 a.m. and
    9:30 am, and again between 4 p.m. to 6:30 pm.  This doesn’t work for everyone.
  • I grocery shop around 9:30 a.m.  The Farmer’s Market?  9 a.m. on Sunday.
  • When I get behind the wheel, I try to have an immediate personality change.  I try to make a point to be happy and calm.  I put on happy music and smile a lot.  I’ve noticed when I can actually do that, and I drive the speed limit, not only do I seem to move through traffic quicker, but I don’t seem to run into as many angry drivers.  Could it be?
  • I ride MARTA at every opportunity.  There is absolutely nothing better than the train here in Atlanta.  It really keeps me sane.  Did you know the MARTA police force is the largest in the city?  And they show up when you least expect it.  Once, at the Five Points Station, a strange-acting man pushed a woman who was trying to get on the train.  Within seconds (yes, seconds) two police officers showed up on either side of him and whisked him away.
  • Lines in the store.  As I’ve said, I try not to be in a hurry when I leave home.  This mentality has saved me more than you know.  I’ve been cut in line, had doors slammed in my face, and given dirty looks by people in more of a hurry than me.  So what do I do?  For the guy in line behind me,
    breathing down my neck, I step aside and say “Hey!  You seem to be in more of a hurry than me, why don’t you go first?”  If I have a buggy full of items, and the lady behind me has three or four items in her basket, I step aside and motion for her to go ahead of me.  When I hold the door for someone and they’re too busy or hurried to thank me, I smile and say “You’re welcome!”  I have found each and every time I share courtesy and respect to others, their attitude instantly changes.

A little story I love to share:  Years ago, I was in line at the grocery store.  The man in front of me seemed hurried and upset.  His line of food on the belt was obviously for his family and children.  When he saw his total bill, he opened his wallet, pulled out some money and then started searching in his pockets.  He started scanning his purchases, and it became obvious he was going to start putting food back.  I have to tell you, as a mother, I could see the food was for the two boys in his buggy.  I called out to the cashier and asked how much he needed, and then threw a $20 bill on the belt (I really didn’t have it to spend, but those kids were not going without food if I could help it!). 

The guy turned and looked at me and his eyes got big.  I smiled.  The cashier was stuttering too.  The man felt as though he needed to stay and bag my groceries and I laughed and said “Honey, go home to your family and enjoy a good meal together!”.  I can’t even tell you how good that made me feel. Aren’t we supposed to take care of each other?

It’s SO easy to frown at someone, become frustrated, curse and yell or get mad. 
It takes a much bigger person to smile and say “Oh, I’m sorry, did I get in your way?”.  Now I’m not perfect, like anyone else, and I often slip back into old ways, but, at the end of the day, I try to look back and ask myself “Did I help someone smile today?” and also “Was I a kinder, gentler person today?” 

It’s a work in progress.  Let’s return Atlanta to the City of Love instead of the City of Speed!

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Don Towers June 18, 2012 at 02:01 AM
I really loved your column. I can identify with it greatly. I really try to slow down, take it easy, let faster cars go ahead of me, try not to sweat the long lines, and just take my time more in general. Of course, it helps that I am now older and wiser, too. But you are exactly, exactly right! Slow down, don't walk around all pissed off, and just take it easy, during your day. It will mean a lot less stress. PS: You don't really go 59 on 285, do you? Yikes!
Paul Smithwick June 18, 2012 at 01:08 PM
The big takeaway in this column is that there are too many cars and too few good highways. President Obama has a highway bill on the table that would bring Atlanta and other U.S. cities up to the standards that Chinese drivers enjoy. And create a lot of great paying jobs to boot. So, what are we waiting for? Answer: For the Republicans to quit playing politics.
Brian Crowe June 18, 2012 at 02:29 PM
Though I don't think you mentioned it in your column, the advent of widespread cellphone usage has led to much more more bad and often dangerous driving in Atlanta, a metro area already infamous for its bad drivers. I'm convinced cellphone usage while driving, particularly texting, poses far more of a risk for accidents than drunk driving. Nearly everyday, I see someone cross a centerline while they are looking down at their phone--and I don't even drive that much relative to most people. I avoid driving as much as possible, particularly during the rush hours.
Don Towers June 18, 2012 at 02:50 PM
The author here is not focused on traffic. Bad traffic and all that goes with it, long lines at the store, etc., are parts of the environment we find ourselves in. It is how we react to traffic and lines and crowds and the need to rush around during the day, and what this does to our attitude and psyche during the day, that she wrote about. The point is, to slow down, let the other guy go first, don't sweat the line at the store, try to be polite and pleasant to those around you. Good message in my opinion.
Paul Smithwick June 18, 2012 at 06:42 PM
Mr. Towers, I hope you'll live up to your remarks. It will make it easier for me to get around you and get where I need to be on time. See you in the rearview mirror!
Don Towers June 18, 2012 at 07:00 PM
No problem, Mr. Smithwick. I'll see you at the next light!
Marguerite Girard July 12, 2012 at 11:22 PM
I'm with you, Paul.....
Marguerite Girard July 12, 2012 at 11:23 PM
Mssrs Towers and Smithwick, you certainly know how to put a smile on an old gal! Keep up the good (and true) humor! :-D
Marguerite Girard October 31, 2012 at 10:43 PM
Admittedly, I do between 60 and 65....it's the gas guzzling that keeps me down.
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