I wrote this blog entry two years ago on the day after the Great Atlanta
Snow Storm of 2014. I couldn't publish this blog entry then due to
technical issues, so I'm publishing today, on the second anniversary
of what came to be known as Atlanta's "Snowpocalypse" or
We see a lot of traffic here in Atlanta, but we have never seen anything
like what is going on here right now. I was just down on I-285, passing
out granola bars and water. If you are not from Atlanta, you really cannot
imagine how shocking it is for me to say that I walked around on I-285.
I-285 is a huge highway, ten lanes across at the point where I was walking.
Nobody, but nobody, walks on I-285.
But there I was, talking to people who had been in their cars since 1:00
yesterday afternoon. They had not moved – at all – for hours. They were
exhausted, hungry and thirsty.
But bad as things are, I could not be prouder to be in Atlanta today. A
city is nothing apart from its people, and we have amazing folks here
This morning I listened to appalling stories about people stuck on the
interstates. I joined a listserve where people were making truly heartbreaking
cries for help. A mom with two little kids in the car asked whether anyone
near her had any food or water for the kids. A trucker was stuck near
her, and emailed "I'm on my way." A woman wrote about her
dad, who was a diabetic.
He's in a blue Toyota stuck on the ramp from I-285 to I-75, she said.
He hasn't had food for 16 hours. Can anybody help him? One poor pregnant woman and her husband had set out to drive to the hospital.
They got stuck in the epic traffic, and the woman was forced to deliver
her baby on the Interstate, while stuck in traffic just about a mile from my house.
I packed water and granola bars into a backpack, thinking that maybe somebody
needed help. As I trudged out of my neighborhood, I ran into groups of
people also wearing backpacks. The closer the group got to the entrance
of the neighborhood, the more people joined us. A woman carried a box
of individual bags of chips. A man had a thermos of coffee and cups in
his pack. A teenager carried an 8-pack of Coke bottles. One family had
made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to hand out. A little 5-year-old
carried a tiny Thomas the Tank Engine backpack stuffed with power bars.
We hadn't coordinated this — for some reason, everybody had the same
idea and headed down at the same time.
When we got to the Interstate, it was completely, 100% stopped. I had never
seen so many tractor-trailer trucks. It looked like a gigantic shipping
yard. We had to climb over a small wall. Some of the men made a path through
the woods on the extremely steep embankment, and helped us down. We walked
around on I-285, talking to motorists and handing out what we had brought.
The far right lane was nothing but cars that had been parked and abandoned.
All four other eastbound lanes were filled with people sitting dejectedly
in their cars and tractor-trailers. For all practical purposes, those
cars were just as parked as the ones in the far-right lane.
I talked to a crew of construction workers who had been in their crew cab
truck for 21 hours. One man in a blue sedan had leaned the driver's
seat back and was slumbering peacefully. Another woman asked me if I knew
why it was so tough to get through, since the Georgia DOT cameras were
showing a clear part of the roadway ahead. I had seen the aerial photos
of the roadway ahead, and knew that there were a number of tractor-trailers
accidents up ahead. A single tractor-trailer was across all lanes of traffic,
and just beyond that were even more tractor-trailer wrecks and spin-outs.
I spoke to workers in a Georgia Department of Transportation truck. They
were stuck in the traffic just like everybody else. They told me that
DOT sand trucks and shovels could not get through the traffic to get to
the wrecks up ahead. They waved away the food and wanted me to give it
to someone else. I also saw a DOT crew that had driven down from Charleston,
South Carolina, to help.
Frustrated and tired as they were, people were thinking about everyone
else on the road. One older couple told me someone else had given them
a banana earlier, so I should save the power bar for the next car. Another
woman had a pack of crackers, so she figured someone else needed it more.
When you've been trapped in a car for 20 hours, one banana or a single
pack of crackers is not exactly a sumptuous meal, but they wanted to be
sure others had at least something.
On the way back, I stopped by Riverwood International Charter School, the
local high school, where dozens of teenagers are stuck. A very devoted
crew of faculty and staff were still there with the kids. I spoke to Principal
Shaw and Ms. Elizabeth Young, a biology teacher. Principal Shaw showed
me the offerings that had been pouring in from the community. People had
toted boxes of bottled water and granola bars down the icy roads to the
school. He said he thinks they are going to be there another night, and
he asked for blankets and any mats or pads so the kids and staff do not
have to sleep directly on the cafeteria floor.
Publix opened up and let people sleep on the floor. Home Depots all over
the city stayed open all night so that stranded motorists could get indoors
where it was warm. Fire stations have taken people in. Churches have opened
their doors. One man went down to the interstate and brought six strangers
back to his apartment for the night.
We may be in the worst of times, but what we are seeing is the best in people.
Atlanta, you're amazing!