Murray Browne – LikeTheDew.com http://likethedew.com A journal of progressive Southern culture and politics Mon, 21 Jan 2019 11:07:54 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.0.3 http://likethedew.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/cropped-DewLogoSquare825-32x32.png Murray Browne – LikeTheDew.com http://likethedew.com 32 32 The Real Fiction of Public Transportation http://likethedew.com/2017/03/26/the-real-fiction-of-public-transportation/ http://likethedew.com/2017/03/26/the-real-fiction-of-public-transportation/#comments Sun, 26 Mar 2017 14:02:42 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=66728 Book Spotting,” that appeared in Like the Dew in 2011. The article mentions a fictitious book club on the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) whose basic membership requirement was to read something while riding public transportation...]]>

ALACARTA LOGO - Designer: Yellowhammer Creative ; Courtesy Murray Browne

Having written and published a book about public transportation that is a novel wrapped in political satire, I have been lately asking myself, “What possessed you to embark on this journey in the first place?

Coincidentally, I need look no further than a piece I wrote called “Book Spotting,” that appeared in Like the Dew in 2011. The article mentions a fictitious book club on the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) whose basic membership requirement was to read something while riding public transportation. It was a seed of an idea that eventually became my new personal pokeweed called Down & Outbound: A Mass Transit Satire. Instead of writing about Atlanta per se, I created a faux metropolis, Atlantis City, and its public transportation system ALACARTA the Always Lovely (or Always Late) Atlantis City Area Rapid Transit Authority. I mixed in logos, a train map, photos and edgy graphics into the text as well.

UNDERGROUND LOGO POSTER - Designer Aloysius Patrimonio; Courtesy Murray Browne http://apatrimonio.comYears of riding MARTA have given me a plethora of anecdotes, which I framed into Down & Outbound’s basic plot line: “In the subterranean world of mass transit there are two separate yet equally marginalized groups: the riders who use public transportation and the city officials who routinely persecute them.”

Another reason I wrote the book is to dispel the thousands of miles of irritation accumulated on my daily commute (the years do add up). Even though conditions seemed to improve (at least financially), when Keith Parker took over as the head of MARTA at the end of 2012, I have not noticed any expansion in coverage, especially on weekends.

MARTA’s new focus is branded as Transit Oriented Development (TOD) includes involvement in developing housing and retail outlets near certain stations (Avondale, Edgewood-Candler Park, King Memorial). Basically, this brings the riders to MARTA instead of MARTA expanding past the Perimeter to where residents have little recourse but to drive into the city every day. Perhaps you have seen these futuristic drawings with wide boulevards, strolling pedestrians, light rail and bicycles existing in perfect harmony — a notable absence of streets filled with traffic.

This seems like a real fiction when compared to my daily slog through dimly lit stations with their grimy floors, incomplete or inaccurate signage, and limited seating on slabs of Stonehenge-like benches. And anyone who thinks just-in-time apps will be coordinating the East-West trains with the North-South trains anytime soon hasn’t had the weekly experience of subway doors slamming on their faces just as they emerge from the stairwells at Five Points.

My daily commuting comrades, many who are fast-food and service-industry workers or students (not many urban professionals), seem to accept their station in (transit) life. And so they must, since according to MARTA’s 2015 annual report, over half of its daily commuters do not have access to any other mode of transportation.
BOOK AT TRAIN STATION - Photos and Design; Murray Browne
I want to believe in the TOD vision of the future, but there is something foreboding as well — it’s like one of my characters in Down & Outbound who quips that public transit is not going to improve until the ridership is gentrified. That may seem to be MARTA’s strategy here, but that day won’t be coming to fruition in Atlanta for a long, long time. Meanwhile…

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Fun Facts about Sherman on the 150th Anniversary of his invasion of Georgia http://likethedew.com/2014/05/21/fun-facts-william-tecumseh-sherman-150th-anniversary-invasion-georgia/ http://likethedew.com/2014/05/21/fun-facts-william-tecumseh-sherman-150th-anniversary-invasion-georgia/#respond Wed, 21 May 2014 19:13:50 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=55966

William-Tecumseh-Sherman

Fact: Sherman’s middle name came from the Shawnee war chief Tecumseh.
Fun Fact: Initially, Sherman’s mother named him after the Ottawa war chief Pontiac, but then realized it made her son sound too much like an automobile.

Fact: Sherman was mentally ill shortly before the Civil War.
Fun Fact: Sherman was depressed because he didn’t know what to do with his life. The firing on Fort Sumter fixed all that.

Fact: Sherman wore a scruffy beard because he believed having additional staff around to groom him during his campaigns was frivolous.
Fun Fact: Sherman wore a scruffy beard because he feared shaving and potentially, the sight of blood.

Fact: Sherman burned  the city of Atlanta.
Fun Fact: A combination of a Rhett Butler’s carelessly discarded  cigar and Scarlet’s red pantaloons  ignited the blaze.

Fact:  Sherman said “War is Hell.”
Fun Fact:  Actually, Sherman said, “Why do people keep asking me what war is?”  Hell, I barely know what to do with my life.”

Fact: Sherman made Georgia howl.
Fun Fact: Sherman made South Carolina howl louder.

Fact:  Sherman was passed over as a Presidential nominee in 1884.
Fun Fact: Political pundits think Sherman’s campaign slogan of “If nominated, I will not run; if elected, I will not serve” had something to do with it.

Fact: Former adversary, Confederate General Joseph Johnston, died soon after being a pallbearer– in the rain – at Sherman’s funeral.
Fun Fact:  “Old Joe” died while waiting in line – in the rain — to piss on Sherman’s grave.

Fact: The diabolical Sherman was the father of modern warfare.
Fun Fact:  On the contrary, Sherman was a fairly nice guy and  the father of what happens to you when you fail to control your personal brand.

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Is There Happiness After Chipper Leaves? http://likethedew.com/2012/09/11/is-there-happiness-after-chipper-leaves/ http://likethedew.com/2012/09/11/is-there-happiness-after-chipper-leaves/#comments Tue, 11 Sep 2012 10:50:52 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=42094 Unless you've been hiding under home plate, you know that this is Larry “Chipper” Jones final season with the Atlanta Braves and the only big question remaining on this fan's mind: is “Why do they still call him Chipper, when he doesn't seem very happy?”

The Braves organization is constantly entreating upon us to share this historical experience with Chipper by purchasing commemorative photographic prints, baseball bats, and souvenir programs.

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Chipper Jones (Braves vs. Dodgers, April 18, 2011) via the Neon Tommy flickr photostreamUnless you’ve been hiding under home plate, you know that this is Larry “Chipper” Jones final season with the Atlanta Braves and the only big question remaining on this fan’s mind: is “Why do they still call him Chipper, when he doesn’t seem very happy?”

The Braves organization is constantly entreating upon us to share this historical experience with Chipper by purchasing commemorative photographic prints, baseball bats, and souvenir programs. It is imperative to get out to Turner Field and “Chop for Chipper” before all the memories disappear like so many Jeff Francoeur jerseys.

These efforts have not been in vain since I’ve been out to see Chipper four times this year, but my lasting impression of the Atlanta third baseman is one of dejection. Understandably, Chipper seems down about his reoccurring injuries, his impending retirement, and problems at home. From the stands, I have seen him more than once hang his head walking from the dugout to the middle of the field between innings. Moreover at home watching Braves’ broadcasts, when things go bad on the diamond, there are constant camera shots of Chipper sitting in the dugout with his head buried in a towel or tossing his batting helmet in disgust – this “official” photo really says it. Once in a while Chipper has been perky, but it seems it takes a trip to the All-Star Game or a three-run homer in the bottom of the 9th against the Phillies to do it.

I think it is wise of him to retire when he is still a productive baseball player and allow players and fans alike in other cities to pay their respects. As a hitter, he’s been solid this year, but defensively, I think there has been a noticeable decline, though this shortcoming remains an unmentionable during the broadcasts. Deservedly, he will slide into the Hall of Fame standing up instead of simply being known as the “Best Braves’ Third Basemen Since Darrell Evans“– sounds funny, but Evans was a very good and highly underrated player.

No one will be sadder than the Braves marketing folks. Year before last, they had Bobby Cox’s last season to commemorate; this season it was Chipper, and who will join the retirement caravan next year? Maybe the front office can bring back Andruw Jones for a final hurrah – you still see some “A. Jones” jerseys at the ballpark once a while. Or perhaps Dan Uggla, who’s hitting near his weight, can be forced into early retirement. Either way, in future seasons Braves fans will be singing the blues while Chipper may finally attain the bliss that seems to have eluded him this year.

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All Things Shiloh (in Words) http://likethedew.com/2012/04/02/all-things-shiloh-in-words/ http://likethedew.com/2012/04/02/all-things-shiloh-in-words/#comments Mon, 02 Apr 2012 19:26:53 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=38364 Next Friday is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Shiloh fought on April 6-7, 1862 in a remote area of Tennessee about 20 miles northeast of Corinth, Mississippi. Confederate forces under Albert Sydney Johnston made a Sunday morning surprise attack against the Federal troops led by General Ulysses S. Grant. At the time, it was the bloodiest engagement fought on the North American continent with nearly 25,000 casualties, exceeding the combined casualties of the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the Mexican War.

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Shiloh book jacketNext Friday is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Shiloh fought on April 6-7, 1862 in a remote area of Tennessee about 20 miles northeast of Corinth, Mississippi. Confederate forces under Albert Sydney Johnston made a Sunday morning surprise attack against the Federal troops led by General Ulysses S. Grant. At the time, it was the bloodiest engagement fought on the North American continent with nearly 25,000 casualties, exceeding the combined casualties of the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the Mexican War.

I just finished reading an advance copy of Winston Groom’s latest book, Shiloh, 1862 (he’s appearing in Atlanta, April 11) and it has prodded me to revisit many of the books and stories I’ve read about Shiloh over the years. Here’s a list:

The Bible
The battle was named after the little Shiloh church where at sunrise, swarming butternut-clad troops overran the Union camps and nearly drove Grant’s soldiers into the Tennessee River. Shiloh was an ancient city in present day Israel and is mentioned in the Bible:

“And the whole congregation of the children of Israel assembled together at Shiloh, and set up the tabernacle of the congregation there. And the land was subdued before them.” (Joshua 18:1)

Heroes in Blue and Gray, by Robert E. Alter (1965); Chapter 3: The Slaughter at Shiloh
This book accompanied me when my parents took my brother and me on a trip to Shiloh shortly after the 1961-65 Civil War Centennial. The chapter ends with Grant’s superior commander Henry “Old Brains” Halleck accusing Grant of drunkenness in his report to President Abraham Lincoln.

“You don’t say!” replied Lincoln with a twinkle in his eye, “What brand does he drink? I’d like to send a barrel to my other generals.”

In his new book, Winston Groom writes there is no evidence that Lincoln ever said this. Probably no twinkle either.

The Civil War: A Narrative. Fort Sumter to Perryville, by Shelby Foote (1958)
This first book of Foote’s 2000 page trilogy covers the actual battle, but not in great detail. Before this magnum opus, Foote wrote a work of fiction in 1952 called Shiloh, which tells the story of the battle from the viewpoint of several characters.

“What I Saw of Shiloh,” by Ambrose Bierce (1881)
Bierce is the only major 19th century American writer who saw extensive combat in the Civil War. Bierce wrote about the experiences extensively, trying in vain to assuage his nightmares and survivor’s guilt. Many of Bierce’s stories like “Shiloh” describe the carnage in extremely graphic terms, which combined with his cutting wit, led to his nickname of “Bitter” Bierce. “Shiloh” showcases Bierce’s wit and cynicism, especially when he writes about the battle’s namesake:

“This humble edifice, centrally situated in the heart of a solitude, and conveniently accessible to the super sylvan crow, had been christened Shiloh Church, whence the name of the battle. The fact of a Christian church – assuming it to have been a Christian church – giving name to a wholesale cutting of Christian throats by Christian hands need not be dwelt on here; the frequency of its recurrence in the history of our species has somewhat abated the moral interest that would otherwise attach it it.”

Co. Aytch: Or, A Side Show of the Big Show, by Sam R. Watkins (1962)
Originally published as a newspaper serial in the 1880s, Watkins served with the same Tennessee regiment from May 1861 to April 1865 and wrote about the life of the common Confederate soldier. On the second day of the battle, a reinforced Grant attacks the Rebel positions. Watkins writes,

Shiloh Cemetary“We made a good fight on Monday morning and I was taken by surprise when the order came for us to retreat instead of advance. But as I said before, reader, a private soldier is nothing but an automaton…”

Sounds Bierce-like.

Shiloh and Other Stories, by Bobbie Ann Mason (1982)
In the title story of this collection, Leroy and Norma Jean Moffitt try to reconcile their marriage while picnicking in the Shiloh National Military Cemetery. Mason writes that “the cemetery, a green slope dotted with white markers, looks like a subdivision site.” The view distracts Leroy, who can’t comprehend why Norma Jean wants to leave him. The story is as haunting as a visit to the battlefield at dawn.

Paddling the Tennessee River: A Voyage on Easy Water, by Kim Trevathan (2001)
In 1998, Trevathan and his dog Jasper took a canoe trip from the headwaters of the Tennessee River near Knoxville to where it empties into the Ohio River near Paducah, Kentucky. On a warm summer morning they came ashore near Pittsburg Landing to pay their respects to the fallen of Shiloh. Trevathan writes:

“Like a couple of pickets, Jasper and I crept along a swampy trail through the woods. The river was far below us, just visible through the thick forest. After a half a mile of stepping carefully through knee-deep grass looking for snakes, I emerged onto the manicured lawn of the national park and wiped the spider webs from my eyes…We paused at the tombstones of the Union soldiers in the shade of oaks, and Jasper sniffed as if he could still smell the twenty thousand corpses that once lay in the vicinity. He knew enough not to raise his leg here, even if he was from Alabama.”

No doubt my trip to Shiloh National Battlefield Park almost a half century ago is still cemented in my memory – like a granite monument covered with pyramids of cannonballs – and it led to my becoming an amateur Civil War buff. Even though such knowledge won’t win you any bar bets, (though it once proved useful during a job interview) it still remains a lifelong interest that never seems to go away.

 

Editor’s note: this post was updated 04/04/12 at 8:54 am est to change/correct 25th anniversary to 150th.

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Book spotting http://likethedew.com/2011/03/01/book-spotting/ http://likethedew.com/2011/03/01/book-spotting/#respond Tue, 01 Mar 2011 09:37:16 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=19759

“I take a look at Hester's book, still closed on her finger. A good way to size up people.” – Walker Percy, Love in the Ruins (1971)

To have an idea of what people are thinking about, I pay attention to the books they read while riding mass transit. Such an exercise of indiscreet voyeurism, however, is not as easy as it sounds. When you ride public transportation (at least in Atlanta), it’s better to keep your eyes and your business to yourself to avoid trouble, though I have rarely seen an instance of rudeness during my commutes. Nevertheless, staring at someone could be misconstrued as being judgmental or getting into someone’s space. Discretion is paramount.

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“I take a look at Hester’s book, still closed on her finger. A good way to size up people.” – Walker Percy, Love in the Ruins (1971)

To have an idea of what people are thinking about, I pay attention to the books they read while riding mass transit. Such an exercise of indiscreet voyeurism, however, is not as easy as it sounds. When you ride public transportation (at least in Atlanta), it’s better to keep your eyes and your business to yourself to avoid trouble, though I have rarely seen an instance of rudeness during my commutes. Nevertheless, staring at someone could be misconstrued as being judgmental or getting into someone’s space. Discretion is paramount.

For the past year, I have been taking MARTA (Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority ) to work daily from Decatur to Midtown Atlanta—a thirty-minute train ride sandwiched between two ten-minute walks. As a novelty (and as a source of fresh material for my blog about the reading life) I often note what people are reading. Every five or six weeks, I share my findings on a posting called “The MARTA Book Club.” There is nothing systematic or statistical about this and I limit my notations to books only. The reading of newspapers, the backs of Georgia lottery tickets, Ikea catalogs, and cereal boxes do not count. And since Kindles and other electronic reading devices make it impossible to determine what someone is reading, I do not document that reading either. So, my research is purely anecdotal.

Book covers also play a role in data gathering. It is much easier to log Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals—a cover with large spray paint lettering— than one of the titles from the Stephenie Meyer Twilight series, for example. Often I find myself catching just part of a title or an author’s name and then jotting down a note on my index card until I can search for the complete author and title online. But even then, I second-guess myself. Was it Michelle Malkin’s In Defense of Internment: The Case for Racial Profiling in World War II and the War on Terror or was it Malkin’s Culture of Corruption: Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks, and Cronies that I observed one person reading?

What keeps my preoccupation with book spotting manageable is that most MARTA riders don’t read. On the morning and afternoon commutes, I’d estimate that maybe one or two in ten people read. Some others listen to music (or books?), slump into sleep, or study their smart phones as if they were oracles, but the majority just stare vacantly ahead – the familiar looks of dread and exhaustion that cloud our countenance as we go to and from work each day.

Though the average rush-hour MARTA rider-reader is just a working stiff often clad in their employer-issued Einstein Bagel, Cactus Car Wash or Aramark shirts reading tastes vary widely and one should not make assumptions. I’ve witnessed a large young man in work pants (you know, the kind of pants that has a strap for your hammer) reading Charles Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop and a spiritual-looking kid with acne and greasy hair holding Somerset Maugham’s 1944 book The Razor’s Edge. (Both young men were reading yellowed paperbacks, reinforcing one of the beauties of reading books – a low cost to entry). I’ve spotted business professionals reading some self-improvement drivel such as Master Your Metabolism: The 3 Diet Secrets to Naturally Balance Hormones for a Hot, Healthy Body or Secrets of Power Negotiating. Self-improvement and spiritual enlightenment are popular titles on the train and almost every day you see someone reading the Bible, whose short chapter structure and mix of narrative and philosophy does seem ideal for reading in transit. Rarely seen are books from the list of Books That Georgians Read or The New York Times critic Michiko Kakutani’s Top Ten Books of the year. This indicates that the average reader cares little what the gatekeepers of literary taste have to say. Once in a while you can spot a copy of a Top Ten title like Kathryn Stockett’s The Help being read by a traveler coming from the airport, but the reading choices of MARTA natives are more eclectic and less predictable. Discretely spying, I’ve been introduced to writers that I’ve never heard of before. Not that I have read them yet, but exposure is the first step.

In addition to looking at titles, I like watching (more like furtively glancing) those who experience the pleasure of reading. One of my favorite examples was a middle-aged guy who looked like Danny Glover—if Danny Glover were a little on the short side. It was the afternoon commute, and the man had just gotten off work. He was spread out horizontally with his work boots covering the adjacent seat and was munching on a big bag of chips and totally absorbed in his thick, hardback bestseller. Work was over and he was relaxing completely. Similarly, there have been several women who are immersed in romance novels with steamy, purple covers (such as Lover Man or Double Pleasure, Double Pain) that commonly feature men with glistening, bare torsos about to get it on with voluptuous, red-lipped beauties. These women are somewhere, but not on the train.

Similarly, I wonder if people take note of what I read. At the risk of sounding more egocentric, I assume people sneak peeks at what I am reading and therefore I am particular of what I take on the train. Am I reading something that is representative of who I think I am? When I brought my tattered copy of Love in the Ruins on the train, how did that play? Was it interpreted as a steamy love story, sans a purple cover? Did a Kindle reader on the way to the airport notice my disintegrating cover and stereotype me as being one of those desperate people who have limited or no transportation alternatives to get to work. Or (my preferred choice) did another discriminating reader appreciate my personal re-assessment of Percy’s stature in Southern letters. Moreover, what happens when I chuckle aloud at one of Percy’s observations? If someone moves over a seat after I laugh, well, I guess that means other people are watching.

Book spotting fits into the larger narrative structure of the morning commute as each commuter is part of everyone else’s story. Most of the time we are silent extras like those in a movie, but once in a while there is a performance that commands our attention: the woman who played the drums on her leg (just drumsticks and thighs, no skins), the fellow who sat next to me and pulled out Tuen Voeten’s Tunnel People or the man who sold boxes of Krispy Kreme doughnuts during the morning commute that in his words, “are so fresh, you don’t need any teeth to eat them.” For those who like stories, it is these short anecdotes, along with our reading reveries, that ease the daily grind.

This is important as commuting has become more inconvenient in Atlanta since MARTA implemented service cuts that began last year. The recent cutbacks have translated into longer waits for trains and buses, which means more time for reading, but space on the concrete benches is limited and the slabs themselves are uncomfortable. There are fewer trains and they are more crowded. For me, grasping a book in one hand and holding on to a pole for balance with the other, restricts my selection of books (no thick hardbacks).

After voicing my concerns at a public hearing and sending token emails to policymakers, there is little I can do about the budget cutbacks. Thus, I return to my fail-safe position–rejoining my fellow readers and disappearing into the pleasures of public transportation: reading and being part of the book spotting saga.

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