John D. Pierce

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"Driving Through Atlanta"




Occasionally, when zipping in and out of heavy traffic on Atlanta’s Downtown Connector, I have imagined my father being in the car with me — petrified.  A rural-raised, slow-paced man, he never gained an appreciation for city life.

In fact, my dad had an urban-phobia he never got over. Although Atlanta was but a hundred miles or so south of our home, it might as well have been six states away. 

As a kid I only knew three things about Atlanta: First, my mother had a cousin named “Connie” there. I don’t recall ever meeting her. I just knew that anytime Atlanta came up in a conversation my mother would say her cousin, Connie, lived there.

Second, our neighbor Kay had moved to Atlanta after graduating from high school. The conversation about her move to the big city was more whispered and a bit judgmental.  The implication was that she was living among the hippies and having life experiences unavailable in Catoosa County, Ga., where we were raised.

Finally, from 1966 — when I turned 10 — forward, my older brother Rob and I could not say the word “Atlanta” without adding “Braves”. We dearly cherished having a major league baseball team in our home state.

We listened to the games on the radio, read the box scores in the newspaper and memorized the stats on the back of baseball cards. But only on the rarest occasions — every three years or more — would we actually visit the round temple known then as simply “Atlanta Stadium.”

Admittedly, driving down to the Big City was not as easy as it is now. Interstate 75 was closed at Lake Allatoona. The resulting detour over to U.S. 41 delighted the businesses around Cartersville and Kennesaw.

Those rare, wonderful times we went to games were anticipated more than any trip I’ve taken as an adult to Hawaii, Alaska, Europe or the Caribbean. We would get to the ballpark several hours before game time — just to make sure.

Mom would pack drinks, chips and sandwiches to avoid stadium food prices. We were tailgaters before tailgating was cool.

Inside the stadium we would make our way up to the cheap seats in the outfield. Having no chance of a ball being hit our way was the only disappointment.

But we reveled at the chance to see Hank Aaron, Felipe Alou and Rico Carty in person— even if from their backside and at a great distance.

What I remember most about those trips, however, is how nervous Dad seemed to get when we neared the city and traffic began to surround our old Pontiac station wagon. We always knew we had made it to Atlanta when we could see tall buildings on the horizon — and when dad would make his famous call:

“Roll up the windows and lock the doors, boys, we’re driving through Atlanta!”

[An unpublished essay © John D. Pierce]