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Carless and Carefree

Postcard from Atlanta

By Catherine E. Shoichet

ATLANTA—It’s summer fling season and, yes, I’m in love.

No, this Scarlett O’Hara hasn’t yet found a Rhett Butler to sweep her away. And the “Sex and the City” gang would likely find my romance uninspiring.

Nonetheless, I proudly proclaim my undying affection for (drumroll please) my own two feet.

I packed up my bags in Cambridge and flew to Atlanta just over five weeks ago, bleary-eyed from a hellish semester and determined to have the Best and Most Adventurous Summer Ever. It was my first journey below the Mason-Dixon line beyond the typical family Disney World trip. Like Ponce de Leon, I began a Southern quest for eternal youth, hoping to discover a new place—and reinvent myself.

My plane landed at Hartsfield International Airport. And $23.50 and one incredibly confusing cab ride later, I found my new apartment. Without furniture. Without lights. Without silverware. And without a car.

Thankfully, there’s no decorating wound a trip to Bed, Bath and Beyond won’t heal, and my apartment transformed from uninhabitable cave to posh Midtown pad in no time. With a bus stop nearby and the subway station only a 10-minute walk away, I was ready to settle in to summer and explore my new home.

Atlanta has just enough big-city bustle to consider itself cosmopolitan, and just enough Southern Charm to say “y’all come back now” and really mean it. They call it “the city too busy to hate.”

But they don’t tell you on postcards or tourist maps that it’s also the city too busy to walk anywhere. Or at the very least, the city where everyone is so in love with their cars that they wouldn’t even consider it.

If you don’t believe me, look at the signs. Literally. Just last week, I saw a billboard advertising “Jesus: Coming Soon,” planted directly next to a used car dealership in a moment of marketing genius. It was practical product placement, to be sure. If Jesus were coming to Atlanta, he’d have to buy a car first to navigate the sprawl and preach to the suburban masses.

Luckily, I have less lofty goals. Urban exploration, I’ve found, is best done on foot.

My first weekend here, I spent four hours wandering around Piedmont Park and the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, discovering lush greenery, cute couples and delicious ice cream cafes.

If my workday ends and the sun is still shining, I often walk home from my downtown office. It’s hardly an expedition into the wilderness (there are at least two Starbucks along the way). But when I tell others about my evening plans, they look at me with a mix of horror and awe. “You’re walking home? Are you sure you don’t want a ride? That must take hours!”

Forty-five minutes and at least one grande Frappucino later, I’m home.

Philosopher and writer Henry David Thoreau, Class of 1837, once described sauntering as a “great art.”

“I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks, who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering,” he wrote in his essay, “Walking.”

If Thoreau had written his essay in Atlanta, he would have noted that most people here cannot comprehend the motivation behind sauntering anywhere. And as they gaze at me from behind the tinted windows of their road raging vehicles, it shows. One driver even pulled over to ask me if I was having car trouble.

Of course, there are pitfalls to the carless and carefree life. When you get lost on foot, it takes much longer to find your way (particularly in a city where at least half of the roads seem to be named Peachtree). And, in Atlanta, at least, there are places you just can’t go.

But my roommate here has a car which she kindly shares with me. Several of my new friends have offered to shuttle me around. And there’s always public transportation, which goes almost everywhere I want to be.

Still, I prefer walking. No matter where I go or what I see, it’s always an adventure.

I’m not sure if I’ve succeeded in finding eternal youth on my many walks around Atlanta. But I did find a great Krispy Kreme—with a drive-thru window—on Ponce de Leon Road.

Catherine E. “Scarlett O’Hara” Shoichet ’04, a history and literature concentrator in Winthrop House, is an executive editor of The Crimson. When she’s not frantically dashing around the newsroom of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution minutes before deadline, she’s searching for a true southern gentleman with a sense of adventure—and a car.

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