It wouldn’t be right to write a blog in Atlanta and not have at least one post about MARTA. MARTA, or the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, is Atlanta’s version of a subway, though technically it includes the bus line as well. It’s been my main form of transportation for the last three years. I live near a train station on the gold line and my work is near the hub, Five Points, where all trains meet.
Many of my Atlanta friends do not ride MARTA ever. Even those who could use it to get work, chose to sit in traffic rather than take a train. You’d have to ask them why but I’m sure you’ll get something non-committal about safety or this one story they heard or that one time they took it and it broke down.
MARTA has a culture of its own. I’ve ridden the subway in New York and Washington D.C. on numerous occasions and Atlanta is just different. It can get a little crazy. For one, Auburn University trains their drug-sniffing dogs at my work train station, if that tells you anything. Also, people do not know how to use escalators! The whole “stand on the right, walk on the left” is a foreign concept. It is infuriating. I know all public transportation has its crazies but I don’t know if it gets crazier than Atlanta; just google “soulja girl MARTA” and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
Anyone who rides MARTA regularly has a “MARTA face”. When I first began riding the train I had people come and talk to me all the time, asking for money or selling CDs, wanting to get my number or ask what book I was reading. No more. As a seasoned customer, my MARTA face warns all away; it says, “You do not want to bother me”, in no uncertain terms. I wear headphones even if I am not listening to anything. I always have a book or my phone in my hand to look at in case someone unappealing approaches (which is everyone). I do not openly gaze around me at my surroundings or make eye contact with anyone. No, no.
Today I sat on MARTA contemplating on my ride home. Since beginning this 30 day challenge, I have become much more introspective, philosophizing about the mundane. The train I entered was filled with passengers coming from the airport. Luggage was everywhere, so much so, that it was difficult to find a seat and many people were standing. I began studying the people with their luggage. The man across the aisle from me was sprawled out, taking up two seats with his backpack and suitcase. The man in front of me had done the same thing, but as the car began to fill up, I saw him begin to get uncomfortable and start collecting his belongings onto his lap so another passenger could have a seat. Another older man was all scrunched up in a handicap seat with his luggage already piled high on his lap to avoid being in anyone’s way. I continued to peek at the man taking up two seats during my 20-minute ride home to see if he would notice that others were waiting for a seat. Someone stood near the seat where he had placed his backpack but he didn’t even glance up from his newspaper so involved was he in his own world.
Those three men within five feet of me represented the types of people that you find in America as a whole. Maybe I’m reaching a bit but bear with me. The large majority of us are like the man with two seats. Our stuff is more important than the people around us. Our convenience and comfort are the top priority. Don’t look to me to help you out because I am the most important thing in my world.
The second man represents the people who eventually see a need. They lived like the first people, concerned only about themselves for a while, but when the need becomes overwhelming apparent they will help or change themselves to accommodate others.
The third man is like very few people who prepare for the need ahead of time. They are proactive about helping. They will endure discomfort so that others can be comfortable. They take initiative to make others feel welcome, appreciated and loved.
Which type of person are you? More often than not, I am the first man, sometimes the second. (Disclaimer: I am never that person on the train- I wouldn’t take up a seat with my stuff- that is just rude). But in most cases, I come first. Philippians 2:3-4 says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Our culture in America does not teach us this. Our culture teaches us to take what we can and give when we feel like it, when it makes us feel better about ourselves. We’re taught not to give too much; you have to take care of yourself after all. That is not what Christ taught. Giving should be sacrificial and on-going; sometimes it may be uncomfortable but Jesus promises, “give, and it will be given to you.[…]For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” Luke 6:38
I pray that I will not carry my “MARTA face” of closed-off indifference to the islands and that with an open heart I will endure discomfort just like the third man on the train.