The winter wind is finally whipping up a storm as the 2:05 p.m. arrival of MARTA’s newest bus route, The Peach, pulls along the Lenox Road stop. The Peach runs from the Lenox Mall station in Buckhead to its final destination at the intersection of Broad Street and Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive in roughly one and a half hours and affords passengers their first chance in more than 30 years to board in Buckhead and de-board downtown without ever changing busses.
Prior to The Peach’s arrival, passengers had to switch routes at Art Center Station to make the remainder of the trip.
The frigid temperatures are enough to send a chill straight to the bone and, according to bus driver Calvin Collins, are creating a quieter than normal atmosphere on his route. In fact, only two passengers board at the Lenox Road stop and the bus is quiet save the television monitors currently featuring Mexican resort destinations.
“I love what I do,” Collins, a 10-year veteran of MARTA, says breaking the silence as Dante’s Down the Hatch passes by. “This is a good route with a lot of riders.”
It is obvious to passengers of his route – number 110 – that Collins loves his job, as he often makes time to chat with people as they enter and exit the bus or to offer directions to those who are lost. At the Buckhead Village intersection where Roswell Road, Peachtree Street and West Paces Ferry converge, Collins even offers a bit of friendly advice to a lost youth who is boarding but only needs to travel one block to reach his destination. The boy’s face brightens as Collins tells him how close he is and he heads off on foot shivering toward Pharr Road.
One of the riders on this blustery afternoon is hurricane evacuee Anthony Jones who had lived only in Biloxi, MS prior to the emergency evacuation preceding Katrina.
“It happened on a Monday,” he says. “The police were riding around telling people to get gone.”
But when Jones returned to Biloxi following the storm, his home and one of his cars was destroyed.
“My house was locked, but my living room set was across the street in the backyard and my refrigerator was down the street,” Jones says as Peachtree Battle whizzes by to our left.
Jones landed in Atlanta on advice offered by his mother who told him there were agencies in the area offering assistance to hurricane evacuees. Now, Jones has lived in Atlanta for a little more than one year, which he refers to as a difficult one.
“There’s too much poverty here,” Jones says. “We need more jobs or something.”
Still Jones says he plans to give the city another year trial before he makes the decision to move on. He is currently returning downtown from picking up his paycheck from a Buckhead bistro where he works as a chef.
“It’s a long way from Vine City,” Jones says. “But I’ve never been late.”
Jones stares out the window, as the back of the High Museum and Arts Center Station, where he will exit, roll into sight.
The Peach is on its way back to Buckhead after a brief respite near Underground Atlanta, and a woman across the isle is running late, through no fault of MARTA, for her job interview. Kenya Bergman has recently completed medical assistant school and has only just broken her glasses, without which she can barely see what is right in front of her. The 28-year-old woman is visibly shaken by her predicament.
Collins’ overwhelming patience with the situation is evident, as the Margaret Mitchell House appears in view to the east. Collins regularly updates Bergman on where in the route the bus is located and also chats with her in between updates in order to keep her mind from resting on her current circumstance.
“I broke my glasses and have very poor vision,” Bergman says. “I was trying to get the bus driver to help me, and he’s been helpful. I just need some reassurance since I can’t see.”
Before exiting The Peach at her desired location near Phipps Plaza and Lenox Mall, Bergman thanks Collins for his help and tears several pages from her notebook while a mother and her son look on.
I poured out my heart to people I didn’t even know. It’s like the people that came across my path were angels in disguise.
On this cold January day, as The Peach bus bumped its way south on Peachtree, perhaps Bergman’s angel was the congenial man behind the wheel who without once uttering a negative word got her where she most needed to go.