W-4D5 Atlanta

I arrived a little early for GWC training yesterday, so I had a little bit of time to poke around the environs of Atlanta which were within easy travel, by which I mean walking distance, or maybe an easy public transit ride away. I had no particular destination, so I set out in the direction of the biggest green thing on the map – Centennial Olympic Park, which was about half a mile away. There are a few attractions there – I visited the Georgia Aquarium last year – and I thought there might be some other interesting things in the area I hadn’t seen on my previous trip.

I arrived at the park to find it hot, bright and largely under construction. I glanced around the perimeter noting a couple of hotels, but not many “points of interest”. My better self saw the College Football Hall of Fame and offered me one of my personal axioms: “Any museum is interesting to a curious person”. (I know I’m using “museum” in an unconventional sense there, but technically, a hall of fame fits the definition.) Given how little I know about college football history, this would be a good test of that rule. Alas, that plan was foiled as I turned around in response to a bell (#bellringernation) and saw the Atlanta Streetcar pull away from a station just about a hundred yards away. The thought of sitting down in an air conditioned vehicle which would take me who knows where was immediately appealing, thus my baser self won out. It was a pyrrhic victory at best.

I quickly crossed the street (not wanting to miss the next streetcar), and mounted the station platform. Now, I’m a fairly technically savvy person. As you may already know, my superpower is that technology tends to work better when I stand next to it. In fact, just this past Monday I went into a local filling station to use the ATM. After I put my card in, the person behind the counter told me that the ATM wasn’t working, and hadn’t been for two days. Some kind of “communication error”. Great, thanks. I put my hand on the ATM and joked that I was going to do a Vulcan Mind Meld on it, and maybe that would work. It did. I retrieved my cash and left.

In spite of that technical prowess, standing before the ticket vending machine I couldn’t figure out how to actually purchase a ticket, which the signs explicitly said was necessary to ride. The screen on the machine gave me only two choices, “F” – “Check the balance on your MARTA card” (I had one ride left, which I plan to use to get me back to the airport on Sunday) and “J” – “Help”, which didn’t. The other nine choices (A-E and G-I) were all blank. As a last resort, I read all the instructions and signs, but to no avail; I was not getting a ticket here. I glanced at the map and saw that the next stop was about two blocks away, and in the general direction of my hotel, so I began walking in that direction.

If you’ve been keeping up with this blog, then you’ll not be surprised that I never made it to that stop. I got to the end of the first block, took a slight right following the streetcar tracks, glanced up and “SQUIRREL!” OK, not an actual squirrel, but a sign that said “Atlanta-Fulton Library”, which translates as “squirrel” in my mind. As a touristic (that’s a real word) veteran of the main branch of the New York Public Library and Chicago’s Harold Washington Library (blogged here), I know the value of big city libraries as “points of interest”, and was easily diverted from my original plan. I saw the next sign, and took a right where it indicated, but that’s where the signs ran out. I wandered around a bit, looking for the library, when I heard the bell again. The streetcar was coming up the road behind me. OK, no library – back on the train. I began to follow the tracks again toward the next station. I walked about two block when I saw signs again – Atlanta-Fulton Library, only now the signs were pointing in the opposite direction. I had walked right past the library! Subsequent research has uncovered what happened: I was following signs designed for cars – they can’t go the wrong way down a one way street, so I had turned right a block before the library.

I finally spotted the front entrance and jaywalked – jaywalked I tell you – right across the street up to the entrance. I walked in, and was immediately struck by the rows and rows of empty book shelves. There were no books on the first floor. None. I thought, “Maybe they’re remodeling, and storing the empty shelves here”. I wasn’t sure where to start exploring, but thought that in order to see the whole library, I should start at the top (the 7th floor) and work my way down. Previous experiences in library spelunking have suggested that this is a good strategy. The most interesting stuff is sometimes on the top floor.

I’m not sure what was on the seventh floor of the A-FL, except blue carpeting and white hallway walls. There were no signs or pictures or anything to suggest that this was an area open to the public, so I ducked back into the elevator, and rode it down to six: Library Administration Offices. Back into the elevator. There was a poster inside the elevator indicating what was on each floor, but I refused to read it. What’s the sense of exploring if you have a map?

I almost got off at five, which I have subsequently learned is the Special Collections floor. I wish I had taken time to explore it, but it didn’t have the feel of a public space, so I popped back into the elevator and down to four, which was a floor dedicated to computing, although it seemed to have only about twenty or thirty computers, almost all being used by patrons. No books. Down to three, where I saw mostly CDs, DVDs and best sellers. (Books! At last! Though not a lot of new looking ones.) I walked down to two and browsed the periodicals. Current Anthropology is current as of 1996. Business Week is up to date though. Back down to one and out.

I left feeling disappointed and rather sad. And thirsty. Very thirsty – the flight and walking around in the sun had taken their toll.

I found the next streetcar stop (the vending machine’s letter buttons ALL had menu items on this one), bought a ticket,  and waited about ten minutes for the next one, which I didn’t notice approaching, because it wasn’t ringing its bell. I rode it round trip, stopping off only at the Sweet Auburn Market in search of a beverage. I didn’t find any to my liking – most were commercial bottled beverages. I’d have gotten a smoothie, but the proprietor at the smoothie shop seemed to be smoothly wooing a customer, so I didn’t interrupt him.

The streetcar loops out to the east as far as the Martin Luther King National Historic Site, which will be a destination (hey, maybe I’ll even make it to a destination some day) during my next undesignated time in Atlanta. I rode back to the the stop closest to my hotel, but not without noticing the high quality and number of murals throughout the Sweet Auburn neighborhood.

Next time, I’ll come more prepared for adventure.

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