Sunday, May 3, 2009
Atlanta, Part One
Time: Late February/Early March 1974
Place: Atlanta, Georgia
“Midnight Rider” Allman Brothers Band
“2000 Light Years From Home” The Rolling Stones
I was never good at talking to my parents. So, when I became so frustrated with them and with my life that I couldn’t take it anymore, I ran away from home.
I wanted to escape Chattanooga and go someplace where nobody knew me. I wanted to go to New Orleans. I wanted to celebrate Mardi Gras and see girls expose their breasts in exchange for beads, but going so far away to a place I’d never been before seemed like a huge step. I decided that I would be better off going somewhere that I was familiar with, and then work my way up to New Orleans.
I decided on Atlanta, Georgia. I knew how to get there; I had been there many times on family trips. I knew there were lots of hippies in Atlanta. Hippies were a strange and alluring tribe to me. I dressed like a hippie, though I didn’t think of myself as one, because certainly hippies didn’t live at home with their parents.
I had another reason for going to Atlanta. Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention were giving a midnight concert in Atlanta on March first. I wasn’t a huge fan of the band, but I’d heard they put on a great show, and if you ever had a chance to see them in concert, by all means do whatever it took to go.
I waited until after dinner to run away. Dad was in the den watching “Columbo.” Mom and my little brother were in my parents’ bedroom watching the Sunday Night Movie. My sister was in her bedroom doing her homework. My big brother was a neighbor’s house, getting high with friends.
I went into the bedroom I shared with my little brother and quietly closed the door. Behind our matching single beds was a double-sized picture window. I slid it open, pushed aside the screen, and climbed out. I had a short drop from the window to the ground. I landed behind a row of bushes, so I didn’t think anyone would notice me, but I found out later that the neighbors who lived directly across the street witnessed my escape. Why they were watching our house on a Sunday night I’ll never know. Maybe they spied on my house instead of watching TV.
I hadn’t been sure how to dress for my trip. I didn’t pay attention to weather reports. The days were still cold, but not freezing. I was sure warmer days were just around the corner, but to be safe I wore a pair of long johns. Over that, I had on jeans, a flannel shirt, and my winter coat. I had twenty dollars in the pocket of my jeans. I wasn’t worried about money because I figured I’d pick up odd jobs here and there as I traveled across America.
I made a point of leaving behind the only piece of identification I owned; my learner’s permit. I didn’t want my identity known in case a cop stopped me. I was sure my parents would alert the authorities that I was a runaway. I was certain that a description of me would be sent to all the police stations across the country. I would make sure I looked the other way whenever a police cruiser drove past me.
To be extra careful, I decided to go by an alias. I settled on the name “Mark Davis.” It sounded like a much cooler name than Mickey Dubrow.
The night sky was clear. The air was cold and crisp. There were few cars on the road. I walked a little over three miles through familiar neighborhoods before I reached I-75 South. I was too paranoid to stand at the top of the entrance ramp with my thumb out. My family might have discovered that I was gone. Dad or the police might be out looking for me. I wanted to put as much distance as I could between myself and home. I hiked down the entrance ramp and then I walked backward on the emergency lane with my thumb out. When no cars were in sight, I turned and walked forward. Anything to get me closer to Atlanta.
Every time a car sped by me, a cold rush of air whipped me, but it was nothing like the blasts of frigid air I got from the trucks. There seemed to be twice as many trucks as there were cars on the road that night. The trucks drove by so fast and the wind in their wake was so extreme, it pushed me from the emergency lane to the grass.
I had felt this cold or colder in the past, but I always had a warm place nearby where I could go inside and defrost. On I-75 that late February night, there was no inside, just freezing outside. As I trudged on with my thumb out, my legs started to feel heavy. I looked down. Below the knees, my jeans were sparkling white. The grass I was walking in was wet. The wind from the passing trucks had frozen my damp jeans. I reached down to feel my pant legs. The fabric was stiff.
As much as I hated being out there, I didn’t give up on getting to Atlanta. I just couldn’t go back home. To go home after only a few hours would be terrible. I would look like a complete fool. I had to keep going.
Finally, a bobtail truck stopped to pick me up. The driver was thin and wiry. He had long frizzy hair and his wide-eyed stare made him look like he’d been washing down speed with coffee for three days straight.
“Where you going?” asked the bobtail truck driver.
“Atlanta,” I said.
“Get in,” he said.
I climbed into the passenger seat and he floored it.
Usually the only reason someone picks up a hitchhiker is because they want somebody to talk to. My attempts at small talk were ignored. The driver wanted quiet. I had no problem with that. He drove fast. With no trailer to slow it down, the truck hauled ass. I wouldn’t have had a problem with that either, except the windows were open and the heater was off. It was colder and windier inside the truck than out on the road.
I asked if I could close the window, at least on my side, but the driver refused. He offered no explanation. I didn’t press the matter because I was afraid he’d make me get out. It was then that I noticed that he was only wearing a t-shirt. I hugged my coat around me as tightly as I could and watched the road.
It was still dark when we reached downtown Atlanta two hours and a hundred miles later. The driver dropped me off at the Varsity Drive In Restaurant. The Varsity is an Atlanta landmark. The restaurant was closed when the bobtail truck drove away that early Monday morning. Everything was closed. Most alarm clocks wouldn’t begin to ring for a few more hours.
I walked a couple of blocks to Peachtree Street. I had been to Atlanta many times on family trips, usually to stock up on Kosher food. Even though I had only seen Atlanta from the back seat of the family station wagon, I knew that Peachtree Street was the city’s main street. Since I had no better plan, I walked along Peachtree Street.
I walked past the hippie part of Peachtree Street known as The Strip. The head shops and record stores were closed. I promised myself I would come back later and check them out.
As I walked, the sun rose and the city slowly woke up. The empty street began filling with cars. It wasn’t as windy in the city as it was on the highway. Thanks to the sun, I thawed out some, but I was still very cold. And I was hungry. I had walked about four miles when I decided to stop at a Burger King for breakfast.
After paying for my food, I realized my twenty dollars wasn’t going to last long. A ticket to the Frank Zappa concert was six dollars, six fifty the day of the show. Even if I watched every penny I had, I was going to need more money to survive. As I devoured my hamburger, I came up with a brilliant plan. I would get a job at the Burger King. Working there would provide money and food. I walked back to the counter and asked for an application.
When I got to the part of the application that asks for an address and phone number, I realized I had neither. Burger King wouldn’t have been able to reach me if they had decided to hire me. I made up a street address and a phone number and handed in the application. The manager told me that if they had an opening, he’d give me a call. I thanked him and left as fast as I could.
End of Part One
(photo from Atlanta Journal Constitution)