You can read this series from the beginning here.
"One ticket for St. Louis, please," The grand jury had finally issued its decision in the Ferguson case, and ruled that Darren Wilson, the racist white police officer who killed the young African-American man–I forget his name–would not face justice. I was in Atlanta at the time, having spent the day touring the Carter Center (which is inspiring in his way, but caused my peanut allergy to flare up something awful). As soon as the verdict was announced, I checked out of my hotel room and headed straight to the Amtrak station. I’d been riding the rails across the country (mostly in the Quiet Car, which isn’t as quiet as you’d think), and while it had been a mostly pleasant experience, it couldn’t compare to being on-site at a mass protest against white privilege. I had to be in Ferguson to witness it.
"You’re a little late, unfortunately," the Amtrak gate agent said. "The 8:00 train for Washington just left the station a couple of hours ago. You can catch it again tomorrow night."
"I don’t want to go to Washington," I said. "I want to go to St. Louis."
"We don’t have a train that goes directly to St. Louis," she said. "You have to change trains in Washington."
"That doesn’t make any sense," I said. "Why would I go to Washington to change trains to go to St. Louis? That’s backward. Geographically, I’m speaking. You understand."
"Nonetheless, the best way to get to St. Louis from here, via Amtrak, is to go north, change trains in Washington, change trains again in Chicago, and take the Texas Flyer south to St. Louis."
"That’s the most mixed-up thing I’ve ever heard in my life," I said. "That would take two whole days. Three, if you count waiting until tomorrow for the train."
"If you wanted to leave in the morning," she said, "we could accommodate you. The Crescent gets here at eight in the morning, and it can take you right to New Orleans."
"Again," I said. "I want to go to St. Louis, which is somewhere sort of west-northwest of here. Washington is too far east. New Orleans would be too far south."
She handed me a piece of paper. "This is a map of Amtrak train service," she said. "You can see, there are three ways to get to St. Louis from Atlanta. You can take the Crescent north from Atlanta to Washington, and then over here to Chicago, and then down this way to go to St. Louis. Or you can take the Crescent south, this way, and change trains in New Orleans to go to San Antonio, and take the Texas Flyer back again north to St. Louis."
"You want me to go to Texas?" I said. "Rick Perry is still governor there, you know. It’s not safe. I could be killed in a fertilizer plant explosion."
"And then there’s the third way," she said. I could detect a very faint note of tiredness in her voice that I hear from time to time when I’m talking to people. It usually means that they are going to get very exasperated with me. I can’t figure out why this happens, because I am generally reasonable and respectful when I talk to people, even Republicans. But it does happen, and at least I’ve learned to anticipate it when it does happen.
"What’s the third way?" I said, as nicely as I could.
"Walk. Four blocks south of here, down to MARTA."
"And Marta can give me a ride to St. Louis?"
"Not directly," the gate agent said.
"Because I didn’t even know Marta was in Atlanta. She generally stays in New Haven, except for Oktoberfest, when she goes back to Munich to see her family."
The gate agent had a blank look on her face, as though I had said something incomprehensible and strange.
"Unless you’re talking about another Marta," I said.
"MARTA. It’s an acronym. Short for Metro Atlanta Rapid Transit Agency. M-A-R-T-A. It’s not a person’s name. It’s the light rail that takes you down to the airport."
"The St. Louis airport?" I asked.
"The Atlanta airport. You would then take an airplane to the St. Louis airport."
"Oh, I see," I said.
"You know what an airplane is, right?" she said. "Large aluminum tube with wings on it. It goes vroom, vroom, and then it flies up in the air. You might have seen one before, up in the sky."
"There’s no need for sarcasm," I said. "I know what an airplane is. It’s the only good way to get to the Bahamas for shareholder’s meetings."
"Of course it is," the gate agent said. I supposed she decided that there was, in fact, further need for sarcasm on her part.
"So I can just go to the airport and buy a ticket for St. Louis?" I asked.
"I would suggest the sooner, the better," she said.
"That’s exactly what I thought," I said. I was a little worried about what a commercial flight would do to my carbon footprint for this month, but as long as I was going to St. Louis in the name of social justice, I figured that Gaia could look the other way for once. "Do you think they’ll accept my RailPass?"
"The RailPass is only good on Amtrak," she said. "It won’t work at the airport. Or on MARTA."
"I understand it’s only good on Amtrak," I said. "But this is a special situation. I need to go somewhere that Amtrak can’t take me."
"We’ve had this discussion," she said. "Amtrak can take you to St. Louis. Eventually. In a couple of days. If you want to go directly to St. Louis, you can take a plane or drive."
"I can at least talk to them," I said. "Convince someone that they ought to take it. I guess I should start with American Airlines, because they’re government-run, like Amtrak."
"Amtrak is not government-run." she said. "It’s a for-profit corporation that receives public funding. And American Airlines isn’t government-run, either."
"Is there a public option for air travel?" I asked. I had just always assumed that American Airlines was owned by the government, the way that Amtrak was.
"Of course not," the gate agent said. "Do you live on this planet?"
"Well, yes, of course I live on this planet," I said. "I assume that’s sarcasm, again."
"Do you need help?" she asked.
"Of course. Everyone needs help. We should all embrace a communitarian philosophy where nobody should ever be afraid to admitting to needing help."
"I mean, like, mental health help. I can call the transit police. They can take you to Grady, get you checked out."
"I was seeing a therapist before," I said. "In Washington. She told me to get out of Washington and learn more about the country."
"Are you doing that?"
"I learned you can’t get from Atlanta to St. Louis on Amtrak," I said.
"Then there’s hope for you yet."
I walked out of the Amtrak station and into the night. I had learned something, and it was more valuable than the Amtrak train map (which I kept a copy of, just in case I needed it for some reason). I had learned that I didn’t have all the answers. I learned that wanting to be a part of a protest movement against police brutality wasn’t enough. And I had learned that even a unionized employee of a federally-subsidized corporation wasn’t immune to the lures of sarcasm. But most importantly, I had learned that the lesson that even if the wheels of social justice move slowly, the important thing is that they move in the right direction.
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