Trapped in MARTA

Atlanta, Georgia has an excellent public transportation system named MARTA. If I’m not renting a car, it’s my way of getting around town. So on my last trip to Atlanta, we took MARTA directly from the airport to the Ritz-Carlton at Ellis and Peachtree, where we were staying for Gathering for Gardner.

When we got to the Peachtree station, however, we blindly took the first elevator we saw, and couldn’t figure out which side to go out. I asked a security guard, who told me we should have gone up on the other side. Helpfully, he used his pass to let us get back in, and advised us that we would have to use (what I understood as) the “mercy gate” on the other side. I will note that he did not have a thick Southern accent; most of the people in Atlanta don’t, but rather a genteel drawl.

And “mercy gate” does sound like just the thing at Atlanta metro would have, doesn’t it? I can imagine back when the plans were being drawn up, the planners discussed the likely problem of Yankees and other d*** fools trying to go out the wrong side, and added mercy gates to all the stations.

However, when we got to the other side, there was nothing marked as the Mercy Gate. We swiping our Breeze cards on one of the exits, but having already used them to exit the other side, they didn’t word. There was a set of huge emergency gates, but they were scarily marked for emergency only, alarm will sound. Being from the Bay Area, we are well trained to fear the transit police. Quite famously, get on the wrong side of BART cop and he will shoot you. We could only imagine more dramatic consequences in Atlanta, with us Yankees storming through gates, being beset upon by the MARTA patrol, and then having a slew of locals denounce us as “those d*** fools” who barged through the emergency gate. We’d be lucky if we only got tased, and I wanted none of that.

So, obediently, I used the phone near the exit to call MARTA central. A very annoyed person on the other end advised me that I couldn’t use the Breeze card twice, and when I told her what happened, sighed audibly and said she’d send someone over to let us out.

Then we stood there, forlornly staring at the exit gates. Rush hour was beginning, and Atlanta commuters stopped to wonder why we were just standing there sadly, with our big suitcases. One tried to help us swipe out, but as before, it didn’t work. Finally, some commuting construction workers told us we really could just go through the emergency gates. Really, no one would shoot us. The alarm probably wouldn’t go off, either.

So nervously, we gathered by the emergency gates, pushed them open and rushed through. To our pleasant surprise, no alarm shrieked. No phalanx of gun-wielding MARTA security guards propelled down to wipe us out. We gave a nod of thanks to the commuters who’d assured us it was ok, but skedaddled out as fast as we could anyway. I don’t know if a security guard eventually showed up, or if the MARTA staff at headquarters watching on their camera and had placed bets on how long we’d wait, but in any case, we had no further problems with the system after that.

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