I am taking the MARTA bus today. I figured, why not? The weather is nice. Fall is here.

ATLANTA—I am in the big city today, covering the arrival of fall. I am sitting on a bench, reading an Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper. I am a longtime admirer of this paper. I’ve been reading it since boyhood, back when we would visit family here in Atlanta.

When I hold this newspaper, I still remember my first pangs of literary ambition. I was a kid who wanted to be a writer. A columnist, even. I dreamed of a thrilling life in journalism, filled with rewarding work, the machine-gun sound of newsroom typewriters, grumpy editors in suspenders, and above all, an expense account.

But some things are never meant to be. I didn’t even start writing until I was a grown man who had barely finished community college.

I am taking the MARTA bus today. I figured, why not? The weather is nice. Fall is here. And most importantly, I hate Atlanta traffic.

When I was a kid we lived here for a hot minute. To live in this city means spending half your life stuck on Interstate 285, physically abusing your steering wheel during gridlock.

Riding the MARTA bus is a more mellow experience. The bus takes me through town while I read the sports section.

The bus arrives at an upscale shopping area. I visit a few stores. A strange lady sprays cologne on me against my will. One man in a kiosk begs me to buy a timeshare. I get a three-dollar massage in a coin-operated recliner. You can’t beat it.

For lunch, I eat at a taco joint. Atlanta is full of taco joints.

“Tacos are huge in Atlanta,” one taco employee tells me. “We cater tons of weddings, everyone wants tacos at their wedding.”

I believe it. A few months ago, I attended a friend’s wedding. It was a fancy event with porta-potties and an outdoor tent. A dance band played “Mustang Sally” for country club members who had been overserved and spent the night bumping and grinding with their spouses, many of whom resembled Captain Kangaroo and Barbara Bush. There are some things you can’t unsee.

The wedding dinner was tacos. These were not regular tacos, but gourmet tacos with weird meat fillings like goat, octopus, and sweetbread.

“What’s sweetbread?” I asked a groomsman sitting next to me.

“It’s pancreas,” he said. “Lamb, I think.”

I guess they decided against the chocolate fondue fountain.

After lunch, I visit a few trendy clothing stores. A retail employee named Erin sees me browsing and gives me free fashion advice. She has lots of tattoos and multiple piercings.

Erin looks at me with a thoughtful frown and says, “Dude, I totally recommend a graphic Tee and a blazer.”

She takes me to see the T-shirts with logos. These are called “graphic Tees,” as opposed to, for example, “T-shirts with pictures on them.” They’re all the rage. Erin shows me her particular favorite graphic Tee. On the front is a pink shark with a little cloud coming from beneath its tail. The text reads: “Mommy farts, y’all.”

“I just love this one,” says Erin.

You have to wonder about America’s youth.

When I was a kid, you had two basic T-shirts. White undershirts with cheap fabric so thin you could read a book through them. And the Leave It To Beaver Special—a tight-fitting shirt that usually exposed your belly and made you look like a mama’s boy who still sucked his thumb.

So I buy a few graphic tees. Erin also talks me into a pair of sensible shoes. Next, I do some people-watching from a bench. I buy an ice cream cone and read a few more pages of the paper.

When I’m done, I wait at the bus stop. Here, I meet a boy. He’s fifteen. He wears an Atlanta Braves T-shirt. I ask if he’s been to any games this season.

“No,” says the boy. “My little brother can’t do crowds. And I won’t watch a game without him. That’s a promise we made each other. We always watch them on TV.”

“That’s pretty nice of you,” I say.

“Not really. He’s my brother.”

In a few minutes we see a boy walking on the sidewalk. The boy has Down syndrome, and is accompanied by a young woman. He is hooking arms with her. They are laughing.

“That’s him,” says the fifteen-year-old. “My little brother. He always tells me he’s gonna steal my girlfriend.”

“LOOK!” says his brother. “I STOLE YOUR GIRLFRIEND!”

“See what I mean?” says the young man.

If I were smiling any bigger, I’d pull a muscle.

Soon, I am on the bus again. I am looking out the window at millions of people go by. The skyscrapers. The cars. The restaurants. A university hospital that once saved my mother’s life. A newspaper that made me want to dedicate my life to sentences and paragraphs. And a baseball team I love.

I don’t know why I feel so nostalgic when I’m here. I’m not an Atlantan. Maybe it’s the tacos.

The bus driver arrives at my stop. I stand. I leave my folded newspaper on the bus seat behind me. Not because I’m finished reading it. But because, who knows, maybe the beauty of the written word will change some little boy’s life.

Like it did mine.

15 comments

  1. Sandi. - October 7, 2019 5:57 am

    I was born in Atlanta and lived there until age two, when my parents moved our family to another GA. city.. In my early 20s I lived in Altanta again.. Despite the heavy rush hour traffic, I still love the city and all it offers. Thanks for highlighting a few things you relish about Georgia’s capital, Sean. I do hope some young boy (or girl) found your copy of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and that it positively affects their future. Have a blessed week ahead.

    Reply
  2. GaryD - October 7, 2019 9:29 am

    I loved reading the Atlanta paper especially the Sunday edition. It use to be delivered way down here in the “other Georgia” until the internet made it not profitable to deliver it this far South. The only thing I ever liked about Atlanta was the paper and all the great writers they employed.

    Reply
  3. Harriet - October 7, 2019 10:42 am

    Hey Sean
    I was born and raised in Atlanta. I love your posts.
    Harriet

    Reply
  4. Penn Wells - October 7, 2019 12:26 pm

    The Journal in the evening, the Constitution (“Covers Dixie Like the Dew”) in the morning. Ralph McGill, Furman Bisher, Jesse Outlar, Al Thomy, Lewis (of course) and so many others. The Sunday magazine (not the cheap nationwide knockoff, but its own – remember that?). For many of us, it wasn’t “real” until it was in the AJC, especially the Friday night high school games… the ‘sequential photos’ from the Tech and UGA Saturday games on Sunday morning. Its current version is a little sad, but it’s still the AJC.

    Reply
  5. Edna B. - October 7, 2019 2:33 pm

    Thanks for taking me along with you on your bus ride to downtown. I enjoyed this very much. Especially meeting the young fellow with the younger brother. You have a wonderful day Sean, hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  6. Annak - October 7, 2019 3:19 pm

    We lived in Atlanta for a few years in the 60s, back when it was still a relatively sleepy town and the Braves had just arrived. Went to the first Braves game at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, as a matter of fact. Many moves later and at home in the country in South Georgia, a part of me still feels like it belongs in Atlanta. I guess there’s just something about the city that becomes a part of you and never leaves.

    Reply
  7. Linda Moon - October 7, 2019 3:42 pm

    Atlanta and its newspaper are worthy of your admiration and literary ambition. Your descriptions of the millions of people you observed or met made me nostalgic for Atlanta. Brothers or nieces or nephews with Down syndrome are never too heavy, because we love them. I’m so happy that you were inspired to dedicate your life to sentences and paragraphs!. Your beautifully written words change my life every day!!

    Reply
  8. Shelton A. - October 7, 2019 4:17 pm

    Great story. Ol’ Lewis would be proud of this one. I met one of Lewis’ cousins at a church retreat weekend. He has all of his books, signed. The cousin was pleased to meet a true fan. I have two books, signed to me with a very short story about how sisters will do anything for little brothers-even listen to him. My sister got copies for herself too (she’s a big fan). Yeah, Lewis would be very proud of your column today. And how do you know what I do on I-285 in Atlanta traffic?

    Reply
  9. Janet Mary Lee - October 7, 2019 4:50 pm

    Journeying with you is the best!! I was so happy to see your many followers on FB when I see your post. I had no idea as I usually read you thru my emails, which somehow seems like a more personal setting! Just keep writing and observing!! Pet the pups!!

    Reply
  10. George Culver - October 7, 2019 6:20 pm

    Sean — cool and sensitive series of observations, like always. Comments about newspapers saddened me so since no one hardly reads a newspaper anymore…only news on the run from summary paragraphs on a small screen….they are dying off at a frightening pace, and the few survivors are so small and slim of copy — except a few of the big brainwashers. I love newspapers, and read everyone I come across, big or small — it’s an urgency to support a dying breed, and just a quick sniff of a dying heritage…Fearful of what the negative impact is for the IQ of the younger generations. See you in Talladega in a few weeks.

    Reply
  11. Karen - October 7, 2019 6:45 pm

    Enjoyed the bus ride! Hope you are there to watch the Braves win!!

    Reply
  12. Sherry - October 7, 2019 7:13 pm

    Another great read Sean.

    Reply
  13. Susan Kennedy - October 7, 2019 7:34 pm

    I live just northwest of Atlanta in Cartersville! Back in the day, when I was much younger than I am now, we lived south of Atlanta and took the bus to go shopping at Rich’s and to see the Braves play at the old Fulton County stadium! Go Braves.

    Reply
  14. Linda Moon - October 7, 2019 8:21 pm

    Janet Mary Lee: I agree with you — I like the more personal email setting than Facebook. I’m happy for Sean, though, because he has LOTS of followers on FB!

    Reply
  15. Joe Patterson - October 9, 2019 12:49 pm

    You are my new Lewis Grizzard when he died it was like losing a best friend even though I never met him .Thanks for picking up the torch keep writing.

    Reply

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